With the short-lived pest control operation already poised to split and collapse, Walt is ready to wrest control of the methylamine sell-off back from Mike and Jesse. The episode opens with a heated meeting in a remote desert locale between Mike, Jesse, Walt, and Mike’s previously established buyout hookup. Walt’s competitor notes they are absent the thousand gallons. Walt announces he’s keeping the tank safe in a hidden location, and if the connection wants to secure the product, he’ll have to renegotiate with Walt directly.
Ignoring the hookup’s hostility, Walt pitches a partnership, explaining that Mike is leaving the operation and Walt is in need of a distributor. In exchange for 65% of the take, plus an extra five million to pay off Mike and his legacy contracts, Walt will replace their current cook and start distilling purer batches of Heisenberg blue meth for the competing operation to distribute. Walt tosses a plastic bag of blue crystal into the dust, sneering that it’s dyed blue to mimic his own product, calling it a “tepid off-brand,” and observing that it’s cooked with pseudoephedrine and is only 70% pure.
“Who are you?” the connection breathes. Walter smirks. “You all know who I am,” he says. Swaggeringly, he informs them he’s the man who killed Gus Fring. “You’re Heisenberg,” the connection says with disbelief.
Post-credits, Mike loads cash into the trunk of his car while the connection drives away, squinting at them through the window. Jesse approaches Walt about the five million dollar cut Jesse was supposed to receive, but Walt brushes him off, saying they’ll talk about it later.
Back at Vamonos Pests, Mike takes his leave, brusquely reminding Walt to get the bug removed from Hank’s office at the DEA before it gets caught in a sweep. Walt retrieves the tank of methylamine from inside the car wash, where Skyler has been guarding it for him. Skyler tries to ask Walt some probing questions about the contents of the tank, but Walt brushes her off with indifference, telling her to go back into the office. Jesse’s eyes follow her uneasily, and she turns in silhouette and makes eye contact with him for a few seconds before disappearing into the back room. Jesse’s expression is conflicted – evidently the awkward hostility at the dinner table a few nights previous, combined with his uneasy observations about Walter’s flippancy in the face of the heist murder, are beginning to sow some powerful seeds of doubt in his mind.
Mike’s lawyer Dan from “Hazard Pay” shows up at the bank, buttering up the front desk lady with a Tupperware container filled with what he informs her are bacon and banana cookies. Front Desk Lady is gleeful over the cookies and burbles with crotchety cheer about her personal foibles while unlocking a numbered series of safety deposit boxes in a back room. Upon her exit, Dan begins methodically loading the boxes with wads of banded cash in what is basically a montage, albeit a relatively sedate and functional one, set to bubbly sixties jazz. A less energetic montage is probably narratively appropriate for this scene, however that doesn’t mean I forgive the editors for not going full frontal with the train heist sequence the other week. Golden opportunities, once missed, can never be recaptured, folks. Don’t play games with my feelings. Anyway, so the last, giant-sized safety deposit box gets topped off with a yellow envelope on which is scrawled, “To Kaylee on Her 18th Birthday.”
In the parking lot, Dan and Mike joke about the drop, explaining, in case you didn’t understand, that the cash getting deposited is for legacy pay, plus obviously Mike’s granddaughter. Mike heads out to the desert in a silent sequence and dumps a cache of weapons down a deep hole, along with the laptop that has the feed hookup to the bugs in Hank’s ASAC office.
Promptly in the next scene, the DEA raid Mike’s place. Mike sits calmly in front of the TV watching an old noir film while the agents comb through his stuff. Hank glances at Mike and looks pensive. Gomez looks at Hank gravely and shakes his head. Nothing to be found.
Jesse comes to see Walt at the pest control headquarters and the two have a showdown. Walt keeps briskly trying to sweep Jesse up in the cook he’s setting up, but Jesse pushes aside the rubber gloves Walt offers him and reiterates that he’s quitting. Walt cranks his manipulative strong-arming up to 11, calmly telling Jesse that he has “nobody,” no other abilities or interests, that this may be his only opportunity in life to ever really be good at something, and that without the constant routine of the lab to keep him busy, he will probably start using again.
The murder in the desert comes up and Walt offhandedly claims to feel sad about it, but Jesse responds with dismissive sarcasm. Walt spits fire. “I’m the one who’s the father here!” He rails, calling the murder a “tragedy,” but insisting that what matters to him is the business. Walt keeps insisting that, now that they’re running the operation themselves, there will be no need for further bloodshed, but Jesse calls him out, saying Walter has said the same thing a million times before and he can no longer trust him.
Jesse demands his cut of the money from the methylamine sale and Walt coldly sneers that Jesse is too “sensitive” to be handling “blood money.” Jesse shakes his head and tells Walt that if he won’t give Jesse the cut he deserves, that’s on Walt’s head. “If you leave, you get nothing!” Walt screams as Jesse exits. The door thuds behind Jesse loudly, echoing down the hall.
Following a DEA budget review meeting helmed by a superior agent at the central field office, Hank gets reamed for blowing so much time and manpower on Ehrmantraut raid, which evidently netted the department squat on Mike’s activities. The whole incident is clearly casting Hank in a pretty bad light considering how recently he was promoted. His superiors feel he’s devoting too much time and money generally to the Fring case, which is “essentially over,” and in response, they are overriding him and force-killing it. Frustrated, Gomez and Hank go over some paperwork post-video-conference and realize Ehrmantraut is the only person in his immediate circle not represented by Saul Goodman, leading them to speculate about who Mike’s lawyer might be, and what he might be able to tell them.
Suiting up grimly, Walt patiently begins briefing Todd to become Jesse’s lab replacement. Todd is attentive and earnest, but clearly not highly attuned to the basic mechanics of what they are doing. There is another sort-of montage depicting the cook, this time set to some Dusty Springfield.
Dan shows up at the bank again with cake pops, this time receiving a colder reception from the lady at the front desk. As soon as he starts unloading the cash in the back room, DEA pops in, headed by a leering Gomez.
Making use of the same tactic that worked for him previously, Walt bawls and moans in Hank’s office about the whitewashed disintegration of his marriage until Hank stutteringly leaps up from his desk to go pour some coffee. Walt methodically removes the bugs from the picture frame and the computer modem. While he awkwardly sips his coffee, Walt idly surveys a print-out of the bank surveillance photos and then, with dawning dread, overhears Gomez and Hank behind him muttering, “He’s willing to give us Ehrmantraut?” followed by a high five.
At the park with his granddaughter, Mike receives a cell phone call from Dan, who evasively claims there is an issue with the cash drop and asks to come see him. Mike vaguely intimates his location and Dan quickly hangs up. Immediately on the heels of Dan’s call, Walt phones through frantically, telling Mike the police are on their way to pick him up and he needs to run.
Mike stands up, but it’s already too late – two police cars pull up alongside the curb at the edge of the playground, and four officers get out and start scanning the area. For several long seconds, Mike stares at his granddaughter, who is swinging peacefully on the swings ten feet away from him. Looking pained, he opens his mouth to reflexively call out to her. After a few more seconds of hesitation, he turns and runs.
In his office, Saul Goodman loudly condemns Mike’s poor decision making regarding his legal representation, declaring Mike would have been better off with “The law firm of Moe, Larry, and Shemp.” Jesse and Walt listen to his tirade without mirth, their heads bowed tensely. Jesse says Mike would never rat them out, but Walt observes that the arrest will disrupt the flow of the hazard pay, meaning Mike’s associates will soon be scrambling to cut a deal and sell them out. Saul’s drawer full of cell phones starts vibrating and, serendipitously, it’s Mike. Mike explains he’s ready to grab his gear and run, but that the bag he’s prepared is stashed at the airport, which is currently crawling with police. Jesse offers to get the bag for him but Mike insists Saul should be responsible for it. Saul, predictably, doesn’t want to do anything potentially dangerous, but Walt cuts in and offers to deliver the bag himself.
Retrieving the bag from the trunk of a car in the airport parking garage, Walt unzips it and looks inside – it’s the bag from the opening teaser at the start of the season. There is a wad of cash, a passport, and a pistol in a leather holster.
Walt confronts Mike in a remote riverside location to hand off the duffel bag. He demands to know the names of the nine remaining Fring operatives in lockup, saying he has a right to know. Mike won’t budge. He grabs the bag from Walt firmly and tries to walk away, but Walt won’t let him go quietly, and keeps pushing his point about the names and inexplicably claiming that Mike owes him the information. Mike explodes, stabbing Walt in the chest with his index finger and telling him he should have gone quietly along with Fring and done what he was told, and that if he had, none of this would have ever happened.
Mike turns and walks deliberately to his car and Walt, gnashing his teeth and looking furious, stalks away in the other direction. After a moment, he turns around and struts intently toward Mike’s car.
In the driver’s seat, Mike unzips the bag and looks inside. The leather holster is empty. Before Mike can react, Walt walks up next to the driver’s side window, levels the pistol at Mike’s chest, and fires.
The window shatters, and Mike’s car squeals away, crashing into a pile of boulders at the edge of the dirt road several yards away. Walt’s face is blank with shock as he runs toward the car, finding it empty. Guided by a blood trail, Walt scuffles off down a foot trail into the underbrush, discovering Mike sitting at the foot of the trail next to the river with a gun pointed at his chest, bleeding from a wound in his stomach.
Mike stares blankly at the golden surface of the water reflecting the orange glow of the sunset. Frogs and crickets chirp peacefully. Walt stands next to him in a daze.
Finally Walt stutters, “I just realized that Lydia has the names. I can get it from her.” He tries awkwardly to apologize, but Mike cuts him off. “Shut up and let me die in peace,” he croaks.
They stare at the surface of the water together for a few seconds and Mike keels over, dead.
The shock of the murder that ended “Dead Freight” opened the door for the final disintegration of Breaking Bad’s moral certitude, and of Walter as a relatable character. Walter’s indifference to the death of an innocent bystander has obviously been troubling to key associates of his, as well as to a number of viewers still committed staunchly to their interpretation of him as a morally ambiguous antihero. The conclusion of “Compulsion” makes it pretty clear where Walter’s real priorities lie, and the pragmatism of his final, blurted comment only makes his behavior more chilling. Walt’s first concern when he realized Mike was dying was to figure out who else might have access to the information he needs to keep his business running.
The comment is also significant because of what it reveals about Walt’s increasingly distorted and sociopathic perspective on his own situation. Visual hints appeared throughout the second half of this episode indicating that Mike’s murder represents a tipping point that will destroy Walt’s theoretical empire before it has a chance to even begin. Mike’s murder isn’t just scary because it’s pointless, it’s upsetting because it’s not in Walt’s own best interest – it was a purely impulsive act, precipitated by nothing but momentary humiliation and rage. Walt has truly become a loose cannon, prepared at any moment to unleash a firestorm of devastation upon whoever happens to be getting in his way.