TV Talk: BREAKING BAD 5.04 “Fifty-One” (Part 2)
Okay, now that we’re back from the “how much can a person really change in one year?” rant, let’s dive deeper into episode four of this season. First, a super fast recap to the season so far:
Episode one basically gave us the return of the Walt and Jesse buddy cop show, and we saw that Jesse’s actually getting to be a pretty useful part of this gang.
Episode two gave us our very first Mike centric-episode, and we saw more clearly that he’s just as much of a badass as we always suspected.
Episode three brought us back to The Cook, with bug-bombed houses replacing RVs, and it also introduced us to the heavy hand of presumptive foreshadowing that the TV shows we watch can say about us. Walt and Jesse watch The Three Stooges after finishing their cook, Walt and his kids watch the climax of Scarface, and we... watch them watching that. Hm. Maybe Vince Gilligan and crew weren’t giving us as much foreshadowing as we thought. Maybe they were commenting on our own TV watching habits.
So here we are in episode four, wherein Walter White celebrates his fifty-first birthday by revealing his inner Heisenberg to his wife Skyler. More than anything else, this really felt like our first “Walt and his Family” episode of the season, and I had to watch it a few times before I was able to really determine what I felt about everything that happened here. I know I’m not supposed to, but in the war of the roses between Walt and Skyler, I think I’m siding with Walt.
At least for this one moment in time.
Here’s the thing: Walt is definitely delusional. But after everything he’s been through, his delusions make a certain amount of sense. In one year he’s learned that he’s one of the best producers of one of the most sought after products in the world (not meth, maybe, but drugs for sure). He got pulled into the underworld and after a few scares he managed to eliminate his main threat, a man who himself managed to survive a feud with a cartel. Yeah, he killed a couple of people, but those people were “bad guys,” so it’s all good, right?
After that many victories, and that much struggle to get there, it totally makes sense that he thinks he’s earned the right to lease a couple of fancy cars. Especially with those new lease rates that make it so affordable!
But Skyler can’t get past the fact that drugs = bad. That’s such a limited, Reagan-era view of things! And really it’s when Walt jokingly says that he’s going to teach Junior how to do doughnuts in his new car that she decides that the house is a dangerous environment. Maybe they should consider boarding school? Walt is right, that is a terrible plan. Walter Jr. would be pissed!
Well, theoretically he would, because theoretically he has friends or something, even though we pretty much never see them and for some reason Walter Jr. still loves hanging out with his dad and his DEA agent uncle.
But throughout that initial argument, Walt is still basically happy with his life, and so that delusion allows him to speak honestly when he’s asking Skyler about what isn’t safe about their environment. Skyler, meanwhile, just stays silent. Planning. Thinking about how she can get what she thinks she needs. And then right before the commercial break it cuts to an exterior shot of their bedroom window and the pool in the foreground...
Then it’s Walt’s birthday, and he thinks he should be able to celebrate, but Skyler just isn’t having ANY of it. The schemer who was able to get what she needed out of Ted and the car wash owner is gone, and she just can’t fake it anymore. At least she saves her little pool stunt for after Junior leaves the table, but it’s still a bad plan. She gets the kids out of the house, but as Walt says, it’s only for a sleepover. And the only reason she gets the kids out of the house is that Walt immediately sees through the plan when Marie discusses it, and he decides to give Skyler what she wants.
The next conversation in the bedroom is one of the best scenes of television ever, and it’s also one of the first times we’ve seen Skyler and Walt both attempting to communicate honestly in years. They don’t come right out and say it, but we can see that the root conflict is that Walt believes the problem was Gus, and Skyler thinks the problem is meth.
If she had tried pushing through to the Walter she used to know, I think she could have gotten him to come around. Instead, she throws out, “I thought you were the danger,” using Walt’s own words against him, and OH SHIT was that the wrong thing to say!
Walt still tries to push through, saying a variation of “But they’re SAFE!” over and over again, but Skyler just won’t have it.
“I said NO,” Skyler yells. “I swear to God, I won’t have them back here.” And then Walt goes full Heisenberg on her, and it’s fucking brilliant.
So is Walter still the bad guy? Yes.
Is Walter a shitty husband? Yup.
Is Walter a delusional asshole who can’t see what he’s become? Mm-hmm.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe up until that moment he was actually right about their safety. With Gus dead and a new alliance with Mike and Jesse forming, maybe his family really would be fine. But then Skyler just kept rubbing and rubbing at the evil genie’s lamp and forces Heisenberg out. Maybe Skyler is more to blame for whatever is coming next than she’d like to think.
At the end of this episode, she’s left just blowing smoke, while Walt watches time pass and the seconds tick ever forward to what we all believe is the inevitable tragic ending.
The new Rolling Stone with Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul on the cover drops one little piece of information near the end of the cover story. When Cranston was preparing for the season opening flash forward, he asked Gilligan why Walt was going back to Albuquerque. “To save someone,” is what he was told. That could be utter bullshit, but I wouldn’t mind if it’s true. We’ve been waiting for this Mr. Chips to Scarface story for so long that I’d really like to have another angle dart in and grab us right at the end. He’s already Scarface, isn’t he? So maybe the rest of this season can have him get back to a small amount of light. After all, a lot can happen in a year...
So I hope that’s true. I hope he’s going back to save somebody, and I hope it isn’t just himself. I just don’t know if I’d rather watch him save Skyler, Walt Jr., Jesse or Saul...
What would happen if Walter White had married Nancy Botwin?
I’m sure it would be terrible (just like Weeds is these days), but if someone points me to that awful, awful fan fic piece on the Internet, I promise to read it and then hate myself a little bit for having done so.