If you had to call this episode of Breaking Bad anything it would be an hour of impending doom. On Walt’s fifty-first birthday, (yeah only a year approximately has passed in the entirety of this series which is hard to believe) the man himself is left to look over where he’s been and what it’s really going to cost him to stay on top. Last week, we saw the charge of his position laid out in stacks of dollar bills, but this week was centered firmly on the emotional and personal cost of resuming the Heisenberg persona.
Things kicked off with Walt and Jr. out getting that poor Aztek repaired after all it’s been through recently at the height of the White V. Fring war. Upon getting the car back into tip-top shape, Walt decides to shed yet another symbol of the man he was only a year ago as he sells it off to the guy who owns the shop for the low low price of fifty bucks—leaving fifty behind as a cash value and the last year of his life before moving onto the new. Before the credits roll both Walt and Walt Jr. have pulled into the driveway with brand-new rides—Jr. in another Mustang and Walt sitting pretty in a slick black Chrysler as the show’s soundtrack switches to bump the bass up and Jr. unknowingly inches closer to the dark side of his family.
It’s easy to see why Skylar starts to form a plan to try to get the kids out of this unsafe environment. First she pitches the idea of boarding school but even she knows it’s a lame idea that won’t get any traction with Walt or with Jr. So what we glimpse in this episode is something of a battle for the souls of the children. In Skyler’s mind she’s already too tarnished by her association and business dealings with Walt and people like Saul. But if she can save her children from feeling as morally bankrupt on the inside then it’s something she’ll have to take. We see the breaking of the bacon so Skyler can represent Walt’s age as she does every birthday. However, in order to finish the ‘51’ on Walt’s plate, Skylar must ‘take’ a piece from Jr.’s plate in order to do it. It’s almost like the show is telling us that Skylar can fight back against Walt but the children will suffer if they’re near (I know that having a smaller piece of bacon is not an instance of actual peril but think metaphorically here as the show likes to do).
On the business end of things Lydia is a nervous wreck as she participates in a conference call at her Madrigal office. Her cell phone buzzes and it’s Mike—DEA agents are on their way right now to you. Hank and Gomez along with a few officers walk into her office and soon they’re down in the warehouse arresting an employee, Ron, who was involved in part of the Fring operation. Afterward, a panicked Lydia calls Mike and proceeds to freak out over the situation until he assures her he’ll just have to bring a new guy to her who can do what Ron did—the transport of those signature bee-stamped methylamine barrels.
Back in New Mexico, it’s Walt’s birthday party dinner with Hank and Marie as the only guests. Not quite the lavish bash I think Walt was somehow hoping his darling wife would throw for the man who beat cancer (and everything else this past year). Everyone eats the whipped potatoes, roast chicken, and chocolate cake that Skylar was all but ordered to make for Walt and sit outside in incredibly awkward unease. Right before they arrived, Marie blabbed about Skyler’s infidelity to Hank and the entire night Skylar has been acting like an extra from The Walking Dead sans zombie makeup. There’s no mention at the dinner about Hank’s promotion offer he just received for all of his good work on the Fring case, but it’s Walt’s special night after all. Walt gives what he believes to be a heartfelt speech about how it’s his family who’ve gotten him through this impossible year (not a decent amount of explosives, a Lily of the Valley plant and an easily influenced partner). Just as Walt hits the climax of the speech, Skylar takes a refreshing dip in the family pool all the way under in freezing cold water. She lingers there for a while nearly as peaceful as we’ve ever seen her until Walt dives and hauls her right back out—she won’t get an easy escape from this.
As much as we’ve all been waiting for the proper showdown to take place between Hank and Walt I think the confrontation that followed Skyler’s trip into the backyard pool was one of the most tense, shocking, and uneasy things this series has ever come up with—and we all know that alone is an achievement on a series with so many scenes like this. Everything is fine enough as Hank openly wonders why Skylar would do that to herself and in front of everyone but then Marie comes in and that’s where things are about to get good and nasty between the Whites later on. She explains to Walt they’ll gladly take Jr. and baby Holly off of their hands for a day or so in order for Walt and Skylar to have some time to themselves—figure things about and reconcile perhaps. One of the best ways to watch this show is to try to do so from Walt’s POV so when you hear Marie mention the kids being taken away from the house again after Skyler’s boarding school mention earlier you know that things are about to take a turn for the worse onscreen.
When Hank and Marie head home it’s now down to just Walt and Skylar to hash out everything that hasn’t been said in the wake of Gus Fring’s death. It was incredible television in that in typical Breaking Bad fashion nothing was off-limits. Both Skylar and Walt circled around one another and while Skylar may be the one who’s cornered that does not mean she doesn’t have her own secret weapon. They bicker at first but soon you can almost hear the sound of Walt changing gears into Heisenberg as he gets very calm and begins tearing apart every single bit of logic in Skyler’s proposed plans. They get into a fierce confrontation of wits and wills as she mentions everything from slitting her wrists open to pretending he beats her in order to keep the kids out of the house. He counters by threatening to have her committed and doped up in some in-patient care facility so she’ll stay out of his way. Just when you think the bell is going to ring and the judges will call the fight she gives Walt the knockout punch, the one thing that’s been below the surface of Walt’s impending reign as drug kingpin—the cancer.
Skylar tells him all she has to do is everything she can to keep the kids safe while she bides her time before the cancer comes back. Comes back…to finish what it started. She wants him dead that’s what that means and though she can’t really find the means or the lack of moral code to do it herself, well she doesn’t have to because there is a time-bomb of disease ticking away in his body. Time is not a gift for Walter White it is a constant reminder that eventually his will run out and it’s the one enemy he can’t beat no matter how clever or crafty he is. He’s speechless at her saying that and it’s burrows into his soul as we see Walt get very closed-off the next day at home and at work with Jesse and Mike.
Jesse isn’t in the episode very much except he’s ‘the guy’ Mike sends to Lydia to transport the precious cargo of methylamine. He meets with Lydia at the warehouse and right when he goes to take the barrel they realize something’s off about it. Later on we find out it was a GPS on the outside of the barrel and when Mike hears this he gets pissed—no more half-measures for her and he regrets giving her that reprieve which Mike claimed was because he was sexist. Now what’s interesting about this scene is the way in which Mike talks to Jesse about offing Lydia. He gives explicit reasoning for not doing it because she’s a woman but there’s a line he speaks which I think is going to resonate with Walt in a big way in upcoming episodes, “this woman deserves to die as much as any man I’ve ever met.” Walt was nearby fingering the brim of his Heisenberg hat and you have to think that statement may have sunk into his mind while he sat there. Skylar disrespects him, she threatens him implicitly and explicitly, and she is now the only threat to everything he’s built. If she no longer loves him then she can no longer be counted in his list of loved ones he supposedly still does this for…so what option does he have left really if he thinks of this with pure cold logic? Not to mention the obvious, she knows far too much and she’s getting beyond the realm of desperate with her latest actions.
The episode ends with Walt back at home going up to Skylar, who is filling the place with carcinogens as she chain-smokes in the living room, to show her the gift he received from Jesse for his birthday—a nice new watch. He tells her how the guy who gave the watch to him was soon convinced with time and reasoning to no longer want to kill him. Following that logic, he believes Skylar will change her mind as well. Knowing what we do at home about how he got to that point with Jesse, it’s clear everyone should be very afraid for Skylar right now. It’s very similar to the situation on The Sopranos with Tony and Carmela—but she got off lucky ultimately and I don’t think as of right now Skylar White will. But she might because the ticking of the clock means that any second something could grow back inside of Walter White, and every fight he’s ever had and every struggle he’s made will be for nothing.
The Color Code
Vince Gilligan is notorious for using colors to symbolize a great deal on Breaking Bad. Each week, this space of the recaps will be used to bring attention to a few and if you have any of your own to add feel free to do so in the comments below.
- Blue was probably the dominant color used on ‘51’ as we saw it pop in a few different scenes. The main one worth mentioning was the pool scene at the birthday party. The color of the water itself sure, but Skyler’s skirt is the one that stood out most. It was almost a subconscious effort her to reach out to Hank by wearing a skirt the color of the infamous blue meth that Heisenberg cooks. Blue meth which is making a comeback so Hank is still going to be on Walt’s trail and maybe he’ll even start to let himself believe the impossible truth about his brother-in-law. There was also a nice use of blue with how the pool water reflected against Skylar or Walt. With Skylar it was something she was facing and embracing no matter how deadly it was to her with the temperate of the water much like she’s facing taking on Walt and everything he’s doing. With Walt it was at his back like something he stood in front of, almost a legacy to leave behind him when he’s finally done (dead more than likely).
- Marie had her trademark purple on, but Walt too wore a purple shirt at the party. Purple can represent delusions of grandeur and when he gave his birthday speech there was no more appropriate color for Walt to wear in the presence of the people he’s lied to or damaged because of his choices.
- Jr.’s Mustang was red and black. Red on this show has come to mean impending death ala the shirt Jesse wore when killing Gale. So when you mix the red with the black (Walt’s main color since his Heisenberg shift and the color of his new car) it could come to mean that Walt’s influence and/or actions will result in Jr.’s death.