Tuned In

Breaking Bad Watch: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Ursula Coyote/AMC

SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, pick up some green beans from the deli counter and watch last night’s Breaking Bad.

Most of “Buyout,” the third-to-last episode of the first half of Breaking Bad‘s final season, was concerned with setting up the “how” of the story as it approaches its midseason finale. How will the crew, especially Jesse, deal with the hangover from the murder of a child? How will Mike, if at all, get out from under Hank’s magnifying glass? How will Walt become the bedraggled man, driving back from New Hampshire, buying a machine gun?

“Buyout” takes steps toward each of these “how” questions, setting up another situation in which Walt seeks to finesse a problem—”Everybody wins”—by getting Mike and Jesse their payday while keeping his methylamine. But the core of the episode deals with a more essential question:

Why?

Why does Walt want to keep cooking? Why risk his life? Why destroy his marriage? Why live without his kids? Why pass on an offer that, as Jesse points out, gives him his original “number” many times over? (Recall that, only a few episodes ago—mere days in the Breaking Bad universe, I believe—Walt told Saul Goodman that he needed to keep cooking to pay off debts and recoup the $600K and change he lost to Ted.)

(MORE: Breaking Bad Watch: Train in Vain)

It turns out none of his past reasons were really it. Or they were, but there were always layers beneath. Peel away the cancer, peel away Skyler and the kids, peel away the need to make money, ever again, in his life; at the core—or is it the core?—there’s pride. Pride, and bitterness, and regret, and the desire to make back what he could have made had he stuck at Gray Matter: “Billions, with a B.” We knew, vaguely, the back story of Walt’s leaving his business, but never exactly how much he lost, or how much he could have gotten. Behind his final refusal is a simple, primal urge to power, to vindication, to never be sold short again. He’s Esau, consumed by the desire to trade back his mess of pottage for his birthright.

If “Buyout” was not a top-tier episode, for starters it’s because it gave us this information by, well, giving us the information—having Walt explain his thinking to Jesse in a big download about Gray Matter. (Which, correct me if I’m wrong, still leaves the question of why exactly he left the company—though it’s been implied that it had to do with his breakup with Gretchen.) It may be that there was really no better way to get the information across, though the show has gone the flashback route with Gray Matter before, but as character revelations go, the show has done better before than have someone ask “Why are you doing this?” and someone recite the answer. (Or, at least, the version of the answer that Walt wants to give.)

Second, the episode moved past the repercussions of Todd’s murdering the boy rather easily. The opening sequence—silent except for a moody soundtrack—was deeply chilling. But after we’ve seen Jesse fall apart over Gale’s killing, Brock’s poisoning, the murder of children, it’s surprising to see him (after punching out Todd) relatively calmly come to the decision to leave the business. Perhaps it’s a sign that he’s mastered his emotions better, or just grown cold, but it also made the story feel compressed.

(MORE: Breaking Bad Watch: Pool Party)

But that was all just about worth it for the most excruciatingly awkward dinner scene on Breaking Bad since, well, at least the last one. It is a bad idea to invite Jesse to dinner, an unkind one and, Walt knows well, another violation toward Skyler, who never so much as wanted Jesse in her house. He’s not even insisting that Skyler play-act happiness for Jesse—she won’t, and he knows exactly that.

Jesse is unnerved by the Edward Albee play that, had he ever paid attention in English class, he would have known he had walked into. And his nervous efforts to make conversation—which turn hilarious into a rant about “scabby” frozen lasagna cheese—are the only relief from the oppressive gloom that is Walt’s home life now: hatred, spite and unveiled contempt, with a side of green beans. “See?” he says to Jesse (and indeed, this moment of showing-not-telling is stronger dramatically than his Gray Matter monologue, as well as Bryan Cranston delivered it).

How can this possibly be the dream for Walt? How can it be an acceptable price? As many despicable things as Walt has done, he at least once claimed—on some level, it seemed, sincerely—to be doing what he did out of concern and love for his family. He’s lost him while he’s still alive, and, perhaps, accepted it.

One explanation is that Walt has changed, he’s become Heisenberg, he’s moved beyond sympathetic motivation, he’s truly broken bad. Maybe—or maybe, as his raising of Gray Matter suggests, what we see manifest in him now was latent in him when we first met him, indeed, long before. The bitterness, the vanity, the entitlement, the anger and hunger for vindication. In another life, under another set of circumstances, it might have expressed itself in sarcasm toward his high school students and the occasional dark mood. Instead, one bout of cancer and drug career later, here he is, commanding a dinner to prove his wife hates him, saying that his commitment to a deadly career is not about money or family or safety—it’s just about him.

(MORE: Breaking Bad Watch: Do You Want To Know a Secret?)

Walt is not out of this until he’s made whole. Does anyone out there believe that there is any number that will accomplish that?

Now for the hail of bullets:

* Breaking Bad Visual of the Week: again goes to the cold-open sequence. And ugh–that hand.

* “Teenagers. Some days you just want to strangle them.” The first thing I thought: I hope to God that is not foreshadowing. And yet it’s striking how much of this show has concerned the safety of, and failure to protect, children.

* Didn’t spent a lot of time this week on plot mechanics, so I’ll throw it open to you. For starters, with the introduction of Mike’s connection with the methylene jones and the reference to Todd’s menacing uncle in prison, we have a couple more candidates for a future nemesis/threat to Walt in the series’ endgame. Care to lay odds on either of them?

* Speaking of mechanics: burning through a bracelet with a live electrical wire? Seriously? Look, I am entirely sure the writers did their research and this move was entirely scientifically possible. But we are getting dangerously close to MacGyver territory here.

* Best Saul Goodman line? “Schrader’s hard-on for you just reached Uncle Milty proportions.” Or: “Your client looks fine to me.” “Well, some hurts only show on the inside.”

MORE: Breaking Bad Watch: Special Sauce

9 comments
philmac77
philmac77

"...was not a top-tier episode, for starters it’s because it gave us this information


Wow, you know why it gave you this information, Mr. Critic?  Because you blew it. You missed it, big time. The Grey Matter explanation may not be the full explanation, but its kinda hard to take you seriously anymore, week after week, after missing this one...

Beaker_Burner
Beaker_Burner

Interesting that you mentioned the "teenagers" line. That was a significant line to me, because it took me outside the story and felt more like a glimpse at a bad day in the writer's room. A missed opportunity, sort of thing. Not that I have any business writing television or pretending I know better than what is, overall, the most watchable series on television, but...

"Teenagers. Some days you just want to strangle them."

should have been

"Kids. Some days you just want to shoot them."

And then a meaningful series of awkward moments and regretful/outraged stares. A terrible misspoken thing to linger in minds and further poison the meal setup. You know? Delicious.

EricEales
EricEales

There was a scene in the back yard swimming pool in Season One where Walt, after listening to his family's advice about his cancer diagnosis, explodes with a decided lack of gratitude for their concern.

It is his cancer and he will deal with it in whatever way he sees fit.

It was a powerful statement of autonomy, repeated in Walt's description to Jesse of their operation post Gus Fring. "We run our business our way."

For Walt the enterprise is about taking control, and while it may be obvious to us that his life is spinning out of control, Walt won't stop until he is Emperor.

TyrantKing
TyrantKing

The arc welding scene totally shattered my suspension of disbelief in this episode. Even assuming he could remove the plug from the wire, strip the wire with his teeth (and wasn't it convenient that there was a surge protector) and precisely place the wires to create the necessary arc, the burn created by the arc/melting plastic would have required medical attention. You've also got two arteries in your wrist, he probably should have bled out.

Otherwise a good episode, although, if Walt has told Jesse his plan for the methylamine, shouldn't Mike still shoot Walt and just go ahead with Jesse? I don't know. Too many near misses for Walt to still be believable.

Daniel David
Daniel David

For me, "Buyout" was as top-tier as they come. I don't think the Gray Matter speech was meant to be taken at face value. It's not his true rationale anymore than making money for his family was his true rationale.  This is a man who is rotten at his very core.

Remember how he turned down the solution to his family's problems in 1.05, in the form of Elliot's job offer? A golden opportunity after the disaster of his initial dip in meth's murky river. But no, he decided he wanted to go back for a swim. Screw Elliot. Screw Gray Matter. Screw his family (he'd never admit that last part aloud- though he came close at the dinner table with Jesse).

It's about him, and always has been. And that was in the fifth episode of season one. It's all there, and it's been slowly bubbling up to the surface.

Chris Kw.
Chris Kw.

Yeah.  I agree with some of your problems.  The Gray Matter monologue didn't bother me that much though.  I think sometimes it's okay to explain things.  As long as it's done in moderation.   For more of my thoughts on this episode 

click here

..

RavingArmy
RavingArmy

The scene with the zip cuff was totally MacGyver, and totally awesome.  Improvising a plasma cutter takes a special kind of genius, and a deliberate willingness to accept what would be some serious pain.  It completely fits Walt's character, though I'd say it shows a surprising failure on the part of Mike (Jonathan Banks).  He knows Walt's a genius on the science side of things.  If I were the sort of hardcase who has been there and done that, I'd like to think my sense of paranoia regarding a guy I was already pretty sure was out to screw me would motivate me to be totally thorough when securing him in place.  From the man who specifically told Walt "no half measures," using a zip cuff seems uncharacteristically stupid.

Arvin Loudermilk
Arvin Loudermilk

Sometimes a show can be too internal. Sometimes a character needs to just express how he or she is feeling. If Jesse is going to side with Walt again next episode he needed to know the information about Gray Matter (or something else equally heartfelt), and a direct admission (manipulation) would be an emotional way of accomplishing that. They did the same thing with Skyler two episodes back. She spoke directly about her hatred of Walt (and of herself). I know the Gray Matter situation is more expositional, but the techniques are identical. Sometimes being direct is the best way. Sometime it's also the clunkiest. It's a trade-off.

sandiegoson
sandiegoson

The development of Walt's character is the most complete and believable ever portrayed on American television. 'nuff said.