For all the hints we’ve been given in past episodes, the one thing required to really set Jesse’s moral compass to point north is the mistreatment or killing of children. So watching the methodical cleanup at the start of “Buyout” of all evidence of the murdered child who witnessed the crew’s daring methylamine heist serves as a boiling-over of tension, something we as viewers know carries the potential to drive Jesse away from Walter completely. It boils over when he punches Todd in the face after the young man brushes off what he’s done as something which was unavoidable. Jesse becomes more frustrated when Walter tells him he’s all torn up about what happened, only to hear him whistling as he returns to work. So it’s no surprise to find that Jesse’s wanting out.
Mike’s another matter. But as we see early in the episode, he’s being dogged by the DEA, and his advantage—knowing their comings and goings via the bug Walter planted in Hank’s office—can only last so long. Near the end of the episode Mike and Saul play their final card, which should buy Mike enough time to make his Albuquerque exit quick and painless if he can pull it off. But there’s the matter of extricating himself from the whole Walter equation, and that tends to be easier said than done no matter who’s doing the exiting. For a man who claims to never take half measures, Mike sure has a soft-spot for surrendering control when Walter’s involved. Which in the coming episode, of course, serves to get him killed, making a re-viewing of “Half Measure” and “Full Measure” almost certain musts, if only to see where he fully lost control of his own ship.
Walter is flabbergasted when he’s told by Jesse and Mike that they want out, and that in order to do so, he too must leave the meth game, selling all the stolen methylamine for “pennies on the dollar.” This in turn finally gets Walter to open up, although only slightly, about the dealings which led him to leave Gray Matter. Jesse tells him $5 million is not nothing, but Walt begs to differ. “I’m not going to go into details,” he tells Jesse, “but for personal reasons I decided to leave the company and I sold my share to my two partners. I took a buyout for $5,000. Now at the time that was a lot of money for me. Care to guess what that company is worth now? BILLIONS, with a B. $2.16 billion as of last Friday—I look it up every week. And I sold my share, my potential, for $5,000. I sold my kids’ birthright for a few months’ rent.”
With that nugget revealed at long last, we understand that there’s nothing Walter would exchange for what he’s gained in the meth world. To use a rock music analogy, he’s Dave Mustaine post-Metallica. No matter how much he gained in Megadeth success, everything was tainted by what could have been with Metallica. In Walter’s world, he can never get back what he lost by leaving Gray Matter, and even with that tainting everything he gains under the Heisenberg banner, he’ll never again take a buyout. He’ll never let someone else determine when he’s reached his potential.
And of course his family is shattering all around him even as we watch. Skyler comes as close as she ever will to telling Marie what’s really going on, revealing her internal battle in trying to make “the right decision.” She needs to protect her children—from both herself and Walter—but knows they need to stay with Marie and Hank because “whatever I choose is wrong.” But before she can elaborate, Marie blurts out that Walter already revealed her affair with Ted, and that shuts Skyler down for good, and sets up that incredibly awkward dinner conversation between her, Walter and Jesse, at the end of which she reveals that she fucked Ted “and may I please be excused?” leaving Walter no choice but to expound to Jesse on the subject:
“You know my kids are gone,” he says. “I don’t mean they’re out for the night. They’re gone. They’re staying with my in-laws. She made me kick my own kids out of the house. She told me that she was counting the days until my cancers came back. My wife is waiting for me to die. This business is all I have left. It’s all I have, and you want to take it away from me?”
In other words, there’s no way out, Jesse. You’re tied inextricably to Walter, and Walter doesn’t want out—he’s in this to the bitter end. And anyone who gets in his way in that regard is someone who must be dealt with, someone who is simply in the way. But he’ll allow you to think you still have a choice, as long as you make the right one.
Walter returns to the crew’s headquarters that night to steal back the methylamine, only to encounter Mike, who holds him hostage until the next morning, then chaining him to a radiator while he goes with Saul for the final meet with the DEA. Of course this final half measure seals the deal for what will happen in “Say My Name”, as Walter escapes, hides the methylamine, and demands Jesse and Walter play along as Heisenberg makes a final stand. With Mike holding a gun to Walt’s head, Jesse argues that Walt’s come up with a win-win: they each get their buyout, and Walt gets to keep the new family business.
“Is this true, Walter?” Mike sneers.
“Everybody wins,” Walter smirks, knowing that Mike’s already made all the wrong decisions, there’s no reason to think he’ll pull that trigger now, so close to escaping the powerful Heisenberg once and for all. Like all self-centered psycopaths, Walter alone knows what’s right, and he’s invulnerable to failure. And in this case, he’s ready to assert himself and make sure that by the end of this series we’ll all be saying his name, giving him the proper credit due.
Our pal Mike Ehrmantraut doesn’t have what it takes to bring Heisenberg down. In the end, the question becomes what Walt’s true potential is: to be known as the criminal mastermind, or to be the man whose own hubris destroys him and everyone he claims to love. Jonathan Sanders