“Say My Name” (05.07, 2012)
Written by Thomas Schnauz (Previous Episodes: “One Minute,” “Abiquiu,” “Shotgun,” “Bug,” and “End Times”)
Directed by Thomas Schnauz (No Previous Episodes)
Once again, a longtime Breaking Bad writer gets a shot behind the camera in this one, and Thomas Schnauz turns out to be up to the task. This episode looks like it could easily have been made by Michelle MacLaren or Adam Bernstein, and that’s about as high praise as a director could get on this show. He doesn’t show any of the timid lack of imagination that George Mastras showed a couple of episodes ago, but he also doesn’t show the penchant for overreach that Bryan Cranston has shown. It’s a tightrope that most of this show’s directors have successfully walked for years, but it’s been difficult for some rare or first-time directors, and yet Schnauz succeeds.
This episode contains one of the two major plot points that were clearly coming this half-season as it began: Heisenberg killing Mike (the other is Hank’s discovery of Walt’s identity), and it spends much of the episode implausibly setting up that confrontation.
It starts off with a desert stand-off like we’ve seen so many times before on this show as Heisenberg sells Mike’s old Fring contact on a partnership whereby this new partner essentially buys out Mike’s share. He forces the buyer into calling him Heisenberg as a sign of his own dominance, but we see in this scene that Heisenberg isn’t quite as big as he thinks: the buyer considers just killing him in the desert right then, pointing out that without Heisenberg the blue stuff goes off the market, which is what he wanted in the first place. While he’s able to muscle his way through the conversation by making a strained analogy to Coca-Cola and suggesting that the buyer doesn’t really want to live in a world without the blue meth, the fact that there is no logical reason Heisenberg can give for his life is enough to tell us that he’s not on firm ground. Could this guy be the reason Walter White needs a machine gun in his trunk in a year?
The contrived series of events required to get to the final confrontation between the bald men is not strong enough to make up for its implausibility. Mike’s lawyer gets caught making payments and the DEA is convinced he will roll. Mike already had his exit strategy in place, of course, but with this new possible evidence, Hank is able to thwart Mike’s attempted exit plan by watching for him at the airports. So, fairly enough, Mike calls Saul to get the “go bag” he needs to make his escape. However, somehow Heisenberg ends up doing it, with no explanation of why he is doing it or how on earth Mike would have agreed to it. The worst part about this moment is that there actually is a logical explanation for why he would need to be the one. The DEA knows that Jesse is connected in some way to the blue meth, and so may decide based on its stronger position to keep watch on him. Meanwhile, Hank is really out to get Mike at this point, and knows that Mike’s lawyer is Saul, so it makes perfect sense that they would watch for any suspicious activity by Saul as well. That sequence of reasoning could explain Heisenberg being the one to deliver Mike his go bag, but instead we’re left with the impression that he said, “I’ll do it,” intending to kill Mike and then Mike just said, “Oh, of course. I have always trusted you, Mr. Heisenbeg!” It’s a frustrating, very un-Breaking Bad sequence that really hurts the episode.
However, then we get the confrontation. Heisenberg demands the names of Mike’s people whom he is paying off in prison and when Mike refuses to tell him and points out that Heisenberg is to blame for the mess their situation now is, Heisenberg shoots him with a gun he stole from Mike’s go bag. Walter White suddenly makes an appearance and runs to a dying Mike, apologizing and saying that he just realized that he could get the names from Lydia anyway. Mike tells him to shut up so that he can die in peace, a perfect exit for one of this show’s largest characters. This sequence is fantastic and would rank among the best in the show’s history were it not marred by the contrived way in which the show brought it about. It’s also a great showcase for Bryan Cranston, as he gets his first opportunity to show some real emotion this season, transforming back into Walter White for just a minute.
Outside of that confrontation, we get a great sign of growth from Jesse. Heisenberg doesn’t bother to negotiate his exit money from the partnership and expects Jesse just to follow him because that’s what he’s always been able to get from Jesse. But it doesn’t work. Jesse has gotten enough strength to stand up to Heisenberg’s manipulations, a powerful moment for the character that essentially completes his metamorphosis through the show’s run. Aaron Paul, unsurprisingly, also plays this moment perfectly.
Todd takes Jesse’s place in the cook, but worries Heisenberg by proving a diligent and enthusiastic worker who doesn’t care about his money. He’s looking a lot like Gale Boetticher, which is not a good sign for his future.
Overall, this was a good episode, but it took a major, major shortcut. Part of what makes the show great is its unwillingness to use those short cuts, so it’s a problem when it uses one, even if it’s one that can be explained, like this one.
- It never made any sense to me for Mike to pick a different lawyer to do his drops instead of Saul. Sure, he doesn’t trust Saul, but Mike doesn’t exactly seem the type to trust anybody, does he? It was nice to see Saul rip him for it, almost like an acknowledgement of its silliness by the writers.
- Seeing Jesse finally ignore Heisenberg’s manipulation gave me a thought I often have about this show: I don’t know if it would have worked, but it definitely would have been a completely different show if Jesse had been killed off when Vince Gilligan planned. It also puts them in different enough positions that we can see them beginning to prep themselves like opposite sides in a war.
- When Todd was first introduced, I thought he would turn out to be an undercover cop. Now, I think that was clearly wrong, but I still think there’s a reason he’s been introduced. I suspect that he is going be a major part of the DEA’s case against Heisenberg somehow, if Heisenberg doesn’t kill him first.