"The irony of selling drugs, is sorta like you using it/guess it's two sides to what substance abuse is." Who would have ever thought a Jay-Z bar would apply so perfectly to the epic, downward spiraling saga of Walter White (Bryan Cranston)? The truth is, the drug game stopped being about the somewhat noble, respectable notion to feed his family in the event of his death a long time ago.
For starters, he's not near death anymore. He also has a semi-successful business now in the car wash. Skyler's (Anna Gunn) mishandling of the Ted-IRS fiasco aside, he has already cleared his target figure of 737K, as Jesse (Aaron Paul) pointed out last night. As early episodes established, the decay of Walter's soul and his debilitating pride, were there long before the cancer. He agreed to a buyout because of foolish pride and cheated himself out of billions, and the rotten bitterness set in. That event has weighed on every decision he's made during the series, and it informed his actions last night in the excellent "Buyout."
Todd and the tarantula
First things first: the impetus of Jesse and Mike's (Jonathan Banks) retirement plans. You know, that kid that Todd (Jesse Plemons) shot last week. The opening scene of Walt, Mike, and Todd silently dismantling the ahem, evidence, was chilling. Jesse, ever the bleeding heart and documented child sympathizer (Brock, Andrea's brother) waited outside, saving time to give Todd a well-deserved fade.
In keeping with the trend this season, Walt is not as fazed by Dirt Bike Boy's murder as a normal human being would be (He whistles while he works!). Much to Jesse's chagrin, he makes the call to keep Todd on, and close, rather than cutting him loose, which would be an information hazard, or adding another body to their Hydrofluoric Acid Tomb. Mike agrees out of rationality, but he is clearly just as shaken as Jesse.
So what to make of this Todd guy? He's clearly a bit damaged, a point driven home by the creepy tarantula scene, in which it's revealed that he's kept the slain boy's recently captured pet, but the real point to consider here is how much pain and chaos Walter's web creates, even incidentally. He tells Skyler that he's running a clean, harmless business now (save, you know, stringing his customers out), but look what a simple, casual edict to Todd about maintaining secrecy caused. Things are spinning out of control and the fallout is beyond salvage.
With Dirt Bike Boy's death weight on Mike and Jesse's still intact souls (they're more whole than Walt's, at least), plus the heat from Hank (Dean Norris) and the DEA becoming more trouble than it's worth, Mike and Jesse decide to cash out. The sale of two-thirds of the stolen methylamine to an old Fring competitor will net at least a $10 million, allowing them to walk with a considerable cushion. But once said competitor realizes that he won't be getting the full supply—and thus, that the blue meth will remain on the market—he changes the stakes: all of the methylamine for a cool $15 mil, or no deal.
So why does Walt refuse to sell his third and cash out of the business, seven figures richer than he is now? It all comes back to Gray Matter. The bitterness he feels from missing out on a billion-dollar empire can't be filled with a mere $5-million cut. As he states with another instant-classic Walter White one-liner, he isn't in it to be a meth kingpin, or purely for the cash: "I'm in the empire business."
As Jesse soon finds out, and as we already know, out of his own doing Walt really doesn't have much else going for him. Young Pinkman doesn't know how off base he is when he tries to appeal to Walt to take the buyout and "like, spend time with your family yo," but he gets the picture during the episode's centerpiece, a darkly hilarious dinner with Skyler. Did Walt invite Jesse to stay as yet another middle finger to Skyler in their endless power struggle, or did he aim to manipulate Jesse by showing him the sorry state of his household (and painting Skyler as a villain, as he did with Marie)? It was probably a bit of both, but either way, good God, that scene was golden.
Of course, Mike isn't going to let the likes of stubborn Walter White stand in the way of his retirement, and Walt isn't going to stand idly by while he's forced into it. Unstoppable force, meet immovable object.
Mike rightly assumes Walter is going to make a play for the methylamine, because he's awesome and omnipresent, and he's waiting for him. But he makes one major mistake: underestimating Heisenberg. In an act that instantly cracks his top ten hardcore moments to date and his top MacGyver moments, Walt frees himself from plastic restraints by fashioning a blowtorch and burning his own hand while Mike is away. When the grizzled old vet returns, the methylamine is gone, and Walter is wearing that stunteriffic look he gets when he's just dreamed up a crazy caper. Good enough to get Jesse on board and give Mike pause. We'll see next week.
Things to consider
—Walter Jr. Breakfast Report: No sign of Flynn (RJ Mitte) this week, just a mention from Marie that he's riding around and getting it.
—"Whatever happened to, like, truth in advertising?" That dinner scene was truly, golden.
—Inversely, "I'm in the empire business" sounds like it'd be a perfect Jay-Z line.
—Walt checks Gray Matter's net worth every week. That says volumes about where his head is at.
—It's still a bit unbelievable that a guy with Walt's unquestionable skills would fall as low as high-school chem teacher and car wash cashier. He can make a DIY blowtorch but couldn't get another, slightly less high-paying job in the field? Times really are tough.
—Despite the dark event hanging over it, this episode had plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. "We're going to spend the whole night together, like it's my birthday," "Schrader's hard-on for you just reached Uncle Miltie proportions," and the aforementioned dinner scene were all killer.