Greed. Ambition. Business. Lost opportunities. And the most awkward family dinner this side of American Beauty. The first half of Breaking Bad‘s fifth season is drawing to a close, but the conflict between our three doomed meth business partners – Walt, Jesse and Mike – has no end in sight. The relationship between Mike and Walt was never going to work but this week it only gets worse as Mike insists on being bought out with Walt’s stubbornness only seeking to not let that happen.
Breaking Bad is a show that is careful not to reveal its hand at one turn, and at times the motivations and actions of characters are double bluffs to ensure they come out on top and never have to fold. If Season 4 was an elaborate chess match between Walt and Gus, then Season 5 is a Texas Hold-Em poker game between Walt, Jesse and Mike, but with no clear sign as to who has the winning hand.
Again this week we are asked to question what is truly driving Walt into this business. Why is he still there? What is left in it for him now? And why did he begin the meth cooking to begin with?
Now that the cancer is all but forgotten about and the constant need to expand is all that is on his mind, the truth becomes clear. Walt remains bitter about selling out over Gray Matter (the business he started with Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz). His goal now is to create an empire for himself from scratch to make up for losing out on his share in Gray Matter.
As he says to Jesse, he is neither in the money business nor the meth business, he is in the “empire business.” Walt wants to make himself the head of a massive empire, he wants that for his own ego. Ever since selling his shares in Gray Matter for $5,000, he’s long buried the desire to be successful.
The writers are now definitively telling us that Walt has completed his transformation from teacher to kingpin through his malignant sociopathy, triggered by the now forgotten, but subtly looming, cancer. What was initially a mid-life crisis is now something much more than anyone imagined, but it’s difficult to believe that Walt hadn’t planned this from the beginning.
The revelation of this stems out of Mike and Jesse wanting to get out of the business. The murder of the kid from last week’s episode has taken its toll, especially on Jesse, who has to deal with the fact that this business has damaged the lives of children. For Mike though, it’s the fact that he’s being tailed by the DEA and that he has a young granddaughter to take care of that has pushed him to the decision to sell off his share of the methylamine and move on. He has found a past acquaintance who is interested too, the seriously dodgy looking Declan who will only pay for it if he gets all the methylamine, which includes Walt’s share.
Jesse is quick to follow suit, but Walt isn’t so happy about it and concocts a plan to make sure that the meth keeps getting cooked. Walt will do anything to make sure he doesn’t lose the focus of this empire. He’s not happy with the $5 million share, he’s sitting on $300 million and wants to get his hands on that money.
There is a battle of one-upmanship going on between the two characters of Mike and Walt, where the latter is the inevitable victor. Although Mike is the tough guy who always has a solution, he cannot outsmart Walt. Walt’s determination to get what he wants is too great.
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