5
Aug
2012
Breaking Bad: Season 5, Episode 4
Fifty-One
Jordan
What will it take for Walter White to kill his wife? Even now, on its face, that question is absurd. We are not at a place that allows for the contemplation, in a serious way, of the death of Skyler White. Yet tonight, we got the first inkling that Walt may not have any limits whatsoever, and that if his wife chooses to face off with him, he will go to great lengths to put her down. So far this season, there has been a seething tension between Walt and Skyler, as she has been in shock over how far she has gone to protect a man who kills in cold blood, and he has been willfully oblivious as he focuses solely on seizing more and more power.

From the top, "Fifty-One" is an episode about how things have changed over the course of this series, about how the family dynamics in the White household have been altered by Walt's actions over the last twelve months. When Walt bought Junior (or "Pancakes" as I like to call him) a Dodge Challenger a few months back, Skyler made him return it, and he impotently rebelled by doing donuts in a parking lot and setting the car on fire. Now, he buys his son an identical car, gets a similar model for himself, and brazenly discusses his donuts in front of his wife. This is a man who knows he can do whatever he wants, because he knows he won't be stopped. Especially by his wife.

Skyler has only one thing on her mind at this point: getting her children away from her husband for as long as she possibly can. She doesn't have a permanent solution; she barely has a temporary scheme. But she is willing to do whatever it takes to remove her kids from the "environment" in which her husband exercises full dominion. She can't fight Walt, nor can she deny her complicity in his crimes. All she can hope is to remove her children from a toxic environment. Walt is onto this from the beginning, asking Skyler, "what's wrong with their environment?" and wondering, "where should we send our eight month old? The Peace Corps?" But his terrifying smarm and attempts to shut Skyler down by bending the world to his will only increase her determination and push her to do something desperate, laying the seeds of her own mental breakdown as an excuse to get the kids away, even for a few days.

Walt's efforts to exert complete control force Skyler further into herself until she decides to snap, or to fake a mental break to achieve her ends. She apes Walt's birthday requests in a monotone, and is cowed into providing him the tradition of his birthday year spelled out in bacon on his plate (one he will be carrying out himself by his next birthday), though she steals bacon from her son's plate to do so. Not even this bothers Walt, who cavalierly makes a remark about family sacrifice and teamwork before eating the bacon meant for his son. So much for his previous rationale about doing all of this for his family. At this point, its the "man of the house" who gets the bacon, and anyone that questions that gets put down right quick.

Skyler shuts Walter out (because she can't shut him down) the only way she can imagine: by submerging herself in the pool. But moments after she seeks refuge, he's there, grabbing the same arm he caresses against her will each night and dragging her back toward a surface she can't stand and a situation she has no way out of. "What's the plan?" he nearly mocks her when his real self is allowed to come out. And Skyler can only respond, "All I can do is bide my time and wait." "Wait for what? What are you waiting for?" Walter seems genuinely curious, as if he can't believe what's coming. "For the cancer to come back." Skyler would rather Walt be dead than raising her children, because at this point, that is the only way out she can see.

That scene is easily the greatest of this season so far in an episode that tops all previous installments since the show's return a few weeks ago. Walter stalks Skyler around the bedroom like a predator, and while she begins by engaging him in open warfare, it soon becomes rebellion against an unstoppable conqueror, and not long after that has descended into a plea to a higher power to remove her adversary. Skyler can struggle against Walt, but she knows she can't beat a man that will resort to murder. She can only hope for him to be taken off the table by fate.

Hank, meanwhile, is having a good week, taking down one of Lydia's warehouse guys and getting offered a promotion to head up the Albuquerque office, albeit with a heavy implication that he close down the Fring case. We also, finally, were treated to the first interaction between Hank and Walt all season, as if to subtly remind us that Walt has more enemies in his family than he is willing to admit. Hank is a dogged pursuer of the truth, and he will die before he lets "Heisenberg" escape. He just doesn't yet know that his prey sits across the patio table from him.

There's also the matter of Lydia herself, who is clearly more of a hindrance than a help. She seems close to snapping all night, to the point where Mike's decision to kill her seems far wiser than Jesse's compassionate pleas to keep her alive. There's a strange exchange in which Mike admits it was sexism that lead him to let her live, but ultimately, he isn't wrong to view her as someone better off in a ditch than in the employ of this newly forming drug empire.

Let's pause for a moment to recollect what we lost tonight: a Pontiac Aztec that has survived all manner of indignities, and that, the mechanic in the cold open points out, could serve another $200,000 in the employ of its master. This is a car that has served as a symbol of Walter White's quiet impotence, his solid suburban roots, and its a car that Heisenberg refuses to be seen in. As if to underline the point, Walt puts on his black hat before selling the car to his mechanic for $50 and going on his shopping spree. Heisenberg isn't as logical as Walter; he isn't buttoned down or methodical. He's a crime lord, plain and simple, details be damned. This, of course, is what will lead to his downfall. Walt uses his hat as a sign of his power, but that hat has a fray. He uses the watch Jesse grants him as a symbol of his humanity, but that watch ticks ever forward, toward another birthday and where we know that will find Walt.

"Fifty-One" was a stellar episode of Breaking Bad, one that I had hoped we were building towards. This season has given us Heisenberg more than Walter White for the first time, and in this episode, I began to realize the quiet terror and the deep discontent we can expect to be mired in for the foreseeable future. Until, that is, things get worse. And of course, its only a matter of time until all of this goes straight where Walter White now firmly belongs: to Hell.

Grade: A

Notes:

-"Didn't have to replace your windshield this time." RIP Pontiac Aztec. You did so much for Walter White, only to be thrown away so cheaply. Good Night, sweet prince...

-"You're back at it." "Well, yeah. We have to make up that $600,000 we lost." I love the way the show has escalated Walt's brazen manipulation. In two sentences, he blames Skyler for his cooking and makes her feel complicit in his crimes. So much for his "doing this for my family" rationale.

-"I'll take paranoid any day over getting gang raped by prison guards." Yeah. Lydia is prepped to snap.

-"This woman deserves to die as much as any man you've ever met."

-"Nothing stops this train. Nothing."
Tags: Breaking Bad
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