Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
“Gliding Over All,” the last episode before the series goes on hiatus until next summer, reveals a more subdued Walter White. Now that he’s taken care of the Mike problem, Walt can focus on building his empire.
Todd, Walt’s new right hand, has disposed of Mike’s car at the junkyard, and Walt and Todd now have the task of disposing of Mike. We know how this goes: Insert body into plastic barrel, pour in chemicals. Call me overly sensitive, but I’m glad we were spared a shot of Mike’s body going through this process. Walt and Todd are interrupted by Jesse, who visits pest control headquarters to find out whether Mike’s out of town yet — “He’s gone,” Walt assures him – and, by the way, what are they going to do about Mike’s hazard-pay list? “What do we do” asks Jesse. “We?” Walt replies. “There is no we.”
About that hazard-pay list: Walt meets Lydia, who’s no dummy. She knows she must ensure her own safety before she agrees to give over the names. She proposes a deal that Walt can’t refuse – she’ll make him a whole lot of money by helping to sell his blue ice overseas. The two shake, she leaves, and Walt picks up his hat from the table to reveal that vial of ricin he’s been hiding in his bedroom, just in case.
Walt uses Todd’s prison connections to stage a mass killing of the nine men on the hazard-pay list (plus their attorney). Problem solved, right? Hank, who’s been interrogating these guys, isn’t happy, and comes home dejected and frustrated. As Walt and Hank talk over glasses of bourbon, Hank has no idea that Walt is the one who is responsible for his crappy day. Walt’s interaction with Hank is cool, measured and in control — a far cry from the Walt of Season 1, who would’ve been a nervous wreck.
With the main obstacles out the way, Walt is calm, peaceful even. Cue the manufacturing/packaging/trafficking montage set to “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells. Walt’s empire appears to be a well-oiled machine, and the money keeps rolling in. For a moment there, I felt pretty good about Walt’s prospects in the drug business; maybe he’s finally getting it right.
Another way Walt seems to redeem himself is by visiting Jesse to apologize, in a way, and to reminisce about the old Bounder. It could be a touching moment, except that Jesse has armed himself and is on edge the entire time. He knows Walt just ordered the murders of 10 people, and he’s afraid he might be next. Before Walt leaves, he tells Jesse he’s left something for him. Jesse discovers duffel bags on his front porch full of cash.
You know what else is full of cash? Skyler’s storage unit. She takes Walt on a tour of his Giant Pile of Money, which amounts to a sum that not even Skyler knows. She stopped counting. Walt is genuinely surprised they have that much. “How much is enough?” Skyler implores. “How big does this pile have to be?” And with that, she sums up the entire season.
Walt clearly has some soul-searching to do. Building an empire is one thing, but accumulating so much cash that you can’t spend, or launder, it is another. At some point, even Walt must realize there’s a limit. He’s done what he set out to do. After Walt gets his regular PET scan, we see that paper towel dispenser in the doctor’s office restroom he punched what seems like so long ago, which serves as a reminder of how far he’s come.
So he finally makes a decision. He’s out, he tells Skyler. Finally, the kids can come home. The mood is light. Skyler doesn’t hate life or Walt any more — she feels as if she’s gotten through to him. At a family gathering, Marie and Skyler chat like the old days while Walt and Hank casually sip beers.
Not so fast: Hank excuses himself to use the bathroom. As he’s shuffling through a stack of reading material, he comes to a copy of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” On the inside is inscribed: “To my other favorite W.W. It’s an honor working with you. Fondly, G.B.” Hank remembers the W.W./Walt Whitman thing from that tense conversation with Walt in Season 4. And he knows that G.B. is Gale Boetticher. Hank knows.