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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 shows trademark.") Your reactions?

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Another episode in which I have trouble swallowing a major plot point. I suppose I knew Walt was going to snap on Mike eventually. But this was just dumb. I know, I know. Walt has become so intoxicated by his own power that he's forgotten what made him a successful meth cook in the first place: his relentless powers of strategic thinking. I have to say, this season is asking an awful lot of Bryan Cranston, and his work this episode, especially the final moments, when he realizes that he didn't have to kill Mike (and if he's going to become a big bad meth king, maybe he should consider spending a couple hours a week at a firing range--pretty sure Mike's granddaughter is a better shot). I thought I saw a bit of the old, not-yet-completely-evil Walt flash across Heisenberg's face.Totally agree with you about Hank's promotion. And once again Gomie tries to knock Hank of a good lead. He certainly didn't have to deliver the news about Mike within earshot of Walt. But he did. And Mike almost got away.The big question mark for me right now is Jesse. Walt ought to know that he's not a guy you want to radicalize.

I agree with Grant that some of the plot twists are, well, a bridge too far. I'm also disappointed that this season seems to be pretty much Walt and Mike doing an Itchy and Scratchy remake. What happened to the other characters? Even Jesse has become little more than a lamppost. BTW, if I remember Skyler's reaction in the scene alluded to earlier, it's most unfortunate to describe her as almost being raped.

No, that first episode of Season 2 had Walt and Jesse leaving the junk yard after Tuco killed one of his body guards. They were both in shock, and Walt almost raped Skyler, leaving face cream on the walls, which Walt Jr saw.

Having grown up listening (barely) to the Monkees, I'm ashamed to say that I needed to use SoundHound to identify the song. Who knew that this very un-bubblegum-like number was part of the Monkees' oeuvre!Grant, my first reaction to Walt shooting Mike was the same as yours--it just seemed so gratuitous and so out of character for the calculating Walt. But then, like Mollie, I realzied that gratuitous violence is now part of Walt's being-in-the-world.And for those of you who'd like just a little more of Jonathan Banks (Mike), there's an interesting interview in today's NYT .