After last week’s action-heavy episode, “Breaking Bad” slowed the pace Sunday (Aug. 19) for an episode that was mostly about characters sitting around and talking — though the conversations were so fraught and tense that “Buyout” was just about the equal of “Dead Freight” in terms of tension.
It was also incredibly revealing, particularly Walt and Jesse’s conversation before the most uncomfortable family dinner since “American Beauty.”
Both Jesse and Mike, in the wake of Todd shooting the kid who witnessed their methylamine heist, are looking to get out of the business and want to sell the chemical, netting a cool $15 million windfall. Walt, though, is adamant that they keep cooking, noting that $15 million is a fraction of what they can make by using all of it to make meth.
But, Jesse wonders, if Walt just wants his family to be taken care of if his cancer comes back, and the sale will mean he, Skyler and the kids will be safe from everything else too, why isn’t that enough?
Walt’s answer explains nearly everything about what he’s become over the past year of his life — and how he had the potential to become this man in the first place.
He tells Jesse about Gray Matter, the company he co-founded in graduate school (as seen back in Season 1). He let his partners buy him out for $5,000, and now it’s worth more than $2 billion.
“I look it up every week,” he tells Jesse. “And I sold my share — my potential — for $5,000. I sold my kids’ birthright for a few months’ rent. … You asked me if I was in the meth business or the money business. Neither. I’m in the empire business.”
“Is a meth empire really something to be that proud of?” Jesse asks, not getting that the kind of empire Walt builds really is immaterial. He has believed from the start that he’s owed this kind of success, and he’ll take it by whatever means he can.
That’s the crux of the character: His blue meth is widely acknowledged to be the best and purest on the market — a big reason Mike’s contact wants to buy the methylamine is so the stuff goes off the market — and that validation has only made Walt hungrier to assert his power. Jesse, meanwhile, is still at the mercy of this master manipulator, by episode’s end having been talked back into going along with Walt’s latest plan and once again having talked Mike down from a homicidal rage.
Incidentally, by my count that’s at least the fourth time Mike has drawn a gun on someone this season, only to be talked out of pulling the trigger (Walt in the desert in the premiere, Lydia twice, and now Walt again). If this is another case of Chekhov’s Gun, the people around Mike ought to be very, very nervous over the next couple weeks.
Other thoughts on “Buyout”:
- The wordless opening was among the grimmest scenes “Breaking Bad” has ever put on. The guys going about the business of covering up the killing of the boy was incredibly tough to watch, and the looks on everyone’s faces, ranging from resignation to anguish, told everything necessary about their states of mind.
- Todd lives — at least for now. The trigger man doesn’t so much talk his way out of being disposed of as get granted a reprieve because it’s the expedient thing to do at the moment. Just a guess here, but it’s hard to believe that reprieve will last a very long time.
- Also like “American Beauty,” the Walt-Skyler-Jesse dinner from hell has several darkly funny moments. Skyler’s deadpan about the green beans — “They’re from the deli. At Albertson’s” — gets the vote here for the best of them.
What did you think of “Breaking Bad” this week?