Skyler (Anna Gunn) discovers Walter lied about her relationship with Ted. (AMC )
Every so often, “Breaking Bad” goes out of its way to give Walter White a reason to get out of the meth business. In the first season, his former colleagues at Gray Matter offered to pay for his cancer treatment. In the second season, his cancer went into remission. In the third season, it looked like he might be out after Gus cut him a deal of more money than Walter could ever know what to do with in exchange for a few months of work. And now, in “Buyout,” he’s got the offer of $5 million, substantially more than the $737,000 he said he needed to provide for his family way back at the start of Season 2.
It seems like the perfect sweetheart deal, the thing that will finally keep him from careening off a cliff. After all, his outfit was responsible for the death of a child in the last episode. Jesse is understandably feeling the effects of that, while Mike is tiring of having the DEA constantly on his tail. That methylamine the three men stole is worth $15 million to a Phoenix drug tycoon, as is the promise of having the blue meth off the streets. Yet the whole thing has terrible resonances for Walter with his days at Gray Matter, when he was bought out by two colleagues whom he no longer wanted to be around (and who no longer wanted to be around him). They made him an offer of $5,000. He took it. And he’s been driven by a dark resentment ever since.
The problem with all of these “maybe Walter will get out of the meth business” episodes is that there’s no way the series would actually have him get out of the meth business. Even when the show dabbled the most in this possible plot line (at the start of Season 3), it was simply a constant countdown to when Walter would eventually take Gus Fring’s offer. This means the episodes in which Walter considers these sorts of offers are interesting conceptually, because it’s always fun to watch just how deeply Walter will drag himself into a pit of his own making, but often less interesting on a plot level. And indeed, “Buyout” is a solid example of the show pulling off a very fun episode that nonetheless spins its wheels a tiny bit. Most frustrating is the way the show disposes of the issue of what happens with that dead boy, whose spirit haunts the episode but is mostly gone in time for the rousing climax (though I did like the very somber cold open of the men dismantling the boy’s dirt bike, then dissolving it with acid, before the suggestion the very same would happen to the boy).
Now, granted, this is still an episode in which Mike comes up with an elaborate scheme to get out of the meth business for good, where Jesse shares a supremely uncomfortable dinner with Walter and Skyler, and where Walter escapes from being (plastic) cuffed to a radiator by creating a makeshift blowtorch from a coffeepot’s power cord. This means there’s still a lot of good stuff in the episode. Yet it can’t help but feel just a little bit like the show powering down ever so slightly after the last two powerhouse episodes. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. The show needed a bit of a breather after the emotional devastation of “Fifty One” and the sheer breakneck momentum of “Dead Freight.” And given that the episode concludes with Walter saying he’s got the perfect plan so everybody wins, I can only imagine next week’s episode will be just as over the top as ever.
My favorite bits this week all have to do with Jesse seeming to slowly realize that Walter is as toxic as ever, before Walter expertly plays him to bring him back into the fold. Jesse’s so wounded by the death of the child that he decides to follow Mike on his way out of the meth business. The decision is preceded by a seemingly sincere talk with Walter, one in which Walter talks about how saddened he is by the death of the boy, and how they’ll have to take steps to make sure nothing like that ever happens again. Walter then gives Jesse the rest of the day off, and Jesse seems to be on the path to at least working through some of his pain. Yet when he comes back down to where Walter is cleaning up the cook site, Walter is whistling happily as he goes about his work. There’s a serious dissonance between who this man pretends to be and who he actually is, and that dissonance is showing to more and more people who aren’t Skyler. It’s then and there that Jesse makes his choice.