This was one of my favorite episodes this season. It was one of those slower episodes where the emotional drama takes center stage and things bubble to the surface. Really excellent writing, with lots of little details to dig into.
I don’t know if anyone else felt this, but I had a sense of the end being near. Of course there’s that ticking watch at the end, but more than that, I got this feeling when Skyler was looking at the pool. When all you see is the bright blue water taking up the whole screen, and that eerie music plays, it just felt ominous. It felt like, if I didn’t already know this was the last season, it would’ve been clear in that moment. I just really felt that this story and normal life for these people can’t last much longer.
This was a very blue episode, with the pool, Skyler’s dress and the watch at the end. From the beginning, blue was Skyler’s color (look at just about anything she wears in Season 1) and in this episode, we got to see a lot more dimensions of Skyler, and of the relationship between her and Walt.
But let’s start at the beginning of the episode. Junior gets his car back and Walt gets himself a new ride as well. First, it looks like Walt’s just there to pick up his trusty old Aztec after repairs from his accident at the end of Season 4. It’s a reminder that Walt purposely got himself and (already injured) Hank into an accident. I loved that the mechanic mentioned Walt’s frequently broken windshield and the “deer” Walt hit awhile back, which of course wasn’t a deer but the hit and run Walt did on the guys who killed Tomas and were likely going to kill Jesse in “Half-Measure.” Once Walt sees his Heisenberg hat, he realizes he needs a new car for his new identity and he and Junior get to have some fun with that.
Lydia wearing mismatched shoes was just great. I really like her neurotic nervous time-bomb character. I’d be curious to know how she ever got involved in Gus’s operation because she is one very loose cannon. She led the DEA to that Ron guy without hesitation, then ran back to her office, threw off the shoe and screamed into a pillow before calling Mike back. She is cracking up. The mismatched shoes gave away to the audience and to Hank how stressed out she was.
The floss tightly wound around Skyler’s finger in the bathroom scene shows how stressed she is. Then Walt gives her the leftover money from his first cook and she asks, “You’re at it again?” He gets in a dig about her and Ted and says they have to make up the money she gave to him for his IRS troubles.
For a long time now, a lot of people (myself included) have been saying that Walt’s drug dealing and life of crime is like his meth and this became crystal clear in this moment, because this conversation between them was just like a conversation with an addict. She thought he’d stopped but he’s at it again, with some reason, some justification, some excuse.
Walt could’ve quit. They have a successful carwash business now; he doesn’t need the money the way he did in Season 1 when he was teaching high school chemistry and only had a few grand in savings (that he used to buy the RV) and riddled with medical bills. He also could’ve (and almost did) quit in early Season 3 until Gus used Jesse as a pawn and appealed to Walt’s pride to get him cooking again. But this season, it didn’t take any orchestration on someone else’s part. Walt decided to get cooking and dragged everyone else back into it. He may not be smoking the crystal but he’s just as addicted.
When Skyler asks about boarding school, that was a turning point for her. That’s when we start to really see that the wheels are turning in her mind and she’s trying to make plans. It makes sense that it would happen now. She’s been dealing with a lot and doing it completely alone. She can’t confide in anyone. She exploded a bit last week at Marie and I think that cleared just a little bit of the stress out of her system so that now she can start plotting what to do next. We know right away that the boarding school suggestion is a way to get the kids away from Walt, and he does too but doesn’t care. He asks for chocolate cake with chocolate icing for his birthday.
I love the conversation between Hank and Marie on their way to Walt’s birthday party. It’s just great how Marie half-heartedly tries to keep Walt’s secret about Skyler’s affair and then ends up spilling the beans. It’s also great, later in the episode, when she tries to pretend in front of Walt that she hasn’t told Hank. It was just so realistic, really great dialogue. It’s interesting that Hank really thought Walt was having an affair, he still thought that was the reason for the second cell phone. Now that he knows it was Skyler, not Walt, will he start to question the real reason for Walt’s extra phone? Will he start to put the pieces together? How involved is he going to be in the Heisenberg case now that he’s being promoted to Merkert’s old position?
I’ve been thinking a lot about Marie and Skyler. I read somewhere (can’t remember where, I read way too many articles and interviews) where someone, maybe Vince Gilligan, maybe Anna Gunn, said that they imagine that these two sisters didn’t have an easy childhood. They have each other, but there’s never any mention of their parents or anyone in their family. That feels right to me about the way they both act. Marie, I imagine, was the one who tried to keep the peace, tried to keep everyone cheerful and upbeat. She overdoes that anytime things are slightly wrong, even in that car ride when Hank says he thought she’d be more excited for his promotion. You just get the feeling that is her coping mechanism (along with shoplifting of course) and that she was probably the one who tried to be the picture of happiness and normalcy. Skyler, on the other hand, might have liked a lot of order. You can see that in her accounting abilities, the way she scripted the gambling story but there’s also something rebellious about her. I could see her as the one who maybe stood up to their parents and got in arguments, that sort of thing. I definitely had the feeling in this episode that this wasn’t the first time she’d had to scramble to think her way out of some impossible situation.
We got to see Skyler arrange Walt’s bacon into the number 51 at Junior’s insistence. Walt says it’s a tradition. It again leaves us to wonder what the significance is of Walt doing that with his own bacon in a Denny’s for his 52nd birthday. Where will Walt be in a year? So much has happened in this first one already. How is he going to end up without a wedding ring, doing Skyler’s tradition, assuming her maiden name as his fake name. I still think she may be dead by that point, or at least completely separated from Walt. Here’s a question: do you think that if Walt could go back a year to his 50th birthday, would he make different choices or do it all the same?
At his party, Walt starts talking about all the things that have happened in the last year, and it really makes you realize how much drama and malevolence he’s caused all the people around him, especially when he mentions Hank getting shot. That sense that this past year has been chock full of Walt causing harm to the people around him seemed to permeate this whole episode. The past was very present throughout. And then he starts going in this direction of reminiscing about his early days of chemo and how Skyler was there for him. Is he trying to reconnect with her? Is he trying to remind her they were once there for each other, that she once really loved and cared for him? Or is he trying to tell this story to get things back to being good between them almost through force of will?
Even before she gets up, Skyler is sitting a little separately, like she can’t stand to be near Walt. When she gets up and stares at the pool, it’s so haunting. Walt just on about how she was wiping his forehead and coaxing him to keep going through his chemo. When she gets into the pool and goes under the water, you think maybe she really is trying to kill herself. Even though I questioned whether Skyler might end up committing suicide in my post on last week’s episode, I don’t think that’s what she was doing. Like Hank points out, it’s a pool and they’re all there watching. But more than that, Skyler has come up with a manipulation that rivals some of Walt’s. She pretends to be suicidal so that she can convince Marie that she’s really not doing okay at all (and since it comes on the heels of last week’s “shut up!” incident, it makes it that much more plausible), that she and Walt need “space” and then asks Marie and Hank to take the kids for awhile. Like many of Walt’s plans, it works for the moment.
And I just have to say, the whole sequence was beautiful. All those different shades of blue. Skyler looks almost angelic in a weird way.
When Walt talks with Hank and Marie, and Hank mentions that Skyler should talk to someone, I think that would be Walt’s worst nightmare. There’s no way he’s calling Dave (as always, loved that they brought that back, I’d forgotten all about Marie’s shrink, don’t think he’s been mentioned since early Season 2) and setting up an appointment for Skyler. And he quickly figures out what Skyler’s up to, leading to one of the most intense scenes this season.
When he calls her out and they argue about the kids, Skyler keeps moving away from Walt and he keeps cornering her, physically and verbally. When the show started out, you really believed that Walt loved Skyler, even as some people in the audience didn’t (I’ve never had a problem with her, just put yourself in her shoes for a minute and it’s not hard to see where she’s coming from, even if you root for Walt) and for awhile that was still true. He almost didn’t go back to cooking in Season 3 because as he said he was doing this for his family and he had lost them, so what was the point. He spent a lot of time trying to get back in her good graces, to patch things up. And in Season 4 when he leaves on his (somewhat haphazard) attempt to rescue Jesse, knowing he might get himself killed, he asks Saul to make sure Skyler will get everything in case anything happens to him and he leaves her that phone message telling her he loves her. But this season, he has really been awful to her, disregarded her, enjoyed tormenting and terrifying her, and in this scene between them, all of that became really clear. He threatens her with commitment to a mental hospital against her will, tears down every plan she can come up with and just keeps cornering her.
Until that final moment when she says all she can do is count the seconds the kids are away from him as victories, and wait. When I first watched the episode and Walt asks her, “Wait for what? What are you waiting for?” I said out loud, “for the cancer to come back,” because I just knew that’s what she meant but still it was arresting to hear Skyler actually say that out loud a few seconds later. I think she’s past the point of caring that much about herself, because she just told a murderer that she’s waiting for him to die, and is really just focused on the kids at this point. I also think this may be the first and only thing so far this season to rattle Walt a little. He looks like he got slapped. I could be wrong about this but that’s how I interpreted the scene where he cuts himself while shaving his head–he’s rattled, thrown off his game, a little unsteady from realizing that his wife (who I think on some level Walt still believes that he loves, as much as he is capable of loving anyone) is just waiting for his cancer to return. Also, notice his unusual silence in the scene with Mike and Jesse towards the end.
Just a few more things I want to quickly say about the scene between Walt and Skyler in their bedroom. I love that she finally called him out, “I don’t need to hear any of your bullshit rationales.” I’ve been waiting so long for someone to call Walt out on his “I’m doing this all for family” crap for awhile now so that was very satisfying. Also, I loved when she said to him, “I thought you were the danger,” when he tells her that the danger (Gus) is gone. Walt has a very false sense of security. Was Gus safe when he was running things? I don’t think so. He really doesn’t see why it won’t be “smooth sailing from here on out.” That false sense of security can be a dangerous thing, Walt. I also think that Skyler and Walt are taking actions that could further alienate Skyler from Hank and Marie, which could be dangerous in its own right.
We don’t see a whole lot of Jesse this episode. Walt asks him to finish up early on so he can get home to his birthday party. Then he goes as “the guy” to get the methylamine from Lydia and she pulls her own manipulation so that he goes home empty handed, leading to the great scene between Jesse and Mike. Mike figures out right away that Lydia planted a GPS on the barrel of methylamine to make them think they’re being watched by the DEA so they won’t ask her to keep supplying them (Lydia should know better, her ability to get methylamine is the only reason Mike gave for keeping her alive). Mike is so matter-of-fact, “Okay, she’s dead.”
But Jesse fights for Lydia’s life. For all the talk about how Walt has changed over the fifty episodes we’ve seen so far, Jesse has changed just as much. And now we know that Jesse has his soul back. It was kind of lost for awhile after he shot Gale. You wondered if he would become callous and emotionally immune to murder the way other characters on the show have, but I don’t think he has. Jesse’s still innocent somehow. It’s like the worse a person Walt becomes, the better Jesse becomes. They have really switched places in a lot of ways. Jesse has a sense of morality even in the meth business and he just can’t let Mike kill Lydia and he has to fight hard for that, eventually calling on Walt to say something. I’m sure Walt doesn’t care about Lydia. He cares about two things. The money (“Nothing stops this train”) and keeping Jesse’s loyalty. Back in that birthday party scene where Walt was going on about how so many times in this past year he thought he was done for but always someone or something came through for him, that person was usually Jesse and Walt knows it. Still, Walt’s silence early in the seen makes me wonder if he’s still shaken from Skyler’s comment about his cancer.
Then Jesse gives Walt the birthday present, the only present we see Walt receive. It’s clear in this scene that Jesse really loves Walt, which is sad for Jesse. Walt knows it too. I do wonder if Walt is starting to have a little inkling of some second thoughts. Just a tiny little shatter to this ego and persona he’s been maintaining since killing Gus. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part.
When Walt goes home and Skyler’s smoking in the house, I wondered for a moment if she was actually trying to speed up the return of his lung cancer, but that seemed a little much. It seems more like she just doesn’t give a shit in that scene. The only word she says is “fine” when Walt tells her there’ll be more money coming in. There’s something a little off about Walt showing Skyler the watch Jesse gave him and talking about how Jesse wanted him dead but then came around. I don’t know that it’s really accurate to say Jesse wanted him dead. Jesse went to kill Walt in the heat of a moment, feeling that Walt had hurt someone he loved. To say he wanted Walt dead just seems disingenuous because it only lasted a few minutes until Walt convinced him Gus was responsible for poisoning Brock. Skyler wants Walt dead the way Gus did, the feeling is more long term and lasting. During this whole scene between Walt and Skyler, you can hear everything, each sound of her smoking, the ticking of the clock. Like the ticking of Walt the time bomb.
This segues nicely into the last scene where the watch Jesse gave Walt is ticking away (much faster than the clock was in the previous scene). It has a palpable ominous feeling. I don’t think the watch itself is ominous, more like time is running out. This whole episode had that feel to me.
Speaking of that, again we have lots of mentions of Walt’s cancer, just like last week. Before this, there had been so many episodes where it was never even acknowledged or mentioned in any way. The fact that it’s come up so much recently does lead me to believe that his cancer will return.
Probably not next week though. I saw the previews (usually try to avoid but couldn’t help myself) and it’s all heisty, which should hopefully be fun. It also seems from the title “Dead Freight” that it may involve a train. “Nothing stops this train,” Walt said. Hmmm.
What do you think will happen next?
- Writing Lessons from Breaking Bad: An Overview
- Walter White’s Moral Demise and the People Jesse Pinkman Loves
- How Walter White Poisoned Brock and What Happened to the Ricin Cigarette
- My Official Breaking Bad Season 5 Predictions Post
- That “Leaked” Season 5 Premiere Script
Blog Reviews of “Fifty-One”
Critics’ Reviews, Interviews, Etc.
- Tim Goodman Q&A
- Grantland Recap by Andrew Greenwald
- Rolling Stone Interview with Laura Fraser (Lydia)
- Rolling Stone Recap: Heisen Plain Sight
Extras, Goodies and Forum Threads