"Your play, Walter. You're on your own."
The previous episode left the precarious balance between Walter, Jesse, and Mike, already teetering, in even more serious jeopardy.
Walter (Bryan Cranston) had managed to hide 1,000 gallons of methylamine and proposed a deal to his soon-to-be-former comrades Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Mike (Jonathan Banks) in which, he claimed 'everyone wins.' From more than four seasons of experience, we know that's not going to happen, and we strongly suspect that Mike, and maybe even Jesse, don't believe it either. Still, the latter go along with Walter -- they have no choice, really -- and the opening scene features the former high school chemistry teacher going toe to toe with the king of Arizona meth.
He doesn't have his hat on (he doesn't need it anymore), but otherwise, this is Walter White as Heisenberg, his drug-king persona, and he convinces the Arizona boss to accept a deal to take over distribution duties for the "retiring" Mike.
But Walt still has to deal with Mike and Jesse.
Throughout the episode, written and directed by Thomas Schnauz, vestiges of Walt's experience as a teacher keep manifesting themselves. In the opening speech, he uses metaphors to try and sell the Arizona boss: 'Your stuff is grade-school t-ball; mine is the New York Yankees.' It's not very convincing, though, and it's only when Walt/Heisenberg pulls out his "I killed Gus Fring" card that the crime boss caves.
Later, he tries again, attempting to manipulate Jesse into staying by playing the role of a high school guidance counselor: 'Don't squander that potential -- your potential.' Jesse is having none of it. He knows too much about Mr. White, and whatever doubts he had were wiped away when he heard Walt whistling happily after claiming that he was devastated by the murder of the boy on the bicycle a couple of episodes before.
(And it shows how little Walt truly knows Jesse when he pulls out what he thinks is his big gun: Money. Has he not been paying attention? Jesse has never been in the drug trade for the money. So Walt's threat not to pay Jesse the $5 million that he's owed only solidifies Jesse's determination to walk away.)
Still, Walt can't help but draw upon his teaching experience when he begins the training process of "the new Jesse." Todd is an obvious candidate. Unlike Jesse, Todd is not a junkie, he's eager to learn, and he doesn't want money until he's earned it. (The latter point reflects Walt's perspective, not reality.) When Todd expresses doubt, Walt reassures him as a teacher does a student: "You applied yourself." Yet, also unlike Jesse, Todd is a psychopath in the making, and if Walt's not careful, he could find himself squaring off against Todd very soon.
I was tempted to describe Mr. Ehrmantraut as "poor Mike," which is a measure of the outstanding characterization delivered by the writers and Jonathan Banks. We pull for Mike, even though he's a bad man, someone who's killed countless individuals, because he still displays vestiges of the man he must have been as a young police officer in Philadelphia: loyal, trustworthy, and loving, a man who has survived tragedy and heartbreak and just wants to see his little granddaughter grow up and be happy.
Mike, however, is an imperfect man. He only chained Walt's hands to the radiator, and not his feet as well, so Walt escaped and hid the methylamine. And in this episode, he finally allows Walter to push him too far, and then lets his guard down, and it's probably the fact that he underestimated Walter once too often that is his ultimate undoing.
At least he got in the final word with Walter.
Questions and further observations:
1. Who else in New Mexico whistles for a cab, like Mike did? If we didn't already know he was from Philadelphia, we'd suspect that he was from New York.
2. Walt plays the "tearful spouse" again with Hank?
3. What movie was Mike watching while the DEA searched his house?
4. Another character whose old characteristics reappeared: Hank, who wants to lead the search that he thinks will bust Mike; for those brief moments, he looked and sounded like the old, blustery, cocky Hank.
5. Walt threw everything he could think of at Jesse, playing it as though he were positive Jesse would collapse, then switching to belittling Jesse -- 'You have no one!' (yeah, because Walt let his old girlfriend die and pushed him to drop his latest!) -- and reminding him that he killed Gale (without mentioning all the people he has killed), before making an empty promise -- "No one else gets hurt" -- and then finally reaching for the money threat.
6. Mike's other big mistake was in hiring another lawyer to represent his "guys." We knew the lawyer was going to flip when he didn't notice that his usual smiling, flirting bank officer was not smiling -- Saul would have been out of there without a second thought.
What did you think?
Breaking Bad is now in its fifth season, broadcast in the U.S. on AMC TV.