Tuesday, 21 August 2012

BREAKING BAD, 5.6 – 'Buyout'

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

"This business is all I have left now... and you want to take it away from me." -- Walter

*** (out of four)
The fallout to Todd (Jesse Plemons) unflappably killing a child witness was largely what I expected: Jesse (Aaron Paul) is outraged and demanding they sack callous Todd; Walt (Bryan Cranston) is numbed but pragmatic about events and determined to keep the business going for selfish reasons; and Mike (Jonathan Banks) is angry and looking for a way out of this whole sorry mess. What was unexpected is how an innocent boy's death triggered the potential dissolution of the meth business, just as it's started to find surer footing now they have a thousand gallons of stolen methylamine (which equates to a staggering $300m potential street value once cooked).

It doesn't help that Mike's finding it trickier to evade the various DEA surveillance teams that are following him; or, perhaps more accurately, getting bored of giving them the slip so he can take care of other business. It all leads to the key problem for Walt in "Buyout": Jesse and Mike now want out with a $5m pay-off, by selling their share of the methylamine to a druglord in Phoenix, which leaves Walt as a one-man operation without enough manpower, contacts, or skills to run a meth empire. And that in turn leads to another problem for Mike and Jesse, who discover that their chosen buyer—represented by an associate called Declan (Louis Ferreira)—isn't going to buy them out until they can guarantee Walt's superior "blue" is off the market.

"Buyout" also helped crystallize the perspective of Walt right now, and it comes down to two things: a lifetime of regret over the fact he sold his share in Gray Matter (a start-up company he co-founded as a younger man) for a paltry $5k before it grew into a $2.16bn success; and the fact his life will be empty the moment he quits cooking meth because his wife and his kids are only around because they're trapped in the secrets and lies surrounding his criminal activities. It was great to feel exactly what's keeping Walt so focused on the business, knowing he could quite easily have stopped cooking meth on many occasions in the past. There was a time when his family were still available to him, but I guess that financial misjudgement has left an indelible scar on his soul. And now, in middle-age and thanks to cooking meth, he has a chance of becoming the tycoon he could have been—even if it's something he'll have to keep secret from most folk. Incidentally, I have a tough time imagining Walter will be satisfied living as a secret millionaire, happy with a victory he can't rub anyone's nose in. His ego has often got the better of him during the show, so I'm wondering if that will be his downfall.

This was more of a character study after last week's action-packed train heist, but Breaking Bad's often at its best under such circumstances. I loved the scene where Walt invited Jesse to stay for dinner with Skyler (Anna Gunn), leading to a very uncomfortable dining experience for all three. It's rare for Jesse and Skyler to share the screen, too, as they're faces from the separate halves of Walt's double-life, so this was an added treat for fans. Lord knows what Skyler thinks about Jesse, or how important she believes he is in her husband's actions. Maybe she thinks he's just a junkie aide-de-camp, rather than Walt's young lieutenant.

It was also great to see Walt eventually get the better of Mike, which included more of the show's MacGyver flavouring as Walt freed himself from zip-cuffs tied to a radiator using the electrical arc from a stripped down power cord. I love it when the show reminds us just how inventive and quick-thinking Walt can be when pushed into a corner; although it seems his greatest plan is yet to be explained, as the final scene revealed Walt may have found a way to satisfy everyone. So how will Walt be able to continue cooking meth with his share of the methylamine, while also allowing for Jesse and Mike to sell their thirds in a deal that doesn't hang on the blue-meth being take off the market altogether?

I was also glad the show returned to the idea the DEA still think Mike's a person of interest, even if it's slightly unlikely Mike's able to give them the slip so often... disappearing to rob trains, dissolve a dead boy in a plastic drums, and hang around with Walt and Jesse most evenings. It helps, just, that the show's done a great job selling Mike as a master of his profession, so it just about remains plausible he's able to keep his dual life going under such scrutiny. This episode wisely spent time tidying up this annoyance, thanks to the scene where Mike and Saul (Bob Odenkirk) threatened Hank (Dean Norris) and Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) with a legal shitstorm if they don't stop tailing him everywhere he goes—but their Temporary Restraining Order won't last long. At this point, with Mike a marked man by the Feds, and clearly someone Walt's keen to see the back of sooner rather than later, I'm having a tough time imagining Mike lasting till the end of the series In fact, Mike's untimely death could be the ideal mid-season shock until Breaking Bad completes its final season next summer. What do you think?

  • This season has been marked by the lack of a big villain, for the first time in the show's history after Tuco, Hector and Gus, but "Buyout" slyly suggests two: Todd, who's a kind of "evil twin" version of Jesse; and the Phoenix cartel that want Walt's blue-meth removed from the marketplace before they'll deal with Mike and Jesse.
  • In season 4, Walt's dissolving of a corpse with hydrofluroic fluid was grisly but understandable. This year, the same treatment being given to a young boy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time was... well, very troubling. It's hard to parse the fact Walt's fallen this far, and is compartmentalising this event so well.
written by Gennifer Hutchison / directed by Colin Bucksey / 19 August 2012 / AMC