Season Five hits a bit of a pacing snag with “Buyout,” which takes a long time to reach a crisis point that felt like it could have come a lot sooner.
The episode, directed by 35-year TV veteran Colin Bucksey, opens with its best sequence: Mike, Walk, Jesse and Todd silently disposing of the poor kid shot in last week’s incredible final sequence. They dig up the surrounding area, dismantle his dirtbike piece by piece, and, of course, must make the body itself vanish without a trace. It’s presented as methodically as any other chemical process on the show, but communicated with the weight it deserves, even if we get the clear sense that Jesse is the only one who’s exactly as troubled by this as a human being should be. “How about the face that he shot a kid?” He can’t abide “Ricky Hitler” still being part of the team, but he gets soundly outvoted.
The rest of “Buyout,” like this opening section, consists of Breaking Bad in literal “cleanup” mode, setting the stage for the next set of tense setpieces and standoffs. Most serialized TV shows rely on that balance of “downtime” and high-octane content, but this season is beginning to feel a little schematic in just how neatly its episodes can be divided into the eventful and the setup-heavy. “Buyout,” to its credit, seems to try to correct this storytelling impulse, but it actually winds up making the episode feel even more like it’s running in place.
To explain: late in the episode, with Mike and Jesse having decided to disband the Three Amigos and take a buyout that will net each of them a cool $5 million, Walt finds himself cuffed to a radiator while Mike goes to (hilariously) attempt to get the DEA off his back for a grace period. (Saul pulling the “senior citizen” card provides the episode with its best moment of levity.) This leads to one of the show’s patented Walt-solves-his-problems-with-Science! moments, and it’s just as bracing as usual – but there’s a nagging sense that the plot contortions of the episode were really there just to make this scene happen and thereby prohibit the episode from being “all talk.”
For all of the episode’s fine scenes and character beats – the dinner scene with Jesse and Skyler is particularly brutal – there’s an inescapable sense that we end the episode in more or less an unchanged place from where we started, ready to witness the next caper. And that’s a bit of a disappointment at this late stage.