Breaking Bad capitalizes on the momentum built up from last week’s cliffhanger, picking up almost directly after the Hank (Dean Norris)/ Walt (Bryan Cranston) garage showdown. How do things shape up now that it’s very clearly Team Hank vs. Team Walt?
Let’s bitch it out.
Now that we’ve got the confrontation out of the way nice and earlier in the premiere episode of the final leg of S5, it’s time to figure out what happens with the other characters now that almost everyone has discovered Walt is Heisenberg. And really, it’s time for our female characters to take the spotlight.
Anna Gunn delivers in every possible scene she’s in as Skyler (or is it Mrs. Heisenberg?) this week, giving the character time to shine. Gunn has sparing dialogue throughout the hour, but the range of emotions she manages to convey in all her scenes is awe-inspiring.
As soon as that garage door closes, Hank beats Walt in the race to reach Skyler, getting her on the phone first. The colour completely drained from her face, she agrees to meet Hank at a local diner, ignoring the frantic calls from Walt as he tries to intervene. I can’t say that I entirely knew Skyler’s motivations in denying Walt’s calls and agreeing to meet Hank without consultation, but I trust that was intentional on the part of the writers. It’s unclear how much Hank had revealed to her over the phone, and like Skyler who doesn’t know what to think or do, we the audience are along for the same ride with her – just as anxious about what will follow.
Skyler’s arc has been almost as interesting as Walt’s – she’s gone through several differing phases in conjunction with her husband, from the saccharine, dutiful wife, to the shrill nag and most recently, the despondent partner. But even through the fear she exhibited throughout last season, I never questioned Skyler’s agency. She’s a smart cookie and I knew that even if on the outside she looked as though she was giving up, the gears where actively whirling inside that head of hers.
Her scene with Hank encapsulates that perfectly. Gunn is truly superb throughout the diner scene. She barely whispers monosyllabic dialogue and her initial anxiety and trepidation is palpable. It doesn’t take long for Skyler to realize that Hank has next to nothing to act on and is almost patronizing her in order to extract what he needs, using language like “It’s in your best interest” and “I’m telling you for your own good”. Skyler’s far too intelligent to buy it, and moves quickly from quivering mute, to very acutely assessing that she has to get the eff out of that diner pronto before implicating herself further.
I also love how the scene shows Hank visually impotent in that diner booth. He increasingly struggles to lean over the table to reach Skyler’s hands when he realizes she isn’t going to blindly do whatever he wants. She asserts her role in the power struggle, first as she leans back on her side of the booth in response, and finally making a scene, shouting “Am I under arrest?!” in order to escape Hank’s line of questioning. In truth, Hank probably does have Skyler’s best interests in mind, but the way the scene plays out, I was rooting for Skyler to assert her own independence rather than let a man dictate her future, even if it is for the best. Although I don’t want to see her completely fall into the Mrs. Heisenberg role, I was satisfied to see her considering what is best for herself and her children, and that doesn’t entail hastily running to the other side once things get rough.
But the best scene of the night has to be the one she shares with Betsy Brandt, as Marie finally wises up to what her sister has been complacent to all this time. It plays out beautifully as Marie tearfully pieces together Skyler’s role in the saga, culminating in her discovery that Skyler could have inadvertently prevented the near-fatal attack on Hank by the Salamanca Cousins. The emotion is so stifling as Marie slowly wells up, as does Skyler, vacantly staring in silence, unable to look Marie in the face. When she finally does and delivers a meek apology, the suffocating tension is finally broken as Marie gives the mother of all bitch-slaps to her deserving sister. Again, the dialogue is sparing but the performances of the two actresses speaks volumes.
The drama continues as Marie tries to rescue her poor little niece Holly from the house of corruption, only to be met with the wrath of Mother Skyler protecting her child. The scene is the perfect counterpoint to the revelation in the bedroom. The subdued tears that we just witnessed is starkly juxtaposed with an intense screaming match between the two women, punctuated when Hank intervenes as little Holly wails at the top of her lungs. It’s an incredibly stressful and uncomfortable scene to witness, knowing that these women truly love each other, yet are at such odds. The cold stare exchanged between the two as Holly is returned to her mother is just heartbreaking, but conveys some powerful emotions. It’s also interesting that even though Walt isn’t in the scene, that his presence is very profoundly felt.
Skyler’s arc continues as she tends to Walt after he returns from his little burial excursion. It’s significant that she ultimately sides with Walt (or at least appears to) while he’s left defenseless on the bathroom floor as she leans over him, again, asserting her dominance in the altered power relationship. Stating with confidence that she thinks it best that they stay silent, it’s clear that Skyler is slowly embracing her role as Mrs. Heisenberg, but I don’t think the writers would send her down such a predictable path. Perhaps I’m reading a tad bit too much in her expression, but I feel as though those wheels are turning in her head, and Skyler’s endgame hasn’t yet been revealed to us.
I do believe that Walt’s plea for her to keep the money is in earnest, and that it pulls on her heartstrings a little, but I don’t think Skyler is going to end up down in a blaze of glory for Walt. There’s something still redeemable in her, and in order for that to manifest, she has to end up betraying Walt in the end. How that will ultimately unfold, I’m unsure, but for now, I’m quite satisfied that Skyler hasn’t ended up in the pile of disappointing female characters that we’ve seen on other complex dramas. She’s still a viable player in this equation and I stick to my prediction that she will be instrumental in Walt’s undoing. All this to say, bravo to Anna Gunn for this episode. It truly was Skyler’s time to shine.
- Although I still maintain that Walt is beyond redemption, his plea to Skyler on the bathroom floor to kill him and keep the money, lest all his deplorable actions be for naught, was surprisingly heartbreaking. Again, I found myself questioning my hatred for the reprehensible Heisenberg. I simultaneously love and hate the fact that I have these moments of sympathy for Walt.
- I alluded to it earlier, but I loved the little driveway face-off between Walt and Hank at the beginning of the episode. It was a wonderful callback to the traditional western, gun-slinging showdown complete with quivering wrists and everything.
- Again, Breaking Bad delivers on the subtle humorous moments, almost always involving Saul (Bob Odenkirk). This time, it comes via the exchange about the “Trip to Belize”, and how Saul’s insistence that “It’s an option that has worked very well for you” is so insulting to Walt.
- The episode ends with the recently detained Jesse (Aaron Paul), after a night playing Santa Claus dolling out the Benjamins, serving as Hank’s only lead for getting solid evidence against Walt. Considering Jesse’s suspicion of Walt’s role in Mike’s death as well as the orchestrated hits on everyone in jail, it’s very likely that Jesse will bend to Hank’s whims. However, I’m stating now how disappointed I would be if Jesse went down such a pedestrian path. Since I’m holding out hope that Skyler can avoid that fate, here’s also hoping that Jesse will be rescued from that as well. I shouldn’t doubt Breaking Bad – it hasn’t disappointed me yet!
- Although I’m generally bored (and annoyed) with how Jesse is ONCE AGAIN moping about his role in the corrupted drug ring, I did find the opening sequence to be a knowing nod to his repetitive and vicious cycle. The shot where he lies expressionless on the creaking playground merry-go-round is a beautiful tableau.
- The scene where Lydia (Laura Fraser) visits the post-Heisenberg operation to AHEM, clean house, is primarily utilitary, but I did find the massacre to be eerily beautiful with the perfectly placed bodies and their clean shots to the head. Her pristine Louboutin red-soles were a nice visual touch.
- Todd (Jesse Plemons) is back! It’s unnerving how polite and likeable he is considering he’s a complete sociopath.
What did you think viewers? Do you think Skyler has an ace up her sleeve or is she just a single step ahead instead of ten? Do you think Hank will convince Jesse to give up Walt? Will Jesse see Hank as his new father figure? How does Walt Jr. factor into all of this? Will Walt remember where he buried his millions? Who will run Lydia’s operation now that she’s decimated her current staff? Sound off in the comments section below.
Breaking Bad airs at 9pm EST, Sundays on AMC.