Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t seen Sunday episode “Say My Name”, stop reading!
Reviewed by Nadir Hasan
The fifth season of Breaking Bad has, somewhat paradoxically, been its most consistent season yet but has also shown the least character development. Both can be chalked up to the shortened season. Having only eight episodes in which to cram a full season’s worth of plot has led Breaking Bad, for the first time, to concentrate on outcome over process. We saw this both in the magnets and train heist capers, both of which would likely have played out over an episode or two rather than a giddy montage. Manipulating the plot to reach the end point has also occasionally taken precedence over believability.
That was the only problem with the otherwise excellent “Say My Name”, the penultimate episode of the penultimate season of Breaking Bad. Throughout the show’s run, Mike has been one of the smartest guys in the room and certainly not someone who would trust Walter White to deliver him a bag that has a gun in it. We are supposed to believe – and certainly accept it based on the character we have seen develop – that Mike would regretfully abandon his beloved granddaughter rather than face the certainty of arrest but at the same time have to swallow that fact that he cares so much for Jesse that he would rather risk a fraught encounter with Walter than put Jesse in a potentially dangerous situation.
The scene that follows, where Walt shoots dead Mike for the cardinal sin of criticizing the self-deluding meth kingpin for his arrogance and recklessness, more than compensates for the tortured plot contortions that preceded it. Only as Mike is near death does Walt realise that the information he wanted – the names of the nine Gus Fring operatives in jail – could have easily been procured from Lydia. As he half-apologetically explains this to Mike, the dying henchman utters the memorable line, “Shut the fuck up. Let me die in peace.” Here we have a perfect microcosm of the two characters: Walt always acting impulsively when he thinks his honour is being impugned and Mike, world-weary and accepting of all the evil he has brought into the world and ready to pay the ultimate price.
As perfect as the scene is, Breaking Bad had to resort to the tactics of lesser shows to reach this point. It is far too convenient that Walt happens to be in Hank’s office where he overhears a conversation about Mike’s lawyer willing to turn against him. And as hilarious as the shot was of the DEA cops catching the lawyers stuffing bank safety deposit boxes, normally Breaking Bad would have walked us through the process of tailing the lawyer and how they collected the evidence to arrest him for holding that money.
These are minor quibbles, though, in an episode that features yet another gripping Walt-Jesse showdown. In the past, Walter’s manipulation of the trusting Jesse has been infuriating. This time it doesn’t stand a chance of working. Walt miscalculates by condescendingly assuming Jesse will simply fall in line with his new arrangement with Fring’s former rivals. In talking about the trail of bodies they have left in their wake, he names only Gale – the one man Jesse shot dead in cold blood. When even that doesn’t work he tries to play on Jesse’s sense of self-worth and finally ends up threatening to withhold his money from him. Yes, Jesse is in despair but at least he isn’t blinded by the lust of power that is now Walt’s sole motivating factor.
Walt doesn’t just want more power. He has already convinced himself he wields more of it than anyone else in the meth world. Now he just needs to be recognised for it. That is the motivating factor behind him snarling “Say my name” to his new partners in the cold open. He wants to be known as the killer of Gus Fring; he craves being acknowledged as the finest producer of crystal meth.
The only problem is that in the drug trade being known by others for your achievements may not be the soundest business strategy around.
The author is a guest writer for The Missing Slate who, apart from dabbling in the development sector, was a journalist in a former life.