Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
“Say My Name” opens with a meeting in the desert, where Mike’s contact is expecting a 1,000-gallon delivery of methylamine. But Walt has something else in mind: He wants Mike’s contact to take over the distribution of his blue meth now that Mike is out. Walt makes a convincing case, too, making me believe maybe he does have the chops to run a drug empire.
When asked just who he thinks he is to make such demands, Walt answers, “You all know who I am. I’m the cook. I’m the man who killed Gus Fring. Say my name.” When the men acknowledge that he is the mythical Heisenberg, Walt does his best Clint Eastwood: “You’re goddamn right.”
Heisenberg. Walt seems ready to build his empire without Mike’s assistance; Jesse’s participation is another matter, however. Here we get to see how much Walt needs Jesse. When the distribution deal is all wrapped up and Jesse and Walt are removing the methylamine hidden from Mike at the carwash, Skyler and Jesse share a look; you can see in Jesse’s eyes that he understands where Skyler is coming from. Both of them are trapped in their respective situations with Walt.
Walt and Jesse have always had a sort of father-son relationship, of course. In Season 1, as Walt sat coughing up blood outside the Winnebago, Jesse showed him compassion during a time when he was nothing but a failed genius turned science teacher with cancer, and his wife was nothing but a harpy. Jesse accepted Walt as he was, he saw his humanity, and he looked up to him. And Walt, in his own way, truly cares about Jesse.
Now Walt is desperate to keep Jesse with him. For all of Walt’s bravado, he’s scared to move forward without him. Bryan Cranston is masterful in convincing us that Walt is not only a monster with an ego the size of Texas, but also a scared little boy looking for a life raft. That life raft is Jesse.
And doesn’t he let Jesse know just how unwilling he is to see him go. Walt uses the same tactic with Jesse that he did with Skyler: First he butters him up in an attempt to convince him to stay, but when Jesse makes it clear that he’s done, Walt lets him know that he gets nothing if he leaves, not his $5 million cut of the business or anything else. Jesse, who wants no more blood on his hands, decides that walking away beats $5 million.
So Walt recruits Todd, who helped out with the heist and killed that kid, as his new lab assistant. In Todd, Walt gets a guy who doesn’t talk back, and who insists that payment can be discussed after he gets a better handle on the cooking process. You can practically hear the “cha-ching” noise in Walt’s head. So the cooking seems to be going smoothly, even without Jesse, and the distribution is going to be taken care of, even without Mike.
It seems, at first, that Mike might get away unscathed. With his buyout money in hand, he dumps his guns and laptop into a well and sits back to wait for the DEA to come knocking, knowing that a search of his house will turn up nothing.
The trouble is, Mike’s attorney (not Saul Goodman, much to Saul’s chagrin), who’s been handling the payments to Gus Fring’s former associates, turns Mike in after some DEA pressure. This leads Mike to put his trust in Walt to help him retrieve his go bag from the airport. And we all know what happens when someone puts trust in Walter White.
In exchange for the bag, Walt wants Mike to give him the hazard-pay list. Walt ends up shooting Mike with his own gun, but not because Mike refuses to give him the pay list. No, it’s because Mike says what many of us have been thinking: “All of this is YOUR fault, Walt.” If only Walt had kept his head down, known his place and not made a grab for power, he could be cooking away in an underground lab and raking in a steady paycheck.
Walt can’t take responsibility for his actions; to him, the end justifies the means. The only moment I can remember Walt admitting that he is the architect of his own ruin was in the 10th episode of Season 4, when he breaks down in front of Walt Jr. after getting his ass kicked by his surrogate son, Jesse. Here we saw sad, desperate, remorseful Walt.
So he shoots Mike. As Mike sits next to the river, dying, Walt realizes aloud that he could’ve gotten the pay list from Lydia. Stoic and dry to the last, Mike says, “Shut the fuck up, and let me die in peace.” In the moments before Mike dies, Walt looks unsure of what to do, and scared as hell. He knows he’s responsible for this. This blood is on his hands, not on Jesse’s or Todd’s or Mike’s. Not so tough. Not exactly drug-kingpin material, Heisenberg.