Great dramas often build-up to devastating scenes that are so inevitable the tension comes not from a place of will it happen? but rather when will it happen and how will it go down. Breaking Bad is no different, as Walter White has left a path of trauma, heartbreak and terror on his way to his own grave; the show is itself built upon inevitability, specifically the inevitability of Walter's death and the seeming inevitability of the death or ruin of all those who get close to him. It's positively Shakespearean, but no less fresh for that, particularly when we get moments like the climax of this penultimate episode of this first half of the final season.
Yet it all began smoothly enough. Starting not long after the previous episode left off, we're witness to the Three (Not Quite) Amigos back in the desert, waiting for the return of Declan and his crew but with a noticeable lack of product to hand off. Walt's plan is revealed to be a baldfaced gamble, a kind of conversational Chicken, with Walt as Heisenberg heading straight for Declan without any intention of budging, consequences be damned. Walt outlines a business strategy for Declan, where he doesn't get any chemical supplies and he doesn't get the blue meth off the market and instead gets the opportunity to distribute the blue meth himself.
For Walt, this is a gamble that works because of the absolute confidence he has in his own product; there's a Doc Holliday aspect, sure, with Walt's complete lack of fear of death making him the most dangerous man in the room at any given moment, but it's more, it's chemical faith, utter devotion to the idea of pure recipes and proper make-ups. Walt has and will always see the world in a chemical fashion, where combustible ingredients can make life sustaining product. In Walt's eyes, Declan has to agree to the deal because the chemicals don't lie: his blue meth is better than their blue meth and they don't have the skill to match his. But the plan only succeeds so far as Walt is concerned, with Jesse still uninterested in sticking with the enterprise and Mike on his way out regardless. Walt's reckless arrogance at the end of the deal, as he forces Declan to "Say my name" only further bolsters Jesse's belief that sticking with Walt means literally losing everything.
So the real conflict of the episode isn't about the plan that Walt cooked up. It isn't about the way Walt has essentially found himself a new Fring to manipulate and seethe under and perhaps eventually topple. It's about Walt stretching the limits of his control, trying to find a way to hold on to Jesse, the rogue chemical element that he's never truly had a grasp on. Walt is at first passive aggressive in his approach, waving off Jesse's statement that he's "out" and still needs his $5 million payoff by telling him they would talk about it later. When Jesse reiterates this later, as Walt plans and spouts off further brashness, Walt takes a different approach, engaging Jesse directly and continuing his emperor talk, erroneously believing that what Jesse wants is power because that's what Walt wants. But Jesse has never sought power. Meth has been something that Jesse has dealt in because it came easy to him and he was able to deal it without having to deal with the grind of every day life. He may have been drawn to the rebel aspects at one point, but it's important to remember that the happiest we've ever seen Jesse was when he was working as an apprentice to Mike, learning the ins and outs of his end of Fring's operation and shadowing a father figure who may have been rough around the edges but who at least genuinely cared for him and his wellbeing.
The heartbreak comes from two corners of this episode and this Walt/Jesse showdown is the first. The way the scene is written and played, particularly on Aaron Paul's end, gives us an indication that this latest breakdown in their relationship is more final than others. Walt and Jesse have always pushed and pulled each other, inevitably coming back to one another like magnets with flipping polarities. But by bringing Jesse into his domestic life, Walt may have finally proven to Jesse that Walt will never care for him because Walt no longer cares for anything but himself. Last episode it was the dinner scene, the awkward chilliness Jesse found himself caught in the middle of. Here, it's a pick-up at the car wash, as Skyler continues to push back at Walt and Jesse looks on in admiration and understanding. And as Walt confronts Jesse, pulling out every tool in the box in an attempt to force Jesse to stay on as his partner, Jesse finally allows all of these disparate elements to coalesce around Walt's last bid. Walt shifts approaches through their conversation, like a sullen child protesting bedtime, and even that forces Jesse to recognize the way this relationship is broken. Walt tries selling him on the empire they're building but almost immediately shifts to mocking Jesse, pointing out his weaknesses and character flaws.
And for once we see Jesse's true strength, as he refuses to give Walt what he wants and simply walks away. But in typical Breaking Bad fashion, that all comes crashing down, backfiring spectacularly. That's because Walt, ever the schemer, latches onto this resignation and catalogues it, waiting for the moment to use it, too, to his advantage. And that comes soon enough, as Walt goes to remove the bugs from Hank's office (though in one shot, there seems to be an indication that the one inside the picture frame has been left behind, sitting on the desk) and learns that the DEA have finally gotten someone to snitch on Mike, specifically the lawyer who has been making his hush money deposits. Walt calls and warns Mike and Mike, ever the planner, calls his ex-partners and gets them to help him escape through the convenient placement of a car and a bag of resources.
This is the final and perhaps most important heartbreak. Because Jesse is "out" of the operation, Walt refuses to let him get the car for Mike and insists on doing it himself. Walt wants the opportunity to lord over Mike once more and to seize the list of names of those being paid off, but it becomes something else, as Mike has no qualms making it clear to Walt that everything that has gone wrong is because of him. The chemicals go south, the combustible ingredients stay true to their nature and Walt's icy cool exterior turns hot. Utilizing the gun he nicked from Mike's bag of tricks, Walt does the unthinkable and shoots Mike in the gut as he's trying to drive away, resulting in what may be the saddest, most pitiful scene in Breaking Bad's history.
Gunshot wounds to the stomach are said to be the most painful and humiliating gunshot injuries, as your body is destroyed by all the foul things contained within you. We
don't know what brought Mike to this world of crime, we may never know, but we know that at heart he was a good person trying to do good for his family, Walt without the hunger for power. And in the end he sits in an anonymous river bed, bleeding out and filling up with poison from his own body, staring past the man who has ended his life a piece at a time. To add humiliation to the fatal wound, Walt confesses that he just realized he didn't have to do things this way, that he could have just gotten the names from Lydia. It's tough to gauge whether that's real, or if that's Walt attempting to get one last dig in "You died for nothing." But it doesn't really matter. Jesse's last good mentor figure is dead and gone and he may never know what really happened. The only thing keeping Walt in check is dead by his hand. It was inevitable, and now we just have to ask: when will that other inevitability come into play?
When he's not writing about the cape and spandex set and functioning as the Co-Managing Editor of Comics Bulletin, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic who has contributed to Spectrum Culture, No Tofu Magazine, Performer Magazine, Port City Lights and various other international publications. By which he means Canadian rags you have no reason to know anything about. He also translates for "Partytime" Lukash's Panel Panopticon and you can follow him on twitter @Nick_Hanover