The second episode of Breaking Bad, "Cat's in the Bag," features one of the the most memorable sequences in the series' history: After a long day of fumbles, Jesse clumsily put his former partner's body in a bathtub full of hydrofluoric acid, only to see a a steaming, bloody mess seeping from the ceiling a short time later. The ceiling then collapsed, followed by a steady stream of guts, which made for one hell of a hilariously disturbing image. "I'm sorry, what were you asking me?" Walt said, bitterly. "Oh yes. That stupid plastic container I asked you to buy. You see, hydrofluoric acid won't eat through plastic. It will, however, dissolve metal, rock, glass, ceramic. So, there's that."
Walt and Jesse were a mess back then. Between Walt's mental struggle with the issue of killing Krazy 8, Jesse's stupidity and meth use, and Skyler's moral issues with Walt's "pot smoking," it seemed unlikely that these two clowns would ever become successful in the meth business. And yet, one short year later, here we are — right smack in the middle of the "empire" business. The guys who couldn't even dispose of one measly, low level drug dealer body have now successfully robbed a train, and disposed of the most powerful drug lord in the American Southwest.
(See below for a trip down memory lane:)
But business as usual is about to come to an end. Because tonight, a different body was submerged in hydrofluoric acid — only this time, the procedure was done with a sickeningly passive precision, by men who have clearly done this before. There was no slapsticky humor this time around, and no body was shown — instead, the emotional impact was felt when the men took apart the boy's bike (because, remember, hydrofluoric acid can eat through metal), piece by piece. It wasn't his body, but it might as well have been. It was a symbol of boyhood, youth, and freedom, that was quickly dissolved when Todd pulled the trigger.
After the slow, horrific death of the bike, and the brief glimpse of the boy's dead hand in the dirt, he most important takeaway from this sequence was the disturbing lack of discussion. Yes, the little boy's death ultimately led to Mike and Jesse wanting to leave the business, but there was never any question about a different alternative — like, say, leaving the body somewhere so his parents wouldn't have to spend the rest of their lives wondering what happened to their son, feeling the agonizing guilt that comes with knowing you allowed him to go out on that bike alone in the first place. Nope, the kid had to go for Walt's money to stay. And Walt managed to escape without any damage done to his conscience — because it was Todd's fault. Nevermind the fact that it was Walt who told Todd — the dimwitted dweeb who desperately wanted in on the game — that absolutely no one could see what they were doing. Todd pulled the trigger, so it was Todd's fault. Walt's warped psyche somehow rendered himself blameless, so he was able to go about the horrible body-disposal business, as Mike stared in stoic disgust, and Jesse smoked a cigarette outside. The kid would disappear, Todd would be put on some sort of ambiguous probation, and Walt would go on making his meth like none of it had ever happened. This, coming from the guy who once gave psychotic drug dealer Krazy 8 some toiletries to make him feel more comfortable.
Walt, as you me and everybody else have discussed endlessly, is a new man now. We've all seen the "gradual" transition (five years-ish for us, one for him), but we'd never heard him fully verbalize it until tonight. If you ask me, there was something strangely out-of-character (or maybe, out-of-Breaking Bad) about his post-dinner "I'm in the empire business" speech to Jesse. Breaking Bad is a beautifully shot production that practically specializes in powerful imagery (Skyler drowning, the teddy bear in the pool, anything involving the Heisenberg Hat), but Walt sitting back in his armchair, casually swirling his drink as he coolly revealed his new outlook on life was a bit too Godfather/Tony Soprano for me. Walt is a merciless cocky bastard, but we didn't need to be beat over the head with a "look, he's a gangster/drug kingpin now!" scene to figure that out. I don't think Jesse did, either.
That being said, I did get some wicked enjoyment out of Walt inviting Jesse over for dinner. He knew the kid was going to cut and run, so he purposefully sent him into Skyler's lioness den for some good old fashioned emotional manipulation. "This is everything I have, and you want to take it away from me," he said, after the most awkward, passive aggressive dinner ever seen on a show that isn't Six Feet Under. Did he really think that Skyler not loving him anymore and the emotional destruction of his family would be more of an impetus than an innocent child's murder? Walt doesn't seem to know Jesse Pinkman very well. Or maybe he just doesn't care.
No, Jesse had clearly been considering his "out" since the night of the boy's death, but it was his first day back at work that really made up his mind. As he and Walt cooked the stolen methylamine at a recently bombed house, the boy — Drew Sharp, 14 — was shown on the local news. Even though Walt said that he hadn't slept in days, the fact that he literally whistled while he worked made it clear to Jesse that they were on a totally different psychological page. (ASIDE: Does anyone know what song Walt was whistling? After several listens, I'm still at a loss. If this is a popular ditty, please excuse my lack of musical knowledge.) And Mike, who was being trailed 24/7 by Hank and his goons, had no other choice but to cut and run while he still could. Mike knows that he has criminal prowess, but he isn't Walt enough to think that Hank and co. won't eventually catch up with him.
So, due to their present circumstances, Mike found a pretty great deal: If he sold his and Jesse's methylamine to a financially capable and expansion-hungry friend, he and Jesse could each walk away with $5 million, and Walt could keep his methylamine and make as much money as humanly possible. Of course, this would never be enough to satisfy Walt, who has still never gotten over the financial success of Grey Matter — his college friends' company that we were briefly introduced to during season one. As we learned tonight, Walt took a $5k buyout from those friends before the company took off, so the number "5" being included in the generous figure that Jesse and Mike were offering now was probably salt in a deep but very misguided wound.
Lucky for Walt, the buyer refused to pay up without the infamous "Blue Sky"'s exit from the market. So no Walt, no deal. Jesse did his best to change Walt's mind before the disastrous dinner, reminding him that all Walt originally needed was $737,000 to save his family. Now, with the buyout, he would be making more than five times that amount. But Walt, again, is now in the empire business — so when Mike chained him to a radiator, Black Snake Moan style, to keep him from doing anything with the methylamine before the deal (Mike had to plan a DEA-diversion with Saul so they'd temporarily get off his back), he was willing to burn his own skin to break his constraints, track Jesse down, and somehow change his mind. Again.
We'll have to wait another week to hear about Walt's 584,393,586th last-minute on-the-fly genius plan, but, according to him, this time "everybody wins."
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[Photo Credit: AMC]