This week on Breaking Bad, it’s Walt’s (Bryan Cranston) 51st birthday and Skyler (Anna Gunn) finally regains her voice during the subdued festivities. She counts her small victories, but what does she have planned next to get her children away from the “dangerous environment” that is now her home?
Let’s take a closer look after the jump…
This week’s episode features familiar images from seasons past, but with different implications this time round. Case in point: the opening sequence as father and son get a nice new pair of cars. On Junior’s (RJ Mitte) last birthday, Skyler berated Walt for buying an extravagant car as it drew additional and unwanted attention to them. This time however, Walt doesn’t give a rat’s ass – selling his beloved Aztec for a measly 50 bones.
Let’s take a moment to talk about the Aztec shall we? I love that car. It’s been old faithful throughout the show and the mechanic’s affection for it echoes mine. I love the way the camera pans over it, giving it the reverence it deserves. Even after ramming over various gangsters, narrowly escaping life or death situations and surviving Walt’s uninhibited rage fits, she still stands – polished up and as good as new with at least another 200,000 clicks in her. The Aztec symbolizes perseverance. And yet it should come as no surprise how quickly she is discarded. All Walt has to do is pick up his Heisenberg hat in the back seat to know that this car is no longer a fitting partner in crime for the kingpin that he’s become. There are more obvious allusions we can read into the Aztec (it is representative of Walt’s former, more reliable and straight – aka boring – self), but for me, its loss is yet another indicator that Walt’s days are numbered. After everything Walt has been through with this car, the manner in which it’s discarded without ceremony clearly foreshadows things to come.
So it’s out with the old and in with the new as Walt gets a shiny black Chrysler as replacement, paired with Jr.’s new Challenger. But there’s a huge difference. The last time the Challenger was parked in the driveway Skyler strongly protested. This time there is no protest and any discussion is shut down with Walt’s simplistic excuse of “I leased them! That works with our story.” All that “new Skyler” can do is clench her jaw and nod. It’s funny how frivolous Walt has become with money – especially when you think back to S1 and what started this journey in the first place. Even as recently as last season’s crawl space laughing fit, Walt was incredibly concerned about his money.
We also get a callback to the birthday bacon. I’ll admit, I’d forgotten that we’d seen it on Walt’s 50th (we’ve seen it much more recently during the flash-forward to Walt’s 52nd birthday that opened this season). One year ago Skyler offered up a zero-fat vegan option, looking to keep her husband around as long as possible. In stark contrast this time round she can’t even be bothered to break it up. The tiny strip that makes up the “one” is a further indication of how she hopes Walt’s days are numbered. Regardless, the visual callback to to 5×01 reminds us that Walt will survive at least one full year so that he can celebrate 52 in a New Mexico Denny’s.
Yet another familiar trope this week is the Whites’ swimming pool. How many significant events have we seen around this little oasis, now? This time round, it serves as the stage for Skyler to finally assert a pushback against Walt. In a masterful scene – one in which Cranston delivers another Emmy-worthy monologue about how far Walt’s come since his last birthday – we are purposefully shown Skyler in the background, powerless to call Walt on his BS. All she can do is slowly descend into the pool, “drowning” out the fraudulent spectacle that her life has become. Again, the plays with colour are equally as telling: Skyler descends but is ethereal with her white top and flowing maxi skirt. Walt dives in dressed in black and he pulls her back to the surface. Interesting colour allusions are at work here, mingling alongside the symbolism of the purifying water.
As Hank (Dean Norris) suggests, it’s clear that this isn’t a suicide attempt. Before Skyler admits to Walt that this is part of a plan to get the kids out of the house, I was inclined to think it was just a reactionary ploy. I didn’t think Skyler had such clear intentions behind it until their bedroom confrontation. But as predicted last week, Skyler continues to want to remove her children from the “environment” that Walt has created and as she recounts potential “next moves,” it’s clear she’ll stop at nothing to get them away from Walt. After the “small victory” of getting the kids to stay with Marie (Betsy Brandt) and Hank for a couple of days, Skyler finally bites back.
How brilliant is the confrontation sequence? It’s a very cathartic scene for me considering the slow buildup of Skyler’s impatience, fear and disgust so far this season. I love the way the actors used the entire bedroom set – Walt continually pushing and chasing Skyler before finally cornering her as he challenges her to reveal her plan; all so that he can one-up her like he’s done with everyone else. This results in an explosive conclusion, but it doesn’t come by way of grandiose action. In fact, it comes via a quiet line, perfectly delivered by Gunn: Skyler is willing to wait for Walt’s cancer to return and rid her family of him. In a word: Ouch. The line is so powerful and so telling; its severity is equal to a gun pressed against Walt’s temple. I still don’t think that Skyler pulling a murder-suicide with her kids is a far-off prediction, but we, in addition to Walt, are finally getting a glimpse into Skyler’s fragile state. And after this (and her final non-responsive smoking scene), it’s clear that her mental state is not simply going to fix itself.
Some other observations:
- Okay, so how much did my heart melt when Jesse (Aaron Paul) gives Walt a
RolexTAG Heuer as a birthday present? As much as I am despising Walt’s actions, and Jesse’s ignorance of his intentions, I can’t help but root for a healthy surrogate father/son relationship between these two. Jesse even provides a receipt. Aww.
- Mike’s (Jonathan Banks) suspicion that Lydia (Laura Fraser) put a GPS on a barrel of methylamine prompts him to question his decision to let her live back in 5×03 ‘Hazard Pay.’ Part of this questioning involves calling himself sexist, which raises some interesting issues: Mike is right when he says she deserves to die just as much as any one else, but is she truly getting a pass because she’s a woman? Hank and Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) are also reluctant to believe that she’s involved in the ‘Frig-Ring’ because she’s a “put together” woman (mismatched shoes only noticed by Hank aside). And why is Jesse so eager to save her? It’s clear that Walt’s vote to keep her alive is motivated solely by money and power, but is Lydia’s sex giving her a get-out-death-free card? Lydia’s insecurities provide some much needed comic relief, but further to that – she’s dangerous to Mike and the rest of the holy-trinity of meth baldies. It’ll be interesting to see what becomes of her. I personally don’t think she’s bright enough to have put the GPS on herself. I mean, the woman can’t even figure out which switch turns off the security cameras.
- I love how the showpiece of Walt’s birthday dinner is a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store which Skyler re-heats in the microwave. Again, Skyler’s protest of Walt emerges in the most inventive and subtle of ways.
- Best line of the night is courtesy of Jesse, whose reference to finding methylamine without Lydia is “like, unicorn rare.”
What did you think viewers? What will Skyler’s “next move” be? Do you think Jesse will ever put two and two together? How about Junior? What do you think the “bald-three” will do to Lydia? And if Lydia didn’t plant the GPS, then who did? Let us know what you’re thinking in the comments section below.
Breaking Bad airs 10:00pm EST, Sundays on AMC.