Written by Thomas Schnauz (Previous Episodes: “One Minute,” “Abiquiu,” “Shotgun,” “Bug,” “End Times,” and “Say My Name”)
Directed by Michelle McLaren (Previous Episodes: “4 Days Out,” “I.F.T.,” “One Minute,” “Abiquiu,” “Thirty-Eight Snub,” “Shotgun,” “Salud,” “Madrigal,” and “Gliding over All”)
One of the elements of Breaking Bad that has always been unusual (perhaps even unique) is its preoccupation with its own future. The show has often been structured as teasing a surprising future and then slowly building up to it from a present that seems to have little in common with it. It gives the show a remarkable amount of tension when we are actually locked into the present tense, as we are usually concerned with connecting present events to the future that we know is coming than as much as we are with following the present. Season five has been even more extreme than usual in this sense, since it began with that teaser in the diner and began its second half (last week’s episode) with another teaser set seemingly just after the diner scene.
This episode, while it certainly still plays under the spectre of those teasers, is far more focused on the present than we have seen lately. It’s exploring the aftermath of the Walt/Hank confrontation and Jesse’s continued depression.
We begin with a beautifully-shot sequence as a man comes out of his lower-class home to discover a number of bundles of money—clearly the money Jesse was throwing out his window—and then wanders into a park where a strange light hits a children’s bar dome and it really looks like the dome is an alien spaceship that has landed. I don’t know if that was just me or if that was an intentional homage to Vince Gilligan’s previous show, The X-Files, but it added to the mysterious, foreboding feeling of the entire sequence. When it turns out that Jesse crashed his car into a swing set (or parked it in front of it, but it appeared to me to be touching the set) in the park and is currently on a merry-go-round, absent-mindedly spinning himself in circles. It’s a great image that makes the sequence tolerable and perhaps tells us that the show knows that it’s currently spinning its wheels with Jesse’s plot and also reminds us that Michelle McLaren is perhaps the most talented regular director the show has.
Then, we watch as Hank and Walt race to Skyler to find evidence. Hank knows he doesn’t have enough to make an arrest and Walt, with an assist from Saul, knows that his money is the only tangible evidence Skyler has. So, Skyler unwittingly keeps Hank busy as Saul and Walt dispose of his money, with Walt burying it quietly in the desert. The sequence is interesting as the wife-turned-accomplice Skyler unwittingly becomes Walt’s accomplice in another way and also gets trapped in a bizarre situation where Hank presents her with a way out of the situation but she is unsure whether it’s a plausible way out and has no idea what she should do. Just a few months ago, she was waiting for Walt’s cancer to come back to kill him and get her out of this, and now she’s unwilling to this way out.
The scene between Hank and Skyler is also just a beautiful scene, watching as Hank attempts to manipulate Skyler into making a statement, the angry cop in him having taken over for the brother-in-law and Skyler’s mental wheels just start spinning so quickly and crazily that she cannot answer. She’s tough enough and smart enough to stand up to Hank’s manipulations and see them for what they are, and Hank is shocked to discover that. However, he also does want to help her out, and the cop manipulation has ruined any possibility of doing that. She leaves the meeting responding to him as though he is just any other officer, not her brother in law, asking repeatedly, “Am I under arrest?”
However, perhaps the most important part of that scene is the revelation that Skyler had not heard about Walt’s cancer. He passes out in the bathroom in front of her later and tells her that it’s true that the cancer is back, asking her, “Does that make you happy?” She responds negatively, and there is just a hint of a smirk on Walt’s face as his prediction back when she wished for the return of his cancer that Skyler would change her mind about him has come true. At this point, Skyler seems to be in Walt’s corner, which of course brings to mind the question of why Walt and Skyler seem to be apart again in the future.
However, other things are in motion on this show. Lydia meets with Declan, the dealer who took over Heisenberg’s operation on his retirement, to try to fix the declining quality, and we finally see a bit of why Mike warned the other guys about Lydia: when Declan refuses to re-hire Todd, whom he fired for apparently no reason after he provided a couple of decent-but-far-short-of-Heisenberg cooks, she has a rival gang bring Todd in and kill him. Lydia is a strange mix of coldheartedness and unwillingness to get her hands dirty, and that’s never been more perfectly depicted than her walking across the desert in high heels surrounded by dead bodies whose murder she ordered with her eyes closed so that she doesn’t see them. I’m increasingly confused by Lydia’s character, and I’m really not sure that she’s anything more than a plot point. Her personality may be whatever the show needs for its plot rather than something cohesive, which would be a shame for a show that has always stayed character focused as well as this show has. I’m willing to give Gilligan & Co. the benefit of the doubt about pretty much anything at this point, but we really need to get more development of her by the end for her to make any sense.
There isn’t much to say about Michelle McLaren—she’s incredible and this is one of the best-looking episodes of television you can ever seen. The opening sequence is something a film could be proud of, let alone a tv show, and everywhere throughout the lighting, camera movement, and use of color is just perfect.
At this point, I feel good about the direction the show is headed—it looks like we’re really building to a false climax with Hank but the wheels are already in motion for Walt’s disappearance and the final confrontation. The first two episodes of this final mini-season are excellent.
It feels like we’re still headed toward the same ending as it felt like last week, though now we have some complicating factors that should make the trip a bit spicier: Jesse being in custody, Todd being brought back into the operation when he had been thrown out as untrustworthy, etc.
- Laura Fraser’s accent has gotten much better as time has gone on. In her early appearances, it was sometimes distracting, but either I’ve just gotten used to it or it has improved.
- Marie slapping Skyler and trying to take the baby was actually a surprise to me.
- Skyler has essentially taken Walt’s side against Hank now. Will that turn the tide of the virulent anti-Skyler crowd online? I actually have lost some respect for her throughout season five, as she has joined in with Walt far too easily, and that continues to this point.
- Anna Gunn and Dean Norris, probably the two actors who’ve receive the least attention in the show’s amazing cast, were amazing in this episode. The diner scene (This show has a lot of those!) was just a beautiful piece of acting that almost reminded me of the argument between Orson Welles and George Coulouris in Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, USA 1941)—a scene that will always be a gold-standard scene for confrontational acting for me.
- There’s still a weird cloud around Todd as a character. He seems to be a psychopath (I mean that in the clinical sense.), but is that why everyone treats him differently? It doesn’t exactly seem to be a characteristic too terribly out of the norm in Breaking Bad’s meth world.
- Lydia is clearly going to be the final villain at the end, so there should be plenty of opportunity to establish her character further. I just hope they don’t get so wrapped up in plot that they forget to do it.