If there was one characteristic that Walter White (Bryan Cranston) has exhibited throughout the run of Breaking Bad, it would be that of control. Even while things frequently spiraled out of control, Walt never lost his grasp on either the gravity of the situation, or its potential outcome; he tended to apply the appropriate pressure (often by the skin of his teeth) in order to keep pursuing his goals – and eventually those of his future ex-employer. Now, as Walt slips into the role of being his own boss, the vision of his enterprise is being directly contested by Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), who has somehow seized control of the business as a mere stipulation of being part of it. It’s apparent that, for Walt, this simply will not do.
Mike’s always been a fascinating character in the series, but until recently he’s been running around the fringes of Gus’ El Pollo Loco meth-distribution network, making sure all the cogs and wheels are in perfect working condition. Now, we get a better glimpse of just what a cleaner like Mike has to deal with, and that means doing more than putting bullets in people. The fallout from Gus’ death continues to be a labor-intensive ordeal – especially now that Chow and Chris lie dead because of the panicky behavior of Lydia (Laura Fraser). In order to keep the bodies from piling up, and increasing the already intense law enforcement scrutiny, Mike has to make sure those who were paid to keep their mouths shut actually get their hazard pay. That means a lot of trips to correctional facilities to reassure guys like Dennis, a former employee of Gus Fring’s laundry.
Mike’s assurance that no one is going to flip, and that all mouths will stay sealed, rests on the somewhat flimsy premise that Walter and Jesse (Aaron Paul) will be able to get their meth lab up and cooking before someone’s mortgage payment comes due. With that, Breaking Bad does a special edition of House Hunters, where the trio is shown various potential locales by Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), only to reject them on a variety different shortcomings they each possess. As a real-estate agent, Saul isn’t too bad – even going so far as to push the laser tag/arcade business he tried to convince Walt and Skyler (Anna Gunn) was better suited than the car wash to launder their money.
Walt is always a step ahead, however, and while everyone else is focusing on the limitations of a permanent base, he comes up big with the idea of making the meth lab mobile once more. By hooking up with Vamanos Pest, Walt’s plan is to cook in the houses scheduled to be tented and fogged, thereby giving him and Jesse a convenient, private location to get business taken care of that has little need for round-the-clock security. The only wildcard seems to be the employees, but given that they’re prone to pulling a little B&E, from time to time, they’re more than willing to keep their mouth shut for a chunk of the drug money. Still, despite the no-eye-contact clause Walt and Jesse seem to have in their contract with the boys of Vamanos Pest, Todd (Jesse Plemmons) seems to have a bit of an ambitious streak in him, letting “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” know that he took the liberty of disabling a nanny cam in the first house they set up to cook in. Though he remains chillingly unresponsive to the news, it’s clear that Walt may soon have a use for a young go-getter such as Todd.
Walt and Jesse’s first cook goes off without a hitch, featuring the now patented Breaking Bad montage that has become a welcome mainstay of the series – except this one comes complete with a close-up of a framed photograph of the nuclear family who have unwittingly allowed their house to be the location of a major crime. After the successful cook, Walt and Jesse hang out on the couch together and share a congratulatory beer. The conversation soon turns to Jesse’s home life with Andrea (Emily Rios) and Brock (Ian Posada), where Walt feigns some fatherly back-patting about the nice family Jesse has secured for himself, which then turns into yet another example of just how masterful a manipulator Walt has become.
If Mike has his hands full making sure Gus’ associates keep their mouth shut, then Walt’s need to secure any potential security breach means planting the seeds that will lead to the end of Jesse’s provisional family. Jesse’s happiness comes a distant second to Walt’s assurance that nothing will infringe upon the newly acquired faithfulness he’s seen from his partner. It is with measured callousness that Walt throws doubt into Jesse’s mind about where his relationship is headed, and how true it can possibly be if she doesn’t know everything about the man she’s with. Sure, like Jesse says, Andrea knows he does something (illegal), but she has no idea to what lengths he’s gone to do what he does. Jesse gets the picture; right now, ignorance is bliss, but eventually he’ll feel compelled to tell Andrea about himself, and that means bringing up Gale – what kind of woman would forgive the cold-blooded murder of a guy that can make such a good cup of coffee?
Walt’s manipulations don’t end there. His need to divert attention away from the truth and protect his operation means sacrificing the relationships of those closest to him – whether it’s Jesse and Andrea, or Skyler and her sister Marie (Betsy Brandt). While she’s not directly a threat to Walt, Marie is tenacious enough a busybody that letting her sniff around the changes in her sister’s behavior too long will eventually lead to trouble; Marie’s not the type to let a reemerging smoking habit and verbally violent outburst go without some serious prodding. So, in an effort to keep Marie’s finger from pointing at him, Walt manufactures a reality where Skyler’s conduct is tied directly to her infidelity with Ted Beneke. “I don’t want anyone to think less of her – or me,” Walt says, deflecting another budding problem before it happens.
That just leaves the problem of Mike, and his guys he has to “make whole.” A problem Walt believes is something Mike brought to the table when he joined the group. Mike, however, takes a moment out of cutting three huge stacks of cash into three smaller stacks (and one very full duffel bag) to let Walt know he sees things differently. These guys wouldn’t need to be made whole if Walt hadn’t killed the guy they were working for. Right now, Walt’s all about asserting his dominance in this new business, and continuing to pay toward costs he sees as frivolous doesn’t figure in to the plans he has for this criminal empire.
After brushing aside Jesse’s declaration that he broke things off with Andrea, Walt leaves with a portent for Mike by reminding Jesse of what happened to Victor: He was “taking liberties that weren’t his to take.” Victor “flew too close to the sun, got his throat cut.”
Breaking Bad returns next Sunday with ‘Fifty-One’ @10pm on AMC. Take a look at a preview below: