Monday, August 27, 2012

Breaking Bad Review - Season Five, Episode Seven: Say My Name

By Geddy Cahoon

Well everybody, I'm currently holding back tears over my keyboard. Vince Gilligan has done it - At this point I pretty much hate Walter White.

There isn't much else to say here. Let's dive right into my review of the most recent, heartbreaking episode of Breaking Bad - Say My Name.

NOTE: I'm going to try not to inject too much humor into this. My previous reviews have had a somewhat humorous air about them at times, but it doesn't feel right to do that with this episode.
This episode kicked off with Walter, Jesse and Mike riding through the desert. They're going to meet up with Declan and the crew of meth cookers/dealers from last week. Walt has a proposition for them. Basically, he wants to take them in under his payroll and have them as distributors, and he'll continue to cook.

The guys are apprehensive at first, but after realizing that Walter is indeed Heisenberg, the man who killed Gus Fring, they warm up to the idea of working for him and agree to distribute meth for him as well as pay Mike's retirement fee.

Despite the fact that I am now pretty much as anti-Walter as I can be while still being a fan of the show, I really loved this cold open for a number of reasons. First off, it was pretty much the epitome of Walt's transformation into "Heisenberg," the second Gus Fring. He even had Mike driving him around. The way he conducted himself during the meeting was perhaps the most confident we've ever seen him, showing shades of Walter from the series' various flashbacks. 

The reaction from Declan when he realized who he was dealing with was nothing short of perfect. Walt's ego-tripping was also on full blast here. The fact that he wouldn't actually identify himself, instead forcing Declan to come to his senses was kind of frightening. And the gratification he received upon their reactions and them recognizing him was pretty creepy as well. I also liked how Walter was still pulling the strings throughout this sequence, including Jesse in the plan without actually notifying him, assuming Jesse's blind devotion to the man we called Walter was still in play.

The most noteworthy thing for me about this scene, on top of everything else, was how much I was actually rooting for Walter here. Of course, that would change by the episode's end, but here I felt taken back to the early days of the series. I was filled with memories of a time when I could confidently say that I was rooting for Walter because even though what he was doing was deplorable, he had a noble endgame. It's not much like that anymore, but here I was rooting for him in a way. Even after everything he's done, it was nice to see him totally on top of the world for once.

Obviously, I very much enjoyed this cold opening, but as the episode progressed, Heisenberg's truer colors showed and it was astounding how much my mood had shifted over the course of 50 minutes.

Back from commercial, we see the guys finishing up the deal. Declan's trucks drive off with the 40 pounds of pre-cooked meth Walt and co. had brought for them, and Mike is given his five million dollar retirement payment. He begrudgingly commends Walter for pulling the deal off, and Jesse attempts to get some answers as to why Walter included him in the deal with Declan. Walt brushes him off, wanting to talk about it later.

The guys arrive at Vamonos, and Mike and Walter say goodbye in their own way, with Walter wanting an apology for being chained to the radiator, and Mike refusing. Walt goes inside, and Jesse says goodbye to Mike. Jesse asks if he'll be seeing him around, and Mike says when he's out, he's out. Jesse insists that he's out as well, but Mike isn't so sure. Walter looks on through the window at the two shaking hands, his expression mostly unreadable, but undeniably angry.

Walt really bugged me here. It wasn't as if I expected him to immediately deal with Jesse's qualms about continuing to cook, but the way he keeps brushing him off is really getting my goat. As we see over the course of the episode, Walter needs to realize that Jesse isn't just a kid or an emotional punching bag anymore. I did love Walter and Mike's little back and forth though. The interactions between those two are one of the many things I'll miss. They hated each other, but it was fun as hell to watch them hate each other.

As soon as Mike actually got his money, I had a sneaking feeling in the back of my head that this would in fact be his final episode. Whether he left in peace or not, it was pretty obvious, but not really predictable in a bad way. The more I think about it, the more there was a ton of foreshadowing in this scene alone. "When I'm out... I'm OUT." Yeah, you certainly are Mike. And Walter's expression, though pretty much unreadable as I said, was somewhat menacing and meant a lot now that I'm analyzing the episode.

Overall, an entertaining little scene that means a lot more in hindsight after analysis, which just makes it stronger.

Next up, we see Skyler closing the car wash in anticipation of the arrival of Walt and Jesse, who are bringing in the tanker full of methylamine to stash. Skyler and Jesse have another awkward interaction, and Sky tries to ask Walter what they're doing. He won't tell her, instead telling her to go to the back office and let them handle it.

Wow. That was honestly really rough. Short as this scene was, it made me really uncomfortable. Obviously, the relationship between Walt and Skyler at this point is tumultuous at best and nonexistent at worst, but we've never seen him outwardly talk down to her like this before. For Walter, confidence imbues him with feelings of dominance though I guess, and he doesn't appreciate the questioning. I loved the way Jesse watched Skyler walk away with that bewildered expression on his face - Once again, the cracks in Walt's facade as a man who has everything under control are finally showing for Jesse.

At a bank, we see Mike's lawyer buddy from Hazard Pay greasing the wheels by bringing some food to one of the bank's employees. She lets him into the bank's safe to make a series of large deposits in some deposit boxes. We get a really strange view of this sequence, as for the most part the camera is adjusted on his sleeve and we see him deposit the money from his shaky POV. On top of all of the drops he's making for the family members of Gus' incarcerated men (Mike's legacy pay), he also drops an exorbitant amount of money in Kaylee Ehrmantraut's safe deposit box, along with an envelope "To Kaylee on Her 18th Birthday."

Dan walks to Mike's car in the parking lot, where Mike thanks him, and is reassured by Dan that the families will continue to receive their legacy payments.

This sequence was a bit odd to me for numerous reasons. Firstly, I didn't get at first if what the Lawyer was doing was illegal or not. I mean, it was I suppose, but the woman seemed so cavalier about it and the idea of her bribing her with cookies is pretty ridiculous. The weirdest thing about this sequence was that arm camera. I didn't really get the point of it and it was kind of cheesy. This was really just a standard Breaking Bad montage in which cheery music plays whilst someone does something illegal. Nothing wrong with one of the series' staples.

In the desert, Mike is listening to the surveillance tapes from Hank's office. He learns that there is now in fact a warrant to search his place. In his typical Mike way, he very calmly and tiredly throws his laptop and several guns down a well, to hide them from the cops.

Back at his place, he brews some coffee and waits for the DEA to arrive. They show up, and while Mike doesn't exactly act like he has anything to hide, there is a hint more sarcasm than normal to the way he conducts himself here. He simply sits and watches and old black and white film while his house is searched.

At the Vamonos HQ, Walt is setting up some equipment, and Jesse appears, wanting his 5 million so he may retire from the trade as well. Walt tries his best to ignore him, and basically just assumes that Jesse will be more than happy to continue cooking. Jesse isn't. He's fed up with all of the bloodshed and violence surrounding them. Walter finds the idea of Jesse wanting to "escape" laughable, insisting that they've done enough over the past year that quitting won't help. He also berates Jesse, calling him worthless and implying that he'd just go back to using anyway. Finally, he refuses to give Jesse his money. It's "blood money," so why would Jesse want it? Jesse angrily leaves, none of Walt's manipulations working. Walt is powerless, and simply screams that Jesse will get nothing if he walks out.

Wow. There were plenty of scenes this episode that almost left me completely speechless. The Walt/Jesse fight was one of them. The Mike scene was alright. It basically just served to show that Mike really is wrapping up, and to make us think he's finally gotten the cops off of his ass. But Walt and Jesse's fight... Wow.

A recurring theme throughout the last few episodes is the idea that Jesse is seeing through Walt. Here's this man that he respected greatly at a time, who he looked up to as a father figure, who he would do anything for, and he's been starting to realize that those feelings may not be totally reciprocated. Remember in Madrigal, when Jesse broke down in tears upon finding the ricin cigarette and thought that his killing of Walt in season four wouldn't have been justified? That was heartbreaking. We all had a sneaking suspicion that Walt didn't quite feel the same way about Jesse anymore, and that's been pretty much confirmed.

And the tirade Walt went on... That was tough to hear. Jesse has done nothing but serve Walt, whether he was angry with him or not, for the last year. Every single time he wants to clean up his act and move on from the trade, Walt stops him. Not this time. I really loved the fact that Jesse didn't take his money. Oh sure, he was always in it for the money, but he's inherently a good person who refuses to profit anymore from hurting people. He did shoot an innocent man in the face, but whereas killing people empowers Walter, it hurts Jesse, enough that he's been apprehensive about working with Walt since season four. It was an empowering moment for Jesse, to walk out without the money. I was pretty happy for him for that brief moment, but we all know you can never really escape Walter White.

At a DEA meeting, Hank is distracted by a series of photos from the Fring operation. He becomes entranced with them and drowns out the sounds of SAC Ramney and the other people in the room. Ramney wants a minute alone with him, and tells him that he's not a field agent anymore, and that he can't give the Fring case special treatment over others. He gives him an explicit order not to waste anymore time trailing Mike Ehrmantraut.

Gomie enters, and Hank says that though they can't tail Mike, nobody said anything about his lawyer buddy, Dan Wachsberger. Gomie is skeptical at first, but Hank is confident that this will produce results of some variety.

At a bug-bombed house, Walt is revealed to have taken on a new cooking partner... Todd.

They cook up a batch of Blue Sky, Walter teaching Todd as they go. Once the product is finished, Walter looks a bit disappointed. However, Todd is committed to trying his best, and refuses to take any money until he gets it right.

At the bank, Dan brings more food to his female worker friend, and she acts a bit strange. Once in the vault, Dan begins making the drops but is greeted by Gomez and some DEA agents.

It's dinnertime at the White residence, and Walt sits down with his microwaved TV meal, attempting to make small talk with Skyler. Skyler simply gets up and leaves the second he opens his mouth.

These short little scenes were all good in their own ways. As if Walt hadn't done enough this episode to show us how far over the line of morality he's come, working with Todd really takes the cake. It solidifies Jesse's accusation that Walt is only in it for the money, which of course we all knew. But directly working with the child killer proves that Walt really did feel nothing about the kid's death in the first place.

Gomez walking in on Dan was pretty scary; kind of the beginning of the end. And Walt and Skyler's dinner scene was freaking hilarious. As much as the tone of this episode was highly bleak and upsetting, that scene made me crack up. The good thing about BB is that the short little scenes like this have a tendency to be just as effective as the longer ones.

At the DEA office, Walt is again crying and talking about his marital problems with Hank. He gets him to leave and grabs the bugs he put in the office previously. Hank returns, and Gomie enters to tell Hank the good news: Dan Wachsberger is going to flip. They'll have Mike Ehrmantraut soon. Hank and Gomie are understandably excited, while Walt overhears this and reacts with horror.

I really loved this scene. The cut straight from Walt and Skyler's awkward dinner to Walt crying in Hank's office was perfectly timed, and another humorous scene that really worked despite the episode's overall tone. Walt's reaction to the news of Dan's flipping was perfect as well. Not much else to say here. It was a rehash of a scene from a previous episode that worked fairly well.

Mike is seen at the park with Kaylee, and he receives a call from Dan. He wants to meet with him, and gets Mike to reveal his location. Seconds later, Mike receives a call from Walter who tells him that the cops are coming for him. Sure enough, the cops show up almost immediately. Mike runs behind a tree, and is forced to choose between fleeing or saying goodbye to Kaylee. Ultimately, he chooses to leave.

Well that was a downer. This is right around where the episode begins to get unbearably depressing. Mike may have been a morally corrupt criminal, but he loved his granddaughter more than pretty much anything else. The fact that he couldn't even tell her goodbye, and her last memory will be of him leaving her at the park with no explanation, is unbelievably heartbreaking. On top of that, his funds have been seized once again, so in addition to leaving Kaylee, he's leaving her with nothing. This episode really piles on the hurt.

At Saul's office, Mike, Jesse and Saul are discussing what to do about the current situation. They receive a call from Mike, who wants Saul to drop off his bag of supplies for escaping the country. Saul is reluctant, so Jesse offers, but Mike doesn't want him to be put in that situation. Walt grows impatient with the disagreement between the three, and says he'll get the bag himself. He goes to the location that Mike specified, and finds a duffle bag full of money, a passport, and a single gun.

This scene all but confirmed what I had feared since Dan "flipped": Mike would not be making it out of this episode alive. The way the camera lingered on the gun for a moment longer than it probably should have really hammered the point home. Walt was also really annoying in this scene. Even in a situation as dire as this one, he couldn't resist throwing a few petty jabs Jesse's way ("I thought you were out?"). This scene worked well in that it served to set up the episode's heartbreaking, pulse-pounding conclusion.

Near a river in the woods somewhere, Mike waits for Walter to pull up. Walt wants the names of Mike's henchmen, the nine in prison who may flip at any moment without the legacy pay. Mike refuses to give him the names, and takes the bag. Walt grows angry, and demands at least a thank you from Mike. Instead, Mike turns and lights him up, telling him that everything going to shit is Walter's fault, and that if he had just known his place under Gus' rule, everything would be fine right now. 

Obviously, this causes Walt to grow enraged, and Mike realizes he's taken the gun. Walt runs up to the window and shoots Mike, who drives off and crashes.

It is revealed that Mike crawled from the car down to an embankment by the river. He sits among the reeds, barely conscious and fading fast. Walter expresses genuine horror and remorse for what he's done, realizing that he could've easily gotten the names from Lydia. He attempts to apologize, but Mike tells him to "Shut the fuck up and let me die in peace." The two silently overlook the river as Mike fades into death.

I'm just honestly not sure how to go about describing this. Words can barely articulate how absolutely devastated I was by this scene. I knew it was coming, obviously. We all should have seen it coming. But that didn't make it any less impactful. On top of it being absolutely horrific to see a character I love so much die, there were so many other things that made this scene heartbreaking. First and foremost was the fact that it didn't need to happen. Walt has had some semblance of control over his affairs over the course of this season, but he really lost it here. You don't talk down to Walter White, but nothing justifies taking out his frustrations with a bullet.

Mike may have been a "bad" man, but he didn't deserve to die. At least, not this way. And the worst part might've been the fact that Walt was genuinely remorseful. For all of the horrible shit this guy has done, he was still actually upset that he killed Mike. That makes it hurt even more. Mike didn't need to die, and even Walter acknowledged that. I honestly wept for a pretty sizable amount of time even after this episode ended. This was a fantastic, powerful ending scene, undoubtedly the best one we've had all season, if just for the raw emotion it brought.


After much deliberation, I decided to give this episode the highest possible ranking. And really, it deserves it. There were no errors to speak of, and it was full of amazing scenes. Walt ripping into Jesse at Vamonos was noteworthy, and all of the episode's shorter scenes were enjoyable as well. I think it's an episode that didn't contain a single misstep.

If telling a fantastic story and featuring a plethora of scenes that were pretty much flawless doesn't earn this episode an A+ rating, then it at least deserves it for the raw emotion it brought out, both in the characters and the viewer. I keep noting how upset I was watching it, and I'm still upset writing about it today. Breaking Bad always does pulse pounding penultimate episodes, and I think this was one of the better ones, among a slew of awesome episodes. One of the other great things about this episode was all of the foreshadowing that was done in hindsight. Walt saying "Everybody wins" at the end of last week's offering is sadly ironic now, and there were many hints throughout the episode that Mike would be meeting his fate.

And as heartbreaking as Mike's death was, the world doesn't stop turning. I can't wait to see where the next episode goes. Jesse is presumably out, and Walt looks to be going on a violent crusade against the nine henchmen. There's also dealing with the fallout of Mike's death, as my brother pointed out: Walter has killed and/or hurt everyone Jesse cared about. This will undoubtedly be the impetus for Jesse getting away from Walter for good. The body count keeps piling up for Walter, and there's no more transforming to be done. He's Heisenberg now, and as depressing as this episode was, I can't wait to see how that plays out. Say My Name was arguably a high point for the season, and as much as I wish Mike were still alive, I have to admit that this episode was a home run.

That's it for this week! Be sure to leave a comment or like the NWC Facebook page to tell us what you thought! Tune in next week for the final Breaking Bad episode and consequently, review, of the year! I'll try not to cry too much during that one.

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