We all know how it ends for Tony Montana: in a hail of gunfire. Walt knows it, even if he’s choosing, right now, to ignore it. Watching Scarface, it’s easy to disregard the moments that directly follow the film’s most quotable line: “Say hello to my little friend.” Because that’s not the fun part. The thing about Scarface, the part that everyone chooses to ignore, is that Tony is the bad guy. Even though we all love to scream that line with him, the bad guy always dies in the end. That’s how the world works.
That fact is not, however, lost on Skyler White. It’s all there in her wide-open, horrified eyes as her husband and son gleefully watch a bastion of rival gang members exterminate Miami’s drug kingpin. Though the irony of Tony’s demise seems lost on Walter, Skyler sees nothing if not the writing on the wall.
Sunday’s episode finally gets Walt and Jesse back to work. First order of business is to solve that tiny little problem of where to cook, which Walt and Jesse do with the usual amount of panache by choosing the most complicated solution: using a fumigation company as cover and setting up mobile cook stations in houses being treated for pests.
We’re seeing Walt play a different game in this episode than before. No longer acting the tyrant, Walt’s moved on to a long con, a deft manipulation of his associates. He wants something out of Mike – more than just his connections. He wouldn’t put up with his insubordination otherwise. Listening to Mike roll out his ironclad division of labor, eviscerating Walt’s fragile leadership, it sounds as if he thinks he’s the boss. He makes his opinion of Walt clear in the episode’s sure-to-be-most-quoted-line: “Just because you shot Jesse James don’t make you Jesse James.”
Mike’s strong presence leaves everyone taking sidelong glances at one another. Every pack can only have one alpha male. Tony Montana knew it, and so do Saul and Jesse. But Walt’s not up for the challenge—yet. The time for that will come. As he tells Saul: “Mike handles the business. I handle Mike.” The game of chicken started in Mexico hasn’t ended yet – these two are still staring at each other across a table, daring the other to blink.
Jesse’s a more complicated case. Requiring a much lighter touch, Walt knows the way to control him is through his larger-than-life heart. Once Jesse’s emotions are involved, all bets are off. We’ve seen Jesse descend into a spiral more times than we can count – Combo, Jane, Gale – all these crises left him depleted, addicted, and dangerous. Aware of this, Walt’s manipulation of Jesse is couched in human kindness. The lie is a deeply insidious one – a betrayal of the mind: that Walt cares about Jesse. When finds out his mentor and protector has so thoroughly deceived him, Jesse’s devastation will far outpace any loss he’s experienced thus far.
Walt can’t keep up this facade of benevolence. He’s playing a part, there’s no real compassion left for anyone – Walt’s only concern is how the people in his life can undermine his master plan. Once dealt with, his has no patience for them. Jesse is heartlessly interrupted as he reveals his reason for breaking up with Andrea. Likewise, Marie is misdirected from her worries over her sister by the well-executed disclosure of Skyler’s affair with Ted. But as soon as she’s dispensed with, Walt shows no interest whatsoever in the actual cause of Skyler’s breakdown.
In the interactions between Walt and Mike, however, the cracks start to show. As he learns the cost of doing business, Walt’s porcelain exterior turns black. Watching Mike whittle away his profits in order to pay off his guys, you can almost see the mercury rising to a boiling point. And Jesse, like a proverbial child stuck in the middle of a failing marriage, throws himself between them in a herculean effort to keep the peace.
Walt smiles wanly over his shrinking pile of earnings, magnanimously allowing his hard-earned cash to be funneled to Gus’s former network. It’s not enough for Mike. He’s playing hardball. He’s not placating the temperamental chemist, he’s not smiling through the pain. To Mike, Walt will always be good for just one thing. Cooking. Mike’s job is to take care of business, and he’s not discussing how it gets done.
Walt’s wheels are turning. He doesn’t like his authority to be questioned, and Mike isn’t abiding by anyone’s rules but his own. He’s also, terrifyingly enough, seeing the method in Gus’s homicidal madness. Reflecting on Victor’s gory demise, he observes to Jesse that maybe there was more to the attack than simple damage control – maybe it was as much about sending a message, the message being “I am the one who makes the rules.”
Gus has something to teach Walt, as does Tony Montana. The lesson is not to get comfortable. Don’t take your kingdom for granted. Because — like everybody who’s ever seen Scarface knows – the world is yours… until it’s not.
Margaret McCloskey is a playwright and television connoisseur living in Brooklyn.