This review contains spoilers.
Let’s talk about the Walter White legacy.
In many ways this is what the story of Breaking Bad is: the final legacy of Walter White, his parting gift to a world that misunderstood him. He’s known he’s been done for from the very beginning, just as much as he knows and has known that his life pre-meth trade was largely a boring slog characterized by monotony and failure, and that that, as things stand, is how he’s going to be remembered.
However, he also knows that while Walter White may die, Heisenberg can live forever – the legendary mischievous master chemist who led a DEA team run by his own brother-in-law a merry dance while he cooked a strain of meth so potent it ruffled the feathers of competitors a couple of states away. A folk anti-hero so renowned that Mexican mariachi bands write excitable ballads about him.
It’s made clear in Buyout, more explicitly than before, that the preservation of this legacy comes at the expense of absolutely everything else in his life. It explains how he finds it so easy to compartmentalize and justify the most despicable acts – acts like killing a kid, for instance.
Buyout’s cold opening was another little masterpiece, probably more disturbing than anything we’ve seen in the show so far, which obviously is saying something. Accompanied by the noise of a hazy, ambient soundtrack, Walt, Mike and Todd disassemble a junior dirt bike so it can be fit into one of Breaking Bad’s now infamous corpse-disposing barrels. As we watch them methodically go about their work, it’s difficult not to let your mind wander to the body of the child whose life they have just taken. Sure enough, once the dirt bike is dealt with, another barrel is cracked open while Todd searches for a tiny hand in the dirt. The camera mercifully cuts away, but thanks to past experience we already know what’s coming – another sad and repulsive end for a victim of Walt’s ongoing ego project.
It’s hard to see how this sordid little episode fits into Walt’s Heisenberg myth-making, but Walt’s weary reaction to Todd here suggests that he found it, at worst, distasteful. (Later, we got another hint that Jesse might possibly be slowly catching on to Walt’s bullshit, as we saw him disbelievingly listen to Walt’s cheery whistling just seconds after claiming he was having sleepless nights about the killing). Also, we found out a little bit more about Toddn – mainly, that he’s utterly bugnuts. You thought Walt lacked empathy? Compared to Todd, Walt’s like Noel Edmonds in a children’s hospital on Christmas Day.
Todd adds a new dimension to the Heisenberg operation – his creepy examination of the spider in the jar, which he appeared to take as a trophy from the killing, suggests that they might now have on board a psychopath who is also a genuine sadist. This is a different kind of evil to that of Walt’s epic hubris, or even Mike’s grim, amoral professionalism, and the introduction of such a rogue, unstable element to the team will have obvious consequences – however, if Walt needs an attack dog, Todd’s wave-first, kill-second attitude might come in handy.
As it turns out, Walt might need one very soon, as his other two allies have plans to cash out, with Jesse and Mike managing to finagle – rather conveniently at what appeared to be very short notice, it has to be said – that rarest of opportunities in the gangster world: a genuine get-out-of-jail-free card.
Selling off the methlymamine purloined from their recent highly-successful train robbery (child murder aside sshhh don’t ruin it) to a fellow meth kingpin from Phoenix will result in a cool $5 million each, and a chance for some new beginnings: Mike will be able to escape from his suffocating and dangerous DEA tail; and it’ll give Jesse a break from staring moist-eyed into a moral abyss every other week. One problem though – the draw of the blue meth is so strong that the competitor will only sell if it comes with a guarantee that Walt’s product is off the market for good. And that means Walt cashing in his chips.
Cashing in, checking out, clocking off – do these phrases remind you of anything? Quitting, sure, but what about death? As Walt reveals to Jesse in this episode, his empire – his legacy – is all he has left, and he’ll be damned if he hands it over lightly. We got some interesting details filled in on Walt’s backstory in this exchange, with some assumed things being confirmed: namely that Walt sold his stake in Gray Matter, the company he set up with ex-girlfriend Gretchen and best friend Elliott Schwarz, for $5000, after some ‘personal issues’ (still undisclosed). Gray Matter is now a billion dollar company, a fact Walt tortures himself with every week by checking their stock value religiously.
It’s clearly a key bit of character information about Walt – a simmering regret that he can use as a crutch and/or excuse for not backing out of his criminal enterprises, and we all know how much he loves crutches/excuses.
Not only that, but it also sheds some light on why Walt seems to have given up on his family entirely. After leaving Gray Matter, Walt still managed to father two children and build a decent family life, even if he professionally flat-lined. The fact that he doesn’t view this as a success in its own right is something that becomes clearer with every episode, as he puts his family in more danger, as well as tearing them apart through his own outrageous behavior. Walt even goes as far as to pervert the most treasured family tradition of all, the evening meal, by inviting his surrogate son Jesse over for The Most Awkward Dinner Of All Time. In a nice bit of dark humour, Jesse, who it’s been implied knows something about growing up in a dysfunctional environment, replies to Walt’s disclosure that his kids are gone with a pained, “Thank God.”
The irony is that when it first looked as though Walt would be caught, way back in the first episode, when he found himself barely dressed in the desert with a couple of hoods and a van full of meth, the first thing he did was to videotape himself apologizing to his family and distancing himself from his actions. Clearly, that was a very different Walter White from the one we see now – now, it’s hard to shake the possibility that he now actually wouldn’t mind being caught. He might even welcome it.
This is why I think that the worst possible ending for Walt personally – worse than his family getting wiped out, Hank killing him, him getting the death penalty, all the blockbuster scenarios you have in your head – would be for him to die alone and and quietly of cancer, known only to the world as an inoffensive ex-chemistry teacher, with nobody left either aware, alive or willing to identify him as the criminal mastermind he clearly wants to be recognized as.
So that legacy is all important. He tells Jesse that all he has left is his ‘empire’. He speaks of having literally bled to get the business to where it is, and Walt’s doesn’t feel that $5million made form selling methylamine would feel earned. Earlier on in the episode, Walt and Jesse watch a documentary on fake caviar, and that’s what the $5 million would be to Walt – impressive, but a meaningless facsimile of what he truly values as success.
That’s why selling for Walt isn’t an option – Heisenberg doesn’t cash out. That’s not part of his narrative. He’s still haning on for that Scarface ending, so he manages, as usual, to wrangle his way into a situation where he can launch another masterplan. It has to be said that Mike leaving Walt in a situation as easily escapable as the one that he did was unforgivably stupid, and felt like possibly a case of the writers joining the dots as quickly as possible, which is incredibly rare on a show as well-written as this. Also, was anybody else disappointed that Walt and Mike’s cosy night indoors together was reduced to a seconds-long time-lapse shot? I would have happily watched a whole episode of them pacing around the room exchanging sarcastic barbs and impassioned, tough-guy monologues with each other.
What Walt’s new masterplan will ultimately be is yet to be revealed – however, Walt’s final line (“Everybody wins”) has a grim, foreboding irony about it. Obviously, no-one’s going to win here except Walt – Mike and Jesse, who were so close to the light at the end of the tunnel, have someow been dragged back into Walt’s world once again, complete with its increasingly daring heists, escapes and near misses – the world that only he still seems to enjoy.
But they have to go along with it – there are bigger forces at work here. Like Skylar, they’ve been reduced to helpless bystanders and bit players in the legend of Heisenberg, as Walt powers on, fueled by his own raging at the dying of the light. They can and try and change his course, but ultimately they must know that resistance is futile – Walt is painting his masterpiece, and at this stage, he’s not going to let the brushes fuck it up.
Read Paul’s review of last week’s episode, Dead Freight, here.