27
Aug
2012
Breaking Bad: Season 5, Episode 7
Say My Name
Jordan
Say My Name is book-ended by scenes that will likely go down as legendary moments in the saga that is Breaking Bad. It begins with Walter White being fully subsumed by Heisenberg as he convinces Declan and the rest of the Arizona operation to begin working for him. All of the over-the-top thievery and grandstanding of this half-season seem to build, gloriously, to this very moment, the moment where Walter White ceases to be a man and becomes a legend. The references to Jesse James, the train robbery, the posturing, and all of the rest seem to click into place as an outlaw legend is born in the deserts of New Mexico.

The episode ends with the death of Mike Ehrmantraut, an event which became inevitable over the course of the episode, even if, as Walter himself points out, "This whole thing could have been avoided." Note the way Mike talks to Walter, and the way Walter responds to Mike. When the confrontation begins, Mike lays into Walter, telling him how perfect their situation was, how great they all could have had it, and that "All of this falling apart is on you." Mike is laying responsibility, and he is placing it exactly where it belongs. But consequences belong in the realm of men, and Heisenberg is a legend, in his own mind if nowhere else. To Heisenberg, tragedy is something to be "avoided," not mourned, and blame is obfuscated, not accepted. And so Mike has to die, so that Walter's all consuming ego can continue to survive.

But make no mistake, Mike died for nothing. To him, its just another form of fading away. Mike was a man who lived for his granddaughter, and by the time he met Walter for the last time, he knew he would never see her again. He isn't even particularly upset to have been snuffed out needlessly by a man venting petulant anger after being confronted with his very real missteps. All he asks, at the end, is for Walter to, "Shut the fuck up and let me die in peace." Mike was out, really out this time, and that means he means nothing to Heisenberg, alive or dead.

The same is made fairly clear to Jesse. At first, Walt seems to be ignoring Jesse's decision to leave the meth business, getting Mike paid and wrapping Jesse in as one of the "two best meth cooks in the United States." But Jesse is insistent; he wants out before anyone else dies, and he will no longer be cowed by Walt's platitudes about no one ever being killed again. Walt has told that tale too many times, and Jesse isn't listening any more. But Walt has already devolved from master manipulator into a man who is often too short-sighted to see what those around him actually want. So he tries to ply Jesse with the idea of being the best at something, then with the idea of making heaps of money. These are motivators for Heisenberg, and the crumbling facade that is Walter White, but not for Jesse Pinkman. So then Walter turns to denigration, telling Jesse that he's throwing away his potential for go karts and video games, and that if he leaves, he'll start using again. Finally, he is left impotently screaming that if Jesse goes, he will get "nothing."

Nothing is a dangerous thing. Nothing is an abyss that craves to be filled. For Walter White, the prospect of nothingness turned him into Heisenberg, and the more he loses, the more he craves. He looked death in the eyes and turned toward evil for what he thought were good reasons. Now he has lost all of those reasons, and even the one person who has stood by him no matter how far he has fallen. Jesse has always been the conscience of Breaking Bad, and his departure from the business is an indicator that we are truly entering the final stretch. Like Jennifer Melfi abandoning Tony Soprano to the darkness inside himself, Jesse's departure shows us more starkly before just how damned Walter White is. Jesse needs to leave and hopes to seek some sort of redemption, or at least to do no more harm. But Walt makes his decision clear when he tells his partner, in another all-time great line, "If you believe there's a hell, I don't know if you're into that, but we're already pretty much going there. And I'm not gonna lie down until I get there."

With the exception of the show's abbreviated first season (cut short due to the Writer's Strike), each finale of Breaking Bad feels like it could have doubled as a series finale. Each season finale felt, in its own way, as if Walter White had hit a new low, and that worse times were ahead. Season Two ended with bodies literally raining from the sky, all dead due to the actions of Walter White. Season Three left us with Jesse permanently compromised by Walter's refusal to die. Season Four gave us a man willing to poison a child and manipulate an old man just to be able to say "I won." And now, we are left with Heisenberg, a legendary outlaw who will kill a man for an injury to his pride. We are left without Mike the Cleaner to tidy up the mess Walt will inevitably make of his life. We are left without Jesse to act as Walt's conscience, without Skyler to stand in the way of more evildoing and further compromise. One week remains in this half-season, and one thing is absolutely certain: things are about to get a whole lot worse.

Grade: A

Notes:

-"You all know exactly who I am. Say my name." ..."You're Heisenberg." "You're god damn right."

-"Guess I'll see you around." "No, I don't think so. When I'm out, I'm out." "I'm out too, Mike." "Kid, just look out for yourself." Mike knows Jesse won't get as clean a break as he did, because Walt has his hooks in Jesse in a much more serious way. I'm excited for the prospect of Jesse staying away from meth for a while, but it is inevitable that he will be pulled back in. And more and more inevitable that this will lead to his horrible death.

-"Vamanos." "I wish."
Tags: Breaking Bad
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