Nothing stops this train: 'Breaking Bad' #504

Your Breaking Bad update is a day late because I was stuck in traffic near Stamford on Sunday night, thanks to a scary thunderstorm that nearly flooded the Merritt and left trees down along I-95. We were so focused on the road that we forgot all about our date with AMC, which was a blessing -- knowing we were missing our show was the one thing that could have made that traffic jam worse.

Anyway, I watched "Fifty-One" last night, and I'm ready to discuss its chilling grimness. When I linked to this little discussion group at dotCommonweal I asked, half in jest, why no one ever seems to swim in the Whites' pool, and now I want to remark in all seriousness on the bad vibes that surround any and all swimming pools on this show. From that episode where Walt Jr. tried to match his father, shot for shot, and ended up puking into the pool, to the season-two Floating Bear of Foreboding, to season four's showdown at Don Eladio's, only bad things ever seem to happen near the pool. (What am I forgetting?) And now we can add Skyler's watery cry for help.

The scenes between Skyler and Walt were compelling and very satisfying. Finally, Anna Gunn gets to do something besides lie in bed looking stricken or zombie-walk through episodes with a traumatized expression. And finally, someone calls Walt on his self-deceptions. Oh, this time you're going to keep work and home separate? Who are you trying to fool? It left me wondering, is Skyler losing her grip -- or is her grip getting more formidable? All of her increasingly desperate behavior suddenly seems calculated, a strategy to help her out of the hole Walt has dug for them both. "I don't have your magic," she told him -- but we know she does, at least to an extent. Look at how skillfully she built a cover story to tell Hank and Marie (and the rest of the world). And look how she handled the IRS. Up to now, her out-of-character cigarette smoking read as a lack of concern for her own well-being, and her baby's (as well as a strategy for coping with nerves). But by the end of this week's episode, it began to seem as though she was trying to smoke Walt into relapse. Or worse. Wishing him dead out loud was a pretty major step in itself. But could she be considering a more...direct solution to the problem of Walt's continued good health? The ticking watch that closed the episode: a reminder that time could be running out for Walt in more than one way?

Walt, meanwhile, grows ever more unsympathetic, not least because of his darkly comical inability to understand what's going on with Skyler. He claims he has no choice but to continue cooking, because they need the money. But giving away a freshly repaired car for a song and then leasing not one but two expensive ones is not the action of a man who's watching his budget. As Skyler now sees with chilling clarity, there's no reason to think Walt will stop cooking when (and if) he reaches his financial goal. He's now doing it because he likes it. It's no longer about necessity; he's cultivating an image -- as we're reminded every time we see him shave his head. He's not bald because of chemo anymore. He's bald because he likes the way it looks.

Other things to discuss: we saw more of Madrigal and more of Lydia, and Mike regrets his soft spot for young mothers. Jesse's affection for Walt (er, "Mr. White") is both sweet and sad. Did you notice that, while the presence of gifts was implied at Walt's family celebration (there were gift bags on the table), Jesse was the only person we saw actually give Walt a birthday present? Not counting Walt's sports-car birthday present to himself, that is.

And, Hank's promotion. Could be a face-saving maneuver for the feds: they've canned a supervisor who failed to sniff out Gus Fring; now they're promoting the wounded-in-the-line-of-duty cop whom they should've been listening to all along, and it's just one of those bureaucratic ironies that promoting him takes him off the very case that proves his worth. Or, it could be a sign of something more sinister afoot. Does the DEA want to get Hank, with his sharp instincts and focus, off the Fring/Madrigal/Heisenberg case before he has another breakthrough? Remember, we still have good reason to think there's a mole inside the DEA. Mike tipped off Lydia about the visit from the feds -- he knew what the cops were doing before they did it. Who told him? My money is still on Steven "Oh, definitely not Lydia, there's no way she's dirty" Gomez.

Thoughts? Favorite moments? Predictions?

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

Also by this author
March 12 issue, now online

Please email comments to [email protected] and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads

Politics
Religion
Culture
Collections