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.

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

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