Breaking Bad #507: “Say My Name”
Wow. I suppose we should get right to the thing I know everyone wants to talk about from last night’s Breaking Bad: the use of the terrific but little-known Monkees song “Goin’ Down” to underscore the meth-cooking montage! I’ve always felt Micky Dolenz was one of the ’60s’ most underrated great pop vocalists. No?
OK, let’s jump and talk about the episode’s big shock:
Walt shot Mike! And he did it for no practical reason; it was violence driven purely by emotion. A new and frightening step in his progress toward villainy.
In the New Yorker essay that I linked to last week, Emily Nussbaum wrote perceptively about how the show is balancing out Walt’s losing viewers’ sympathy by giving us other characters to root for. “The grizzled ex-cop Mike,” she wrote, “with his dry wisecracks and his Realpolitik masculinity, fulfills our antihero needs.” I think that’s right on, and it makes it especially shocking and daring for the show to have Mike killed by Walt. It’s not hard to hate a character who keeps killing the characters you like.
Walt’s power to manipulate Jesse is waning as well. During Walt’s “You have nothing in your life” anti-motivational speech trying to convince Jesse to stay in the partnership, it occurred to me, and I wonder whether it occurred to Jesse, that in fact it is Walt who has nothing and no one else in his life now. Walt has all but lost his family and is finding it lonely at the top of the meth-cooking game. Now that Walt has turned violent, my husband wondered after we watched, is Skyler in danger? A good question — but I recall that in the past, Walt has reacted to violence and frustration by taking it out on her. (The scene that haunts me is the one where Walt all but rapes Skyler, after witnessing traumatizing violence that he has no way to process. I’m trying to track down the episode — I think it was the season 2 premiere.) The dynamic in this episode seemed almost the opposite: Skyler is the one freezing Walt out and making him feel powerless, and “professional” violence is his release. It can’t be an accident that Walt’s gloating in the opening scene (echoed in the episode’s title) made him sound like a sexual predator.
But, with the loss of Mike, the show has introduced a new way to shape viewers’ attitudes toward Walt: dramatic irony. We now know something he doesn’t — namely, that his new meth-cooking apprentice is not simply the diligent (if doltish) student he seems. We know Todd kept a souvenir of the murder in episode 505. We don’t know exactly what that means, but I expect it to bode ill for Walt.
I continue to suspect that Hank’s “promotion” was really just a gambit to get him off the trail of the Fring empire…. And the mommy in me hopes we’ll hear about what happened to Mike’s granddaughter after he abandoned her on the playground (one presumes). (Another data point for Nussbaum’s observation about how children in peril is “practically the show’s trademark.”) Your reactions?