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Breaking Bad Recap ‘Fifty-One’

By on August 6, 2012
Bryan Cranston, as either Walter White or "Heisenberg" (Image © AMC)

Bryan Cranston, as either Walter White or "Heisenberg" (Image © AMC)

“What’s wrong with their environment?”

If Walt is now the ruler of his own kingdom, there are some things he must consider, and in this episode we watch him struggle with two of those things: the face he presents to the world and the loyalty of his subjects. To the world he must remain meek Walter White—former chemistry teacher, car wash owner, degenerate gambler, cancer survivor. But with each day that passes in the year we’ve watched him (now exactly a year in narrative time, a fact this episode bashes us over the head with numerous times) Walt becomes more and more his own creation: the dangerous, mysterious man they call “Heisenberg.” We’ve seen Walt vacillate between both personas (usually accompanied by the visible shudder of a  transformation from Bryan Cranston), but this episode marks the first time that Walt has played dress-up in front of his family.

While picking up the Aztek from the shop (they found some gunk in the wheel-wells, like when he hit that deer a few months back) the mechanic lets it slip that many people consider the Aztek to be a silly car—but, hey, it’s reliable. Why, it could last another 200,000 miles. But a king can’t have people mocking him as he passes, so Walt sells the Aztek to the stunned mechanic (Umm, didn’t you just hear me, pal? That’s a dumb car), and picks up a shiny, black Chrysler. And then, just for good measure, he trades in Walt Jr.’s Skyler approved PT Cruiser for the same Dodge Challenger that Walt had tried to give his son before (after which Walt ruined the transmission and set the car on fire).

All of this leaves no room in the driveway for Skyler, and increasingly little room for Skyler’s thundering conscience in her own body. She doesn’t posses Walt’s gift for denial, and the weight of the evil creeping towards her family is too much for her to bear. Then, of course, there’s the constant presence of Walt, the real danger (by his own clenched-toothed admission last season). The “one who knocks” has never left, and becomes more comfortably regal with each moment that passes. In this episode, the king demands a birthday party befitting his royal stature. Sure, he only ends up with Hank and Marie (With Hank fresh off another promotion in the DEA that sets off the old panic behind his eyes and visions of of turtles with severed heads glued to them trudging a solemn march across the desert). But still, at least he gets to be the center of attention, re-telling (and thereby re-framing) the story of his diagnosis, his surgery, and the year that was. And then Skyler has to go and spoil the party.

As Walt rambles magnificently about his struggle, Skyler dips her toe in the pool and stares into the vivid blue water. She stops hearing what Walt is saying, and becomes increasingly focused on the wavering light. She is powerless and beyond hope – but what if it could all go away? What if it could all be as peaceful and perfect as that heavenly blue light? No more paralyzed lover in the hospital, no more crooked car wash, no more monster in her bedroom. Skyler walks into the water, as an increasingly panicked family looks on.

Is Skyler really trying to kill herself? Probably not, as both supercop and the moustache twirler understand. When Marie reveals that Skyler has asked her and Hank to take the kids for a few days, Walt realizes her true plan: to keep them safe from what she has deemed an unsuitable environment. Alone in their bedroom, in the single most intense scene of this entire uncomfortably intense series, Walt stalks and paces and leers over her, demanding an explanation. Skyler spills, confessing to her plan to save her children by having them taken away. But Skyler hasn’t thought it through. If she dies or is committed, the kids would just go to Walt. Skyler’s plan has failed, and she knows it, but she has neither Walt’s strategic acumen or his ability to justify every horrible action he takes—and she spits that at him with disgust. She clings to her own guilt as proof of her humanity.

As usual, Walt wins by being active, always in motion, while the others around him fall short because of their passivity. Skyler can’t stop Walt, but there is something beyond even Walt’s control, as she reminds him. Someday, the cancer will be back. Walt blinks at the thought, as if he hasn’t thought of his disease, beyond the his glorified recollections, in a lifetime. He can talk about spending nights on the floor puking his guts out, but it’s been a long time since he’s actually had to deal with any real pain (or any feeling at all).

The next day, Walt presides over a meeting of the partners. The methylene supply is in doubt, as Jesse and Lydia discover a GPS clumsily mounted to the bottom of a barrel. Mike sees through this all too easily: Lydia planted it to make them go elsewhere for their materials, therefore she’s dead. But Jesse, never eager to get more blood on his hands (Jesse’s parade of turtles all have Gale’s head glued onto their shells), begs Mike to spare her. For Mike it’s as simple as keeping a promise, for Walt it’s as simple as keeping the supply coming in (“Nothing stops this train. Nothing.” he snarls as he fingers the fraying brim of his silly/scary Heisenberg hat). Guess who wins?

Before Walt drives home in his new toy, Jesse stops him to thank him for sparing Lydia, and to present him with a birthday gift – a fancy watch that Walt takes to Skyler as proof of his long-term vision. He tells her that the man that gave him the watch pointed a gun at him not that long ago, but he changed his mind about Walt. And he insists that she will as well.

As the episode ends, Walt drifts off to his usual peaceful sleep—but alone this time—as the watch ticks ticks ticks on, moving far from happy 50, away from cold 51, and on to lonely, hunted 52.

Breaking Bad
Season Five, Episode Four
‘Fifty-One’: B+