Breaking Bad "Say My Name" Review: Down By the River

By Tim Surette

Aug 27, 2012

Breaking Bad S05E07: "Say My Name"

There are a few different ways to watch Breaking Bad, and all of them are completely legitimate. There's plot-watching, where the main story points are hit and discussed by everyone all week, and "Say My Name" featured one of the biggest events of the series since a wheelchair bomb blew half of Gus Fring's face off. And then there's the show that's full of such beautiful artistic nuance that it should be framed and hung in the Louvre.

"Say My Name" was direct and in-your-face, matching the hubris of Heisenberg, rather than calculated and careful like that wimp Walter White. The episode had to be more brash not only to keep up with Walter's bravado, but because Breaking Bad is feeling the crunch of an 8-episode mini-season, and that means a lot of the drawn-out subtlety was lost.

Something felt off about this episode for the first half (but it did conclude masterfully), and I use this metaphor lightly, but it's almost as if Breaking Bad fans were in charge of this one. It certainly was Breaking Bad; all the characters and trademark cinematography were there. But it lacked the master hand that turns good to great. To put it in Walter's terms, it was like someone else was trying to make Classic Coke. It was 70-percent pure Breaking Bad. "Say My Name" was both jarring and dull at points, hurried and overly-deliberate at others, and put together in a way that reminded me of the ocean of films that copy-catted Pulp Fiction after its release. Those films were concerned with getting the cool shot (lawyer wrist cam in the safe-deposit box?), the tough-guy dialogue, and the shocking scenes, but were never able to tie them together as beautifully as the original.

I'll admit that just might be the point (but I'm not enthused about it). Breaking Bad's tone has always been an extension of the character of Walter White, and his transformation into Heisenberg is accelerating at an increased rate. "Say My Name" was Walter White at his most dickish and dictator-ish, whether he's telling some bitches from Arizona to say his name or trying to guilt trip Jesse into staying in the business by alternating between enthusiastic boss (you deserve it!) and angry father figure (you're wasting your talent on those damn video games!) and juvenile debate-team member (you want this blood money?). That scene, in which Walter was convincing Jesse to stay with him, was Walter at his most unhinged. Though normally so calculated in everything he does, Walter just threw the kitchen sink at Jesse in hopes that something would work. But it backfired, and all Walt accomplished was coming off like a desperate lunatic and pushing Jesse away even further.

But it wasn't just Jesse who was shoved, I also found myself looking for the door as Walt continued to become the monster we all know he's headed for. The hardest and best part of the conceit of Breaking Bad–a nice guy breaks very, very bad over the course of a series–is seeing a man we all rooted for go beyond that point of no return. As I said before, that point happened for me in "Madrigal," the second episode of this season. But after his actions in that episode–manipulating Jesse, terrorizing Skyler–Walter had been relatively tame until now. Heck, I even cheered when he came home with not one, but two new cars, and unleashed all the horses under the hood with some gangsta revs. Last night? He was the worst he's ever been. It's an interesting reaction that creator Vince Gilligan must have known all along. From an artistic standpoint, it's groundbreaking and the end result will be well worth it. But from the week-to-week perspective of the audience, it's incredibly difficult to watch. We don't have loyalty to Walter like we did before, and we don't really have anyone else to root for because Walter is the heavy focal point of the series. As of now, we just want Jesse to survive while Walter goes all Godzilla on everything around him, and we wouldn't mind Walter Jr. to have access to unlimited bacon breakfasts. But Walter is turning everything around him into waste, and Breaking Bad has no intentions of sugarcoating it.

Mike certainly noticed that Walter was in the scorched Earth business, and had been angling to get the F out, and did. Sort of! I don't think anyone was surprised that Mike was killed by Walter, as Mike was the odds-on favorite Breaking Bad character to not make it out of Season 5.1 because he was frequently at odds with Walter, he was still a Fring supporter, had tons of baggage, and he was the most expendable member of the meth-making group. And once he declared himself out of the business and his responsibility of distribution was solved by handing that over to Declan, we were all just waiting for it to happen.

It was obvious Mike was a goner once the DEA fell into pursuit, but it should have been more obvious it would happen in this episode before that. Once Mike stashed a fat stack of cash in a safe deposit box for his granddaughter, it was effectively the end of his character arc. Mike was very conscious of his mortality and knew the sun was fading on his life, and all he wanted at that point was to take care of Kaylee. And when Walt volunteered to deliver Mike's "go bag" to him, that was it. (Other than conveniently setting up a scene where Walter could meet Mike in a private place, why was it okay with Mike that Walter deliver the bag instead of Jesse? He had to have known that his chances of making it out of that scenario weren't that good if crazy-ass Walter was handing over the bag.)

The killing scene was surprisingly not intense because the results were preordained, but it was still gorgeous and, given how he had prepared beforehand, a fitting end to Mike. However, it wasn't even about Mike. With all apologies to him and the wonderful series-long performance by Jonathan Banks, once again that scene belonged to Walter and Bryan Cranston. Walter's faces before (gritted teeth, animalistic) and after (shocked and possibly full of regret) he pulled the trigger summed up the character's past and present perfectly. Taunted and blamed, Walter yielded to Heisenberg who rushed to Mike and pulled the trigger. But pulling a trigger is an act that can never be undone and can change someone forever (just ask Jesse, re: Gale). And in squeezing the trigger and hearing the BLAM, it slapped Walter upside the head and for the first time in a long time we saw the face of the man we met in Season 1. The same pantsless man who was fumbling around with a video camera leaving a goodbye video for his family as sirens approached.

Even Walter seemed to be shocked by his own actions. I'm not sure he regretted killing Mike, after all, Mike was the big connection between the meth operation and him and Mike had outlasted his usefulness to the business. But the sobering instance of killing a one-time partner in the heat of the moment because Mike said this whole mess was Walter's fault definitely woke up a part of him that had been hibernating until the Game of Thrones-long winter of Heisenberg ended.

From the flashforward that opened this season, we know that Walter spends some time across the country for a year, probably waiting for some heat to die down and letting his hair grow back in. Mike's last words of advice to Walter (well, before "Shut the fuck up, and let me die in peace") were to leave town. Could this be the moment that spurs Walter to finally listen to Mike? Could standing there on the tranquil bank of a New Mexico river while his associate dies, by his hand, and the ensuing pressure from the DEA be enough to send Walter away?

There's something in that face that we haven't seen in such a long time. There was Walter still rationalizing his actions to Mike ("I just realized Lydia has the names, I can get them from her.") and saying "this whole situation could have been avoided if..." because he still couldn't swallow his pride. But his face, a full 180-degree turn from the opening scene, was saying something different. His face said he went too far, and that's something Walter hasn't thought about for a long time.


NOTES

– Unfortunately, I have a previous engagement (emphasis on "engagement") to take care of this weekend so I won't be available to write up next Sunday's season finale immediately. Price Peterson will step in, and I'll share my thoughts later that week. Sorry!

Breaking Bad loves to mount cameras on things, but lawyer wrist-cam in the safe deposit box area was overkill. This was the first directing stint for writer Thomas Schnauz, and I wasn't too happy with a lot of his choices. But again, I think a lot of it had to do with the episode needing to do too much from a lack of time.

– If there's one thing I'm concerned about, it's a lack of focus for the "finale" next week. After this penultimate episode, what exactly are we looking forward to? How Jesse reacts to Mike's death? Will there be pressure from the DEA? Declan and the Arizona peeps don't appear to be a problem any more. There's not a lot to hold onto as we move towards the final episode. It's completely open, which can be good and bad.

– The scene with Walter and Todd cooking was particularly interesting. It was, in a sense, the second half a two-parter with the scene of Jesse and Walter cooking meth in a fumigated house from a few episodes ago the first part. But I think the tone was all wrong, and that goes along with what I said early in this article about something feeling off. The "Hazard Pay" scene was romanticized as a triumphant return to business and gorgeously shot. This episode's attempted a similar tone, with an upbeat ditty providing the soundtrack, but Walter cooking with Todd couldn't be more depressing. It signals the end of so many things that I think the scene would have been better served shot differently and with a more somber music selection. This was practically a funeral, but instead it soullessly replicated the feeling of the first. Sorry! I love these meth-making scenes so I'm extra picky!

– Another part that seemed out of place was the scene at the carwash where Walt hid the methylamine. Was that included just to give Skyler some screen time, and if so, what did it accomplish?

– Bacon cookies! Bacon cookies! BACON COOKIES!


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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  • mcbexx Aug 30, 2012

    ""Say My Name" was Walter White at his most dickish and dictator-ish"



    Well, I kind of have to disagree here.

    He was definetely at his most dickish in this (completely inofficial and unauthorized) director's cut version of this episode's final scene (spoiler alert, obviously):



    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVsUILlPG3c

  • dref22 Aug 30, 2012

    This is perhaps the darkest Breaking Bad episode ever, I felt so uneasy, but also, it was perfect. One of the best episodes of this season imo.



    Walt had no other option but to kill Mike because became a loose end. So it was not only about the names. As someone said it here before, that Skyler scene is probably a key one, Breaking Bad never had meaningless scenes until now and I doubt this is about to change.

  • Achair Aug 29, 2012

    This review was spot on for me. There has been something a little off about this season but until now I've never been disappointed by this show the 'damn right' made me think of a square parent trying to be cool and the only thing that could pop into his head was the theme from Shaft. I also agree about the writers not being able to take their time but I also think that Cranston's decision to play Walt as 'pure evil' is one of the reasons it's just not working. The short sweet glimpses of Heisenberg were far more satisfying than nonstop Heisenberg.

  • DinChild Aug 29, 2012

    And these words will be eaten by the time we're done with the show.

  • aadithyan1989 Aug 29, 2012

    During the scene where hank is having a meeting, they mention that they have increased the budget for electronic surveillance and later on when Walter comes to retrieve the bug, we see an aerial shot of the room from the same position as that of a cctv camera.



    Also, Walter is visibly hurt by Jesse's rejection, as stressed by a lot of his actions, including the hiring of Todd (I did not believe he did it for an extra hand. He coulda done it himself)



    Walt is rewired now. He has faced moments that have reconfigured his survival mechanism. Now he'll only do what he wants. At first what he wanted was protection for his family, but now that family's almost gone, he wants to keep fighting for his pride.



    The irony here is that if the family actually gets back to him under the condition that he decides to stop, he might even stand a chance. But that's not gonna happen.

  • MooncalfReviews Aug 29, 2012

    " Another part that seemed out of place was the scene at the carwash where Walt hid the methylamine. Was that included just to give Skyler some screen time, and if so, what did it accomplish?"





    I don't want to spoil it for you Tim, but I think that scene was key. Pretty damn sure you'll find out why next week.

  • MooncalfReviews Aug 29, 2012

    I agree that there wasn't as much art in this episode, but it was still intense as always.



    Mike's death was made even sadder by the fact that it was not glamorous. It was real and it was quiet and it was hard to watch. Really brutal stuff, made even more brutal by the fact that this is the first time Walt has ever killed without any real justification. He killed Mike because of his pride, and nothing more. Power corrupts. He crossed a big line that episode, going from somebody who did things to survive, to somebody who does things for no real reason other than pride and emotion, like Tony Soprano.



    Also, Aaron Paul was MAGICAL in this episode. His expressions were PERFECT. I just can't go on enough about how good he was!

  • MooncalfReviews Aug 29, 2012

    Damnit TV.com, I can't even drop my paragraphs down with your weird formatting.

  • AyeDub Aug 29, 2012

    The two best parts of this episode:



    1) Walt (foolishly) trying to bring Jessie back to cooking claims no one else has to die, they can be sure of it...then less than 20 minutes later - MAJOR CHARACTER DEATH at the hands of Walt...Not that we needed any more proof that Walter is completely diluted and crazy and that Skyler is TOTALLY right about the kids but we got it in spades in this episode.



    2) Walter kills Mike and then realizes it didn't even have to happen...that's not something I've ever seen done on television...especially where the killer vocally acknowledges as much to his victim and tries to apologize even...

    Simply.

    Amazing.

    "Hey, Mike, remember that time that I shot you for no real reason and you totally died? Sorry about that, man." Walt is such a dick.

  • MarieH11 Aug 29, 2012

    I'm not sure I understood the part about possibly getting the information from Lydia. Was that a pro or a con for letting Mike die? Because he didn't seem to shoot Mike just to make him disclose the names, it was impulsive, his ego had suffered. To me, the moment you are referring to is when he realized that Mike is no longer of any use, now that Walter understood that he can always "ask" (an in torture or threaten, now that he's such a bad-ass) Lydia. It could have been more like a rationalization. He did doubt what happened, sort of, but without any consequence, it was just his humanity rolling in its grave, but, just like when he let Jane die, he can't be bothered, he's a bad-ass now.

  • MooncalfReviews Aug 29, 2012

    Short answer is that I think Walt killed Mike for pride, but partly because he wouldn't give up the names (though also tied in with pride). Walt was just making excuses at the end for his rage.

  • AyeDub Aug 29, 2012

    Well, let me start by saying this: I totally thought he was just going to kill Mike all cold blooded and shit right away without Mike even being able to react at all. The fact that he didn't was a surprise (though it was really telegraphed - to me - that Mike was dying as soon as that scene started).



    With that said let me address your comment: To me it was clear that Walt didn't want to kill Mike in that scene. Mike accusing Walter of being the reason they were in that position was a total trigger for Walt. THAT is what pushed Walter over the edge. In Walt's mind he's not at all culpable for their situation. He still believes Gus was after him all along (which I complete disagree with and - you'll note in this very episode - Mike disagrees and brings up as well), but Walt's diluted himself enough to truly believe he is simply SO AWESOME that he can never do anything wrong, that he is SO SMART that he'll just think his way out of any situation.



    So what we're left with is an exchange that ONLY HAPPENED because Walt wanted the names and Mike is totally super loyal and would NEVER give up "his guys", we're left with an exchange that eventually triggers Walt. If Walt realized sooner that he could get the names from Lydia I honestly don't think he would've shot Mike. He only took the gun because he was paranoid Mike might use it on him. I believe he would have let Mike run.

  • Nihilistic1 Aug 30, 2012

    I don't think Walter planned to kill Mike either. He may have taken Mike's gun fearing the possibility Mike might use it on him. Or, to use as protection and leverage in case Mike refused to give up the names of his nine guys. I think what triggered Walt, was that Mike never really showed him any respect (except for the "I got to hand it to you Walter" comment after the successful deal making with Declan). Mike would have been the muscle that was going to kill him and Jesse, which forced them to kill Gale to survive. Mike beat the crap out of Walter when he confronted him in the bar looking for a way to get to Gus. Mike's held a gun to his head a number of times, chained him to a radiator, and then simply walks up to Walter and snatches the bag from his hand when Walter tries to take a stand for the names. A big part of Walter's psychology is that he's had a taste of standing up for himself, and now finds it highly intolerable taking crap from people. On top of that, Mike lays the blame for the Fring operation unraveling entirely at Walter's feet. Also, I think he was envious of the bond between Mike and Jesse. We see him peering out at Mike and Jesse saying goodbye with a handshake.



    I don't see how you can think Gus wasn't planning to eliminate Walter. He dragged him out in the desert and threatened him and his family. Walter was living on borrowed time after he ran over the kid killer drug dealer employee of Gus's to save Jesse. If Gus wasn't planning to kill him, he was certainly smart enough to realize how paranoid he was making Walter, and should have anticipated he might act on it.

  • AyeDub Aug 30, 2012

    Your first paragraph is amazing...really good. Thumbs up for it.



    Your second paragraph on the other hand...ugh...I know Gus wasn't planning to eliminate Walter early seaosn 4 because It's spelled out for us...it's very clear.



    Even the very scene you refer to was a bluff. AND it only got that to that point because Hank was snooping around the lab. The point of that scene was Gus trying to fire Walter (like Jesse asked), but Walter wouldn't walk away. Walter forced Gus to go to those lengths. If Walter lets things go and accepts that he won after boxcutter it would have been him going down to Mexico not Jesse. They only didn't take Walter because - as they stated - they couldn't trust him. That's totally on Walter.



    Furthermore Mike tells him twice that he wasn't in danger. Once in S4E2 and once just this past episode.



    Here is my question for you, if Gus really was planning to take out Walt, why do you think Mike lied about it? Twice? Especially this past week, what purpose did it serve?

  • tnetennba Aug 29, 2012

    I think he took the gun because he was already considering the option of killing him. This was only a short time after Saul reminded him that they'd be in a lot of trouble if the police catches up with Mike and gets him to talk.

  • AyeDub Aug 30, 2012

    I agree Walt already considered it (but he still has his own gun, right?), but if he wasn't pushed into it we would have just let Mike go.

  • dref22 Aug 30, 2012

    THIS. Yes, it was not really about the names.

  • RussellCooper Aug 29, 2012

    This episode was Incredibleeeeee.



    Relevant Coca-Cola/BrBa Mashup T-shirt:

    http://www.redbubble.com/people/urhos/works/9282904-enjoy-heisenberg-blue



    Enjoy!



    RIP Mike

  • BenParrish Aug 29, 2012

    I agree with the positive things in this review, and disagree with the negative things in this review.



    Not gonna pick it apart piece by piece, but I would like to at least point out that the scene at the car wash was set up for the two-second moment at the end when Skyler and Jesse look at each other in a silent moment of shared desperation, and they are now both prisoners of Walt's psychosis. A key scene, a wonderful scene, and about as far from "out of place" as you can get.

  • burke426 Aug 29, 2012

    There are two sides to the ability of a showrunner "writing for the end" of the show. On the one side, you have Lost. When it began, the creators had in mind a 5 season arc totaling 120 episodes. In the end, even before the finale aired, many felt it was dragging on longer than it should have. We're witnessing the opposite of that with Breaking Bad. Until this season, Vince et al were taking everything season to season as AMC renewed the show. Then the debacle with Mad Men's negotiations (common sense dictates they had an effect on Breaking Bad and the other AMC shows, regardless of what their press releases state) and they were restricted to 16 episodes to conclude their show.



    The pressure of fitting everything in is showing. Every story beat in every episode this season, like those that came before, have been completely and utterly necessary. There is still no fat on this steak we're eating. The problem seems to be the feel between the story beats. Where before we felt breathing room, now we feel suffocated. I choose to think that this will, in retrospect, be seen as one of the many "happy accidents" that Vince et al have been handed. If the viewers feel a lack of oxygen, what about the characters?



    The fact is, they have given us everything we've been asking for in the final trasition from Walter White to Heisenberg. We're simply feeling the crunch of only having 9 episodes left to enjoy in the show's run, the same crunch I'm sure the writers are feeling.



    The writers no longer have the luxury of taking their time with things as they had in the first 4 seasons, and this should be considered before passing any judgment on how well they are doing. Breaking Bad is still head and shoulders above most other content out there.

  • tnetennba Aug 29, 2012

    What you're saying about Lost is obviously wrong. They had planned the beginning and the ending, and had some ideas about a struggle between two brothers on the Island. Then they just made shit up as they went along, always trying to make every scene as cool as possible, with no regard for what made sense in a larger context. That's why the "story" made absolutely no sense.

  • burke426 Aug 31, 2012

    Given that the creators of the show are the sources of the information I used in my post, I don't think that I was "obviously wrong". While they did use misinformation to keep everyone guessing when the show was on the air, they have been consistent in their statements about their development of the show. As such, I stand by what I wrote.



    FYI, J.J. Abrams stated in interviews that he, Lindelof, and Cuse created a bible for the show that contained many of the story beats they envisioned playing out over the course of 5 seasons. Lindelof also stated as much regarding the length of the show in interviews. Here is an excerpt from an interview Lindelof/Cuse gave to EW:



    EW: How does not knowing when Lost could end affect your current storytelling choices?



    Lindelof: We're proceeding as if they are going to allow us to do what we plan, which is a four- or five-season arc with potentially a movie to wrap it up. My guess is they'll realize that the endgame is in play when major characters start getting bumped off.



    Before you accuse someone of being wrong with their facts, it's best that you be right with your own.



    Besides, your post didn't even bother to address the main thesis of my post, which was entirely to do with Breaking Bad.

  • AyeDub Sep 01, 2012

    Please see my response to this below...you're miss reading the statements of the creators...those specific comments are not based off the story they had to tell, they're based off the economic drivers of television.

  • AyeDub Aug 29, 2012

    I'm not sure where you're getting that about Lost...everything I've read was about lots of changes of writers early one and complete changes about many aspects in the early goings. For example, they originally had Michael Keaton signed on to play Jack and he was going to die in the pilot...once they decided to expand the role Keaton left and Fox filled the void...



    It's very clear to me when watching Lost nothing was planned out until quite a way through...they just kept adding twists and questions hoping to come back to them later.

  • dref22 Aug 30, 2012

    I also read that Lost was planned as 4 seasons.

  • safibwana Aug 30, 2012

    Even if that is the case, then they are still terrible planners because they had at most 3 seasons of material.

  • goldtop2007 Aug 31, 2012

    Lost went on for too long, I agree.

  • AyeDub Aug 30, 2012

    I read the last several seasons were planned, but not out of the chute, do you happen to have an article on that?

  • AyeDub Sep 01, 2012

    I say "shooting for 5 episodes" below and I mean 5 seasons.

  • AyeDub Sep 01, 2012

    @burke426 (I can't reply directly to you): did you read that article you just linked? There's talks of a rough outline and "leaps of faith" and that the show would end how it began and that's it...



    On the other side of the argument they talk about how many things change including Jack dying at the beginning and Kate not being the "convict".



    Furthermore, this bit "Lindelof: We're proceeding as if they are going to allow us to do what we plan, which is a four- or five-season arc with potentially a movie to wrap it up." isn't based off a specific story...it's based off of the typical TV philosophy of "get this show to 100 episodes so we can make more money in syndication"



    Abrams even specifically says "It's because there's an economic model that says the show must go on for five years." It couldn't be more clear they were only shooting for 5 episodes because of syndication and not because they had a specific story they needed to tell.



    Thank you for bringing this interview to my attention. It's even more clear to me after reading it how little of Lost was planned upfront.

  • burke426 Aug 31, 2012

    My information came direct from the horse's mouth, in this case the show's creators. See my reply to tnetennba above where I cite my source for my original post, including the relevant part of the interview. The whole interview is available here:



    http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,1562722,00.html

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