Monday, August 6, 2012

Breaking Bad Review: Season 5, Episode 4 - "Fifty One"

By Geddy Cahoon

Hey everybody, Geddy Cahoon here with the first installment of what I hope will be a weekly feature here on Nerd World Country - A review of this week's episode of Breaking Bad. It's no secret that we love Breaking Bad here at NWC. It's a fantastic series, arguably the greatest ever, and it's something pretty much everyone should be watching. We discussed it in the first podcast, and I've been tossing around the idea of reviewing episodes on a weekly basis for a while now. I've finally decided to pull the trigger on after viewing last night's episode, Fifty One. It might seem a little dumb to start reviewing halfway through the season, but whatever. Sue me.

Hit the jump to read my thoughts on the most recent episode of Breaking Bad.

*NOTE: This review is obviously spoiler-heavy, and is of course written with the assumption that the reader is familiar with BB's characters, plot threads, and etc.

This week's episode of BB kicked off with an enjoyable, if at times cheesy, cold opening. We see Walter and Walt Jr. are at a mechanic's shop, getting Walter's car back after some more repairs. This scene contained a nice throwback to season three's Half Measures, which is my personal favorite episode of the series. Walt reaches into his car and sees his infamous pork pie hat sitting on the passenger seat.

It is quite a nice hat.

He picks the hat up, and after staring at it for a second, offers to sell the mechanic his Aztek for 50 bucks. Of course the man accepts, and we then cut to Walter speeding into the Whites' driveway in a sleek, new Chrysler 300. Jr. gives Walt a disappointed look, and we see the two pull in again, this time Walter Jr. is in a brand new Dodge Challenger, the car he had wanted last season. The camera then slowly pans back and forth between the cars and the father and son joyously laughing. This was the cheesy part I mentioned, though I feel as though the corniness of it was probably intentional. It was pretty humorous regardless.

And then Walter blew the up the Challenger again.

Overall, I found it to be a pretty solid cold open. The humorous parts aside, it was effective in showing us that Walter isn't Walter anymore. Or at least, soon he really won't be. Heisenberg is taking over. The Aztek was Walter's car. Walter was a man who was unsure of himself. Who spent every day living on the edge of his seat, afraid that the boogeyman (Gus Fring) and his henchman were coming, or that some other misfortune would befall him. Now, with Gus out of the way, what does Walt have to worry about? He's on top of the world, at least in his mind, and nothing represents the genesis of Heisenberg more than getting rid of "Walter's" car. It also served to show (As we've seen frequently throughout the last few episodes) that Walter feels he is in complete control of Skyler now. She was the one who told him Walt Jr. couldn't have the Challenger. Well, Skyler doesn't tell Heisenberg what to do. The cold open was effective in a very subtle way, without shoving any of these ideas down our throats, and the comedic aspects kept it from being as over the top as last week's scenes of Walter doing "Heisenberg-y" things.

After the opening credits, we see Lydia in her office at the Houston Branch of Madrigal Electromotive. So far I'm digging Lydia as a character. Her scene with Mike at the end of Madrigal was absolutely fantastic, and I like how she's kind of in over her head by getting in league with Walter, Jesse, and Mike, but she did it anyway because she wanted to live. Couple that with the fact that she's constantly looking for a way out (As we'll see later in the episode) despite the fact that the dangerous men who are effectively her bosses would kill her in a heartbeat, and she kind of reminds me of a certain chemistry teacher...

This one, to be exact.

Anyway, Lydia (looking very strung out) gets a call from Mike telling her that the DEA will be in her office in about 30 seconds. Hank and Gomez appear with a slew of officers, and accost Lydia. She takes them to the building's warehouse, where they arrest a worker named Ron while Lydia looks on, worried. She returns to her office, closes the blinds, screams into a pillow, and calls Mike, telling him that she can no longer get them methylamine, as Ron was the one who did all of the footwork in that operation. Mike, as is his wont, calmly tells Lydia that he'll be sending another guy. I really liked this scene. Laura Fraser is doing a great job as Lydia. She exudes desperation but at the same time, a kind of twisted confidence. She's scared for sure, but she's always looking for a way out. As we'll see later, her desire to escape the clutches of Heisenberg and company knows no bounds.

We cut to the White residence after this, and indeed, the bulk of this episode takes place at 308 Negra Arroyo Lane. Walt and Jr. are engaging in some banter about racing their new cars (I find the scenes wherein Walter and Jr. seem to really be bonding extraordinarily heartbreaking. Jr. never really respected his dad before. Now their relationship is ostensibly great, but Skyler's current state and everything Walt has done to reach this point give it a scary, heartbreaking undercurrent), as Skyler silently sits, as she has been doing for most of the season. In the bathroom after dinner, Walt gives Skyler some money to launder and she tells him that maybe the kids should leave the house for a while. She's been thinking of boarding school for Junior. Walt doesn't like that very much, and while hugging her in bed, simply says he wants a chocolate cake for his birthday dinner the next night. 

Every interaction between Walt and Skyler this season has been terrifying. Skyler now knows what Walter is capable of, and she's worried that he could end up hurting the children, either directly or indirectly. She's been acting like a zombified slave of some sort. She silently complies with everything Walt wants her to do, because she's afraid of whatever the alternative is. And Walt just thinks everything is okay. He's deluded himself into thinking that their home life is okay. That everything is back to how it was before Walt started killing people. The scenes are great, and Anna Gunn and Bryan Cranston have perfect... Chemistry.

I'll be here all week folks!

Corny jokes aside, the interactions between Walt and Skyler are certainly the high points of this episode, and have really been high points of the season thus far. The next morning, we're treated to a painfully awkward/depressing scene. It's Walt's birthday, and Walter Jr. basically forces her to break Walter's bacon into a "51" as she did with his bacon one year ago when the series began. The scene is actually kind of chilling. You can feel Skyler's utter contempt for this man, her husband. She's disgusted with him, she doesn't want to look at him. But her son, in his naivety, thinks everything is okay, so she's forced to tensely carry on as if the Whites were a happy family. 

We then cut to the DEA office, as Hank and Gomez go over their diagram of Gus and all the people who are enveloped in his web of drugs and death. They come to the consensus that Mike Ehrmantraut is their best lead, and they note that they'll be putting surveillance on him. This scene also had a pretty hilarious line courtesy of Hank: "Six feet under and half a face, he's still screwing us." I've been clamoring since his first appearance for Mike to interact with characters who were not named Walt, Jesse, Saul, or Gus. We got a ton of that in Madrigal, and I'm really intrigued to see how Mike handles this whole surveillance thing. We've never really seen the character under any type of non-Walt threat until this season, and I'm looking forward to where they go with this.

Something tells me Mike might handle it with his gun.

A few episodes ago, Hank's boss was fired in light of the outing of Gustavo Fring as a meth kingpin. In this episode, Hank is offered the job, as he was the only one who ever suspected Fring of anything. It comes with the catch that he wouldn't be able to work individual cases anymore, and would have to farm out his current caseload to other agents. He accepts because hey, promotion, but I doubt we'll be seeing him as ASAC Schrader for too long. I'm assuming he'll farm out the Fring case to Gomez, but he'll keep trying to stay involved and thus will be asked to step down blah blah blah. It's been shown that Hank can't resist the idea of getting Walt's Blue Sky meth off of the streets, and with it reappearing even after Gus's death, Hank's not going to be too comfortable in an office.

Speaking of Blue Sky, we then see Walt and Jesse (In his first appearance in the episode, oddly enough) cleaning up in one of their bug-bombed houses after a cook. Walt asks Jesse if he would mind finishing the clean up as he's sure he has a birthday party to get back to at home. Jesse wishes him a happy birthday, and Walt exits. In another somewhat depressing scene, Walt arrives home to a nigh-empty house, and finds Skyler preparing a storebought meal. Now I know Walter has done a lot of crap, and we shouldn't pity him at this point, but it's still a freaking downer to get no birthday party. His expectations, considering how uncomfortable/paranoid Skyler is in this atmosphere, kind of set him up for this, but I still found it a little bit upsetting, especially since he did sound legitimately excited when he told Jesse "I'm sure I have a birthday party to get home to."

Poor, child-poisoning Walter...

Hank and Marie are then shown driving to the Whites' house, as Marie tells Hank that Skyler had an affair with Ted Beneke, even though Walt asked her not to tell anybody. We see another cringe-worthy scene post-birthday dinner. No one is really saying anything, and Marie and Hank continue to pipe in with little conversation starters, but everyone just kind of awkwardly mutters to one another. The cast of Breaking Bad do "awkward" so phenomenally, and Betsy Brandt, as annoying as Marie can be, is particularly amazing in her role. Skyler silently excuses herself from the table and walks to the pool, and Walt begins a speech about how thankful he is for the support he received from Hank, Marie, and the whole family throughout the last tumultuous year, and I leaned over the my brother and said "Skyler's going to jump in the pool." 

As Walt gives his speech (Which is highly uncomfortable as you don't really know how much of it is genuine, and how much of it Walt "hiding in plain sight" a la Gus) Skyler stares into the pool, seemingly reaching some sort of conclusion in her head. She then simply walks into the deep end, and refuses to come up. This scene was really disturbing, as this whole season I've been anticipating Skyler possibly committing suicide. I really enjoyed the way the shot was framed, as Skyler is seen in the background, silently observing the pool, as Walt gives his little speech. It built the tension in a really great way, and also effectively, visually conveyed the idea of Skyler sort of being on standby as Walt confidently manipulates everyone. A really enjoyable scene, though the episode's high point would come later.

The few seconds that Skyler is under water have a very eerie, ethereal quality to them.

Afterwards, Jesse gets his second scene of the episode - He's "the guy" that Mike sent to pick up the methylamine from Lydia. Lydia is extremely jittery, and tells Jesse that they can only take one specific barrel of methylamine, as she erased it from the inventory. Upon pulling the barrel out, Lydia spots something on the bottom - a GPS tracker. I found something fishy about this scene, and my suspicions would of course be confirmed later on.

Oh, hai Jesse! What are you doing in this episode?

After that short scene, we cut back to the White residence, and Walt, Hank and Marie sitting at the dining room table. Skyler is in her room, and Marie suggests that she and Hank take the kids for a while while Walt and Skyler sort things out. Walt agrees after Marie tells him that it was Skyler's idea. Honestly, this whole exchange between Walt, Hank and Marie really bugged me. It was just boring. I have no problem with dialogue or slowing the pace down for a bit, but it really just seemed like they took forever to arrive at the point: Skyler suggested Hank and Marie take the kids. I enjoyed the little bursts of Heisenberg that Walt showed when he became increasingly annoyed at Marie, but overall this scene really threw off an episode that, although slow, had never felt boring up to this point. Luckily what followed may be the strongest scene from this season so far.

Walter enters the bedroom and asks Skyler if she's happy she got her way. He berates her for a bit, telling her that this plan was shortsighted and that the kids will be back after a few days. Skyler finally stands up, and basically tells Walt that she'll do things like hurt herself or even accuse him of abuse until the kids are away from him and her. Walt counters that he could have her committed to a mental hospital, and that Skyler would never be able to lie to Walter Jr. about abuse, respectively. Skyler admits that she's not as evil as Walt, and in one of the most intense lines of dialogue I've ever heard, Skyler says all she can do is wait "For the cancer to come back." She's literally praying for her husband to die of cancer. That's insane.

This scene may have honestly been the high point of the season thus far. Anna Gunn and Bryan Cranston are just perfect; if they don't sweep the Emmys next year I'll be pissed off. On top of that, I've always liked Skyler, and it's nice to see her snap out of her daze, at least a little bit. I know she receives a lot of hate from the fandom, but that's an article for another day. She reels us back in, and reminds us that Walter isn't some "badass" hero to be glorified; he's a monster. The guilt she exudes is palpable, but she's also determined to make sure that every wrong both she and her husband have perpetrated is righted, or at least doesn't come back to bite their children. Walt broke her down a bit when he murdered Gus, but as Walt has shown us, a person with their back against the wall will do anything. Skyler is a strong, just-flawed-enough-to-be-real character that I really enjoy watching, and with tensions between she and Walter coming to a head, it'll be interesting to see what happens next week.

Her husband is a meth cooker who murders people - Clearly she's the bad guy here.

The next morning, Walt receives a call from Jesse about the methylamine issue. They meet up with Mike, in his only onscreen scene in the episode, who basically confirms the weird vibe I got about the GPS scene, and tells Jesse that it was Lydia who put it there in an attempt to throw them and get them to leave her alone. Mike - in his eerily calm way - simply remarks that "She's dead," and attempts to leave to go murder her. Jesse, being a "sexist" (As Mike refers to him as) doesn't want Mike to kill a woman, so he suggests they take a vote. Walt doesn't want business to stop for any amount of time, and forbids Mike from killing Lydia. 

Jesse then hands Walter a birthday present outside. The scenes between Jesse and Walt are also heartbreaking - it's clear that Jesse loves Walt like a father, but how much does Walt really care for Jesse? It's indisputable that he deeply cared for him at a time. But now, would Walt still risk everything for him like he did in season three, or is Jesse just another pawn in Heisenberg's game? That question runs through my head every time these two interact and I assume that that's the exact effect the writers were going for.

Back home, Walter tells Skyler that a few weeks ago, the man who gave him this new watch (Jesse's present) hated him and wanted him dead, but he came around. He says Skyler will come around too. Skyler says nothing, and we close on a shot of the watch ticking by Walt's bed.

I really enjoyed this episode. It was dialogue-heavy and slow-moving, but that's not always a bad thing. It focused mostly on Walt and the family (Saul didn't even appear) and in turn gave us arguably the strongest scene in this season so far. I'm also really enjoying Lydia, like I said. As always, the cinematography was great, everything is framed perfectly when it needs to be, the visual symbolism isn't too in your face, but it's not so subtle that you don't know what's going on. I won't be touching on the topic of cinematography too much, because I feel as though with Breaking Bad, you know it's going to look good. That's kind of a given. 

My only real issues were: The dining room scene with Walt, Hank and Marie really threw me and... The scene with Walt, Mike and Jesse at the office was really interesting. That's not a bad thing. The bad thing is that I kind of enjoy Mike and Jesse's exploits more than Hank and Marie talking about infidelity so... When you limit Jesse to three scenes and Mike (My favorite character) to one, it kind of irks me. Again, not a bad episode by any stretch of the imagination. There are just a few elements that aren't so great. If anything, this episode set the groundwork for more intense episodes to come, with Lydia's attempt at betrayal, surveillance on Mike, and the whole "What will Skyler do next" thing. Breaking Bad always paces itself, so you expect episodes like this in the beginning of the season.

 It was no Madrigal, but Fifty One was certainly superior to last week's Hazard Pay.

That's it for this week! I hope you enjoyed this review. Leave a comment or like the NWC Facebook page and tell us what you thought. Check back next Monday for another unnecessarily verbose look at next week's Breaking Bad, and Welcome to Your Doom!

1 comment:

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