Would “Breaking Bad” spend the duration of “Buyout,” the follow-up to last week’s morality rollercoaster “Dead Freight,” dealing with the fall-out? It seemed like a legitimate question given the gravity of last week’s events: the crew pulled off an incredible heist only to have new-guy Todd kill a young, non-threatening witness on a dirtbike at the last frame.
“Breaking Bad” has hinted as violence toward children (Walt and Brock last season being the most recent but not only example), but “Dead Freight” swiftly changed things. Children were fair game, even if they didn’t deserve to be. (The New Yorker's excellent TV critic Emily Nussbaum tackles this aspect of "Breaking Bad" in her new essay, "Child's Play.")
The boy's murder is dealt with in the beginning of “Buyout” — mainly Todd justifying his actions, Walt defending Todd and Jesse continuing to feel his soul chipped away to nothing. But nearly as quickly as the boy was shot, we’re forced to move on from it: Todd gets a stern talk from Mike, Walt’s mind turns to cooking and Jessie just looks sad in the aftermath. It's implied the crew disposes the body like they did his dirtbike, by dumping the remains in a barrel and burning them with chemicals. Judging from a news report on the boy’s death Jesse sees, this likely won’t be the last we hear of the murder.
But for now, it’s on the backburner because this is the drug business, and only two things truly matter: product and profit. (Innocent dead kid? That’s what the acid’s for.) So the real conflict of “Buyout” becomes a reaction to the death and the lack of rules and consequences surrounding it: Mike and Jesse tell Walt they want out. Mike has a methylamine buyer willing to pay $15 million for the crew’s surplus, as long as Walt agrees to stop cooking. This gives Walt, Jesse and Mike a relatively clean escape and a chance at a return to normalcy, or something vaguely resembling it.
“Are we in the meth business or the money business?” Jesse asks Walt as he tries to convince him to bow out of the game. Jesse should know his answer by now, but Walt later tells him anyway, just to be completely clear: “I’m in the empire business.”
Smartly, “Breaking Bad” — by revisiting a Season 1 plotline — reminds us why Walt refuses to sell his 1/3 of the methylamine: He lost out on billions from Gray Matter, the company he co-founded with two former friends in graduate school. Manufacturing his blue meth is Walt’s second chance at success, and, with Gus gone, he can do it on his own terms. $5M is a major loss in Walt’s eyes, even though it’s a comfortable future for Mike and Jesse.
(The real question the $5M offer asks is this: Was all of the blood, sweat, tears, stress, murders, drug production, lying, scheming and general bad behavior of the past couple years worth $5M? Is that a reasonable price for turning evil?)
When Skyler finds Jesse at the house, trying to convince Walt to stop cooking, Walt invites Jesse to stay for dinner for a view of his fractured home-life up-close. As Jesse awkwardly (and hilariously) gives Skyler props for her choice in green beans, Skyler lampoons Walt for telling Marie about her relationship with Ted. Skyler walks away pouring wine, ready for a night of ignoring Walt and staring at the ceiling.
“This business is all I have left now. It’s all I have and you want to take it away from me,” Walt tells Jesse, hoping manipulation and guilt can force his troubled hand one more time. At the end of the episode, Walt, Jesse and Mike are together again, under much different circumstances. The methylamine is missing, presumably at Walt’s doing, which leads to Mike holding a gun to Walt’s temple. Jesse pleads with Mike not to shoot because — of course — Walt has a grand scheme where, he deadpans, “Everybody wins.” If you’re like me, you had to laugh at Walt, creepily smiling and lying through his teeth beccause this is “Breaking Bad,” where no one wins.