TV Review: “Breaking Bad” Episode 6 – “Buyout”

Written by Devin Barnes August 24, 2012

“I’m in the empire business.”

Watching “Breaking Bad” has become a depressingly mesmerizing exercise for the jaded viewer, who cannot help feeling slack-jawed as a once kind-hearted, albeit morally misguided man descends further and further into a hell of his own making. Yet this transformation maintains credibility by brilliantly adhering to the character’s weaknesses, which have been amplified tenfold throughout the series: Walter White, who spent the bulk of his life mired in overwhelming self-doubt, craves admiration for his prominent intellect. He’s sick of watching his equals and inferiors make wild successes of their lives, and will wantonly cling to any opportunity for global notoriety. This man has two horrifyingly dangerous Achilles heels: pride, and a desire to be recognized, perhaps feared, for his extraordinarily abilities. These qualities have decimated Walt’s morality and the familial relationships he once coveted; Walter White is “the one who knocks,” and nothing more. He’s shaping up to be one of “Breaking Bad’s” most dangerous villains.

The titular “Buyout” refers to Mike and Jesse’s attempts to buy their way out of Walt’s business, parting ways and effectively ending their meth careers with a cool five million apiece. Walter is unsurprisingly unhappy with this idea, preferring life as the head honcho and bringing a business mentality into the fold (remember when Walt said “Jesse, you are now a millionaire – and you’re complaining?” He’d do well to heed his own advice). “Pennies on the dollar, Jesse?” Walt disparagingly lectures his former protégé. “That’s what you’re selling out for?” Walt conveniently forgets the lives they’ve endangered, as issues regarding an innocent child’s death are promptly swept under the carpet at the episode’s outset (Todd’s rationale for murdering the boy is eerily similar to Walt’s own justifications for Gale’s murder: “it was either him, or us, and I chose us.” Perhaps Walt wants to keep Todd around, viewing him as a potential asset and like-minded individual?). Walt, however, does take umbrage with Mike not immediately telling him about being repeatedly tailed by the DEA; the news comes as an unpleasant shock. It’s easy to see where Walt’s priorities lie: “my wife is waiting for me to die; this business is all I have left,” he confides in Jesse. “And you’re going to take that away from me?”

“Whistle while you work.”

There’s a particularly telling moment in this episode, doing so much with relatively little. Jesse, being emotionally affected by the little boy’s recent shooting, tears up, and finds himself unable to continue cooking. Walter graciously tells Jesse he can go home, claiming that he, too, has been up nights thinking about the poor boy. Jesse, hanging up his meth uniform, goes to leave, only to hear Walt whistling as he works; he pauses, shocked. Do emotionally affected people whistle happy tunes? Do rational people who have spent their morning disposing of a child’s body find themselves whistling and singing merely hours later? Jesse’s profoundly creeped out by this, as are we: “Breaking Bad” is go for broke creepy this season, but in a brilliantly minimalist way.

“It was a marriage just like any other marriage.”

“Guess who’s coming to dinner?”

The dinner scene in which Walt, Skyler and Jesse break bread together (“Come over to your house? Seriously?” asks a bemused Jesse) is laughably, horrendously uncomfortable, yet compulsively watchable, as we feel morbidly fascinated by this peculiar happenstance. Kudos to Jesse for his groan-inducing, albeit hilarious efforts to defuse tension, with amusing quips about “nuking microwave lasagna” and “how much it looks like a scab – that’s false advertising, yo,” but, of course, this doesn’t help matters, particularly when Skyler asks “did you tell him about my affair?” Skyler’s alluding to a highly vindictive maneuver of Walt’s, in which he paints himself the victim and makes it seem as if Skyler’s recent depression is rooted in guilt over her affair with Ted; he, naturally, felt compelled to share this with Marie. Skyler, snubbing her husband, excuses herself from dinner, with a full bottle of wine in tow.

Is it possible to feel sorry for Walt? He’s done horrible things, to be sure, and has become reprehensible in the extreme, but began his meth-cooking career with intentions that were pure of heart: a desire to ensure his family’s economic survival following his death, putting everything at risk for those he cared about. Now, those same people have rejected him (justifiably, to be fair), and his wife wishes him dead. His speech to Jesse about Grey Matter reveals much of the bitterness that drives this man to heinous crimes: his simmering resentment over throwing in the towel, taking a “buyout” and missing his chance to become a billionaire, and be renowned for his scientific research (there are practical applications for this knowledge, too; watching him burn through his own wrist to escape his shackles was very disturbing, yet quite ingenuous). The meth business is Walt’s last chance to be revered as the genius that he is, and he refuses to make the same mistake twice; he won’t settle for less than what he is, but, as Jesse wisely notes, “Is a meth empire anything to be proud of?” Jesse Pinkman has become the moral compass of this series, but Walt doesn’t seem to care. And, as his family is effectively out of the picture – his kids live at Hank and Marie’s, as per Skyler’s request, and Skyler despises him – the meth business really is all he has left. His newfound self-esteem and fearlessness come from his criminality, and he’s drunk on these traits; he won’t give them up anytime soon. He’s a bona fide criminal now, cooking solely for the acquisition of power and influence. Skyler’s hatred of and rejection of Walt have helped shape Walter White into the monster that he is, and will become.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

My Rating: 7/10

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