BREAKING BAD Recap: “Fifty-One”

     August 5, 2012


First of all, you folks were right.  At least, all of you who pointed out that the cold open from the season opener showing Walt’s 52nd birthday was not his upcoming one but rather in a year’s time.  It was just unfathomable to me that merely a year had passed over the course of the last four seasons of the show – something Walt seemed to have trouble believing as well when he gave his “thank goodness for family” speech at his awkward birthday dinner.  One year ago Walt was diagnosed with cancer and got together with Jesse.  One year ago there was no Gus, no Mike, no Jane, no Tio, no baby Holly, no Heisenberg.  The sheer timeline of this show has been astounding; then again, it’s always been a series that was about the race against time.  But the driving factor was always money, and money it remains (even though Walt’s cancer is gone – or is it?).  For more on the worst birthday ever, hit the jump.

breaking-bad-season-5-poster-1To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, “you might be a crap dad if …” your wife tries to drown herself at your birthday party in front of everyone in a desperate attempt to get the kids away from you.  This can also be hashtagged #justsayin.  Last week there were flickers of a more compassionate Walt, the Walt of a year ago, who interacted tenderly with Jesse but then, of course, turned cold again.  His interactions with Skyler though are far more disturbing.  On the one hand I understand why he’s acting like everything is hunky-dory; in Walt’s mind, it is.  He’s eliminated the danger of Gus and business is booming again.  His cancer is in remission (maybe) and he seemingly has agency in his own life, something he hasn’t had for a very long time.  Why not stay up late with the kids watching Scarface and selling the Aztec for $50 so you can lease dueling sports cars?  Life’s a peach!

I know that Skyler is not a favorite character for most, though she did redeem herself last year when she started taking over the money laundering business and proving her resourcefulness.  But consider what Walt has put this woman through in the last year.  Heck, the last week.  She has tried to be supportive and work through the impossible mess that Walt has created in his life, but he continues throwing her curve balls.  Worse, he’s bringing the danger of his job home in a way that could threaten his family, and came very close to doing so several times.  He is a huge cause for many of Hank’s woes, as well as the continued deception the Whites have to engage in towards pretty much everyone.  And then she’s expected to sleep with this guy?

breaking-bad-fifty-one-bryan-cranston-1The Walt of “Fifty-One” is back to being Heisenberg – a cocky, take no shit from nobody attitude.  One of the most interesting things about Breaking Bad though is how it explores the fallout for a man who takes on these traits and this life who was really never meant to, or at the very least, who is someone “like us.”  Yes Breaking Bad is pretty over the top when it comes to plenty of things, and there aren’t many people who could match wits with someone like Walt in real life.  But when a desperate, square dude from the ‘burbs decides to get involved with the drug trade, Breaking Bad creates a world in which that might happen.  It’s dark, ugly, horrifying, and lots of people die in gruesome ways.  That at least feels real.

So you have Walt acting – with varying degrees of success – like a crime boss, but he does so with his own family.  Walt said in “Fifty-One” that he keeps work at work.  Since the start he’s done everything but.  Skyler may want to believe him, but she’s seen more of what Walt claims will never happen than any evidence otherwise.  In Breaking Bad terms, not much time has passed at all since Walt was in the crawlspace giving the creepiest and most desperate shrieks of horror and laughter together that a person can imagine.  Not long afterwards, he is — via some gorilla tactics — responsible for blowing up a nursing home and one of the biggest cartel leaders in the world.  Now he wants a normal birthday party with chocolate cake and chocolate icing.  Oh, and by the way don’t worry about anything, it’s all gravy.

breaking-bad-fifty-one-bryan-cranston-anna-gunnThe fight between Walt and Skyler was one of the most uncomfortable scenes from Breaking Bad to date.  There was something sincere and raw and visceral about it, as Skyler became more histrionic with her ideas and Walt slashed them down one by one with cool logic.  Skyler is terrified of Walt, of herself, of the life that has been created by Walt for them, and with good reason.  She is a woman now whose motivations are uncertain.  For much of the episode I was convinced she wanted to send the kids away so that she could somehow kill Walt.  How far would she really go?

I don’t know if “Fifty-One” is this season’s “Fly,” but it felt a lot like it.  The tension is narrowed down to two characters, their relationship and place, and is explored in depth with sometimes excruciating detail.  I don’t know if we will discover the backstory to Walt’s fifty-second birthday by the end of the season, but we may.  It seems to have cost him his family, and we’re certainly starting to see why.

Grade: B

breaking-bad-fifty-one-bryan-cranstonMusings and Miscellanea:

— How awkward was that bacon scene?

— Great pool scene with Skyler, especially when there was a zoom on the water and it looked just like the blue meth.

— It’s interesting watching Junior and Hank interact – they have such a better and easier repoire than Junior and Walt.

— “You see this watch?  The person who gave me this wanted me dead, too, but he changed his mind and so will you” – Walt to Skyler.

— Ew the nicked scalp scene.  Reminded me, again, of Dexter.

— Interesting that Jesse thought Walt was on his side about Lydia for the same reasons.  Nope, Jesse, it’s not because Walt wanted to minimize death, it’s because he wants to maximize profits.

— Lydia really is a loose canon, though. The mismatched shoes made me laugh, I have always feared leaving the house like that.

— Lydia screaming into the pillow as the conference call went on was another great moment.

— Marie Purple Count: 4 — purple shirt, the gift bag, wrapping paper and the throw in the back of the car.