Contributor: Henry T.
Written by Vince Gilligan
Directed by Michelle MacLaren
It didn’t occur to me on first viewing, but as I was thinking back to figure out what to write in this review, I realized that I could get around the mindset of cheering for Hank and the DEA to take down Walt’s operation. For much of the series, there has been the focus on Walt and Jesse making the purest meth found in the Southwest. Hank being Walt’s brother-in-law, and a DEA agent to boot, was often marginalized in favor of showing the escalating war between Walt and Gus. Now, with Gus out of the way, the feds are pressing their investigation like they never have before. It seems necessary given that Walt is without question becoming the bad guy. The authorities are slowly putting the pieces together, and the time may come when Hank will catch Walt doing something he shouldn’t be doing.
After first viewing, I was lukewarm on this episode. Walt and Jesse aren’t in much of it. Instead, the focus is on Mike and gives a glimpse into how he operates without his former boss around to give him orders. Naturally, the police and federal agents are investigating each one of Gus’ contacts in this vast network that he built. It’s going to lead back to Mike.
The opening teaser proved as much, with a middle manager at Madrigal Electromotive committing suicide with an emergency defibrillator. Never mind the fact that emergency defibrillators are supposed to either warn a person or not work at all if a person’s heart is still beating, but that sequence was definitely another in a long line of black comedy highlights this show specializes in. Gus’ death has worldwide reverberations, and Walt has no idea that they are happening. Mike is now in charge of scrambling to keep the remnants of the Fring organization from getting into the hands of the authorities.
It’s fascinating to see the efficiency by which Mike operates. He doesn’t panic like Lydia does in this episode. He’s calm and goes about his business without attracting attention. You can see why Gus chose him to run security for the operation. What plays along with Mike’s efficiency is the world-weariness that shows on his face. He’s tired of all of this, and I think a part of him knows that he can only keep the authorities at bay for so long before the cuffs are slapped on him. That’s what makes Mike’s initial conversation with Walt and Jesse so telling. He knows Walt is trouble, and it follows up on his advice to Jesse in the season premiere: get as far away from this guy as you can, or you’re going to either be dead or seeing the inside of a jail cell.
Walt has already made up his mind to press on forward, even as the infrastructure of the drug-peddling business is virtually non-existent. Only in the end, Mike has to partner up with Walt and Jesse because he has no other choice. He could have killed Lydia in her home, with her daughter mere feet away, but held back to spare the little girl from finding her mother’s dead body full of bullet holes. Mike is cold, but has a soft spot for his family and it can’t be a coincidence that Lydia’s daughter is about the same age as Mike’s granddaughter. The same granddaughter that Hank and Gomez uses as leverage in their slightly cordial interrogation of Mike, easily my favorite scene of the whole episode.
It was there that I could see things possibly coalescing for the remainder of the series. It’s an odd inversion that’s taken place. When the series started out, Walt was the good guy making meth out of necessity to support his family. Now that he has gone full steam ahead with being Heisenberg, the good guys have to be Hank and the feds. Hank’s boss took the fall for not seeing Gus as the drug kingpin that he really was, and imparts some words to Hank about Gus’ duplicitous nature that Hank should really take to heart.
He has to be aware that Walt hasn’t been all that consistent over the past year and I think that’s what gives him the motivation to go after Mike and all of the eleven guys on the list. That list gets smaller in this episode with Chow, the Madrigal Electromotive executive, and Chris all dead. That’s going to draw a look from Hank and his compatriots at the DEA. For now, Walt isn’t seeing all of the angles. His only concern is to find a way to make product again. He will manipulate anyone to get that purpose, and that includes faking the ricin cigarette issue that Jesse is hung up on to consolidate their partnership. You just know the ricin Walt kept behind the electrical outlet is going to come in play later.
But Jesse feels profound guilt over the whole incident and Walt uses that guilt for his own evil purposes. Even though Walt is not in much of this episode, his actions remain ever so slimy. His reassurances to Skyler in bed, once again in the last scene of the episode, were unsettling because they had a slight aggressive feel to them. Talking about family and how what he does now is what is going to keep them together in the long run. The scene is shot in a way that reminded me of the pilot episode, but there, that was a Walt who felt grateful just to be alive (echoes of the scene in this episode where Saul basically tells that to Walt).
Here, Walt is once again believing in his own myth and is quietly convincing Skyler that she should get in line with that, or else bad things will come. The fear of what Skyler attached herself to washes all over her face during that scene. It’s chilling, and quietly effective, just like the end of “Live Free or Die.”
The consolidation of power continues for Walt in this episode. Walt is not a physicist but he would do well to know that one of the laws of motion is that one force will always attract an equal and opposing force. In this case, that’s Hank and the authorities. I expect that they will become a larger part of the series now that the investigation is building against Walt. The brilliant thing about it is that he doesn’t have any idea of who’s chasing him. Mike doesn’t choose to tell him, probably because Walt will then become the reckless manipulator and find a way to tie Mike to everything, and he’s so busy with re-structuring the drug empire that he refuses to see it.
Gus’ laptop — which Walt thought was the last shred of evidence linking the two of them together — was encrypted, so the police and DEA might have left well enough alone. Instead, the heat is coming. It’s probably not going to be pretty, and will likely cost lives, if we are to believe what we saw with Walt in the Denny’s on his 52nd birthday.