Breaking Bad season 5 episode 7 review: Say My Name

Review Paul Martinovic 28 Aug 2012 - 11:21

The penultimate episode of this Breaking Bad half-season is a showcase for two magnificent performances. Here's Paul's review...

This review contains spoilers.

5.7 Say My Name

Breaking Bad has always taken pleasure in subverting our expectations – episodes late in the season feel like clinging on to an enormous firework as it spins wildly around the room, out of control, dragging you violently in one direction then another; or, to use a more appropriate, chemistry-based analogy, the closing stages of a season are when the addition of too many reactive elements to the formula finally causes it to become unstable, leading to it corroding and destroying everything that surrounds it.

Unlike previous episodes at this stage of a season, however, Say My Name had a quiet inevitability to it. Mike and Walt have been at loggerheads all season, and their conflict was clearly coming to an end, so did anyone truly think that Mike would make the clean break and live happily ever after?

No one ever gets out unscathed on Breaking Bad without first paying the price for their mistakes, and Mike’s biggest mistake throughout the entire series was to continually underestimate Walt – to let him worm his way out of trouble and into positions of power time after time after time. Last week, Mike left Walt limply cable-tied to a radiator next to the keys to the treasured methylamine which was parked next door – clearly not the actions of a man who is taking significant, or even adequate precautions

So why the blind spot? It’s easy to see why Walt’s other two nemeses, Hank and Jesse (and they are nemeses, even though neither of them exactly realise it yet), can’t see how dangerous he is: to Hank, he’ll always be his dorky brother-in-law, and to Jesse, there’s still the vestiges of the respect formed by their initial teacher-pupil relationship, as is constantly demonstrated by him still instinctively referring to him as Mr White. Walt knows the innate power of these preconceptions, and uses them accordingly to manipulate situations to his advantage

But Mike was different (describing him in the past tense like this is brutal, by the way). He saw Walter for exactly what he was, as he demonstrated in what proved to be his final blazing argument with Walt: made to leave town after his lawyer was caught with hundreds and thousands of dollars of hazard pay and subsequently flipped by the DEA, Mike is heartbreakingly forced to abandon his granddaughter and quickly get out of dodge. He’s required to leave in such a hurry that he isn’t even able to grab his ’go-bag’, a case possibly full of clothes, toiletries, duct tape, makeshift torture instruments, and low-level military weaponry.

Therefore, he’s required to have one final interaction with Walt, who readily volunteers to make the drop as he wants something in return – the nine names of the men who, now that their hazard pay has been stemmed, he knows will be being leaned on heavily by the DEA.

Mike’s refusal to give up his men and Walt’s subsequent grandstanding leads to our favourite elderly hitman finally snapping, and the depths of his perception are confirmed as he loudly and angrily runs down a painfully accurate description of Walt’s character defects– petty, ego-driven, impulsive, irrational, arrogant, and utterly hamstrung by his own pride.

While Mike’s amateur psychology here was first rate, ironically, it perhaps was Mike’s own pride that stopped him from dealing with Walter as effectively as he might have during their working relationship. Mike correctly identifies Walt’s ego as his biggest weakness, so if he had been able to at least pretend to respect Walt even a little bit, he would probably have found him a lot easier to deal with and may have ultimately escaped with his life.

Easier said than done though. Mike ultimately couldn’t even feign respect for Walt, so violently opposed were their two approaches to business – Mike with his unerring loyalty, strong (relative) code of ethics and principles; and Walt with his cutthroat, do-whatever-it-takes to survive mentality. 

As a result, Mike was so disgusted by Walt that he refused to ever take him seriously as a man, let alone a boss - consistently skeptical of his ideas, addressing him in an almost constant sneer, and physically intimidating him on a number of occasions. And unless you haven’t noticed, Walt is all about being taken seriously as a man. He’s primarily in two businesses: 1) the empire business, and 2) the being taken seriously as a man business. But mainly the second one.

Take the opening of the episode as Exhibit A, which saw Walt/Heisenberg at possibly his most swaggeringly aggressive yet, demanding that some high-level meth dealers “say his name” after they first were all-but forced to accept the terms of a counter deal he just laid out for them: “Heisenberg…” “You’re goddamn right.” It’s a crowning moment of machismo for Walt and his swinging dick Heisenberg persona, and even Mike is briefly and grudgingly respectful.

But when Walt tries this same trick again later in his confrontation with Mike – using tough talk in a stubborn, steel-eyed negotiation as they face each other down like gunslingers - it has absolutely no effect on his weary ex-partner. Walt’s stunned to see that Mike’s not only not scared, but also ready to drop that quick, scathingly unflattering psych profile on him, one that also fairly transparently belittles his manhood (“You should have known your place!”) He then walks right up to him and snatches the bag right out of his hands, as if he were just an ordinary man and not a mythic drug lord.

Because to Mike, Walt will always be an absurd figure, the chemistry teacher who is playing drug lord, and that realization for Walt - that he will never earn Mike’s respect as an intellectual, a criminal, or even a human being – finally sends Walt over the edge, and leads him to impulsively gun down Mike in what is admittedly an achingly beautiful and picturesque setting (hey, at least it’s not a nursing home, right Mike?)

And it’s in these final moments Walt unwittingly cements himself as that absurd figure, perhaps more absurd than even Mike ever thought possible, as he suddenly comes around from an extremely ill-timed ‘senior moment’ to realize that his murder had been in vain – he could have easily got the names he was after from Lydia.

This is already one of my favourite moments in Breaking Bad history – I laughed out loud when Walt metaphorically sniffed the gas he’d left on, as it was such a hilarious and character-appropriate way to illustrate Walt’s ever-loosening grip on reality. (As a quick aside, Jonathan Banks and particularly Bryan Cranston were both phenomenal in this episode, conveying some deeply complex character arcs with an intensity and intelligence that will surely be rewarded during the American awards season. Banks, and Mike, will be sorely missed.)

We are now beginning to see what an unfiltered Walter White/Heisenberg persona looks like, and it isn’t pretty, Whether consciously or sub-consciously, Walter has spent this half-season steady disassembling all of the safeguards that had been keeping him (relatively) human, and now is left without anyone or anything to keep his worst impulses in check.  Now Mike is gone, he has no-one to call him on his bullshit and actually be able to stand up to him about it on an aggressive, masculine level. He’s also driven Jesse away, who has effectively acted as his conscience and moral centre for the past few seasons. His family too, is now long gone, with Skylar (metaphorically) and his kids (literally) having both left the building.

All that’s left are yes-men who are either intimidated by him (Saul) or in thrall to him (Todd). We see a preview of Walt and Todd’s working relationship, and realise that the greatest asset of Jesse to Walt was his subservience, and his ability to be easily manipulated – here, however, Walt is surprised and happy to realise that manipulation now won’t be necessary, as he now has a pupil who is just as obedient, eager to learn and eager to please, with none of the fussy moral hang-ups that would consistently plague Jesse’s work getting in the way.

Before Jesse got out though we got a nice best-of of Walt’s manipulation tactics, as he tried to use guilt, scorn, ridicule, pity, flat out anger, and money to persuade Jesse to stay. Walt’s endless lies and circular logic have become too much for even Jesse now, however – “It’s bullshit, every time” – and Jesse proves his moral fibre by agreeing to walk out on $5m if it means finally cutting ties with the increasingly deranged Walt.

So how will the momentous death of Mike affect things going into the season finale? Well, it’s sure to make Jesse do…something, considering their relationship constantly seemed to be teetering on the edge of being genuinely affectionate. Will we finally head into season 6 with the Jesse vs. Walt showdown that’s been building for years?

Or will Hank prove to be Walt’s main stumbling block to his empire-building, and a confrontation that’s been brewing for even longer will get resolved? Now that the main lead in the case has been murdered, it’s sure to cement Hank’s resolve that he’s getting closer, after his bosses all but shut down the investigation, and convince him to pump more time and effort into the project.

But, perhaps most pressingly, how will the murder of Mike affect Walt, at least in the short-term? Walt’s self-mythologizing is heavily built around his status as a master planner, someone who canvasses every detail and outwits every other player in the game by always being sure he is a few moves ahead at every point: so for him to make this, the most basic of errors, one that would lead to him committing yet another murder (shortly after assuring Jesse that they were to be a thing of the past) out of pure, spiteful hot-headedness, should even penetrate Walt’s inches thick layers of denial and self-justification and make him realize that he is beginning to lose control. If he were to make another mistake like that, in another of the dangerous, precarious scenarios that Walt seemingly so craves being a part of, it could cost him any or all of the following: his freedom, his fortune, his life, and his children’s lives.

Walt himself must know that this is a worrying precedent – he has hitherto prided himself on being able to ride out even the most potentially hazardous of situations by using his intelligence and ruthlessness to harness the elements to his advantage. But now, with the senseless murder of Mike on his conscience, and the knowledge that his violent emotions are finally capable of overtaking the power of his calculating intellect, he has identified himself as the unstable element - the catalyst for the break down into chaos and destruction that he has been forced to dig deep and rise above so many times in the past. Up until now, he’s proven a master at managing situations controlling others, but now he faces possibly his biggest challenge yet – will Walt be able to control himself?

Read Paul's review of last week's episode, Buyout, here.

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I am constantly blown away by this programme and no where else on the internet is it analysed so perfectly and so poetically than in your reviews.

Brilliant review - you really nailed this episode.

Great review mate, cant wait for Sunday !

Are we sure Mike is actually dead?

All of the above and possibly the BEST exit line for Mike too...just a wonderful sign off

I should have mentioned this in the review but unfortunately ran out of time/space. Don't really have anything to add, other than they really were perfect last words.

Yep. Jonathan Banks cries all the way through the making-of documentary for the episode due to it being his last day on set.

Surely the mid-season climax now just has to be Hank's penny finally dropping? I predict Walt going on the run in real-time for the ten months we have to wait til the concluding 8 episodes which would segue neatly into bringing us back in at the point where the season opened. What do you think?

great review, you really hit on some good points here

wuuw ı miss you..:/

Great review for another great episode. However there were two things in this episode that I would like to nitpick on a little. Walt being conveniently present at the DEA when Hank and his former partner say they have everything they need on Mike and are ready to go bust him. The other thing was Mike crawling out of the car and down to the river at the end without Walt seeing him do it. These are nitpicks I know but I found them to be just a tad bit lazy from writers who are almost never lazy like this.

Still a spectacular episode though and a great send off for Mike. I'm really going to miss that guy!

Another great review that really delves deep into Walt's psyche. I love how you often use chemistry terms (like catalyst) as you analzye the characters. This show is amazing, which is no surprise since it comes out of the mind of one of the masterful writers of our time - Vince Gilligan - who was the best writer on The X-Files (the greatest show of all time!)
One correction, though. You made reference to Season 6, but it's actually going to be the second half of Season 5.

Hi guys. Can't use the comment system at work, so don't comment like I used to. I just wanted to say how far the reviews have come since the days when DoG basically just did a synopsis. This is a great review, pondering the implications of an episode and really being a worthwhile, almost complimentary partnership to the show unfolding. Keep it up guys.

Oh, and Breaking Bad is brilliant. I'd like to add to the discussion the thought regarding the implications of Walt telling the drug lords he killed Fring - Fring had been brought up as having a history with some pretty big boys before his time in America, enough to warrant him still damn near untouchable. I feel this is the major seed sown in this episode designed to showcase Walts increasing ego and it's reprocussions (already excellently summarised in the article). Walt has now killed the only man even remotely likely to protect or inform Walt about his impending doom. It would also explain the need for an BFG on his 52nd birthday, as only something huge would cause a man like Walt to not attempt to use his wits first.

Right. But they could have wrote it so the bug gave them one final piece of intel just as easy, which would have made it too much of a plot device. This specific point I think will add a layer into the plot later, when it comes out Walt was working with Mike. This will have repercussions for Hank and Gomi for discussing the case in front of the central conspirator who later that day killed their target.

It was dusty and Walt was far away, on the other side of the car.

To the point in the review about this resembling Snoop's death in the Wire, another similarity is to the scene where Omar shoots Brother Mouzone, who was completely comfortable with dying in such a way and didn't even care to know why. The game is the game. Even Stringer, after a lit bit of attempted negotiations, accepted what was about to happen. That always fascinated me about The Wire. Lydia when very first confronted by Mike cared more about the details of her body being found than being killed.

Mike was guilty of the same criticism that he lobbed at Walt. If he had also known his place in the new regime, he would probably be alive. I am not condoning Walt's act of murder, but seriously, Mike has almost killed him several times and often belittled him--it's a wonder Walt hadn't done it sooner. Ultimately he was wrong in that 'killing Jesse James' did in fact make him Jesse James. The other dealers recognised this and showed him the respect he craved by doing as told 'saying his name.'. Had Mike shown any of that respect, it probably would have appeased Walt.

Great review as always! One point that you talked about for the last episode, but not this one was Todds character.

Todd is clearly a psychopath, and hinted heavily at family criminal connections that "might come in use". Mike waved these aside saying "they came up in the background check", but didn't give any more information than that. This is a man who, while in 'thrall' with Walt, is a very dangerous man. We don't really know his motivations yet, but they will not be good. He wants to get in with Walts gang as was apparent from the first, and is not in the most treasured position of all - learning how to cook.

This man is going to have access to the Methylamine, Walts equipment, Vamanos, and most of all Walts cook technique. The call that he made about not wanting to be paid till he gets the cook right has endeared him to Walt, while lowering Walts defenses (since he's pretty torn up / messed up over Jesse's departure.

This is a guy who calmly killed a boy with only a moments thought, showed a creepily sociopathic stare when looking at the trapped spider, and has criminal connections...

Bad things are going to happen with this guy. Mark my words.

Tae, you're right on about Todd being a psycho. It's not just the look on his face when he looks at the spider that hints at this fact - it's the fact that he has the spider at all. Serial killers are notorious for keeping mementos from their victims. In this case, it's the spider. They're setting Todd up to have some serious significance down the road, possibly even killing a main character.

Cool review! You made me understand this episode even better :)

Awesome review of this episode....props to the great analysis and writing, as always.

I totally hope and would love to see that happen. I'd much rather Walt go on the run during or near the end of episode 8 rather than take off in a later episode, like near the end of the 2nd half of the season only to come back in the last episodes (if not the last) to go out in a blaze of glory. I'd love to see him get discovered by Hank in episode 8 which would cause Walt to bail....that would make a nice 8 episodes of the second half of the season to see how it all unfolds to its ultimate finale. I think a combination of Hank's discovery and the death of some one close to Walt (Skylar or Jr. or both) will cause Walt to go on the run in remorse and shame and eventual plans to avenge their possible deaths. The weaponry he buys in the first episode could be for revenge plans on the druglords who may kill his family (if one or more do indeed get offed).

It was a fine episode, but for the first time I am starting to resent “Breaking Bad.” I have been upset for months that an arbitrary end has been set for the series.
It is, without doubt, the best show on television. I have been watching TV since Uncle Miltie, and I think that it is the best show EVER on TV (at least, since the Moon landing). So I am upset for that reason.
I would think that the show could go on for several more years with the storylines available with Hank, Marie, Skyler, and Saul Goodman (a wasted asset this season, I think).
This bring me to my second complaint. Like “The Sopranos,” the other nominee for “Best Show Ever on Television” (but in second place), a show that was never the same after Adriana’s murder and really hit the wall after Christopher was murdered (Tony murdering his surrogate son?), I fear that “Breaking Bad” is consuming its characters.
Gus Fring’s exit was memorable, but he was irreplacable and has been missed this year. I fear that Mike’s demise will be the same, with the exception that his death was totally unnecessary and gratutious. Walt is becoming too much and too obvious a monster TOO QUICKLY. Gus Fring was a wonderful villain because he SEEMED so ordinary, the unassuming, hard working small businessman, who was always first to contribute to DEA charities (while in reality being a secret drug kingpin). But Gus Fring always had Mike to do his killing (except for Victor, an object lesson) when it became necessary (murder being just a normal business technique of the “meth” business).
The chess game between Gus Fring and Hank and the DEA should have been allowed to play out, with the local charitable involvement of Gus Fring obscuring his drug dealing. I guess that what I am saying is that the entire story seems too fast. Like the plate of eggs in Denny’s in the first episode, it seems somehow not quite “well done.”
How did Walter White go from lecturing bored students in a high school chemistry class to “Tony Montana” buying a machine gun in the parking lot of Denny’s in just two years (“Breaking Bad” time)? “Breaking Bad” has killed off two of its most compelling characters, Mike and Gus, althogh Lydia seems promising (a twitchy woman, but one with enough moxie the want to talk about payoffs with a gun to her head). And what of Madrigal? Are they “dirty” or not? Is Madrigal the victim of a corrupt manager or a worldwide drug enterprise?
Is Vince Gilligan tired of “Breaking Bad” and itching to move along to the next project? I can understand ending the series before it “jumps the shark,” but I cannot understand ending it because of an arbitrary deadline when there are so many stories left to tell.
What will happen when Hank identifies Heisenberg and Marie tells him that Walt payed thousands of dollars for his rehab? What will the DEA think when it discovers that Hank’s rehab was paid for with drug money? Will Hank try to defend himself with the argument that he THOUGHT the money was just proceeds from ILLEGAL gambling. Will the DEA think Hank has been protecting Walt’s identity?
We should see Walt as the new Gus Fring — local car wash owner and pillar of the commlunity — just a Hank begins to fig;ure out who Heisenberg might be. With the problem of the rehab money — which Marie tearfully confesses — will Hank really go after Heisenberg?

Todd's working for the rival gang to learn Heisenberg's tehnique. It's got to be that. Let's not forget the lingering look that Todd gives the spider, slightly odd for a grown man. What does the spider respresent? Danger perhaps. But more importantly, a creature that builds its web and waits. Patience. Walt's problem is that he underestimates his rivals in the drug business. Master criminals are pretty slippery, intelligent guys and the fact that his showdown at the start of this episode went so remarkably smoothly is possibly a hint at the fact that these guys want to keep him on side. I'm sure they're well aware of the $130m that they're missing out on; it's surely not the revelation that the egotistical 'genius' Walter White believes it is. And I just don't buy the fact that Walt can get criminals capable of raising $15m just like that to 'say his name' - is it just me or was that scene all a bit contrived?

Might be a long shot to try and guess the plot direction of these incredible writers, but what I'm really saying is that Todd is a very interesting character and it would be incredible if Walt is played in almost the right-under-your-nose kind of way that he's played Hank all along.

Hey Paul - quick question... Would you mind sharing the link with me for this documentary, I can't seem to find it?

It's silly to resent the show for having a set finish date, and yet praise it as being the best show of all time.

Would 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. be considered the greatest rappers of all time if they had not been gunned down in their prime? Probably not, because as Harvey Dent so aptly put it in the DK, "You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain". The only reason there are mutterings of BB being considered one of the best TV dramas of all time, other than it really having the makings of a seminal, defining piece of artistic work of course, is that we can all comfortably watch it in the knowledge that we will not see our beloved BB universe descend in to farce and despair as the writers try and string out another 5 seasons *cough* almost every other TV drama, ever *cough*. This really will be the first TV show, as Paul pointed out a couple of reviews ago, that has paid close attention and adhered strictly to the laws of time, the ticking clock we all face.

This brings me on to my next point. Your other complaint was the frequency, and perhaps absurdity of the deaths of characters. I'm not sure how much you know about the world of illicit drug manufacturing and trafficking, but my answer is this: people do not get old in the drug business. Gus Fring, as careful, discreet, meticulous and rule-abdiding as any real life drug kingpin, eventually crossed paths with an egotistical, warped, self-mythologising, greedy character, and his world went in to free-fall from that moment until his death. The same is true for real life. The drug business attracts a whole spectrum of individuals with different motives, but there is a key characteristic that simultaneously runs through them all: ruthlessness. If this were a like-for-like retelling of a real story from the drug world, I can guarantee you that in all likeliness, not only would Jessie and Walt be dead, so would Skylar and Jr. too. The lifespan of someone involved in this business is not long, and therefore do not be so shocked or resentful that characters are dropping like flies: realism is a key ingredient in TV dramas and when people look retrospectively at BB in determining it's standing in television history, the resemblance it bears to real life will hold it in very good stead indeed.

Great to see a show written and acted so well that reading the review is like reading my own thoughts. Tae is right of course. Since Walt must end like Fring (to fulfill his destiny) the only question is at whose hands. Surely Todd. Killing children is the signpost for Fring, Walt and Todd. But I also agree that Jesse and Hank are nemesis. I guess someone has to give Todd the means motive and excuse... step up Jesse / Hank.

I figure that when Jesse discovers the lilley of the valley...

I'm interested in Todd

He seems to worship Walt because of the "meticulous planner" persona of his and how he pretends to be a hardened crime lord. If Todd realizes that Walt is full of **** and all of his meticulous plans are just to get out of problems from the last time he got in over his head them he might make a play to become the head of the organization.

He'd know how to cook almost as well as Walt, he has relatives who are real criminals and he's only as loyal as he's filled with hero worship and he probably wouldn't hesitate to murder Walts family.

I understand the artistic reasons for it. I just regret the end of the show and the demise of such important characcters. I disagree with you, however, about "Breading Bad" observing the rules of time. Is is likely that all "Breaking Bad" action took place in less than two years? From classroom Geek (not even feared or respected by bored teenagers) to Heisenberg, murderous drug kingpin who blew up the previous king, in just two years? Wouldn't Walt White's cancer treatment, alone, have taken many months, perhaps a year, to complete. Having seen chemotherapy up close, I also think that he would have been disabled, in effect, for that period with lack of energy and nausea and other side effects. The falling out of his hair would have been unlikely to have given birth to the swaggering Heisenberg because he would have probably been in his recliner most of the time with nausea and exhaustion. The series should do more to show the involvement of Saul Goodman in the criminal enterprise. As Jesse said, "What we need is not a criminal lawyer. We need a CRIMINAL lawyer." For instance, how does Walt buy a machine gun? You cannot just pick up the "Yellow Pages" and look under "Uunlawful Weapons." The connnection must have come through Saul or his criminal clients (now that Mike is gone). How about a dangerous affair between Walt and Lydia, a woman with the potential to be his "Lady MacBeth" in the meth business now that Skyler has recoiled in horror from what Walt has become. There are good story lines available if "Breaking Bad" insists on eating its own like Gus and Mike.

Except that had Walt known his place. Jesse would be long dead. From *Mike's* POV they had a good thing going under Gus -- but Mike is (was) as monstrous in his own way as Walt has become.

I particularly like your analysis of Walt in the final paragraph; I've wondered if this is Walt's nadir -- if now, having become Heisenberg, he will try to become Walt again and fail, à la Jekyll and Hyde.

best reviews ever your the man

This ongoing BB review is the definitive companion piece to the series. IMO

Walt only killed Mike because he disrespected him. he had no other reason. it just proves Mike's earlier theory that Walt is a ticking time bomb and as he said, he didn't want to be around when he did go off. we'll miss you mike, you deserved a better end.

i disagree- none of Walt's family will be killed. todd will die for sure

forget about Todd he's the next Gale- he'll be dead before long

Great review. I was looking for the scene " ... when Walt metaphorically sniffed the gas he’d left on" in the episode, and couldn't find it. Can you state when in the episode it occurred please?

No Doubt Man , Mike was the only person who really Knew the true nature of Heisenberg. Now that hes dead , the writers of this show are ready to send Walters Roller Coaster ride on a Downhill throttle towards destruction.

Without Mike now , who is going to keep Todd in line ? Jesse ? Nah, Jesse is OUT , only way hes showing up next season is as a nemesis.

We will just have to wait and see what Todd does , you can tell just from his name that hes the fly Walter was staring at when he was sitting inside the Vamanos office on his own. LOL

I know how you feel man , this show will end 2013 , we have 8 more episodes to go, although all the plots you have suggested might seem plausible , it is highly unlikely that Saul Goodman ( a coward) could evolve any further than he is depicted , Lydia on the other hand is just like Walt , an unpredictable ticking time bomb(Mike's words R.I.P old man) herself if pressured and cornered as we have seen , so as far as Lydia's character is concerned we will see her go Boom just like we will Watch Walt go out with a even Bigger BANG BOOOM !!!!!!

People in the Drug and Killing business , accept the inevitability of their actions , so it is normal for them to not react the way innocent parties would in a similar circumstance where a gun is pointed at them.

Just started watching this show on Netflix a couple weeks ago, and I come for your reviews after almost each episode. Awesome!

Hmmm nek minute

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