“This business is all I have left now, and you want to take it away from me.”
This episode, so far the very best that Season Five has given us, begins in the somber aftermath of Todd’s actions at the end of “Dead Freight.” In a silent montage, overlaid with sorrowful abstract music, we see the crew (sans Jesse) dismember and dissolve the dirt bike that Wavy McGee rode out into the desert. They pour hydrofluoric acid over it, in grand Breaking Bad tradition. Then Walt brings out a bigger barrel. We are thankfully spared the bottom-of-the-barrel view that the series has always given us in the past, but this much is clear: no one is ever going to see that kid again.
So now there’s Todd to deal with. After all the unpleasantness is handled he walks up to Jesse (as if he was at the company water cooler) and says, “Hey, s–t happens.” Jesse punches him to the other side of the credit sequence, where he pleads his case to a dispassionate Walt and a weary Mike. He was just looking out for the business, the kid could have ridden away at any moment—he did what he had to do. You understand, don’t you, “Mr. White?”
Todd manages to kiss up to the Stooges and threaten them at the same time, as he reminds them of an uncle in prison who’s connected to the drug trade and could help them network (or, you know, kill them all for messing with his nephew). But most of all, Todd says he didn’t want to shoot the kid. That if there was any—ANY—other option available to him, he would have taken it. But in spite of that reassurance (offered solely for Jesse’s benefit), when Todd gets out to his car we see that he’s got the tarantula the kid found in the desert, still trapped in glass, and it’s clear he keeping it as a souvenir. He may act horrified by what he “had to do,” but he’s fascinated by it as well, or maybe just not that bothered by it (the same goes for Walt, who whistles away at the cook while Jesse frets over a news report of the missing boy). This, of course, is the theme of Walt’s story this season, and again in this episode we see him decline a chance to walk away, and get the most explicit look yet into his motivations for doing so.
Mike and Jesse decide that the meth game just isn’t fun anymore, what with all the dissolving children and DEA stakeouts, and tell Walt they want out—but they’re not just walking away. Mike has a connection, or competitor, actually, in Phoenix that has a use for those giant buried tankers of methylamine, and can arrange a sale that will net the partners a cool $5 million apiece. Walt agrees (through clenched teeth) that the other two can sell their shares of the methylamine, but Walt gets to keep his and cook it. His train isn’t stopping anytime soon.
But this isn’t enough for Mike’s connection. He doesn’t just want the chemicals, he wants assurance that Fring’s blue meth will be off the street. “I’m not just buying the supply, I’m buying the demand,” he tells Mike. The deal is off, unless Mike and Jesse can talk sense into Walt.
Jesse calls him to explain the terms and gets the one thing he never could have anticipated: an invitation to Walt’s home. Once upon a time, Walt would hiss in fury whenever Jesse even dared to call the house, and now, in full Michael Corleone mode, Walt agrees to a sit-down with him in his own living room. As Walt cradles a drink in the palm of his hand like a Bond villain he tells Jesse the story of Gray Matter, the company that Walt helped found (and even name) that he walked away from, or was forced out of. We don’t learn the reason for his departure, but we do learn that he accepted a $5,000 buyout—a decision that haunts him, as he checks the stock every week to chart its worth, which is now $2.6 billion (“with a ‘B,” he emphasizes). His responsibility to his family made him miss the biggest opportunity of his life, and he’ll be damned if he’s going to make that mistake again. “I’m in the empire business,” he states grandly.
Their meeting is interrupted by Skyler (who Jesse last saw when she stormed up to his house in Season One and demanded that he stop selling weed to her husband), and Walt casually invites a horrified Jesse to the most awkward, marvelous dinner in history. Jesse sits hunched over his plate, shifting his glance with a kinetic panic we’ve not seen in him since he stopped using. Tto be fair to Jesse, he’s probably expecting Hank to burst through the door at any moment and pound him into the ground again.) He tries to make small talk with Skyler about her bomb green beans with dope almond slivers, as she chugs a glass of wine and stares daggers into Walt’s soul. Jesse goes all Evening at the Improv about the poor quality of frozen lasagna (What’s the deal with the scabby skin, yo?), and squirms like a kid at his first holiday dinner at the adult table. And Walt loves every painful minute of it.
Skyler, searching for some bit of control, reveals her affair and pours the rest of the bottle of wine into her glass, sarcastically asking to be excused from the table (probably her finest moment in the series since “I f–ked Ted.”). After she leaves, Walt mopes to Jesse that she’s waiting for him to die (“my own wife”) and stole his children away from him, then he makes his last plea to Jesse (a plea, in usual Walt fashion, that doubles as a threat) “This business is all I have left now, and you want to take it away from me.”
Just in case we’ve underestimated just how serious Walt is about continuing his enterprise, he shows up at headquarters to try to take the methylamine. Mike meets him there and ties him up before he can do something stupid, but faster than you can say “Science!” Walt MacGyvers his way out (biting through the wire of a coffee maker and using the electrical circuit to burn through the plastic restraints—leaving a nasty black scar on his wrist). While Walt is making his great escape, Mike is busy buying enough time to shake the DEA to set up a new meeting with the competition (thanks to Saul and his “restraining order” on the DEA—look for every bus stop lawyer to give this a shot, or at least to make it into an episode of Law & Order). When Mike returns to headquarters Jesse once again comes between Mike’s gun and Walt’s head, promising that Mr. White has a plan for them to get their payday and for Walt to stay in business.
This time, Walt promises, “Everybody wins.”
Season Five, Episode Six