Vamanos: Breaking Bad Recap ‘Say My Name’
“This whole thing could have been avoided.”
‘Say My Name,’ the penultimate episode of this first half of the final season of Breaking Bad, begins with our clearest vision yet of Heisenberg, the confident, calculating alter-ego that Walter White created to separate his life of crime from his bumbling domestic realities, and ends with a sad reminder of just how out of his element Walt remains.
As Heisenberg, Walt deftly controls the meeting with Declan and the Arizona crew. Why push Walt’s far superior product (91.1% purity versus a middling 77%) out of the market, when you can control the distribution of that product yourself? Would you rather be Coke, dominating the marketplace in brand recognition and customer loyalty, or some pathetic off-brand struggling to catch up? It’s an excellent point, and one that Declan can’t argue. For the time being, Walt keeps his promise — everybody wins.
On the surface, Walt has every reason to feel the bursting pride he holds in his operation. Fring killed the cartel, Walt killed Fring, and now Walt’s neutralized the threat from Arizona, while keeping his empire intact. But that shiny surface covers a hollow core. The empire is dying before it even begins, and everyone but Walt sees it.
During the desert meeting Walt brags that he can offer Declan’s crew the two best meth cooks in the country, indicating Jesse in addition to himself. Jesse saves his protestations for later, but he and Mike share a meaningful glance. When they return to Vamanos HQ, Mike takes his money and turns to go, not offering the “thank you” that Walt feels he’s owed. Walt leaves, but stays watching from the window, fully in his scheming Heisenberg mode, with murderous jealousy in his eyes. Jesse hopes he’ll see Mike around. Mike’s silence says he won’t. He also stays quiet when Jesse reminds him that he’s done with the meth game as well. “Kid, just take care of yourself,” Mike urges. Mike understands better than Jesse how reluctant Walt will be to let anyone go, especially his prize pupil, but there are aspects of Walt that even Mike has always underestimated. It will cost him dearly.
Walt and Jesse meet up with Sklyler at the car wash, where the tanker of methylamine was stored to keep Mike from selling it. The Skyler we see there is a haunted shell of her former self. The business that she put so much energy into, that she convinced herself she could keep clean, has been invaded by Walt’s criminal enterprise in the most blatant way possible. She’s not safe anywhere. Jesse attempts polite small talk with her as she stares blankly ahead. “Vamanos,” he reads off of the logo on the side of the pest control truck. “I wish,” she answers. She walks away, and then stops—perhaps realizing there’s nowhere to go. She looks back at Jesse and he looks at her. For the first time in this lovely, understated episode, two characters share a meaningful silence, both trapped in the same situation.
Jesse, at least, makes an active attempt to be rid of Walt’s destructive influence. He confronts him about the “two meth cooks” line, reminding him that he’s done, that he can’t take anymore. Walt growls at him, saying that there’s no reason to stop, that if there’s a hell they’re already going, intimating specifically that Jesse is going to hell for killing Gale (a killing, of course, that Walt ordered). In a way, it’s like the old “apply yourself” speeches that Walt’s been giving Jesse since he circled those words in red ink on his high school test, but this time it’s delivered in an ugly, guttural tone. Jesse just wants his money, and when Walt mockingly suggests he relieve him of the moral burden of all of that “blood money” Jesse just walks away.
With one student unwilling to learn, Walt turns to another – eager beaver Todd. Not only is Todd willing to apply himself, he even takes careful notes (and, we would hope, burns them, considering what happened with Gale’s lightning bolt notebook) and studies them during his lunch break. Walt is eager to tell Skyler all about it at dinner but she just walks away again for another lonely evening in her room with a glass of wine.
Meanwhile, Mike is making the most of his early retirement. He spends his afternoons trashing his computer equipment and illegal firearms, and accompanying a friendly, tubby lawyer on his trips to the bank to drop cash payments for families of the Fring Nine into safety deposit boxes. The DEA stops by for a visit as Mike watches old detective movies, but they find nothing. Because when Mike the Cleaner does a job, he does it right.
But as good as Mike is, Hank’s better. Stymied by the fruitless search, and commanded to stop trailing Mike by the higher-ups, Hank sends Gomey after the lawyer instead. Gomey finds him right in the middle of one of his illicit drops, and just like that the game is up for Mike. Walt, visiting Hank’s office (ostensibly to cry and moan about cold-hearted Skyler, but really just to remove the bug he’d planted a few episodes back) hears Gomey say the lawyer flipped and they’re zeroing in on Mike, and calls Mike to warn him.
When Walt calls, Mike is in the park watching his little granddaughter Kaylee play on the swings. As police surround the park he hides behind a tree. he tries to call out to his granddaughter, but can’t without giving himself away. He takes the road of self-preservation and escapes, leaving her behind. He calls Saul, who puts him on speakerphone so Walt and Jesse can hear. Mike explains that he has a getaway bag stashed in the trunk of a car at the airport. Jesse offers to help as Walt glares at him, furious that he’s so anxious to help one mentor but ready to leave another. Walt insists that he will get the bag himself.
He meets Mike in an empty field by a river. He hands over the bag, but insists that Mike give him the name of the Fring Nine. Mike declines, as disgusted with Walt as ever, and walks back to his car. “You’re welcome,” Walt shouts after him. Mike loses it. We had a good thing, he tells him, distribution, a superlab, and ideal setup with Fring, but your ego, your pride got in the way. Both men storm away, but the camera lingers in the empty space between them (never, never, a good sign). Then Walt charges back toward Mike.
As Mike checks the getaway bag he notices that his gun is missing, just in time for Walter White to appear at his window and put a bullet in his gut. It’s not a clean shot, executed with the precision of a Heisenberg. It’s the action of petulant, unthinking Walter White who lets his emotions overwhelm his considerable mental faculties. Mike drives forward, but not very far. The car crashes and a panicked Walt follows a bloody trail through the tall grass by the river’s edge to find Mike sitting on a rock, bleeding to death.
Both men are quiet. The scene is gorgeous, the sunset golden as it plays on the surface of the water. We hear the sounds of crickets chirping and birds twittering, and the insistent rippling of the water. Something happens in that moment that’s hard to accurately describe, because it plays so subtly on Bryan Cranston’s face, but Walter White becomes acutely aware that he is alive and must deal with the ramifications of every choice that’s led him to this moment. In this perfect moment, he is still nothing more than a murderer. And he realizes another thing, too. “I could have gotten the names from Lydia,” he tells Mike. Then, for the first time all season we see the old Walter creep back. “I’m sorry, Mike,” he says, “All of this could have been avoided.”
“Shut the f—k up,” Mike answers. “Let me die in peace.” And Walt does. They both stare ahead, Walter squinting in the glare of the setting sun, as Mike does what he refused to do: face death with grace and dignity.
Season Five, Episode Seven
‘Say My Name’: A