"I am the danger," Walter White chillingly intoned in season four's "Cornered," but with dynamics having severely shifted since, Heisenberg may not be the most unpredictable wildcard in the show, or that Hank (Dean Norris) now faces. Racing down to the final episode, once again "Breaking Bad" is firing on all cylinders and while we wait to see the fate of Walter White, it seems the cards are being dealt for Skyler as she emerges as the Lady Macbeth of the show. It's astonishing reveal, one that once again reorients everything in the world of the program, making for yet another compelling piece of television.
But before things heat up, the cold open pauses for a more evocative moment. Picking up where last week's premiere ended, Jesse (Aaron Paul) is still looking to free himself from the guilt and anxiety that is wracking his mind and soul. His late night philanthropy that closed off last week's episode has ended with Jesse spinning on roundabout in a local park, staring blankly up at the night sky. His car sits nearby, abandoned and filled with the cash, as a local man, up early for work, follows the money trail from his house to where Jesse eeriely spins....but where he ends up you'll have to wait for a moment.....
From there we jump right into the proceedings, immediately following the aftermath of Walt's warning to Hank to "Tread lightly." No guns are drawn, or fists cocked. Instead, it's cellphones that come out — Hank in the garage, Walt driving away — as both try to reach Skyler. Hank wins. Meeting her in a local diner, Hank initially comes across both as a lawman and a concerned family member, admitting he sees the "pieces" of Walt's criminal enterprise, but urging Skyler to "fill in the blanks." Armed with a digital recorder, he presses Skyler to testify then and there against Hank, to set the wheels of justice in motion, so that at the very least, Hank can make an arrest "before the sun goes down." But Skyler is wary. The first warning bell rings when Hank advises her not to obtain the services of a lawyer, who might throw up obstacles in Hank's pursuit of swift justice. And while he claims to have Skyler's best interest in mind, she can see plainly, "It sounds like what you want to do is to get Walt, at all costs." But the second warning bell arrives when she suddenly realizes she could be just as easily implicated — having laundered Walt's money, she's in fairly deep — and when Hank can't promise she won't be arrested quickly enough, Skyler bolts from their rendezvous.
Meanwhile, Walt — unable to track down Skyler first — assumes the worst and immediately high tails it to Saul (Bob Odenkirk). The gear are already spinning to relocate the stash of money Walt still has sitting in storage, and while they wait for it arrive at Saul's office, Walt tries to figure out his options with his counsel. But one thing Walt won't do, in one of the episode's blackest bits of humor, is send Hank "off on a trip to Belize" as Saul delicately puts it. "He's family," Walt barks, and as toxic as this former high school teacher has become, this has always been the one element keeping him on this side of human. Everything he has done, he has always stated, was for the benefit of his loved ones, even during his most despicable, self-serving, horrific actions. With the barrels full of his money in a van thanks to the help of Saul's henchmen Huell (Lavell Crawford) and Kuby (Bill Burr) — with the two offering some light comic relief, particularly when they go all Scrooge McDuck with money, taking a quick breather by lying on top of the stack of cash in the warehouse before carting it away — Walt heads out the desert, and spends the rest of the day burying it.
While Walt is away, Hank continues to try turning the screws on Skyler, this time sending in Marie (Betsy Brandt) to try and talk some sense into her sister. And what emerges is one of the best scenes between the two actresses in the entire series, and a truly wrenching moment in every sense. As Marie pleads with Skyler, her questions and her sister's continued silence awaken a rage when it's clear that Skyler's knowledge of how long Walt's crimes have been going on runs deep. When she realizes Hank's life was nearly lost as Skyler stood by knowing what really happened, Marie hits her in the face as all her sister can do is regretfully weep. It's bruising scene, with a rift of betrayal forever serving a pair that couldn't be closer in every regard, but things intensify when Marie tries to leave the house with Holly (talk about kleptomania...). The wailing baby, the two women still dealing with crushing revelations, and now fighting over the only untainted member of the White family (almost, we'll get there)...it's a potent, devastating mix. It's a reminder that of all the lives Walt has ruined, it's the very family he's trying to keep together that's being ripped apart. Hank intercedes and breaks it up, but Marie returns to their car, she says unequivocally and coldly: "You have to get him."
But a few hours later, Walt is still free and wrapping up his job in the desert, memorizing the coordinates (34 59 20 106 36 52) of his loot, and when he returns home he puts up a lottery ticket on the fridge with those same numbers (clever). Dirty and exhausted, he heads to the bathroom to take a shower, and promptly passes out. When he comes to, there's pillow under his head, a blanket covering his body and Skyler lovingly by his side. They soon talk about Hank and what the next step will be, and Walt offers to turn himself in (though, its likely another piece of emotional manipulation) if Skyler will do one thing: ensure the money doesn't get discovered. "Please don't let me have done all this for nothing," he says. But Skyler surprises Walt by asserting that Hank doesn't have the full picture and chillingly advises, "So maybe our best move here is to quiet." If there was any doubt about which side of the fence Skyler has landed on, it has been made clear. And it confirms Marie's blistering accusation during their fight: "You won't talk to Hank because you think Walt is going to get away with it!"
And though Walt has left the meth game behind him, the players he's been involved with are changing the landscape. Last week, Lydia (Laura Fraser) returned, pleading with Walt to cook again as the product on the streets has taken a severe dip in quality. This isn't a problem in New Mexico per se — addicts will take what they can get — but Lydia's Czech buyers won't take anything less than Heisenberg's purity. So, she travels to meet with her current supplier Declan (Louis Ferreira), who you might remember previously made a deal to move Heisenberg's product. Lydia's demands for a purer cook are met with indifference, and a shrug that the underground lab that is being used isn't filthy, just "dimly lit." (It's interesting that the two things "buried" in this episode are money and drugs). But Lydia has already made up her mind what her move is... Returning to the show in a blaze of frightening glory is Walt's protege of sorts, Todd (Jesse Plemons). Together with his uncles, they waste Declan and his crew, and steal his equipment. It's clear Todd will be the new cook for Lydia, but how this will come back to Walt remains to be seen.
Finally, while Walt and Skyler weigh their options, so too does Hank. Marie presses him to go back to the DEA with what he's got, and utilize the help he can there, but Hank knows this is the end of the road for him. "The day I go in with this, is the last day of my career," he sadly says. He knows that he can never professionally shake off the knowledge that one of the biggest meth dealers in his region, was none other than his own brother-in-law, but there is one silver lining Hank is clinging to: "I can be the man who catches him, at least." (And remember, Charlie Rose has spilled he makes an appearance in the penultimate episode — is Hank's moment of glory coming?) But he still keeps everything close to the vest when he returns to work, until a decent piece of luck crosses his desk. A nearly catatonic Jesse Pinkman has been arrested for tossing around millions of dollars, and the show ends breathtakingly with Hank giving the beat cops a break, and going in to question Walt's former partner in crime (who Saul has been leaving desperate messages for).
Thoughts & Observations
With six episodes to go, it's more than apparent that everything Walt has been fighting for — namely, family — is slipping out of his grasp, and moreover the poisoning of his morals has now infected his wife. Skyler's decision to stick by her man, instead of taking the opportunity to escape offered by Hank is one that will likely be debated. But, one can argue she's rightfully concerned of implicating herself in Walt's dealings but more importantly, given the chance to stick with Walt and keep her family together or give him up and see it be irrevocably broken...she's gambling on somehow making it work. Unwise? Perhaps, but in desperate times, some folks chose the path with the most optimistic outcome, even if completing the road to land there is unlikely.
Many have suggested that Skyler will be dead before the season is out (Bryan Cranston has himself openly talked about the entire White family being killed), but given Walt's emphasis on not sending anyone in his family to uh, Belize, we're not so sure. At least, we'd guess, it won't be by his hands. Much has been made by eagle-eyed folks noticing that season five opener, the flash-forward showed Walter using a fake ID with the last name Lambert — Skyler's maiden name. But if anything "Breaking Bad" has turned left, whenever we expect it to turn right, and we think the outcome for Skyler may not be death per se. (Also, if Walter White is trying to hide or disguise who he is, using the name Walter Lambert isn't exactly the most clever of ruses). But someone who falls outside of family is Jesse, and if he does start talking to Hank — entirely possible, as finally owning up to everything may be the only way he truly finds any personal atonement for the blood he can't wash metaphorically off his hands — then he may be taking a trip to Belize at the hands of Walt.
But, if this is one glaring, hard to ignore hitch with this episode it's this: where the hell is Walt Jr.? The entirety of "Buried" takes place, more or less, over a day or two and yet Walt Jr. is nowhere to be found. It's likely because there was so much ground to cover narratively, but it's also a convenience and contrivance. Also, if Hank wanted to get to someone else close to Walt to convince Skyler to talk, wouldn't Walt Jr. be the perfect vehicle for that? Hank has already shown there are no rules anymore. While Hank may be looking for leverage from Jesse, perhaps he'll find it in Walt Jr.... And how the writers handle Walt Jr.'s reaction (or not) to his father's real story will be fascinating, and we imagine that they can't keep having him just eat breakfast and dinner forever.
But that ultimately minor complaint aside, "Breaking Bad" is roaring toward the conclusion and refreshingly going to places in two episodes that most shows would track over a whole season (seriously, 99% of writers would've predictably played the Hank vs. Walt showdown for the finale). It's riveting, well written stuff it looks like every minute of the six hours down the finish are going to count. [B+]