Watching Too Much Television 29/8/12: “Jesus, fool me once, right?”
“Say My Name” (S05/E07)
We’ve been here before, haven’t we? Heisenberg the snarling badass cowing a business rival through sheer force of will. Except, as we see it now, it’s less a triumph than yet another hubristic overreach from Walt; another retreat into the Scarface/rap video fantasy of how he views himself. We’d know it even without Mike’s subtle yet despairing headshake. Because even outside of daring a bunch of rival crooks to identify you, declaring yourself in such a way only invites people to test how the legend lives up to reality.
Quoting the back-of-the-head car journey shot from The Sopranos episode “The Test Dream” is a great little ominous touch to kick off the episode. Riding in a car with dead people; it’s a sign no one can be bothered to heed.
After the meeting with the rival meth ring, Walt and Jesse collect the methylamine from Skyler’s carwash (totally giving the lie to Walt’s assertion that his business wouldn’t touch her). Amusingly, Jesse is still lovably awkward around her, mumbling “Hello, Mrs White” like a gawky teenager invited over to a friend’s house.
While Mike prepares to take his leave of Albuquerque with his $5 million payoff, disposing of any evidence along the way, Walt’s resisting his remaining partner’s attempt to cash out. There’s a strange Oedipal subtext in the argument between Walt and Jesse – Walt’s resentment at the surrogate son he created, and that son in turn breaking away from him. It’s a masterclass in manipulation by Walt: the bare-faced insistence that he feels just as bad as Jesse about the dead kid; twisting the knife by reminding Jesse of “all the people we’ve killed” (that pointed “Gale … and the rest” singling out the one where Jesse pulled the trigger). But it’s all for nought; in the end he’s yelling impotently at a closed door, withholding Jesse’s money just another failed stalling tactic.
And then he’s on to moulding another subordinate, in the form of Todd (with another musical cooking monatage! Did I tell you how much I like those?) Todd’s assiduous note-taking, his “did I do alright?” at the end of the cook, and refusal to “talk money” until he gets it right, are oddly heartbreaking (not sure what other show could turn us around on someone who casually murdered a child two episodes prior). Of course Walt sees loyalty, and the potential to be a more pliable “partner” than Jesse was. There’s a sense that he can play at paternal warmness there, pretend that the family atmosphere that used to be in his home (see the icy stillness of his dinner with Skyler) still exists somewhere.
After a few weeks of keeping Hank and Gomie’s investigation on the backburner, it comes back to the fore with their fruitless raid on Mike’s house. The robotically smooth telepresent face of federal bureaucracy shuts down the case. But proving Hank’s savviness after a few weeks of coming up empty, they spot the weak link – the lawyer who delivers the hush money for Mike’s guys (shown in a neat musical sequence choreographing the cash flying into safe deposit boxes).
Repeating the lawyer’s routine with the cashier (and showing her subdued response in contrast to the first time) is a neat little clue something isn’t right, leading straight to the silent comedy that is the reveal of Gomez and fellow agents.
The last ten minutes of the episode is all endgame, a collapsing house of cards that you hope against hope Mike can escape. His exasperated sigh as he glances at Walt’s incoming call is a low-key bit of comedy immediately undercut by the tension of the situation (ironically echoing the call to save Hank’s life in “One Minute”). Like in Heat, the consummate professional is forced to flee, leaving behind the one thing he cares about. That shot of Hank staring at his granddaughter from behind a tree, swinging higher and higher away from him, is wrenching.
It’s here that I felt the suspension of disbelief getting a little strained. We know Hank’s funds have been burned, and he’s desperate for the go bag, but even if Saul won’t help him, why trust timebomb Walt, who just a day ago openly defied him? I’d put it down to two things; not wanting Jesse in the firing line, and not believing Walt capable of going up against him.
So the two meet by a riverbank. Walt bullshits and whines as per usual, and finally Mike’s had enough. (His “yeah” in response to Walt’s “I have a family!” is hilarious.) He puts Walt on blast, then storms off.
And this is the first murder Walt’s not committed out of calculation or self-preservation. The list of names may have been his justification. But that “it’s on you!” reminding Walt of Jesse throwing it in his face earlier; the obvious contempt that Mike the uber-professional holds for him, dashing his Heisenberg image; those are why Walt stops out of frame, turns and stalks back towards the car.
Really, it’s a horrible way to go; gutshot, being passive-aggressively lectured by the guy who fatally wounded you. On the other hand, he’s sat on a quiet, bucolic riverbank, sun low on the horizon. It’s peaceful. Which is probably more than can be said for others that will go before this is over.
RIP Mike Ehrmantraut. I can’t help but think you deserved better.