Breaking Bad “Fifty-One” Review

Breaking Bad Fifty-One (Season 5 Episode 4)

“There is absolutely nothing for you to be afraid of anymore, OK? I mean, clear sailing from here on out. I promise.” – Walter White

Happy birthday, Mister White! It’s hard to believe that it’s only been a year in Breaking Bad time since the pilot episode where Walt celebrated the big 5-0, and now here we are at “Fifty-One”! It’s also hard to believe that after tonight we’ll be half way through this year’s chunk of season five episodes, so it’s with a heavy heart that I review tonight’s installment, knowing that only four more episodes remain until 2013. So I guess it’s a good thing I get to review the best episode of the season thus far.

I don’t call tonight the best episode of the season lightly, as I think the first three episodes were all quite good, but I honestly can’t think of any other episode in this show that focused so heavily on the characters of Walter and Skyler White. There were no gunshots, no mid-air collisions, and no crazy magnet tricks, there wasn’t even any Saul! Instead, director Rian Johnson and the stellar Breaking Bad writers proved that they don’t need crazy stunts and pyrotechnics to deliver an explosive hour of television.

We start off the episode with Walter White’s green Pontiac Vibe. This poor car has been through a lot. Crushed by debris from a downed 737, running over gang members, and more. So it made it even more sad when Walt basically gave it away for fifty bucks!

This leads us to a scene that felt like it was out of a Fast and the Furious movie, as we see Walt and Walt Jr. showing up in their new cars. Complete with fast camera cuts, dubstep music and engine revving, this was definitely an artistic scene that really goes a long way to show off just how bombastic and arrogant Walt has become.

Somebody who is definitely not happy about the new rides is Skyler, as we see her heartbreaking reaction to Walt and Walt Jr. getting their new cars: Silence. It also pains me to see her meekly recommending to Walt that they get Walter Jr. in a boarding school in Northern Arizona, out of harm’s way and away from her newly terrifying husband. Two of the creepiest scenes this season thus far have been between Skyler and Walt in bed. At the end of “Madrigal” we saw Walt fervently kissing his wife on the arm and neck, and all Skyler could do was look straight ahead with a terrified look in her eyes. Now we have the scene where Walt is discussing his birthday party and how it’ll be “Smooth sailing” from here on out, and Skyler looks like she wishes she were anywhere else in the world. Really shows you the difference between these two characters mindsets: Walt is thinking about what type of chocolate cake he’ll have for his birthday, and Skyler is thinking of ways to keep her and her kids safe.

In a brief respite from the Walt and Skyler show, Hank got a big promotion to the El Paso office, and he surprisingly took it with little hesitation. I highly doubt that this will keep Hank off of Walt’s case for long, as you really hope that he’ll be the one to find him out eventually.

I absolutely loved Walt coming back home, fully expecting a surprise party for his 51st birthday. Again, a great example of the growing hubris of this guy. When you compare this scene to the pilot of this series, where Walt meekly and shyly walks into his house to a surprise party for his 50th, you can see how much his attitude has changed in the past year. Seeing Skyler reduced to a mindless Suzie Homemaker is yet another heartbreaking turn for her character. (“Chocolate cake…as requested.”) It looked like at this point that her only role as Walt’s wife is to fulfill his requests, do his bidding. That’s why it was so surprising to me to see her pull the walking into the pool stunt right in front of Walt, Hank and Marie! You’ve got to think that Skyler, even in this semi-catatonic state, needs to realize that the best way to keep her and her children safe is to keep her head down and her mouth shut. Stay on the good side of her dangerous husband, don’t make a scene, and then take the kids away when the time is right.

In another brief break from Walt and Skyler, we see yet another female character going crazy. Laura Fraser’s Lydia is coming apart at the seams. She’s screaming into pillows, wearing mis-matched shoes, and generally becoming a nervous wreck. However, we did get a pretty big step forward involving Jesse and Lydia. When the two of them tried to steal a barrel of methylamine, Lydia quickly pointed out a tracking device stuck to the bottom of the barrel. When Jesse recounted the story to Mike and Walt, Mike deduced the very logical conclusion that the tracker was placed too clumsily for it to be the DEA. He theorized that Lydia attached it herself to make it look like the DEA was tracking them, and that it would be too dangerous for them to do business with her. Mike, having already given this lady a second chance, wanted to leave immediately to kill her and leave her in a ditch somewhere. Jesse, being the merciful one in the group, obviously disagreed. They both turned to Walt for his suggestion, and he gave them a solution that we aren’t being told yet. Can’t wait to see what Walt cooked up, and I assume we’ll find out next week.

The whole episode was really just leading up to that one scene in the White’s bedroom, wasn’t it? With another scene that will go down in Breaking Bad history, right alongside “I am the one who knocks”, we see Walt and Skyler get into a long overdue shouting match about how they’re going to handle the kids. They’re temporarily staying at Hank and Marie’s, but Skyler points out that is a temporary solution. The way that Walt systematically breaks down all of Skyler’s suggestions is simply destroying her emotionally, but he just doesn’t care. “I’m not hearing a solution to your problem!” he says. Her problem?! Your meth dealership and frequent attempts on you and your family’s life, that’s her problem?! Really makes you feel like Walt’s in full Heisenberg mode now, hat and all. Thankfully, Skyler was able to get the last word. “That’s the only good option: Hold on, bide my time, and wait.” “Wait for what?” Walt asks. “For the cancer to come back”. Cue the chills running down my spine.

Random Thoughts:

– Is this the first time we’ve heard dubstep music on Breaking Bad? Dave Porter has always done such a great job with his haunting musical score, so I’m not sure how I feel about it. I guess it fit the tone of the scene but…I dunno. What did you think?

– Tonight’s episode was directed by Rian Johnson, who also directed the polarizing season three episode “Fly”. He also just finished shooting a sci-fi movie called “Looper”, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. I was able to see it at a screener, and it’s very good! Check it out on September 28th!

– How great was Skyler’s “I thought you were the danger” line? I honestly can’t count how many times I’ve seen Walt’s “I am the one who knocks” speech on YouTube. I’ve actually committed the speech to memory, and say it to myself every once in a while to pump myself up.