Breaking Bad Frame-By-Frame

Season Five (Part 1)

by PopMatters Staff

15 August 2013

Photo: Frank Ockenfels/AMC 

Say My Name


Photo Source: Heisenberg Chronicles

S5E7 Say My Name

What is his name?

As they head out to their desert rendezvous with Declan, Mike continually, almost deliberately, calls him Walter. J.P Wynne High alum Jesse cannot let go of “Mr. White.” For Declan, shocked by the revelation of who did actually whack Gus, he is, pointedly, Heisenberg. He’s all of them at once, the three-in-one. The trinity.

He had a disciple too. They may not always have had the smoothest of relationships, but they’ve come a long way together, Walter and Jesse. They part on bad terms in this episode, the gap in their emotional responses to Todd’s killing of the boy in Dead Freight becoming too great a chasm to cross, but they’ve done well to get this far together. It’s a peculiar relationship that has survived murders, double-crosses and a colossal difference in active vocabulary, but survive it did. How?

They have always described themselves as partners, and at one time or another, each has insisted on the involvement of the other, even when it would have been inconvenient to do so. All the same, their relationship has been more of teacher and pupil, and Jesse’s continued insistence on calling his partner Mr White is emblematic of this. As his schoolteacher, Walter had been frustrated at Jesse’s sloppiness. Recall all the way back in “Cancer Man”, when Jesse finds his old chemistry homework, over which had been scrawled in angry red marker pen, “APPLY YOURSELF.” Apply yourself. How many times has Walter said that to Jesse? Well, Jesse did apply himself and now Walter is able to say that “he is the best meth cook,” no, the “two best meth cooks in America.” Finally, in terms of chemistry, Walter is able to consider Jesse a partner, not a pupil, but the epithet remains. He still calls him Mr White, even as he walks away.

Unperturbed, Walter simply recruits Todd as Jesse’s replacement. He’s quietly impressed by his diligence; taking and reviewing careful notes and disdaining to consider payment until he’s got the cook down pat. In a scene made grimly hilarious by its everyday nature, Walter proudly tells Skyler about this “new guy he’s working with.” It looks at first glance to be an ordinary “how was your day honey?” conversation, but look closely. Walter’s dinner is a pathetic microwave meal and just how much wine is Skyler putting away? It has all the appearance of a nice, neat suburban mealtime, but it’s a hollow sham. Mr and Mrs White have been destroyed.

Still, this new guy at work? He really applied himself.

Declan would be advised to do likewise. He’s working with a new guy too and this guy doesn’t tolerate any sloppiness. It’s convenient to think of him as the villain now, but it’s hard not to root for him a tiny bit as he stands firmly in the desert and sets the terms, his terms by which they will now be working. In a just world, the final moments of the exchange between Declan and Heisenberg would be as well-regarded as the I am the one who knocks speech. It’s confirmation that we’re dealing with a changed character here. The old label of Walter White is not only troublesome from a law enforcement point of view, it’s also out of date. Walter has gone.

The switch is more apparent in Hank’s office, when he briefly adopts his old persona to distract his brother-in-law and remove the bug that he’d planted there earlier. Walter is now merely a disguise of convenience. A mask that Heisenberg wears when he needs to.

The DEA’s pursuit of Mike’s lawyer and the resultant cessation of the hazard pay brings necessity home. Keeping them paid off worked up to a point, but money was never really a tight enough hold on these nine loose ends. It worked for Mike, but Heisenberg runs tighter game. Now that the money has gone, Heisenberg has no reason not to do something about it. He needs those names. Mike has them.

Mike still refers to him exclusively as Walter. He uses personal nouns a lot but for Walter it has significance. Walter is the put-upon part of the trinity. Mike has no respect for Walter. He just wants his money so that he can, like Jesse, walk away. It’s owed to him, and Walter’s stupid insistence on a “thanks” falls on deaf ears. Walter, it’s always the same with him:

“We had Fring, we had a lab, we had everything we needed, and it all ran like clockwork! You could have shut your mouth, cooked, and made as much money as you ever needed! It was perfect! But no! You just had to blow it 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!”

Yep. If he’d only known his place. This is too much for Walter, or rather, it is too much for Heisenberg. “Know his place?” No. He’s Heisenberg, the best meth cook in America, the guy who killed Gus Fring Goddammit! He’s not “Walter” any more Mike, you idiot. He’s Heisenberg, and Heisenberg does not tolerate anyone telling him to know his place. 

It’s Heisenberg who fires the shot, but it’s Walter who apologizes for it. Or is it? He’s not really sorry that he shot Mike for any moral reason, but because it was “unnecessary.” He could have got the names from Lydia. Mike is, ultimately, just another guy who got in the way. If only he’d remembered his name. Michael Noble

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//Mixed media