Written by Frazier Tharpe (@The_SummerMan)
We know that imminent danger is coming to Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) doorstep sooner or later, but so far this season, just like the four before it, Breaking Bad has been enjoying a leisurely, place-setting pace, stacking the chips before they fall. The difference this year is, thanks to AMC's insistence on splitting up the show's final season, we are now officially halfway done with the first half of season five.
Are things going to get frantic soon, to build to a crazy cliffhanger, or what? Thankfully, that question doesn't feel all that significant when we get slow but every bit enjoyable episodes like last night's "Fifty-one."
Skyler Makes Her Move
Now that's more like it. If you've been keeping up with our weekly coverage, then you know that we haven't been the biggest fans of Skyler's (Anna Gunn) arc thus far this season. The creepy interaction with Walt, the outburst at work, the many passive stares off into space—it all felt very heavy-handed to us, and also a bit out of character. As seasons 3 and 4 taught us, Skyler White is quite adaptable and not quite willing to fall in line with her husband's directives so easily.
So it was a thrill then, after half an episode of her doing more of the same, to see her stage a horrifically desperate ploy to get the children out of the house and away from Walt. At first glance, her late night dip in the pool seemed like a brazen suicide attempt, but it was actually a cunning way to take back some of the sympathy and pity Walt garnered from Marie (Betsy Brandt) last week. It helped to get Marie and Hank (Dean Norris) to agree to taking baby Holly and Junior (RJ Mitte) for awhile, while backing Walt into a corner where he can't argue against it.
The ensuing showdown between the master manipulators, a.k.a Mr. and Mrs. White, was both electric and sad. Skyler admits that this victory is both temporary and small, but in a situation this impossible those conditions are all she has to cling to right now. Just when we thought it couldn't get uglier than hearing the Whites bounce prospective power plays off of each other ("Maybe I have you committed"; "Maybe I show up with bruises on my neck"), Skyler caps it off with a hay-maker: At this point she's biding time, praying for, pinning all her hopes for her family's future, on Walt's cancer returning. Wow.
The Trouble With Lydia
The meth business takes a backseat to the home front for most of "Fifty-One," but a look at Hank and Gomie's (Steven Michael Quezada) suspect board shows that they're continuing to make extraordinary progress in mapping out Gus' operation and hauling in all of his co-conspirators. Of course, we know that that progress means nothing thanks to Mike's (Jonathan Banks) replenishing of the hazard pay. As long as their deal with Fring is honored, both Mike's "guys" and the Madrigal employees' lips are locked.
For a woman as tightly wound as Lydia (Laura Fraser), however, that's too thin an agreement to sleep soundly on. Her off-the-charts anxiety continues to be a welcome addition to the series, especially when it's brilliantly thrown up against the antithetically chill Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Mike sends Jesse to be Lydia's new warehouse man for offloading and transporting the precursor after Hank and company arrest her original guy right in front of her at the Madrigal Houston offices. The event is enough to make an over-reactive person such as herself (note how she completely over-blows the way things went down to Mike) decide to continue angling for a way out of her arrangement with Mike.
Jesse, eager to conduct business more peacefully than Gus did, tries to write off her stunt with the tracking device as typical female hysteria, but just like Skyler, Lydia deserves more credit for her cleverness. Both women feel trapped in their respective circumstances, and both displayed last night that they are willing to take whatever measure necessary to get out.
The (Final?) Countdown
Outside of their meeting, Jesse gifts Walt with a luxury watch for his birthday. It's crazy to think that Breaking Bad's first four seasons, plus these four most recent episodes, have all occurred in the span of one year; to Walt, it's even crazier. And the fact that he came out of such a crazy year on the indisputable top is an intoxicating thought.
For us, it was last summer, but in the series, as Walt points out to Skyler, the man who just dropped at least a rack on his birthday present (i.e., Jesse) was pointing a gun at him merely a few weeks ago. There's no affection, on Walt's part at least, in the gift. Instead, it's a symbol that, sooner or later, everyone comes around to Heisenberg's way of thinking.
But we know better. As that fantastic closing shot displays, Walt's time is running out. Like the second hand, he just passed 51, but his future doesn't hold wealth and spoils, just the sound of a cocked gun.
Things To Consider
- Walter Jr. Breakfast Report: Eggs and an inadequate piece of bacon, to make for a suitable bacon 5-1 for Walter, as White family tradition dictates.
- Seriously, the reveal of Jesse as Lydia's new precursor guy was a genuine laugh-out-loud moment. More scenes with these two, please.
- Is this the least screen time Aaron Paul has had in any other four-episode stretch of the series?
- This week in Gorgeous Breaking Bad Cinematography: the eerie shot of the pool reflecting on Skyler's face/her inching closer to it in the background of Walt's bullshit speech about family.
- "That's what I get for being sexist." - Mike, on sparing Lydia's life two episodes back.
- Hank is, predictably, the new Albuquerque DEA ASAC. Accepting this position would mean delegating the Fring case, however, something we're positive Hank won't actually do.
- Walt sells, well gives, the Aztec away and steps the family's whip game up to more appropriate, drug kingpin levels. To the score of dubstep music, no less.
- Did Walt's behavior after his fight with Skyler, and her absence, make anyone else wonder for a split second if he maybe snapped and killed her, or was it just us?
- So did Walter propose a plan for dealing with Lydia off-screen?
Written by Frazier Tharpe (@The_SummerMan)