BREAKING BAD 5.4: “Fifty-One”

Watching BREAKING BAD is usually a much more visceral experience than viewing any other show; when it’s over, I often feel like I’ve been punched in the gut, and my lungs hurt because I didn’t realize I had been holding my breath so often. An hour of BB on Sunday night is like a week’s worth of cardio for me!

This week’s episode had me at a couple of points, as Walt (Bryan Cranston) celebrated his 51st birthday and Skyler (Anna Gunn) neared the end of her rope. Meanwhile, Hank (Dean Norris) was offered yet another promotion — at this rate, he’ll be speaker of the house by the end of the season — and Lydia (Laura Fraser) started to come unglued in Germany.

The birthday gave the episode its spine, with Walt using it as an excuse to try to prod Skyler back to life, and her using it as a method to passive-aggressively strike at him. Instead of the usual big party she invited only Hank and Marie, and instead of a fun dinner with friends and family, Skyler threw herself in the swimming pool.

Skyler’s pool scene was creepy in the extreme, thanks to the way Gunn completely underplayed it. I had noticed that the character had barely spoken in the entire episode up to that point, so it made sense that her decision was wordless. From the moment that she rose and stood at the edge of the pool I knew she was going in; even with her back turned, Gunn’s languid posture showed she was connecting with the water. And by keeping the camera focused on the pool the entire time, director Rian Johnson allowed us to connect with Skyler’s thought process — contemplating the eerie embrace of the calm, clear blue water. The chattering of Marie (Betsy Brandt) fading as the formless water filled the entire screen.

As Hank noted, I don’t think Skyler was trying to kill herself with everyone present, but it was a cry for help. I admit that I was a bit disappointed that her plunge turned out to be so calculated and self-serving, instead of impulsive and self-destructive. Looking back, it almost feels like the director invested too much in making the dive feel like a suicide bid.

But the payoff was gigantic, as the fight that erupted after the kids were sent off with Marie and Hank was a TV classic. Skyler wanted the children away from Walt’s influence, so she vowed to keep hurting herself until they were taken away or Walt was arrested.  Meanwhile, he threatened to have her committed and raise the kids himself. Neither could gain any ground until Skyler went nuclear — she suggested she could simply wait. Wait until his cancer returns.

Wow. Talk about a devastating moment! As the saying goes, Walt didn’t know whether to shit or go blind. And who knew Skyler had such cruelty inside her. I guess a woman really will do anything to protect her children.

Speaking of a woman in preservation mode, it appeared that Lydia planted a fake GPS tracking device on a barrel of methylamine to make it look like the D.E.A is on to her and she can get out of the business. But Mike (Jonathan Banks) sussed out that Lydia staged it, and decided to kill her. That upset Jesse (Aaron Paul), who appealed to “Mr. White” to take his side and keep kill-happy Mike’s gun holstered.

I’m not so sure Walt made the right decision by calling Mike off Lydia; surely another source of precursor can be located (closer to home)? Lydia just seems to be wound too tight for this business. I’m not sure what she did before the operation was compromised last season, but it seems she was in charge of “losing” stuff in inventory so it could be redirected to Gus’ operation. She certainly could prove valuable, but is she trustworthy? This is BREAKING BAD; who’s ever trustworthy? it was kinda funny to listen to Jesse freaking out over losing their connection to “precursor.”

As far being trusting souls, is it just me, or does anyone else think Walt needs to alter his recipe a bit so his meth isn’t so pure? The blue color that has been his calling card is also… well, his calling card, indicating that he’s back in the game. I guess Walt figured it’s worth the risk, because they can charge more for the blue stuff. Still, it’s a dangerous game. Hank mentioned that blue stuff was showing up again.

Ah, supercop Hank. Y’know, one of the very few annoying things about BB is the way Hank is stubbornly clinging to the case, for apparently no good reason. He’s skeptical that “Heisenberg” is truly out of the game. I really hate it when a show/movie relies on a cop’s supernatural instinct to “sense” that a case just isn’t over. It’s actually lazy writing, and I’m shocked and disappointed to see it rear its ugly head on BB. You want Hank to stick to the case, fine; give him a reason to stay with it. Don’t make it some nebulous feeling that something isn’t right. Because that’s just plain wrong. Hank already has an unlimited budget for trips to Germany, so why not be happy with that?

And one final note: Can it be true that only one year has passed for Walt since the events of season one, when he got his cancer diagnosis? What a difference a year makes. Especially one as eventful as this has proven to be.

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