Breaking Bad Review: "Buyout" (Episode 5.06)
“Buyout” begins with one of Breaking Bad’s most haunting openings to date. Following the twisted ending from last week’s “Dead Freight," Walter and his crew have to dispose of the evidence and body of the child who Todd murdered in cold blood. As if it wasn’t disturbing enough to see it happen, the writers follow up and show us the true horror of the incident with a beautifully shot montage that doesn’t focus on gore or violence to get its point across. Instead we see Walter and his crew meticulously pulling apart the boy’s dirt bike and breaking it down to the all the individual parts that make up its whole.
I’m reminded of “ and the Bag’s in the River” from season one, when Walt and Gretchen discussed the chemical composition of a human person. That episode’s flashback was paired with Walt and Jesse’s crisis of having to dispose of Emilio’s body. But here it hits a lot deeper. This is someone who was completely innocent and just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the bike is broken down into individual parts, the scene is accompanied with a silent hum, and we see dread on the crew’s face—the dread of knowing they will have to do the very same thing to the innocent boy who lies dead in the bed of their truck. Visually, this is one of the most disturbing things seen on the show, because of the implications. It’s one thing to show a death. It’s another to demonstrate just how despicable it is to take someone’s life and do so by literally breaking them down to their composition level.
Todd’s reaction to the situation is equally disturbing. There is an almost childlike befuddlement to him. He’s generally surprised that they are upset and protests that he didn’t want to kill the kid, but it seemed like the only option. Knowing nothing about Walt and Jesse, Todd probably assumed that they were ruthless kingpins who meant business. But still, there is a casualty with which he defends himself that is off about his personality. After taking a punch to the face by Jesse and getting shoved into a wall by Mike, Todd is seen in his car smiling at the dead boy’s tarantula in a jar, and it is downright chilling. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of remorse, and his pleasure and fascination at the specimen was mirrored by the boy whose life he took.
Walt strategically maneuvers around when the group has to decide what to do with Todd. He gives three options and purposely gives an option where they kill him right then and there, because they can’t just fire the guy—he knows too much. Knowing Jesse’s weakness, his suggestion to kill him on the spot seems intentional to twist Jesse’s arm. While Walt’s intentions are not made clear, it’s not surprising that Walt could see Todd as a useful tool. Imagine someone who is willing to kill on his command. All Walt has right now is partners who can and do say no and who will question his authority when they don’t want to go along with one of his ideas. Gus didn’t have this problem, and suddenly Walt’s speech about associates “getting too close to the sun” makes more and more sense. It’s become clear that Jesse and Mike are no longer driven to the same lengths to further this business. The death of this boy just reaffirms that it’s no longer worth it.
The plot has a seismic shift, when Mike reveals that he plans to get out of the game and has convinced Jesse to walk out as well. This is where Breaking Bad shines. It’s a show that has always been built around the long game. And time and time again, the writers have proven that they are able to bring a season together in the final run of episodes, as the intensity of the plot keeps swelling to epic proportions. Here we see things closing in, as Walt’s makeshift business is now in shambles, and the investigation launched by the DEA has now been pushed to the forefront, as they have been stepping up their surveillance on Mike.
What’s interesting about this is that it’s assumed that Mike is quitting because of the DEA tails. But it’s also revealed by Mike that he knew all along that they had been following him. It’s a possibility that Mike was planning to pull this move the minute they hatched the train heist all along. The fact that they even robbed a train in the first place is reason enough to stop working for someone like Walt. The kid’s death and Walt’s never-ending, over-reaching ambition might just have been the excuse he needed to split. And after all, when it comes down to it, Mike is going to do what is best for him. If he can make the hazard pay go away and walk away with a little profit—that’s an option he’s going to take. He was never in the business for the meth and only went to Walt when he realized Madrigal wasn’t going to pay the hazard pay and his survival depends on that.
All within a moment’s notice, everything Walt had been building up this season is taken from him as the team begins to disband. For Jesse, it’s the kid’s death that has now put things into perspective. Mike’s plan to sell the methylamine to his dealer sounds like a practical and logical plan, and no more people have to get hurt. But it’s also his perception of Walter, and seeing a change in his behavior, that tips him in this direction. Earlier in the episode, Jesse is disgusted by Walt when he begins to whistle after the boy who was killed in their heist shows up on the news as a missing child case. Walt quickly tries to assure Jesse that he’s haunted by the death and tells Jesse that now isn’t the time for soul searching. As Jesse gets ready to head home, he hears Walt whistling as he finishes up the day’s cook. And this really sums up why Jesse has these feelings: Seeing Walt whistle so casually after a report on the news shows the boy missing is a disturbing evolution of what the business has done to them.
It’s Jesse’s shift in loyalty that really sets things up and makes this one of the best episodes of the series. Through Jesse’s decision to call it quits, we get a great character moment that we’ve been waiting seasons for. In the highlight of the episode, Walt invites Jesse over to his house to discuss the current status of their business. Jesse keeps asking Walt why he doesn’t just take the deal and walk away. Five million isn’t just nothing, and it’s more than Walt ever dreamed of making when they first started out. But Walt then replies by talking about his past with Gray Matter, the company he founded and walked away from while in college. This has always been a source of great envy and regret for Walt. Back in season one, he told Gretchen to fuck off after she decided to no longer go along with his lie, and Walt’s refusal to accept health coverage from them was a character-defining moment for him.
But it’s Walt’s revelation to Jesse that he sold his share of the company for five grand and the company is now worth billions that puts Walt’s behavior into perspective. Walt is a man who is all about pride, and giving up what he does best for less than what it’s worth is an absolute insult. It’s a repeat of the past that in many ways set up his life of mediocrity, and one that he would look to avoid again. Granted, his perspective is completely skewed, and even Jesse calls him out on this. This scene worked so brilliantly, because it put the entire show into perspective. Jesse starts to ask what this is all really for, and clearly Walt’s motivations for doing these things have completely shifted from what they originally were.
The dinner scene that follows is painful to watch. Skyler is able to connect the dots, as she had confronted Jesse back in the first season when Walt first started to act strange. But it wasn’t until this very moment that she realized Jesse was there all along, a part of Walt’s downfall. Jesse’s dialogue here is hilarious but awkward. But that’s the point. Walt knows Skyler will be enraged about this, and he wants her to hit back to embarrass him. And she does; she throws the affair into his face. For a man who is about pride, you would think this would enrage Walt. But instead, it’s exactly what he wanted. He explains to Jesse that his entire life has fallen apart, and that the business is all that he has. Putting a guilt trip on Jesse over this, instead of just taking responsibility for why his life has gone to shit is a really great moment for the character—and it’s especially a moment to pause for, when you again consider that Walt was just offered $5 million to walk away.
The episode builds to an intense conclusion, as we find out that Mike’s deal has a catch— Walt has to get out of the business. The other manufacturer from Arizona doesn’t just want to buy the methylamine, he wants the blue stuff off the market altogether. We knew the competition was out there, and Gus dying only meant someone else popping up to take his place. But this plot development being introduced into the story at this point brings the tension to a new level. While in season four Walt was racing against the clock to save his own life, he’s now racing to save his role in the meth business. When Walt escapes Mike’s makeshift handcuff and takes the methylamine, his reply of “everybody wins” evokes various emotions. In the past, Walt was just trying to save his life, and these moments of escape felt exhilarating. Now you almost dread what Walt has up his sleeve, because what he’s working for now is nothing but self-preservation of his ego.
As we head into the final two episodes of this portion of the season, we have to note that the show is also wrapping up completely in another eight episodes the following year. This season is shaping up to be more of an internal one, a focus on the corrosion of Walter’s soul. Given that Walt has now lost his partners, and now has a loaded gun in Todd, it’s going to be absolutely terrifying to see what he ends up doing to try to save this business that he claims is the only thing he has left. And given the flash forward in the season opener where Walt looks terrible, it’s only a matter of time before—as Mike puts it—Walt goes boom.