Breaking Bad Watch: Four Terrifying Glimpses of Walter White, Lost Cause

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Ursula Coyote / AMC

“I’m the cook. I’m the man who killed Gus Fring…now, say my name.”

Sunday night’s Breaking Bad was so fascinating – equal parts wrenching, shocking and creepy – that I actually logged on this morning hoping that James Poniewozik felt compelled to say his piece. I wanted to read his thoughts and insights – but only then remembered that the responsibility this week falls to me. Our Breaking Bad expert will return next week, with his expert analysis of the mid-season finale.

Needless to say, MAJOR SPOILERS ahead.

Like several of the series’ recent episodes, there was a lot of rapid plot advancement in “Say My Name,” as the show’s creators race to position the storyline for an Sept. 2 cliffhanger that will have to satisfy us until next summer. At times, this urgent surge forward brushed by what, in earlier seasons, would have been gut-twisting developments.

(MORE: TIME’s complete coverage of Breaking Bad episodes)

I’m not the best when it comes to comprehensive episode recaps, but as I viewed “Say My Name” with a more critical eye, I was startled by how far Walter White has fallen since my last appreciation of TV’s greatest character of the moment. Earlier this season, as he started to lose hold of his family, and grasp of his allies in the drug biz, the show seemed appropriately somber about his slow but steady descent into egomania and paranoia. But now we’ve fallen so far below sea level that his final ounces of decency are crushed under the pressure almost without a second glance.

Let us recall that Walter White began as a desperate man employing desperate strategies to care for his family. He knew he’d be dead soon, he wanted to bank some cash that would keep his family safe, and he was willing to risk his life and liberty to make it happen. Much the same can be said for Mike. As long as his granddaughter has been alive, that’s been his focus – keep her safe, and stay out of prison to be there for her. And while he’s been a very violent man, willing to kill and intimidate when necessary, I think it’s safe to bet that for many “Breaking Bad” fans, witnessing his demise was far more emotional than anything that has yet to happen to Walter White. With one immoral decision after another, White has passed the point of forgiveness, but across the scenes that we’ve spent with Mike, he’s always seemed to be fair, measured and rational, often a counterpoint to White’s irrational flailings.

Over at Vulture, Matt Zoller Seitz invokes the memory of Michael Mann’s crime epic Heat (one of my all-time favorite films) to detail Mike’s demise. It’s an apt comparison – as Mike’s final glimpse around the tree of his granddaughter, swinging unknowingly towards the cops who have descended on the park, succeeds in being even more emotional that Robert De Niro’s panicked ditching of Amy Brenneman in “Heat” as he spots the heat coming down the alley. De Niro looks directly into Brenneman’s eyes as he makes the decision to run; she even steps out of the car, wondering where he is going, why he is fleeing. But Mike doesn’t even get the chance to indicate to his granddaughter that he must flee – that he’s well aware of the hurt he’s about to cause her. She swings away from him, oblivious to this life-defining turn, and surely Mike knows, staring into the sunset while bleeding out in the marsh, that she will feel confused and abandoned. That he never said goodbye.

(MORELife Imitates Breaking Bad: Walter White Wanted on Meth Charges)

It is a tragic and heartbreaking turn of events – and while Mike perhaps deserved what he got, surely we thought he would go down swinging or scheming, and not utterly dejected. As Walt pulls away his piece, the sequence turns even more bleak: Mike could have killed Walt if he had wanted to, but what’s the point? In at least his later years, he was fighting for his girl, and now it’s all over. No money, no safety, no fond farewells. This is probably the series’ most emotional death scene – but surely not the last.

But I digress. While Mike’s solemn swan song will surely have more people clamoring this morning, I found myself equally moved and saddened by four pivotal scenes that show Walt hitting rock bottom. First and foremost was that astonishing opening scene, in which we see Walt’s true motives – his true reasons for being – laid bare. Out in the open desert, there is not a hint of the apprehension or anxiety that colored his earlier showdowns with drug kingpins. Instead, he calmly steps out, defiantly rejects demands, and goes so far as to mock, insult and shame the other meth dealers. He throws the bag of meth in dirt, where they must pick it up, he attacks the quality of their product, he makes them bow and submit and “say my name.” “Heisenberg.” “You’re goddamn right.”

We’ve seen Walt turn tough, but have we really seen him salivate like this over the kill? Relish in rubbing another man’s face in the dirt? It isn’t just that he’s standing up to the challenge, which led some of us fans to rally around him and cheer him on. He’s like a wild beast drooling over his quarry. It’s an eye-opening moment, but less awesome than repulsive. Here we see our first glimpse of Walt the Monster.

The second glimpse comes when Jesse says, without reservation, that he wants out. He’s done with the drugs, with the violence that has now killed a kid (and which nearly killed another kid earlier, all at Walt’s hands). And unlike other episodes that required Walt to talk Jesse off the cliff, in a bid to keep the product flowing or to keep the pair alive, here we see Walt begin his con game anew, arguing against all reason for Jesse to stay involved. Gone are the profit motives (Jesse could easily bank $5 million from selling the liquid) and the safety concerns (at this point in the episode, the DEA seems a million miles away, and Gus is still underground). Jesse is making the perfectly reasonable request that he be freed from this bloody business. And instead Walt picks up the gloves, furrows his brow and starts in on the shame and the guilt. The implication, of course, is that Walt the Monster is holding Jesse’s money hostage, and finally Jesse says screw it – keep the dough.

Then there’s the pitiful dinner at the family table, where it becomes abundantly clear that Skyler won’t just be keeping the kids away from their terrifying father, but that she has no interest in uttering a syllable to him. Breaking all his promises that he would keep the danger away from his family, Walt has hid the methylamine in the carwash – the business that was supposed to be a clean and clear front for the money laundering – and put Skyler directly in harm’s way. If there was ever any doubt that Walt the Monster had lost sight of his family behind the mountain of blue crystals and dollar bills, here’s the confirmation.

But above and beyond all these moments, there is the final scene of Walt on the riverbank, apologizing to the man he has killed. Walt tells off Mike while holding his bag of money hostage, he starts to walk back to his car, then he bolts for Mike, gun drawn. He shoots, is shocked to see the car crash, then stalks his prey like a professional, before cowering at the sight of a bloody Mike, accepting his fate. He seems genuinely shocked by what he has done – and therein lies some of the most compelling evidence yet that Walt has gone off his rocker. Sure, he’s been violent and dangerous before, but it almost always has emerged from survival instinct. Here he shot a business colleague who was not poised to harm him, a partner who was about to hit the open road. And he seemed to realize that in his fit of rage, he had taken things too far.

(MORE: Touré on Breaking Bad and the Downfall of the White ‘Anyman’)

It was sobering to see the episode move at such a rapid pace – to see Walt emerge scene by scene as a lost cause to his business colleagues, his wife and even his mentee. But in this final crescendo, not only did we see Mike die; we saw Walt struggling to grapple with the capabilities of his own inner demons. You don’t typically shoot a guy and then apologize as he dies. But it wasn’t Walt who shot Mike; it was Heisenberg. And I think Walt is starting to realize that his alter-ego is now officially running the show.

Things are bleak in the Breaking Bad world. I’m starting to brace myself for pitch black.

18 comments
Bigdad2012
Bigdad2012

I love this show. It is true drama. My wife and I are at opposite poles; she, taking the high road with Walt's family, and I trapped in the dark slide with Walt toward evil.

Will Hank's relentless persuit lead to his demise? Killing will come easier now to us I"m afraid.

raymosley
raymosley

I disagree with the Jamp;H and even that he regrets what he has done stood there on the riverbank. 

I think this show is about how getting down in the muck, doing what you need to do changes you. I don't think WW has a moral compass anymore where as in a reversal Jesse has gone from a no hoper into the voice of reason who does (even in all he has done) have limits.

I think the comment about "I could have got the names from lydia" showed just how cold WW has now become, not that he still has a light and dark side, it's all dark.

Originally i thought Jesse would be the one to bring him down, now I think it's todd with his uncles connections. He is more ambitious and less loyale than jesse. That's fire being played with right there.

vrcplou
vrcplou

I agree.  I've always felt that this show was about self-discovery and sometimes what you find at the core of yourself isn't all that "nice" or "good".  In Jesse's case, he's found himself in a good way; he's decent, moral, compassionate.  He started out as the "bad" guy (even felt that way about himself) but has discovered a real Man over this process.  Walt is the opposite.  Walt was "good"; played by the rules, loving family man, if somewhat weak and not in control of his destiny.  Then he began this journey, taken control, evolved, discovered things about himself.  And what he's discovered is a ruthlessness.  Which can be good if you are using it to say, protect your family.  But it's also a beast, which once unleashed, easily takes over it's owner.  I still feel empathy for WW.  He's a living testament to the adage "the road to hell is paved with good intentions".

MrBenReilly
MrBenReilly

As i watch walter white become Heisenberg, i cant help but think about the movie "Deep Cover", where Larry Fishburne's character evolved into exactly what he beheld at the start of the film (drug dealer, and a good one at that), but, in that movie there was a happy ending, and while it seems like a happy ending for walter white is impossible given the current circumstances, i wonder if Gilligan will pull that final magic trick and have walter ride into the sunset, family in tact.  I guess we have 9 episodes to find out :-)

Timothy Drake
Timothy Drake

I honestly don't think the show can go on for too much longer... it's been a superb run though.

louloucanoe
louloucanoe

Walter White has definitely gone to the Dark Side.  I wonder who will be the one to drop a dime on him?

danton steele
danton steele

so since I don't get any television and especially no cable...I see the Lockhorns and that Lockhorn definitely looks like the guy in Breaking Bad.

Sean Daniel Shortwinter
Sean Daniel Shortwinter

I really wanted everything to work out. I wanted Walter to get his family back and Jesse to continue to look up to Walter. That's never going to happen now. Sad, too. And surprising, because I don't think I've ever really cared about fictional characters until this show came along.

http://sdanielshortwintercom.b...

Chris Creel
Chris Creel

You call Mike's granddaughter his "daughter" twice in paragraph 5.

Steven James Snyder
Steven James Snyder

yikers! And that was AFTER I had already identified her as his granddaughter! Clearly I was too caught up in the glum....thanks for the close read. Did you dig the episode?

Lucia Matias
Lucia Matias

Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde, Mr. White and Heisenberg.... 

It seems that nobody is original anymore.

Seth Miller
Seth Miller

the stories Jekyll and hyde and breaking bad a similar, yes, but also incredibly different. just because bb has some similarities to Jamp;H it doesn't mean it's unoriginal. if you study any form of writing you'll see that it inevitably borrows  ideas from other forms of writing. it's been that way since we've had writing

Steven James Snyder
Steven James Snyder

Who's unoriginal, the show or me? If it's the former, I would probably disagree...It's been a slow, long, self-aware slide for Walter White, and that is far different than the whole Jekyll and Hyde thing. If you're saying I'm unoriginal...well, yeah, probably. Or at least far less original than Vince Gilligan

Chris Kw.
Chris Kw.

Yep.  Walt has fallen pretty far from the man he used to be (or appeared to be).  I don't mind see him as the villain.  But he seems a bit cartoonish at times.  I wrote about that more in depth here

And Mike made some poor decisions in this episode that led to his demise.  Almost makes me wonder if he had no interest in living a crime-free life.

http://criticalsquare.blogspot...

--Chris Kw.

SelenaLinda
SelenaLinda

Nicholas implied I am surprised that some people can make $8517 in four weeks on the network. did you see this(Click on menu Home)

Steven James Snyder
Steven James Snyder

Interesting Chris - was it that Mike made bad decisions, or that he simply ran out of alternatives? At some point, you gotta pay off the guys, and keep the operation humming, and cope with the DEA tails, etc, etc, etc. The web becomes so complex that you have to outsource some things, and rely on others, and trust that bribing the bank worker is enough. And once one domino falls, the rest will follow. So I saw it as less sloppiness than the fact that he was keeping so many balls juggling that one was bound to fall....

dmachop
dmachop

Come on!!! Mike's no Gus to underestimate Walter. At three-fourth of the episode, you got to know the moment when Walter insisted that he'd be giving Mike his belongings, he's going to come after Mike. The episode falls so flat that you know when Vince Gilligan brings some flaws of mike(bank deposit) and ends at the same episode. It was cognizable that he portrayed the same about Gus at the Season 4 finale, but this is not the way to fool the viewers. When Mike looks for the bag, he is so sheepish(with the build-up that he's given, i.e. being so professional in encounters when working under Gus).

Bottom line, we were robbed!