Back before his days cooking meth, killing consolidates, poisoning children, and manipulating his friends and family, Breaking Bad's Walter White was a teacher. A teacher who, according to the self-righteous parents of Jesse Pinkman, made a conscientious effort to encourage his students to strive for their full potential. That man — or at least that man’s tricks and tactics, still exist in Walt, who lays a couple of pretty traditionally teachery sermons upon “students” Jesse and Todd in this week’s episode, “Say My Name” (which is such an unfortunate title due to the unavoidable Destiny’s Child implications).
When we last left the blue meth trio down on the ol’ ABQ, Walt was spouting tales of a master plan that would win him control of the empire and still allow Jesse and Mike to take their money and go. Walt sells this new plan to Mike’s affiliates, who wish to buy out the trio’s supply of methylamine, illustrating the necessity of his presence in any would-be drug operation. The great and powerful Oz that Walt is, while earning a headshake of disapproval from Mike (and the viewer) does manage to win over Mike’s buyers with his bells-and-whistles “I am the one they call Heisenberg!” show — staking his claim as their new boss and employing them as his new distribution team.
But there’s one unwilling party in Walt’s new startup company: Jesse, whom Walt advertises as one of the two best meth cooks in the game, promising his young pupil’s involvement in the business proposal. Jesse has made it clear that he wants out, but Walt will hear none of this. Instead of listening to Jesse’s pleas, Walt insists that Jesse is throwing away his life and potential by walking way from this opportunity — there’s some of that teacher talk — even going so far as to berate Jesse’s lifestyle and lack of alternative available sources of fulfillment. But finally, finally, Jesse is not undone by Walt’s words.
In fact, it seems to be Jesse’s introduction to Skyler that has helped push him further from his mentor’s grasp. His vision of Walt’s wife as this shattered, lifeless figure with nothing but agonizing contempt for Walt might have introduced the idea that maybe, Mr. White is not the well-meaning albeit jagged father figure in whom Jesse has invested himself over the course of the past year.
Meeting your teacher’s spouses and families is, in actuality, always kind of a surreal experience. Seeing an instructor beyond the confines of his or her classroom position can serve to make him or her seem more human, more glamorous, more three-dimensional… for Jesse, the showcase of Walt’s relationship with Skyler seems to help highlight Walt’s demonic selfishness. So, it’s easier for Jesse to lash out at Walt when he tries to bring Jesse down for wanting out of the game — and even to pass up on the $5 million that Walt attempts to hold ransom, just to be out of the dirty meth industry once and for all.
Walt’s chat with Jesse about their triumphs and failures thus far is a treat for anyone who has been invested in the show and its characters, and for anyone who enjoys a good foray into philosophy. Listening to science man Walt explore the existence of Hell with a matter-of-fact attitude is the kind of stuff that makes him and this show so damn watchable, even especially in the scenes consisting entirely of two guys just trying to get into each other’s heads.
Over at the police department, Hank has been getting some flack for devoting all his time and manpower to the Mike Ehrmentraut case. Early on, we see Mike lead a team of agents to Mike’s apartment with a search warrant… coming up dry, as two-steps-ahead Mike has ditched his computer, firearms, the works. But a stroke of genius overtakes Hank: while none of Mike’s nine guys are talking (paid off), there is one untapped source — the lawyer, Dan Waxberg (or a name along those lines). Mike has been having Waxberg make regular visits to the safety deposit boxes of his hazard pay beneficiaries, and tops off the list with a large donation to his young granddaughter’s college fund. Unfortunately, Waxberg — unlike the nine reliable men on Mike’s payroll — is willing to talk to the cops when approached.
After earning the cops’ attention, Waxberg calls Mike to arrange a meeting, tricking his associate into revealing his present location — a neighborhood playground with his granddaughter. Walt, who caught the DEA’s plan while pulling Round 2 of the Crying Game at Hank’s office in an effort to remove the bugs on his desk and computer, calls Mike to warn him that the cops are on his tail. In a heartbreaking, anxiety-inducing scene, Mike bids a tacit farewell to his swing-set-adhered granddaughter, fleeing the scene without her as the cops pull up.
Mike calls Saul, who has Walt and Jesse present to close out some business, to arrange a quick meeting/delivery — Saul insists that the cops will be on his tail too, so Jesse eagerly volunteers to handle the task. In the interest of Jesse’s safety, Mike rejects his offer; in the interest of shutting Jesse up, Walt volunteers next — he can’t stand the idea of Jesse being so invested in Mike, Walt’s rival for Jesse’s admirations.
Walt picks up a parcel containing money, a passport, and a gun to deliver to Mike in a wooded location. The two quarrel about Mike’s list of names — Walt thinks he deserves to know who Mike’s men are, and Mike feels quite differently. From this argument, though, springs another: Mike really spells out Walt’s character. He explains that every bad thing that has befallen the two of them and Jesse has been entirely Walt’s fault. Mike explains that the murder of Gus was driven only by Walt’s ego and overbearing pride, belittling the quavering chemist until he is driven, after what seems like a few moments of hesitant consideration, to shooting Mike.
The moment is not particularly shocking. Walt has toyed with the idea of killing Mike vocally before, and the shot of Walt glaring at Mike’s gun prior to dropping off the package is anything but subdued. Still, seeing Walt engage in his first act of violence that is driven entirely by emotion and not self-preservation or any real Machiavellian logic should be engaging to anyone who has come this far on Mr. White’s journey to inescapable madness. Even Walt recognizes how far he has plunged now, and reserves no celebration for his “masculinity” in this turn of events.
Walt shoots Mike when the latter is attempting to drive away from the scene, causing the car to veer off into a tree stump and emit a cloud of dusty smoke. A shaken, apparently remorseful Walt approaches the vehicle, only to find the driver’s seat empty and a trail of footprints leading down to the water.
The bizarre scene to follow sort of abandons a time-space continuum. Walt wanders frightfully, searching for Mike and trying to collect himself. Down by the waterside, Mike is already seated, impossibly calmly. Somehow, this act is different for Walt. He didn’t really have to do it, even by his logic — Walt realizes that he could have simply gotten the names of the men from crazy Lydia, and stammers around some semblance of an apology or an explanation, trying to rectify his deed.
Seeing Walt actually feeling anything is quite an about face. And it’s shocking that it comes as a result of an act of violence imparted against Mike, Walt’s biggest foe of late. The past couple of seasons have shown nothing but animosity, albeit contained animosity, between the pair. If Walt was ever to show remorse, I think many of us assumed it’d be the result of something done wrong to Jesse. Although Walt has been shown to have no real issue with manipulating and harming Jesse, Jesse is still clearly very important to Walt — as we see in this episode, regarding the issue Walt takes with Jesse’s affection for Mike.
So maybe that’s it. Mike is the man Walt wants to be. He wants to be Jesse’s idol, the cold-blooded killer, the smooth operator, the man who can get things done, the real king. Mike is all of this. Walt has just killed a man he respects, all because of his pride. Or maybe Walt is just now realizing how big a problem his pride is — while he has managed to keep himself in the dark all this time about his real motives, he now might understand: he’s done all of this to feel less pathetic.
But the real question, as Mike stoically dies by the water, is what the aftermath will bring. When will Jesse find out about this, and will this be the final wedge between the pair? Or will it be the DEA who is led to Walt via this murder? The next episode, as the “midseason finale,” should introduce at least one pretty huge twist into Walt’s story. Will it be Jesse-related or Hank-related?
[Photo Credit: AMC]