By Cory Everett | @modage August 27, 2012 at 11:23AM
Almost as quickly as it started, we’re almost through with the first batch of episodes from the final season of "Breaking Bad." This year started off with at an accelerated pace but has so far neglected to produce the level of collateral damage the audience was probably anticipating. With fewer than a dozen episodes left of the series, no one is safe. Walt’s family, his friends or Walt himself could all meet their end before the credits roll on the final episode next year. A kid on a dirtbike is a tragedy sure, but it doesn’t hit as close to home as one of the central players. This week, things really began closing in on Walt and his “brain trust” (as Saul hilariously describes them) and we get a taste of the carnage to come.
This week's episode opens up with our central trio riding out into the New Mexico desert, the backdrop that has hosted so many memorable moments during the series. This time it sets the stage for yet another in a series of increasingly egocentric Walt speeches. Walt's offer for Declan is a pretty good one and simple at that: in exchange for distribution, he'll cook his pure "blue" and hand over 35% of the take, Playing surrogate for the audience, Declan asks why they shouldn't just kill him right there? But the ace up Walt's sleeve yet again is simply because it wouldn't be good for business. He can’t argue.
Walt offers the chance to work with "the two greatest meth cooks in America," before laying down his final card: taking credit for Gus' murder, finally claiming the recognition he's longed to take since he began his illicit activities. If you feel the need to cringe a bit when Walt delivers the stinger line that gives the episode its title, don’t think it’s unintended. We may have gotten chills he when told Skyler he was the one who knocks, but now his out-of-control hubris is just as likely to make us wince. Mike warns Jesse to look out for himself before taking off for retirement and this isn’t the first or last time we see Mike looking out for his former protege. Later on when Mike needs his bag delivered, he refuses Jesse's offer to bring it to him, not wanting to risk him getting caught.
Jesse still wants out and Walt is desperate. For perhaps the first time this season, he's fumbling to find a way to get what he wants. He tries to appeal to Jesse ("You and I have done things that are just as bad"), then belittles him. It’s petty and it’s cruel and it looks like Jesse has finally had enough. As anticipated, Walt selects Todd to fill Jesse's shoes and offers him some very encouraging teacherly advice about "applying himself" while they cook up the next batch of meth. Todd even claims he isn’t interested in talking about money until he can get the hang of the cook. It’s music to Walt’s ears.
Across town, it looks like Mike's skipping town before the DEA can descend but instead he's just disposing of any and all incriminating evidence, dropping it into a "Jeepers Creepers"-sized underground hole before returning home just in time for Hank and co. to knock on the door. Meanwhile, his lawyer has already begun dispensing his $5 million dollars into various safety deposit boxes via multiple visits to the bank, with the biggest lot set aside for Mike's granddaughter. Unfortunately for Mike, Hank decides to tail the lawyer who is caught red handed delivering the next round of payments. Walt warns Mike that the DEA is coming for him and his unflappable cool finally gives way to fear. It breaks his heart (and ours) to leave his granddaughter, but he has to flee.
When Walt offers to pick up Mike's "go bag," we already know why. (I can’t be the only one who spent the last 10 minutes of the episode with my heart in my stomach.) Mike has been such an important character on the show that it's hard to imagine it without him but we know that that's where this meeting is headed. After trying unsuccessfully to pry the names of Mike’s guys from him, Walt shoots Mike anyway and looks panicked as his car speeds off into the field. For someone who’s been three steps ahead of everyone around him since the bell tolled for Gus Fring, he hasn't thought this through at all. What the hell is he going to do with the body for starters? The DEA are looking everywhere for Mike, and his car isn't going to be quite as easy to dispose of as the kid's dirt bike.
When he arrives at the car, Mike is gone and our minds race wondering if we'll spend the next episode or into next season with Mike out there in the wild, recovering, planning to strike back at Walt at some point. But instead of a dangling mystery, Walt finds Mike sitting down by the water. Sitting peacefully, silently, armed and waiting to die. Walt offers his apologies and they seem sincere but Mike asks only for Walt to let him die in peace. Goodbye, Michael Ehrmantraut. You will be missed.
With only one episode left before the break, the question is: what is going to happen in the finale? Without Mike around, is there anyone who will stand up to Walt? Now that Walt knows that Lydia has the names of Mike’s guys it seems likely that since Lydia already tried to have them killed off, Walt will likely pursue that as an alternative solution to monthly payments. Symmetry tells us that we could get another glimpse at “Walt 52” (who hasn’t been seen since the season premiere) but it’s possible Gilligan and co. might want us to wait until next year for that one. Will Jesse really go quietly without his money and will Walt really let him walk away? Since it's a likely 10 months before we get all of our answers, here's hoping next week’s episode plays as a proper finale to an excellent mini-season rather than just an extended pause during these final installments. [A-]