As “Breaking Bad” has chugged along this summer and Walt has had an answer to every new obstacle surrounding his business, it had started to seem like the show would go out with a whimper more than a bang at the end of these eight episodes.
After “Say My Name,” that’s not an issue.
(Spoilers. Big ones. Dead ahead.)
Walt, confronted with a problem he can’t solve — and with his own culpability in the direction his life has taken — acts rashly and shoots Mike. He then experiences the most genuine regret we’ve seen him feel in a long time.
Whether he’s more anguished over killing his friend (? colleague? However you’d classify their relationship, Mike has been a big part of Walt’s life in the past year) or how it affects his business is an open question. But his “What did I just do?” look as he sees Mike’s car careen into a rock* is not something that he’d fake.
(*It appeared that, from Walt’s vantage point, he might not have seen Mike exit the car and run/walk/stumble down the embankment. It’s a stretch, yes, but not implausible.)
Even so, it was Walt’s ego — and Mike’s calling out the damage it’s done — that led to that final, beautiful shot on the riverbank. Figuring this is the last time he’ll ever have to see Walt and bristling at his demands to know the names of his “legacy cost” guys, Mike lets fly with everything on his mind, including that if Walt had just “known his place,” neither of them would be at this point now.
Walt, of course, can’t let that stand, but Mike’s words cut so deeply that for once Walt can’t even get a reply out. He fumes and stomps away. A year ago, Walter White might have just stewed through a miserable day thinking about the insult, but now, his arrogance at an all-time high, he takes Mike’s pilfered gun and shoots him in the gut.
And for what? As a remorseful Walt notes right before Mike tells him to shut up and let him die in peace, Lydia has the names of Mike’s guys (and probably would have been much more willing to give them up). Mike was on his way to becoming a ghost anyway, and his death will likely only bring further scrutiny from Hank and the DEA, budget restraints from higher up be damned.
Jesse has also abandoned Walt, leaving him with Todd and his written notes (that can’t be wise). Todd can probably learn the steps of the cook, but he’ll likely never earn Walt’s trust the way Jesse has. Skyler has completely frozen her husband out, her fear replaced by revulsion. And, oh yeah, he’s just promised a rival meth dealer untold millions based on his cooking skills.
Walt is, in short, good and stuck. Whatever happens in next week’s episode — which is a finale for 2012 but only the midway point of whatever story is left to tell — we’re no longer concerned about a slow burn.
Other thoughts from “Say My Name”:
- RIP, Mike Ehrmantraut, and farewell to Jonathan Banks, whose tremendous chemistry with Bryan Cranston made their scenes extra-fun to watch. Mike made all his moves with such economy (as did the man playing him) that it was easy to take for granted, but Banks was pretty much the MVP of this batch of episodes. It makes sense from a story standpoint to lose the character, but the actor will be missed.
- The opening sequence was brilliantly shot and written, giving it the feel of a western with all the low camera angles framing the characters against an enormous blue sky. Walt’s cockiness ventured into somewhat goofy territory with his “Say my name” (hence the episode title) bit, but both that and “Do you really want to live in a world without Coca-Cola?” feel completely in character for Walt in Heisenberg mode.
- Episode writer and director Thomas Schnauz laid on gorgeous shot after gorgeous shot, from the opening to Skyler walking through the shadows of the car wash to that lovely final scene.
- The other contender for best line of the night: Jesse, attempting small talk: “Vamanos.” Skyler: “I wish.”
- Commenters elsewhere have noted that in the scenes where Walt placed and removed the bug, there’s a camera shot from up above that looks like it could be from the point of view of a security cam. Do you think it’s significant?
What did you think of “Breaking Bad” this week?