How 'Breaking Bad' Covers Up a Child Murder: With Ruthless Efficiency

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This week's episode shows just how much the characters have evolved in their calculated use of science.

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AMC

When last week's Breaking Bad ended with the crew's newest member committing an unexpected murder, it felt like the catalyst that would drive the remaining three episodes of the season. How would the crew deal with loose-cannon Todd? How would they escape with their 1,000 stolen gallons of methylamine? And—most significantly—how would they get away with killing a child?

As it turns out, the answer to the final question was as ruthlessly, chillingly simple as the rest of Walter's actions throughout Breaking Bad's fifth season; this is, after all, the fifth time that Walter and company have resorted to the old "dissolve a corpse in hydrofluoric acid" trick in a single year. In Breaking Bad's first season, which marked the first time that Walter and Jesse used acid to dispose of a body, the disposal process resulted in an entire season's worth of complications. In last night's "Buyout," the task is performed in less than five on-screen minutes, by a crew that now operates with the grim efficiency of seasoned professionals. But "Buyout" offers something even more disturbing than the horror of the group's now-routine disposal process: the horror of chemical decomposition. As the opening scene of "Buyout" shows, there's absolutely no difference in the method used to dissolve a dirt bike and the method used to dissolve the corpse of a 14-year-old boy. It is—as Walter has pointed out so many times before—a simple matter of chemistry.

The dramatic ironies of Breaking Bad may imply some higher power, but as far as the series is concerned, our main characters have placed their faith in the amoral, immutable power of science. It's a power that clearly appeals to Todd, who can't even muster crocodile tears for Drew Sharp, the boy he killed. "Shit happens," he shrugs, as if Drew Sharp's death was some sort of tragic accident, and not a deliberate decision (a defense I'd have liked to hear Jesse return, after he punched Todd for offering it).

But Todd drops even the thinnest veneer of guilt in the face of his greater ambitions. "I want to be a real part of this," he says, implying that robbing a train and murdering a child are no more than speed bumps on the road to some greater end that he has in mind. Todd defends his actions as an "us vs. him" scenario—an argument that should sound very familiar to Walter. But it's clear that there's something far more dangerous about Todd than anyone but Jesse seems willing to acknowledge (note the troubling fact that Todd privately pockets the dead boy's spider in a jar, like a serial killer might keep a trophy from a victim).

Todd's desperate, unconvincing justification brings inauthenticity—one of the central themes of Breaking Bad's fifth season—to the episode's forefront. Near the end of "Buyout," Jesse attempts to make conversation at the world's most awkward dinner by describing how frozen lasagna is inevitably disappointing when compared to the picture on its box. "Whatever happened to truth in advertising?" he complains—a question that applies to virtually everyone and everything in Breaking Bad. The DEA offers phony excuses about tailing Mike, and Mike drums up a phony legal basis to make them stop. Walter claims he can't sleep because of his complicity in Drew Sharp's death, but spends the afternoon whistling cheerily while he cooks. And Marie confesses that she knows about Skyler's affair with Ted—a small secret that only serves to cover the existence of a much bigger one. In Breaking Bad, even the truth has become just part of a greater lie.

There is, ironically enough, one pure thing left in Breaking Bad: the chemical perfection of Walter's unique brand of crystal meth. The blue meth manufactured by Walt and Jesse has become the drug equivalent of a blue-chip stock: consistent in quality and always in demand. But like any successful business, Walt's operation faces competition from a professional rival: Declan, who aims to take the blue meth off the market by purchasing Mike and Jesse's 666 gallons of illicitly acquired methylamine (a reference to "the number of the beast" that's just a little too on the nose).

Walter, of course, has no intentions of selling his $5 million worth of methylamine when he can turn it into $100 million of his own product (a product that he's enormously proud of; I imagine that he'd be less than thrilled to hear Declan refer to his prized product as "Fring's blue.") But as Jesse points out—and Walter eventually acknowledges—he's not in the money business anymore. He's in the empire business. With no family, no career, and a lung-cancer clock that continues to tick, Walter has nothing else left—and he has no intention of letting his partners ride off into the sunset.

By the episode's end, Walter promises Jesse and Mike that he's developed a solution in which "everybody wins." But Breaking Bad has already shown us that there's no "everybody wins" in Walter White's world. After killing Gus Fring in Breaking Bad's fourth-season finale, Walter answered his wife's frantic questions by saying, "I won." And whatever inauthentic promises he may make to Jesse or Mike, he won't rest until he can say it again.

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Scott Meslow is entertainment editor at TheWeek.com.

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