Monday, August 19, 2013

Breaking Bad Season 5, Episode 10, “Buried”

Something this show excels at is creating dynamic, psychologically rich situations – the goals, intentions, beliefs, and emotions of each of the characters in many situations are strong and clear, which creates a lot of rich opportunities for us to infer what’s going on in the heads of the characters on an almost beat by beat basis (especially when the acting is this good). This is the case not only for one or two principle characters, but for most of the main characters on this show. For example, after Walt leaves Hank’s garage (amusingly shot like a western standoff, complete with twitching trigger fingers, but ending with the closing of a door rather than the drawing of a gun), they both immediately call Skyler, who is the linchpin in both men’s plans. For Hank, she’s a potential witness to Walt’s crimes, one who can provide crucial evidence. For Walt, she’s his confidant, money launderer, and a potential security risk. He needs to warn her that Hank knows he's Heisenberg, that she should not divulge anything to him, and that they will need to move their money. The great thing is that none of this information needs to be told to us explicitly – when Walt can’t get Skyler on the phone, and when he spots Hank in his rearview mirror, also talking on the phone, the two lock eyes, and we can infer it all.

The scene between Skyler and Hank is an even richer example. Hank makes some of the same mistakes with Skyler as he did with Walt over the course of the show – he assumes he knows her character well, and takes for granted her hesitation-free cooperation (this same assumption – knowing someone’s character – is what blinded him to Walt for so long). Hank genuinely feels bad for Skyler because he assumes she is an innocent victim and that she'll be sympathetic to his intention to bust Walt, but he knows neither the extent to which she has become complicit in Walt’s activities, nor the extent to which she is cautious about protecting herself. Thus his shock when Skyler refuses to cooperate with him. We can see things from Skyler’s perspective as well. At first she seems relieved to finally have someone to talk to about Walt, but this relief is quickly erased by guilt when she realizes that Hank thinks she’s mostly innocent. This guilt is in turn replaced by terror when Hank takes out the voice recorder, and she realizes that she can’t say anything to Hank without incriminating herself. Hank assumes Skyler will want to do the right thing, and he isn’t lying when he says he’s her biggest advocate, but Skyler knows he won’t remain so if she were to tell him the true extent of her involvement. Thus when Hank tips his hand by telling her he needs some solid evidence if he’s going to proceed, Skyler ices up. Skyler’s always been a smart character (as we saw with the way in which she handled Ted Beneke, and the way in which she dictated the terms of her money laundering), and she’s quick to see that Hank isn’t looking out for her, but is instead consumed with getting Walt no matter the cost, which would inevitably include her. True, she could always turn state’s evidence, but she would need a lawyer to broker that deal.

Skyler also sows the seeds of her great scene with Marie during her meeting with Hank. The last thing Skyler asks Hank before he takes out the voice recorder is whether Marie knows anything. Her question gives Hank the idea of using Marie to get to Skyler. It’s a cold move on Hank’s part, but a smart one (even if it fails); he’s knows Skyler doesn’t want to lose Marie as an ally, so he uses Marie to try to get Skyler to talk. Skyler and Marie's scene nicely parallels Hank and Walt’s confrontation last week, right down to a Schrader landing a blow on a White, but it’s great because it gives us a nice dramatic payoff. When Hank figured out Walt is Heisenberg, the realization came to him in a flash; most of his business last week simply involved his trying to confirm (or disconfirm) his suspicions. But Marie’s realization has time to linger; Skyler’s silence forces Marie to come to her own conclusions, and we watch them dawn on her in stages during the confrontation as she tries to guess when Skyler knew the truth about Walt. Her horror mounts as she goes further and further back in time, and she starts to list off what she now knows are lies (like Walt’s gambling problem). It’s a marvelous scene that pays off how easily Marie has been deceived for most of the series, especially with the way it ends: Marie gets into the car and coldly tells Hank, “You have to get him.”

Saul comes through with some solid legal advice to Walt: don’t talk to Skyler; don’t answer the phone, destroy the phone. He also offers up a hilariously-phrased suggestion about sending Hank “to Belize,” where he assumes Mike “went.” Interestingly, this is a barrier Walt is unwilling to cross; he won’t consider killing Hank, and is offended Saul would even suggest it. We’re reminded of why he won’t cross this line later in the episode, when he’s lying on the bathroom floor having a heart-to-heart moment with Skyler. The whole reason he got involved in the meth business was to provide for his family, so killing a part of his extended family would defeat the purpose just as much as giving himself up and losing all of the money. It throws somewhat of a wrench into the Walt = Scarface comparison, although there’s still six more episodes to go for him to get there (and by the end, we know he has the hardware for it, with the machine gun in the trunk).

As for that scene between Walt and Skyler, I like that the show decided not to create a cold war between them. Even if her behavior with Hank and Marie was motivated more out of protection for herself than out of any loyalty she might have for Walt, to a certain extent, Skyler has become Walt’s creature, a consigliere to his empire. Her sympathy for Walt has waxed and waned over the course of the series, but she still harbors some affection for him (or fear of him). Walt appears very defeated, lying on the bathroom floor, offering to give himself up for the sake of her and the kids, and it’s possible that he’s putting on an act with Skyler. Given what we know about his pride and his ego and the reasons he found again and again to stay in the business when he could have gotten out, it’s not entirely true that losing the money would mean he did it all for nothing. Walt’s actions have been as much about transforming his own self-image as they have been about making money. But through it all, he’s always loved Skyler and his kids. Combined with Skyler’s complicity, his willingness to sacrifice himself for her seems enough to win her to his side, at least for the moment. As soon as he admits to her that it’s his fault Hank knows (a rare admission of guilt on his part), Skyler turns into an accomplice once again, telling him Hank has only suspicions, and that his best move is to stay quiet.

Marie and Hank have a nice scene as well, one where Hank acknowledges the implications his discovery has for his career: the moment he officially accuses Walt of being Heisenberg will mark its end, much like Hank's former boss was ruined by the truth about Gus Fring. Walt has potentially ruined Hank’s life just as much as he has his own, Skyler’s, and Jesse’s. Marie takes the implications of Hank’s investigation a step further, however, proposing a scenario in which Walt were to get caught independently of Hank; should that come to pass, then it would appear as though Hank knew and did nothing, which would incriminate him as well. It's not a good day to be Hank Schrader.

Next week looks to be an exciting one, undoubtedly full of fireworks in the forthcoming scene between Hank and Jesse. Will Hank turn the nihilistic Jesse? Or will Jesse still bear a grudge over the beating Hank handed him in season 3? After all, Jesse isn’t one to snitch, no matter how much he might hate his own life, Walt, and his blood money. Tune in next week to find out!

Other thoughts:

- Skyler’s initial resistance to Hank might also be motivated by her learning that Walt’s cancer’s back. Perhaps she figures she’ll be able to keep the money and be rid of Walt (even if they have seem to have achieved some sort of peace lately).

- Marie finally knows more, but she still makes an rash inference based on incomplete knowledge. She assumes Skyler won’t talk to Hank because she’s afraid Walt will get away with his crimes, and while there might be some truth to that inference, but we know her behavior more likely stems from her not wanting to incriminate herself.

- Lydia the spider-queen! She has the gumption to organize a hit on Declan and his crew, but not enough fortitude to stomach the sight of her handiwork. Perhaps she’ll stick around longer than I imagined (although not if hubris exists in the Breaking Bad universe).

- Eerie cold open, with Jesse silently spinning himself on the giant spinning wheel. Some nice cinematography as well.

- Declan takes a much more realistic approach to quality of meth than anyone else on the show ever has, essentially stating that tweakers don’t care how pure the meth is. Vince Gilligan then whips out his artistic license by having Lydia tell Declan that her clients in the Czech Republic – for indeterminate reasons – do care.

- Todd and his trashy, Aryan nation kin are able to take out Declan’s crew, in their own lab, without sustaining a single casualty? True, Todd’s family was able to arrange the murder of nine federal prisoners within the space of two minutes, but the apparent incompetence of Declan’s crew strains credulity here. Although as my roommate points out, some of the dead could have been from Todd’s side.

- I liked Huel and Kuby playing Scrooge McDuck with Walt’s pile of money. The thing that stops them from stealing it? Walt’s arranging the prison deaths earlier this season. Walt will dine on that reputation for a long time.

- Nice touch with the barrel camera as Walt rolled piles of money into the pit in the desert.


  1. God, that scene between Marie and Skyler killed me. I'm really excited to see what happens next week.

    (Also, it's spelled consigliere. Italians.)