Heisenberg’s on the loose.
Breaking Bad is a television series that’s all about transformation – chemicals into drugs of course, but also the transformation of an impotent chemistry teacher into a ruthless drug kingpin — Walter White into Heisenberg. This week’s episode is a lynchpin on that transformation. Heisenberg’s out, and there have been casualties.
Cooking meth is all about chemical reactions. Put two elements together and add heat, you can get valuable crystal or…. Kaboom.
When the two elements that meet are as immiscible as Mike Ermentraut and Walter White, explosions are imminent.
In fairness to Walt, Mike could have avoided this final confrontation by giving into Walter just a little. In many ways, Mike’s just as stubborn as Walter. He enjoys aggravating Walter. It’s apparent in the way he pushes Walt’s buttons on purpose, acting as much out of frustration with the man who would be king as a desire to bring him down a peg.
Mike’s never been fully on board with Walt as the leader of their trio, and never let Walt forget it. In fact, he’s been fighting Walter with every breath. In recent weeks, there’s been a breakdown in Mike’s communication. Whereas last season, Mike could contain his contempt of Walter, perhaps allowing himself a derisive eye-roll or even, notably, one satisfying sucker punch, this season he hasn’t been as successful at biting his tongue.
If Walter is the personification of power, Mike is loyalty in human form. Loyal even to Walter and Jesse, two individuals whose existence in Mike’s life have caused nothing but trouble, and yet Mike’s always done right by them. And so it’s fitting that it is Walter who is the DEA’s harbinger, the one who makes the fateful call to tell Mike that his lawyer has rolled on him, that’s it’s time to cut and run.
In four plus seasons of this show, nothing has hurt as much as watching Mike realize he’ll have to leave without saying goodbye to his granddaughter. And though it may not have been Walter specifically who led the DEA to Mike, Walter’s been responsible for plenty of heartache in Mike’s life.
Mike’s been waiting for his moment to confront Walter – to tell him everything he’s been thinking all this time. And so, when he meets Walter for the final time in the clearing, Mike’s a man with nothing left to lose and plenty left to say.
As much as we may want to see Mike ride off into the sunset, Walt can’t let him. The same way he can’t let Skyler or Lydia. Perhaps Mike’s will was stronger than the other two, because he certainly got a lot farther than they have. It even seemed, for a minute, that Walt was going to help Mike get away – after all, Walt did volunteer to retrieve the car and go-bag.
Walt might have been feeling particularly magnanimous after his successful negotiation Declan, the would-be purchaser of Jesse and Mike’s methylamine and newly-minted distributor of blue meth. It was in the exchange with Declan that Walt ceased to act like a kingpin and just… was. He was Heisenberg, fully-embodied. The creator of the most desirable product, smarter than the competition, Walt is self-assured, intimidating, direct.
The deal falling apart before his eyes, Declan weakly reaches out to familiar face Mike. Whereas Walt may have bristled at this perceived slight, Heisenberg stares Declan down and says unequivocally: “You’re dealing with me now.”
The deal with Declan is a kingmaker. It gets the blue meth out farther than it’s ever been, it brings in a wider clientele. Walt’s stepping into uncharted territory. As such, he’s wearing the mask of Heisenberg more and more often, Walter White is starting to fit less and less comfortably.
In what could be Walt’s last effort to hold onto his former identity, he takes Todd under his wing and teaches him to cook. He’s patient, encouraging and, while maybe not warm, has a definite air of proud papa. With Jesse continuing to make noise about jumping ship, Todd could be a new stand-in for a son –the next attempt to make a Walter Junior. Todd is aware of the weight of this lesson, even refusing payment until he gets the cook right.
But this is not Walter’s true face any longer. The Heisenberg mask has become his face. Heisenberg shoots his former partner out of anger, nothing more. Up till now, every terrible thing Walt has done has been in the name of something bigger – protecting his family, his business, his partners. Shooting Mike, Walt is acting out of pure malevolence. He doesn’t think through the situation, doesn’t realize that he has other means to get what he wants. What he wants is to shoot Mike, be the retribution for every unsaid thank you, every sarcastic comment, every contemptuous glance.
Between the two of them, Mike seems the least surprised by Walter’s actions. The quality of their final exchange is one of resigned indifference. Mike’s last words, fittingly, are “Shut the fuck up, Walter.”
Heisenberg is doing the talking for both of them now.