Warning: Do not read if you haven’t seen Breaking Bad , Season 5, Ep. 4 – “Fifty-One”
“We’re not ramping down. We’re just getting started. Nothing stops this train – nothing.” – Walt
It’s hard to believe it’s only been a year, but in Breaking Bad time, that’s all it’s been. When the series premiered Walt was celebrating his fiftieth birthday surrounded by his loving, expanding family, just an average suburban dad whose biggest concern was getting his grades turned in on time. Of course the day after his birthday he was diagnosed with cancer, sending him down a dangerous path that has led to his fifty-first birthday, surrounded by a wife who despises him, a brother-in-law still marred thanks to his actions and concerns that include securing methylamine and evading the DEA. In one year’s time he’s gone from nerdy chemist content with his simple life to manipulative murderer desperate for power. And in another year’s time he will be a man on the run, arranging his own birthday bacon, using a fake ID and buying black market weapons. He may have started this journey as a means to keep everything he once loved, but he’s clearly chosen a different path somewhere along the way.
The episode started with Walt picking up his car at the body shop. The mechanic was in awe of the sturdiness of the vehicle and predicted it would run another 200,000 miles, even being driven as “rough” as Walt has been lately. Well, one glance at his Heisenberg hat sitting in the passenger seat and Walt knew this car no longer fit the image he had of himself and he couldn’t imagine driving it for another 200,000 miles, no matter what cover image he was supposed to be projecting. When the one who knocks comes knocking he should do so in style. So he sold the car for $50 and bought brand new shiny cars for both himself and Walt Jr. While the two of them revved their engines in the driveway it was hard to tell which one was the most immature.
Of course Skyler saw the purchase for what it was; one more reckless decision that was putting her family even further in danger. Since Gus’ murder Skyler has been a ticking bomb under immense pressure and Walt has been oblivious. Well, I think he has the message now. On the outside she’s been looking dazed and shut down, but behind her zombie eyes her brain has been working overtime and has come to the conclusion that just because she can’t escape her husband doesn’t mean her children can’t. She innocently brings up the idea of sending Jr. to boarding school, but Walt shoots it down. Later, at the birthday party Walt forced Skyler to throw, (which may have been more modest than Walt wanted, but I bet he’d take it over next year’s celebration) Walt goes off on one of his signature monologues, recapping the past year through distinct rose colored memory and Skyler can’t take it anymore; submerging herself in the pool just to drown out her husband’s voice. Somehow, while putting her to bed, Skyler convinces a freaked out Marie to take the kids for a few days to give them “space” to work out their marriage. And then the episode really started.
The showdown between Walt and Skyler was one of the best scenes in the history of Breaking Bad and possibly in the history of television in general. It was two extremely talented actors with impeccable material and they tore that scenery apart. Future series take note; this is how it’s done. Skyler made it clear in no uncertain terms how she felt about having to live with Walt and refused to accept his mantra that everything is “smooth sailing” now that he’s the boss. She was adamant that while she couldn’t escape this life he’s created she will not allow her children to be put in danger because of it. If anyone should understand the lengths a parent will go to to protect their children it should be Walt, but all he could see was someone trying to take away something he wanted and that is unacceptable. Every strategy Skyler threw at him he countered masterfully, literally stalking her across the room and backing her into a corner. And that’s when she broke, he was right, there was nothing she could do, long term, to keep him from her children. For a moment Walt thought he had won, but then Skyler played her ace card. She doesn’t need to do anything long term, she simply has to wait, wait for the cancer to return. You knew what she was going to say before she said it, but the way Anna Gunn delivered that line gave me chills; not as a threat, not with malice, but as simple fact. She is waiting for him to die. And that’s the one thing Walt can’t control.
That doesn’t mean he won’t continue to control everyone else until that day comes. When he returned home the next night to an almost empty house and a chain-smoking wife (an attempt to restart the cancer? Literally trying to smoke him out?), he shows Skyler the watch Jesse had given him as a birthday present. He tells her the person who gave him that gift once wanted him dead too, and now look. Once again it’s the sincerity that is the most disarming. Walt honestly believes that Jesse simply changed his mind about him, not that he was conned into trusting his mentor again. Or perhaps that was the threat, he will force Skyler to love him again, whether she wants to or not.
But the watch ticking rapidly on the bedside table did more to support Skyler’s point than Walt’s delusion. Walt’s life as an expiration date and he is doing nothing to put that date off. In fact if anything, he’s bringing it closer.
Lydia, the jumpy yet dangerous methylamine hook up, is doing everything in her power to make Mike regret letting her live. She freaks after Hank and his men arrest her “guy” and doesn’t seem comforted by Mike’s lack of concern over the ordeal. No matter how many times he assures her that no one will talk she isn’t buying it and once again takes matters into her own shaky hands. Jesse shows up as the new “guy”, and apparently knowing Mike’s last name was enough confirmation for her, (Side note: does it seem like the writers are trying to draw attention to Mike’s last name this season? It is German…) together they find a tracking device on the barrel of methylamine and Jesse is forced to make the 14 hour drive empty handed. Jesse is scared the DEA is tracking their goods, but Mike sees through the ruse. He claims Lydia planted the device to eliminate herself from the situation, so Mike sets out to eliminate her entirely. Unfortunately for Mike, but very fortunate for the sake of a dramatic story, he is outvoted by his partners. Jesse objects because he already has too much blood on his hands and Walt objects because he has too much money on his mind. Greed is still controlling his decisions and that alway works out so well.
- Devin Mainville