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Breaking Bad #510: "Buried" (Updated)

Your breathless Breaking Bad commentary will be a bit delayed this week. (It turns out two-month-olds are just not that into prestige television.) But I am putting this post up now so that you all can weigh in with your own impressions of last night's episode. I'll be back with my own thoughts soon.

In the meanwhile, may I also second Celia Wren's endorsement of the BBC America mystery series Broadchurch. We're hooked after the first two episodes, and it's breaking up the long weeks between Breaking Bad instalments nicely, as we swing eagerly from one midweek cliffhanger to the next.

UPDATE (8/20): Thanks, all, for your patience and your comments -- and if you haven't read Grant's thorough recap in the comments below, go ahead and do that now. My thoughts after the jump:

"Buried" was a lower-key episode than what preceded it (and what's likely to follow), dedicated mainly to the necessary revelations and confrontations that follow from Hank's discovery. But the Lydia sequence, at Duncan's Declan's desert lab, still packed a major punch -- Walt's criminal activity is still causing death and destruction, regardless of his attempt to wash his hands of the consequences. In fact, you could say that this particular burst of death and destruction is a direct result of his attempt to wash his hands of what he created. Lydia tried going to him first. Even Duncan Declan said as much before he got mown down. Walt won't cooperate; now Lydia solves things her way. (More on that later.)

Although the series has always been about Walt's journey, this episode gave us a grim look at the parallel journeys of Skyler, Hank, and Marie. (We already know what it's done to Jesse, who mostly sat this episode out.) Like Grant, I was struck by the tenderness of the scene with Walt and Skyler in the bathroom. It's been so long since we've seen them interact that way. But it wasn't exactly pleasing. It's coming too late. When Skyler said she couldn't remember the last time she was happy, she was being unusually honest with Walt and with herself. But she is past the point where much good can come from it. There aren't any prospects for happiness in her future, either. She has finally committed to complicity in Walt's crimes, in order to share his ill-gotten gains. After having threatened again and again to go to the police and break up the family in order to save the kids, Skyler now has the chance to do just that, with Walt powerless to hurt her any further -- and instead she decides to join him in thinking they can get away with it. I could feel doomsday closing in.

I've never found Betsy Brandt, as Marie, to be as "funny" as she's meant to be (I think that's the point of Marie), so it was nice to have her making an appearance with no comic undertones at all. She looked drawn and grim and betrayed. For maybe the first time I really believed that she and Skyler are sisters, because she could read Skyler so well in that bedroom interrogation scene. And Skyler deserved to be hit just as much as Marie deserved last season's epic "Shut up shut up shut up!" The struggle over the baby didn't work for me, though, because I was so distracted by how bad it looked. In some shots the kid was obviously a doll; even when it was a real baby, the screaming was clearly overdubbed. And that ridiculous parka and hat -- no one else was even wearing a coat! I get why Holly always has a hat on. I know they're probably using like five different kids on that set. But it makes me think about how this is a television show, and nothing else ever does that. One thing I did like about Holly's appearance was the way her playyard gate looked so out-of-place cheery against the rest of the scene (and the episode, for that matter). The lighting in some scenes was so dark it looked like late-season Law & Order: SVU. And Skyler is still wearing very muted colors. Then there's the baby, "safe" in her bright primary-color plastic gate, looking completely "wrong" -- as well it ought to. Marie is right. Holly shouldn't be in that house. (Note too that we didn't even see Walt Jr. in this episode.)

As for Hank, Grant said that he "knows better" than to follow Marie's counsel and take his suspicions to the DEA. But I think Marie is right about that too. It's pride that makes Hank want to be the one to bring down Heisenberg single-handed. He knows his career is over regardless -- he said so to Marie. Once Heisenberg's identity is known, Hank's getting demoted to crossing guard no matter what. And Marie is right that it will be much worse for Hank if the DEA catches on to Walt before Hank tells them what he knows. Then he'd be obstructing justice. If he comes clean now, he looks like a fool, but a credible fool -- why would he lie about something that reflects so badly on him? The DEA would have to take him seriously, and he'd be better off with their help bringing Walt to justice. The only part of his excuse for keeping it to himself that makes sense is his concern about being unable to "help Skyler" -- but she has taken that out of his hands. She doesn't want help. She's going down with the ship. So Hank is holding out for his own ego, and forcing this into a showdown.

Hank's stubbornness is especially fateful because we know, as George D. pointed out below, that Walt is still not willing to consider killing Hank. (I found that suprising, honestly. Who knew there were still lines Walt wouldn't cross? But I suppose destroying his family would also destroy his plans to live out his days in peace and leave richer-but-not-wiser kids behind.)

What wonderful/horrible characters Lydia and Todd are. Both a bundle of fascinating contradictions -- he with his humility and his good manners (he called Lydia "ma'am"), and his contract-killer connections; and she with her power heels and her delicate sensibilities, and her cold-blooded willingness to resort to murder as a business strategy. She's like Walt -- she thinks she can keep her hands clean, just be the brains and let someone else take care of the dirty work. And like Walt, she's recklessly concerned about money and image -- so much so she wears her Louboutins (with their iconic blood-red soles) to a meth lab/bloody crime scene.

I loved the lottery-ticket detail. And I am full-on dreading next week's episode. Keep the comments coming in the meantime.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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Sky, Marie, and Lydia were in charge of this episode, and all to the better. So much to love about last night's show. (Spoilers follow.) Hank getting hold of Skylar on the phone before Walt thinks to call her (Walt really is slipping). Hank's transparently desperate attempt to get Sky to spill everything into a digital recorder at a diner, and her immediate realization that such a move is a huge tell--Hank doesn't have enough to arrest, let alone convict Walt. Anna Gunn has always been superb as Skylar, but her performance is so strong that the audience is, for a time, just as confused about her intentions as Hank is. We don't know whom Sky has sided with until she lovingly tends to Walt after he collapses in the bathroom. And what a scene. When was the last time they shared a tender moment? Even Walt seems confused: When Skylar reveals that she knows his cancer is back, he asks her a heartbreaking question, "Are you glad?" And she's not. She's gone from loving the man she married to fearing, possibly hating the man he'd become, back to loving him again, or at least refusing to give him up. He tells her he'll turn himself in if she promises to keep the cash and care for herself and the kids, so that all his work "won't have been for nothing." But she knows there's no way Walt can confess without giving up the money (which he's buried in the desert where he and Jesse used to cook--and in the same barrells he's used to dissolve his victims). And she tells him she doesn't think confessing will be necessary, because it sounds like Hank has little to go on.

And Marie: Skylar doesn't even answer any of her questions--when did Sky know Walt was a meth cook? But she doesn't have to. Marie keeps pressing her to disclose the timing of her realization. Sky's tears are her answer. Marie is so distraught that she tries to leave the White house with the baby, which she discovers is slightly more difficult to steal than a diamond-encrusted infant-sized tiara. Skylar blocks the door, and Hank has to intervene--a hollow look of resignation as he tries to comprehend who his sister-in-law has become. Marie pushes Hank to march into his office and share what he knows about Walt, but Hank knows better: he shares his suspicion now, without solid evidence, without already being the one who got Heisenberg, and his career is over. The DEA agent who coudln't even smell the stink of meth on his own brother-in-law.

And Lydia: Last episode she was begging Walt to come back for one more cook--the chef who took over couldn't come close to the purity of Heisenberg's glass. But he refused. So she orchestrates a bloody coup, bringing in Todd (of bicycle-riding kid-killing fame) and his uncle's team of thugs to mow down the cook and his managers. Todd will take over the cook, having worked with Walt after Jesse quit. Lydia is a reluctant drug lord. She doesn't want to hear the gunfire, so she covers her ears as it pops outside the lab. She doesn't want to see her murder victims, so she covers her eyes as she leaves. But she is a killer. The creators make sure we see the soles of her shoes as she descends into the lab: red. She stands on blood.

Breaking Bad episodes usually end with a gut punch--a dramatic event leaving you needing to know right now what comes next. This one offered a modified punch. More of a slow press, as Hank convinces the cops who picked up Jesse after his Robin Hood stunt to give him a few minutes with the artist formerly known as Cap'n Cook. Jesse was a zombie in the last episode. A walking, barely talking shell of his former self, carved out by Walter White. But last night he neither walked nor talked--he had no lines at all. We just saw his hundred-yard stare. I suspect Hank will find a way to interrupt that dead gaze. Jesse has nothing left to lose. And there are only six more episodes to ricin, giant machine gun, and Walt with a full head of hair. 

Missed what sounds like a six-hour extravaganza. Watching "Stepbrothers"! quite a cliff hanger.

While I've never tuned in "Breaking Bad", I agree about Broadchurch.  David Tennant deserves a wider audience in the US than BBC America and PBS.

Another fine episode. Sorry guys but I just can't get on the hate Walt wagon. He was prepared to turn himself in but Skylar came through. One thing about Walt, he knows how to pick his circle of intimates. Skylar and Jesse might be wounded but at the end of the day they are a fault maybe but loyal.

And Walt shows his character, let's not forget that he did not even consider sending Hank to "Belize" pace Saul's reccommendation. Loved how he recorded the coordinates for the money using a lotto ticket to disguise the numbers.

But even though I can't see Jesse flipping, he has got to pull it together. He has always had a self destructive side....Interesting, how both he and Skylar share similar kinds of flaws and weakness and express them similarly - harming themselves but not others. And, as I mentioned above, they do love Walt irrespective of his demons.

Lydia, I cannot stomach. As I said last week, Mike called it on her last season.

Talk about people's "demons" is often a euphemism for "criminal habits and choices".

I just updated this post, but I forgot to mention, re: Hank, that it seemed like he was about to do what I would say is the smart thing - bring his discovery to the DEA - when Gomez told him about Jesse Pinkman's Johnny Appleseed act with the drug money. He requested a conference call with the higher-ups, which I presume was his chance to come clean. But hearing that Jesse was in custody convinced him to take another run at bringing Heisenberg down by himself. (Is there another way to read it?) In the end, the point remains: Hank is more interested in being the one who brings Walt to justice than he is in seeing Walt brought to justice for its own sake.

I caught a replay of the episode last night--I was falling asleep on Sunday when it first aired--and think you make a good point, Mollie, about Hank's motive. Some critics have speculated that Hank is the hero of the series, but I don't think Breaking Bad gets to have any heroes. Or rather, I don't think the show wants its audience to perceive unalloyed heroism in its main characters. That said, I do think Hank is in a tough spot. He really doesn't have much to go on. His superiors have been after him to close the case ever since he became ASAC. And he is in shock. Remember, in the show's timeframe, Hank is--what?--twenty-four hours out from the big realization? Forty-eight? (They've been playing with time this season--writers keep trying to bring the audience along by having characters mention its passage, but I'm getting a bit lost.) My hunch is that Jesse will flip, Hank will bring him in, and that will be the catalyst for Walt's demise. But maybe that's too easy, and the show never likes to do things the easy way (except for poisoning Brock).

Edit: We still haven't found out whether the DEA has a leaker, and I still wouldn't be surprised to learn it was Gomez.

Thank you to my brother for pointing out that I have been calling Lydia's late drug-running partner Duncan, when in fact his name is Declan. (I should have stuck with my at-home usage of "The Guy Walt Said 'Say My Name' To.")

I am still holding out hope for a Gomez-is-a-rat revelation. It's not too late, right? Although at this point, who is he leaking to?

My dear husband noted that if Hank were really hoping to save his career, he would be considering sweeping his discovery under the rug. His superiors have been pressuring him to drop it, after all. They don't want to hear more about Heisenberg. So his intentions are pure enough that he hasn't thought to go that route.

At least a couple days passed between the birthday dinner at the Whites' and Walt's noticing that the book was missing. I remember Marie commenting that Hank had been out of work (claiming to be sick) "all week," or words to that effect. But that's not a lot of time to figure out a game plan.

Thinking more about Skyler, it struck me when she was first contacted by Hank that she really doesn't know the extent of Walt's misdeeds. And he said something like that to her -- Maybe you don't know about everything he did, all the lives he destroyed? I thought she was about to find out and that would turn her against Walt. But instead she made a decision to stand by Walt AND a decision NOT to know the extent of what she's defending. She's finally embracing his decision to keep her in the dark all this time.

I guess it all hinges on Jesse, now: will his loyalty to Walt (and his hatred of Hank) keep him quiet?

That scene on the couch from last week's episode strongly suggests that Jesse is done with Walt. He knows Walt killed Mike's guys in prison. He even said that it wouldn't be very Walt to allow Mike to ride off into the sunset. Walt doesn't like loose ends. But then Walt told Jesse that he really needed him to believe that he didn't kill Mike. Jesse heard the threat, and told Walt what he wanted to hear--right before he went lobbing millions into the front yards of the poor, screaming all the way. In Sunday's episode, an early riser follows the bundles of cash to find Jesse's car crashed, with him flat on his back riding a merry-go-round. He's spinning. Where he'll stop nobody knows. Including himself. Or whatever's left.

My money is on Jesse not breaking, not harming Walt. It is just incongruent with his character. He just wants out but Walt predicted, rightly, what would happen to him. Walt told him that he would bet bored and back on drugs again - and he was. Not only completely spaced out but listening to his friends ramble on about Star Trek - my how far he has fallen since his days with Gus and cooking at the lab.

Walt gave him purpose and direction.

When I reflect on the writing and character development, I am reminded of something Tolstoy once said. His characters, as he was writing, literally took on a life of their own and had to follow their own internal logic. In fact, he was asked why he threw Anna into the train in Anna Karenina. Tolstoy replied that he did not throw her into the train, she threw herself there.

A good writer cannot make contrived endings to satisfy some kind of moralistic or thematic plot line. The characters need to follow and stay true to who they are.

So it is or should be with Breaking Bad. Walt should not be "punished" just because he has done bad things. Plenty of people in life do bad things and they are never "punished". Justice is a bit illusory. We like to see it portrayed but life is not neat as neat and tidy as that.

George, are you forgetting that Jesse almost put a bullet in Walt's brain because he thought he'd poisoned Brock? Jesse never could stand the killing, even as he killed Gale. He knows Walt is a monster, and wants nothing more to do with him. 


How do define Walt and Jesse's relatiponship? Well, as the social media nomenclature goes "it's complicated".

How have Jesse's choices, when he does make them, been working out for him? Is he that unself aware? Is he going to blame it all on Walt?

He was used by Gus and Walt was astute enough to see that. Walt eventually gave him his money. Remember what happened? Jesse came back and Walt replied, "You are out - remember?"

Ditto for Skylar.

And yet, they make choices to remain loyal to Walt, connected. Are they victims? Walt has this magical power to bend people's will?

I am not saying that Walt is a good person or blameless. He certainly has his accountability. But unlike with Mike, Walt does care for Jesse.

As an aside, did you all know that the original plan was to kill Jesse off in the first season. They didn't as his character just evolved.
 idea how that happenedhappened

OK, OK, I'll answer! 

I don't have a ready definition for their relationship, other than hugely dysfunctional. Jesse needed a father figure. For a time, Walt provided that. But then Gus moved in. And, if you recall, he had begun to turn Jesse against Walt--right up until Walt managed to persuade Jesse that Gus was responsible for poisoning Brock. Then Mike sort of took over. But now Jesse knows that Walt killed Mike. And Gus. And Mike's guys. And he's probably wondering whether Walt poisoned Brock too. Why else would Walt try to convince him to drop Andrea. Jesse is not the same man he was in Season One. He realizes that he never should have gotten involved with Walter White, because he's destroyed everything Jesse loved. He isn't Sky. She has a family to worry about. What does Jesse have? And how do people behave when they have nothing to lose?

I deleted those duplicate posts. It's happening a lot; I don't know why! But thanks for commenting, once or six times, George. :-)

Walt has made sure Jesse has nothing in his life besides cooking meth worth caring about. He did it -- letting Jane die, driving away Andrea, and otherwise manipulating Jesse at every turn -- to save his own skin. It would be ironic if Walt's success at leaving Jesse with nothing ended up leading directly to Walt's downfall. Walt, and Skyler, are managing to lie to themselves about their guilt, or at least about what they deserve. Jesse doesn't have any motivation to do that; all he has is a tortured conscience, and nothing to distract him from it.

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