“Shut the fuck up, and let me die in peace.”- Mike Ehrmentraut
So how does everybody win, according to Walter White? By driving out to Mike and Declan’s deal without the methylamine and essentially strong-arming him into accepting 35% of Walt’s new business and giving up his own product. Walt does this (accompanied by Dave Porter’s Heisenberg theme) by trumping up the purity of his product, comparing Declan’s to a “tepid, off-brand generic cola,” to the “Classic Coke” of the Blue Sky. He tells Declan that he knows about their attempts to “ape his product at every turn,” and how he’s giving them the opportunity to sell it themselves, making more money off 35% of his product than they would have off of 100% of their own. Since Mike is retiring, Declan and his crew could step right and handle distribution (always Walt’s weak point) seamlessly. Why eliminate the competition when you can just become the competition? Declan, intrigued, asks just who exactly Walt is, and when he responds that they already “he’s the man who killed Gus Fring,” a look of shock comes over their faces. Mike confirms it with a sly nod, and Walt asks Declan to say his name. “You’re Heisenberg, ” a spooked Declan replies. “You’re goddamn right,” Walt snarls. Recognition is everything to him now.
After the opening credits, the three return to Vamonos Pest, where Mike gives Walt some parting words. First, that the legacy costs for Gus’ remaining employees will come out of the $5 million severance pay he just received. Second, that Walt needs to get the bug out of Hank’s office as soon as possible. He leaves, and when Walt asks if a “thank you” is in order, he scoffs, and Walt leaves. After Mike warns Jesse to get out as quickly as he can, the action shifts over to the laundromat, where Walt hid the methylamine. Skyler and Jesse share a strangely symbiotic look as Walt barks orders and tells Skyler not to worry about it. “Vamonos,” Jesse says as Skyler inspects the logo on the side of their truck. “I wish,” she replies.
Later, when Jesse comes to talk to Walt about his severance pay, Walt begins showering him with praise, telling him that he’s “every bit as good as me” and that soon, he’ll have a cook all to his own. When Jesse reiterates that he still wants out, Walt switches to teacher mode, telling Jesse that being “the best” at something is worth holding on to, and that he shouldn’t squander his potential. When he still refuses to budge, Walt starts berating him. He’s manipulated Jesse so much that, even to Jesse himself, the strings are showing. You can see it on his face. And when Walt starts saying that what happened to Drew Sharp was a tragedy, just like everyone they’ve killed in their partnership. If there is a hell (“I don’t know if you’re into that”), they’re already going. But Walt’s “not going to lie down until he gets there”. Jesse asks, again, just how many more people have to die. How much is enough? He’s done. He wants his money. “But isn’t it filthy blood money?” Walt retorts, and Jesse has had enough. “Whatever, man,” he says, reiterating that he’s done. Walt doesn’t believe him, telling him that if he leaves, he gets nothing. He hears no response. So ends the White/Pinkman partnership, possibly for the final time. Soon after, we see Walt getting ready for a cook with his new partner: Todd, who, despite not having any idea what he’s doing, declines his share of the profit until he gets it right. He’s the perfect student, and Walt is willing to teach, but it doesn’t seem like he really cares about it anymore. The allure of the freedom of being your own boss, what Walt has been striving for this entire time, is starting to lose some of its luster.
Most of the rest of this episode is dedicated to Mike, and his attempts to disappear into the New Mexican desert. First, we see Not Saul the Lawyer (his name is Dan) leaving money in safety deposit boxes for the families of the Nine (what I’m now calling Gus’ men in prison). In a remote location outside town, Mike listens in on Hank and Gomez talking about the warrant to search his apartment coming in, and, with even more weary resignation than usual, he dumps his computer and a veritable arsenal into a nearby hole (a well, maybe?), stashes a “go bag” full of passports and emergency money in the secret compartment of his trunk, leaves his car at an airport parking lot, hails a cab and heads home to face the music. When Hank and company come knocking, they don’t find a thing. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Mike is like a ghost. Hank’s superior acknowledge as much, and he forbids the ABQ office from ordering any more searches on Mr. Ehrmentraut. When Gomez comes in to console him, Hank comes up with one last-ditch effort to bag Mike: start tailing Dan, the lawyer. He represents every one of the Nine but not Mike. If anyone knows how they’re all being paid, it’s him. Sure enough, the next time Dan the Lawyer arrives to deposit some cash, Gomez arrives with a shit-eating grin on his face.
This all dovetails nicely back into Walt’s storyline nicely when he arrives at Hank’s office, ready to sob his eyes out again and remove the bug from the office. Before he can, however, Gomez arrives with the news that Dan the Lawyer is willing to give them Mike, and we finally see that look of mute terror that so categorized Walt in the first two seasons of this show, back when he was struggling everyday just to survive in his new career. Soon after, we see Mike at the park with Kaylee, his granddaughter, when Dan the Lawyer calls him and offers to meet him at the park to discuss “something that’s come up.” Immediately afterwards, Walt calls him to tell him that the DEA has “some lawyer” and that they’re coming for him. Mike snaps into action, and as he starts to say something to Kaylee, squad cars begin pulling up. After agonizing over leaving his granddaughter without explanation (again, much like Lydia was afraid of Mike forcing her to do to her daughter), he runs. He calls Saul afterwards and asks him to retrieve the go-bag he stashed at the airport. Saul refuses, as it’s extremely likely that the DEA is tailing him as well. Jesse volunteers, but Mike isn’t having it. He won’t risk Jesse’s freedom in exchange for his own. That leaves Walt, who goes to the airport and finds the bag, with what appears to be, funnily enough, a .38 snub inside.
They meet (at a beautiful grove near a river), and Walt demands the names of the Nine men before he hands the bag over. Mike refuses, telling Walt to get out of town while he can. Mike takes the bag and turns to leave before, once again, Walt demands a thank you. Mike tells him that he doesn’t owe him anything, and proceeds to lose his shit, telling Walter off for ruining the good thing that they had with Gus. “If you’d done your job, known your place, we’d all be fine right now,” Mike says, and you can see the very pride he was referring to spring up in the form of Heisenberg. Mike turns to leave again, satisfied with finally giving Walt the reaming he so richly deserved. Walt turns to leave as well, tail between his legs.
But he doesn’t. Just after he disappears off screen, he marches back into it, purposefully. At the same time, Mike opens his go bag to find his gun isn’t there. He turns to get out of the car, and Walt appears, shooting him through the window with the snub nose. Mike hits the gas, and slams his car into the bush line at the river’s edge. Walt runs up to the crash, only to find that Mike is gone, and for a moment, the flash-forward from the first episode snaps into focus. Walt ran because he knew Mike was coming after him, and he came back to settle the score. But then, after a few seconds of frantic confusion, Walt notices footprints leading from the crash, and a bloody handprint on the rocks. He follows through the underbrush to discover Mike sitting on a rock at the river’s edge, with a pistol of his own half-heartedly pulled out of his jacket. He can’t even grip it when Walt grabs it and takes it away. This is the end of Mike Ehrmentraut. Sitting there together, watching the sun set, Walt realizes that Lydia also has the names he wants. He can get them from her. He stutters out an apology, to which Mike responds with this episode’s quote. For once, Walt listens, and we cut to a wide shot of the two of them watching the river. Mike collapses, and the episode ends. This season, for the most part, has taken us out of Walt’s head a bit and given us a glimpse into how everyone around him views the Great Heisenberg. This season, we’ve seen Skyler truly come to understand what her husband is, just as we’ve seen Jesse come to understand. The look they shared at the carwash was a look acknowledging this understanding. For the first time all season, we get to see Walt again. The same Walter White we saw in the first season, and in “Fly,” the Walter White of lucid self-awareness. The Walter White who realizes that he just killed a man for nothing more than a casual insult. How much is enough? It seems as if, for the first time in a long time, it’s Walter who is asking that question.
Season 5, Episode 8- Gliding Over All
“Tagging trees is a hell of a lot better than chasing monsters.”- Hank Schrader
In a perfect world, the eighth episode of the last season of Breaking Bad would be the exact point where everything starts to pick up in anticipation of the explosive finale. This is not a perfect world. Because of this, this final season has been split into two parts, with the second eight episodes airing in 2013. This episode serves as a mid-season finale, but in many respects, it acts a series finale. A lot of things come to an end.
When everything comes to an end, it’s common for people’s lives to “flash before their eyes.” This show handles this idea by having Walt relive some of the more harrowing moments from this show’s past. I say this because the very first shot of the episode focuses on a fly, buzzing around the Vamonos Pest offices. The background comes into focus, and there’s Walt, face to face with one of his old contaminants. “It’s all contaminated” he had said then, in one of his moments of lucidity. I thought, at the end of episode 7, that Walt’s most recent bout of lucidity would be fleeting at best, and the first scene of this episode did very little to dissuade me of that notion. Todd arrive at VP, telling Walter than he had Old Joe crush Mike’s car (tying up that potential loose end nicely). As they prepare to dissolve Mike’s body, Jesse arrives (without seeing the corpse), asking Walt what their next move is. “I’m the only vote left,” Walt states, matter of factly. “And I’ll handle it,” he says, closing the garage door on Jesse.
On the plot front, a large amount whips by without much emphasis. First, we see Hank in a position of power with Dennis the laundromat manager. He’s got nine guys (ten with Dan the Lawyer). He can take his time getting what he wants from them. Then we see Walt meet with Lydia, who gives him the names on the condition that he go into business with her in the Czech Republic (where his product with “blow them away”). She wants to remain useful, maintaining that Walt is liable to view her as a loose end as well. He scoffs, wondering if she thinks that he’s just going to kill her there and then, in the middle of a restaurant. After she sells him on expanding his business overseas (something she says Gus Fring had agreed to, which is a scene I would very much like to see), she writes down the ten names, they shake hands, and she leaves. Afterwards, Walt picks up his hat, revealing the ricin capsule underneath. Lydia saw right through him. He’s the only vote in the business anymore, and he’s tired of loose ends.
After the cold open, however, my initial fears are turned right around, as most of the rest of the episode is framed around Walt reliving moments from his past. First, there’s the familiar shower scene that emphasizes his surgical scar. Then, there’s a painting identical to the one in Walt’s hospital room after his “fugue state” following Tuco’s death. It’s a painting of a sailor leaving his family on shore while he goes out to what he needs to do. It’s the painting that convinced him to resume cooking meth, and he sees it in a hotel room while meeting with Todd’s uncle about taking out the ten men on Mike’s list. While he spaces out, musing about the likelihood of two identical paintings (“where do they come from?”) Todd’s uncle tells him that the logistics of taking out ten men at the same time can’t be done, to which Walt responds that it can, and the only question is who is capable of it. Sure enough, the next scene is an elaborate montage showing the brutal prison deaths of all ten men, starting with Dan the Lawyer getting shanked at a payphone and ending with Dennis the Manager being doused with bleach and set on fire while in solitary confinement, all of interspersed with Walt setting the time to the watch Jesse gave him and Hank being informed during a photo shoot. Powerful, brutal stuff, if a bit on the kitschy side.
What isn’t kitschy is the scene immediately afterward, where Walt bounces baby Holly on his knee while a news report about the men whose deaths he orders plays in the background. In the living room of the man whom it affects the most. Speaking of Hank, he arrives home just as Walter is getting to leave, and offers his brother in law a drink. They sit down, and Hank starts talking about a summer job he had during high school. He’d go into the forest and mark trees for lumberjack crews to take down in his wake. He says that despite the tedium of it, he should have enjoyed it more, since “tagging trees is a hell of a lot better than chasing monsters.” Heisenberg is his Moby Dick, except in this analogy Moby Dick has left a veritable trail of broken bodies and decimated lives in his wake, and shows no signs of stopping. It’s eating Hank alive. Finding Heisenberg was what he held on to as his life collapsed around him, but now it’s the thing that going to drag him down again. If Walt is understands any of this, he doesn’t show it, as he simply responds that he used to love to go camping.
Immediately afterwards, we get what may prove to be the last cooking montage this show ever gives us, and they saved the best for last. Set to the 1969 hit “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells, it depicts a long period of cooking for Walt and Todd, interspersed with scenes of Lydia overseeing shipments to the Czech Republic and Skyler and Saul laundering money. It culminates in one of the most effective shots of the entire series, as a helicopter camera pans over a suburban area of the ABQ, with Vamonos Pests’ signature tarps popping up on every street. The smooth, reliable and unbelievably successful enterprise Walt always wanted has finally arrived. Afterwards, Skyler approaches Walt as he sits in their backyard, staring at the pool (another old trope this show is revisiting). She asks him to take a drive with her to a storage facility, and when they arrive, she shows him a literal mountain of money. “This is what you’ve been working for,” she tells him, revealing that what they see in front of them was too much for her to count, and certainly too much for her to launder. She has “no earthly idea” how much money it is, pleading with him to allow her her life back. “How big does this pile have to be?” Skyler asks, and it is at this point that I came to a realization. This is it. This is the zenith of Walt’s career. The pinnacle. There’s no where else to go but down from here.
Sure enough, the very next scene is another in the succession of greatest hits this episode has turned into: Walt getting another scan at the cancer center. His zenith followed by a reminder of his nadir: the cancer that ate away at him and forced him into this life that he now seems to be tired of. As he washes up in the center’s bathroom, he comes across another reminder of his crash; the bent and broken paper towel dispenser from “4 Days Out,” another reminder of the path he’s taken to the top, and how much more alive he felt while doing it than he does now.
Soon after, Walt shows up at Jesse’s, telling him that he was “in the neighborhood.” They start to talk, and Jesse reveals that Saul told him what Walt did (presumably that he killed Mike). Walt, unperturbed, tells him that he had no other choice, and when Jesse asks why exactly he’s there, Walt launches into a full on reverie about their old RV. Once an awkward pause sets in, we realize why Walt is there. He misses what he and Jesse had, the daily struggle to survive that was the crux of the first four seasons of the show. As he leaves, he tells Jesse that he “left something” for him: two bags. After Walt leaves, Jesse cautiously opens them, thinking what I’m sure most of the audience was thinking: that it would be Mike’s head, or Brock’s, or Andrea’s inside, one last torturous gasp to remember Heisenberg by. But when he opens them, it’s simply money. Jesse’s share. Probably $5 million or more. Jesse collapses against his living room wall and removes the pistol he had hidden in his waistline. The next scene takes place in the White home, where Walt approaches Skyler and tells her that he’s out. He gives her a relieved little smile and walks away.
Three months pass. A shot lingers on the White family hose, slowly dripping like it did in the apocalyptic flash-forwards from season two. The entire White clan is having a nice, almost peaceful family get together as Walt Jr walks Holly around in her stroller. The storm has passed. Walt has gotten away free and clear. He’s truly out, ready to live the rest of his life with his family. He seems to have finally come to terms with who he is. Skyler even seems to like being in the same room with him again. If I didn’t know already that there were eight more episode left for 2013, I might have even been fooled into thinking this was the final scene of the series.
But it’s not the end. We saw Walt in that diner on his 52nd birthday when this season began, bearded and despondent and buying an M-60 at a Dennys. And when Hank excuses himself to go to the bathroom, he begins searching for something to read. He find a magazine and tosses it aside. Then he finds a small green book. It’s Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” and on the title page, there’s an inscription. “To my other favorite W.W. It’s been an honour working with you. Fondly, G.B.” As Hank sits, perplexed, we’re treated to a flashback of sorts, from Season 4′s “Bullet Points.” It’s that tense little scene where Hank muses on who exactly the “W.W.” in Gale’s notebook refers to. “Willy Wonka? Woodrow Wilson? Walter White?” Walt laughs and raises his hands in mock surrender. “You got me,” he chuckles. Returning to present, we see the realization dawning on Hank. It’s only fitting that something this random and silly be what finally does Walt in. It’s a testament to his hubris that he would keep this little memento around, just as it’s fitting that Hank, after months removed from the case, would remember such a small detail. I’ve been talking about how this season has shown us how Walt, Skyler and Jesse have come to realizations about just what Walt is. Now Hank knows what he is, too. It’s a long fall to that Dennys, popping pills and buying automatic weapons. And it’s coming. The end is in sight.
GLIDING o’er all, through all,
Through Nature, Time, and Space,
As a ship on the waters advancing,
The voyage of the soul–not life alone,
Death, many deaths I’ll sing.