Down by the river, Mike tries to flee, but Walt has poisoned the well

By Melissa Maerz
Updated August 27, 2012 at 09:15 AM EDT
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When you throw a rock into a river, it ripples. And those ripples spread quickly.

Maybe that’s what Mike was trying to tell us, right before he died.One minute, he was standing by the water, skipping stones, watching them form tiny undulations. The next, he was slumped over by the riverside, bleeding to death, all because of a series of very bad decisions made by one very bad man.

It’s called a ripple effect, and it’s affecting everyone close to Walter White, even those he never harmed directly. (See also: the 747 crash, Gale Boetticher’s murder, the death of the little boy with the tarantula.) Walt’s just like that rock that Mike threw into the river: if he’s gonna go down, he’s gonna make waves.

Before I go on, can we just take a minute to pay respects to Mike Ehrmentraut, who has quickly become one of the best characters on this show? I’m a firm believer that your favorite Breaking Bad character says a lot about what you value: Walt is the brains. Jesse is the heart. And Mike is the gut. (Fittingly, that’s where Walter shot him, too.) He was always the most level-headed of the three, often playing by his instincts. Most of his hunches turned out to be spot-on, not just the one about Walter being a ticking time bomb, but also the prognosis he gave to Old Joe right before the Great Magnet Heist: “I can see a lot of possible outcomes to this thing, and not a single one of them involves Miller Time.”

It’s a shame that he turned out to be right about that last one. But after a lifetime of trying to get everyone around him to keep quiet (his mantra was “Eyes open, mouth shut”), at least he got to tell Walter to “shut the f— up” one last time.

Frankly, that’s advice that Walter could use right now. He cares so much about spreading his own legend, he’s getting careless. Trying to convince the methylamine buyers to let him serve as their cook, he can’t stop bragging: “A thousand galons of methylamine is worth more in my hands than in yours, or anyone else’s for that matter,” he says, before calling himself (and, begrudgingly, Jesse) the best meth cook in America. “I’m the man who killed Gus Fring,” he boasts. And then, like a true diva, he demands: “Say my name.” Pronouncing it out loud, the buyer won’t soon forget it: Heisenberg.

Obviously, this is Walt’s hubris at work. But there’s also something deeper going on here. Walt’s obsessed with proving that he’s a bona fide kingpin, not just some kind of poseur. “Yours is just some tepid off-brand generic cola,” he tells the buyer. “What I’m making is classic Coke.” The analogy is a callback to last week’s episode, “Buyout,” which was filled with comparisons between knock-offs and the real deal: Hank complained that Miracle Whip wasn’t really mayonnaise. Walt watched a TV report about kelp being passed off as caviar. Jesse complained about microwave lasagna that’s frozen instead of homemade: “It’s like, yo, whatever happened to truth in advertising?” We could ask the same question of Walt. He’s selling himself as the world’s greatest outlaw, but if that was true, he wouldn’t have killed the one true professional in his operation.

NEXT: “How many more people are gonna die because of us?”

The more Walt wants others to appreciate his genius, the less likely they are to do it. When Mike tries to leave quietly with his buyout money, Walt’s furious that he doesn’t pay his proper respects. “That’s it?” Walt gasps, incredulous. “No, Thanks for the five million dollars, sorry for chaining you to a radiator?” And when Jesse tries to follow suit (“I’m out, too, remember?”) Walt won’t even let him go, demanding that he stick around until they get things up and running. No wonder Jesse and Skyler exchange a meaningful glance in this scene: Jesse has become Walt’s prisoner, just like his friend “Mrs. White.” They can relate to each other. When Jesse says, “Vamonos,” referring to the name of the pest control company (which is basically Spanish for let’s get the hell out of here), Skyler replies,“I wish.”

But Jesse’s not going to stop trying to escape from “the business.” “Mr. White, can we just take a second and talk about all of this?” he pleads. And then we see Walt at his most Machiavellian, trying every possible tactic to get Jesse to relent. First, he resorts to flattery, offering to give Jesse his own lab. (“C’mon, you deserve it. You’re every bit as good as me.”) Then he tries to scare him, suggesting that cooking might be the only thing keeping him sober. (“What have you got in your life? Nothing. Nobody…. And how soon will you start using again?”) Finally, he settles on guilt. (“If you believe that there’s a hell, I don’t know if you’re into that, but we’re already pretty much going there, right?” “Isn’t it filthy blood money?”) None of this works with Jesse. He’s been fooled once before, when Walt manipulated him into breaking up with Andrea by convincing him that it was his own idea. But he’s not going to get fooled again.

“How many more people are gonna die because of us?” Jesse pleads with Walt. Mr. White’s answer? None. But we already know it’s a lie. And this time, so does Jesse.

Not even a tin full of banana bacon cookies and cake pops could save Mike now. His lawyer tries to bribe the bank lady with sweets while he unloads money into safe deposit boxes, building up a college fund for Mike’s granddaughter Kaylee. But when a search warrant turns up nothing of interest at Mike’s place, Hank starts to get suspicious. It’s telling that Mike is watching Fritz Lang’s 1953 noir classic The Big Heat when Hank arrives: it’s a movie about a dogged cop who refuses to stop investigating a particular case, even though it seems like it’s cold. Sounds like someone else we know, right? Forbidden from trailing Mike any further, Hank sends Gomez to follow the lawyer to the bank. He catches the guy in the act, and the lawyer flips, leading the cops right to Mike.

Tipped off by Walter, Mike has a few minutes to escape. But it seems particularly cruel that he has to leave Kaylee at the playground. Between the million-dollar college fund and the Hungry Hungry Hippos tournaments, the guy should win a World’s Greatest Grandpa medal. Remember how he suggested to Lydia that it would be better for her to disappear than to let her kid find her dead body? Well, forced to choose between a shoot-out with the cops and letting Kaylee believe he abandoned her, he chooses the latter. At least the guy’s true to his word.

Sadly, the lesson he learned with Lydia is one he should’ve taken to heart with Walt: No half-measures. Mike should’ve taken Walt down when he had the chance, and he knows it. “We had a good thing, you stupid son of a b—,” he tells Walt. “We had Fring. We had a lab. You could’ve shut your mouth… But no, you had to blow it all up. You and your pride and your ego. You just had to be the man. If you’d known your place, we’d all be fine right now.” Not being treated with the respect that he believes Heisenberg deserves, Walt erupts into a murderous rage. He pulls the trigger. And then, seeing Mike with “eyes open, mouth shut,” sitting silently by the river, waiting to die, he panics.

“I’m sorry, Mike,” he says, showing actual genuine emotion for the first time in forever. (Though it’s probably mostly fear.) “This whole thing could’ve been avoided.” But how? Or, more important, when? Before they killed Gus? Before Walt joined the Los Pollos team? Before he ever sold meth in the first place? Or just before Mike threw that rock into the river? In any case, it’s too late. The ripples have been rippling for way too long. And with only one episode left in this half-season, something tells me it’s sink or swim time.

NEXT: A few final notes and questions

A few final points of discussion before I invite you guys to take over the comments:

–Watching Walt cook with Todd, I couldn’t help but think, Uh oh. “I don’t need you to be Antoine Lavoisier,” says Walt. “What I need is your full attention.” But Todd isn’t in danger of becoming a genius. He’s taking notes on paper. Couldn’t that be potential evidence? Antoine Lavoisier wouldn’t do that!

–The music that’s playing while Walt and Todd cook is the Monkees’ “Goin’ Down.”

–It’s interesting that Breaking Bad references Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat this week. Last week, after Todd killed the little boy, Jesse overheard Walt whistling, much like the child-murderer in another Fritz Lang movie, M. Is Vince Gilligan a big Fritz Lang fan?

–The title of next week’s season finale is called “Gliding Over All,” which is a line from Walt Whitman, a guy who has a lot in common with Walter White (as I discussed a few episodes ago): “GLIDING o’er all, through all, Through Nature, Time, and Space, As a ship on the waters advancing, The voyage of the soul–not life alone, Death, many deaths I’ll sing.” Many deaths, huh? Looks like Mike might not be alone. I’d love to hear your predictions in the comments.

–This is the first week ever that AMC hasn’t sent out screeners before the episode airs, which is why I’m a little late in publishing this recap. Thanks for bearing with me. And many thanks to my awesome colleagues Ray Rahman and Darren Franich for covering for me the past few weeks, when I was out of the country. Finally, thanks to all of the readers who’ve been posting such thoughtful comments every week. Keep it up!

Episode Recaps

Breaking Bad

Walter White descends into the criminal underworld.

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  • 5
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  • AMC
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