When season 5 started, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) was seen arranging some bacon on his plate into the number fifty-two. Tonight, in the aptly titled ‘Fifty-One,’ we learn just where that tradition started. As Walter continues to move forward with his attempt to fill the streets with his special product, Breaking Bad continues to illustrate just how far away from the original intent – and the original man – Walter’s ambition has driven him.
Walter has slipped easily into the notion that because he eliminated the most grievous threat to himself and his family, he’s no longer in any danger – or that should a situation arise, he’ll be able to handle it like he did Fring. That confidence begins to emanate in a certain swaggering, pork pie hat-wearing manner that suggests Walt is teetering on the edge of yet another tipping point in terms of his own conduct. His sense of control spreads out like tentacles into all facets of his life, creating the same level of tension at home as he may have with his partners Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Mike (Jonathan Banks). For a man who reluctantly got into the meth cooking business to provide a safety net for his family when he died, Walt’s now become the single biggest threat to their well-being, ostensibly cornering Skyler into an impossible position until she begins to see things his way.
As much as the Ted Beneke situation was Skyler’s response to the initial shift in Walter’s behavior, it has continued to have reverberations well beyond any act of infidelity. As Skyler may have seen what Walt was doing as a necessary, yet temporary evil, her tune changed drastically after the threat of Gus Fring began knocking on her door. But it was the image of Ted in the hospital, gripped with fear that eclipsed the pain of his injuries, a fear of Skyler that seems to have resonated so deeply in her psyche that she now has become hostage to a state of affairs entered into without proper forethought.
So, after Walt sells his newly repaired Pontiac Aztec for $50, and comes home with a new car for both himself and for Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte), Skyler says nothing, instead reserving her few words to express concern over Walt Jr. and Holly’s safety. After pooh-poohing the idea, Walt changes the subject to thoughts of how they might celebrate his pending birthday – expecting something along the lines of a surprise party, but ending up with just Hank (Dean Norris) and Marie (Betsy Brandt) instead.
The gathering is relevant not only because of how Skyler eventually conducts herself, but also because the scope of Breaking Bad is examined outright. All that has occurred has done so in the course of around 12 months, making Walt’s transition an extraordinarily expedient one. The pace of change also goes a long way in explaining Skyler’s collapsing under the weight of it all. Whereas Walt was somehow reborn into his current role, it is now Skyler’s life that is dying, and she’s had no time to reconcile herself to that fact. The slow walk into the deep end of the swimming pool was metaphorically poignant, but it also served as Skyler’s only play to get Walt Jr. and Holly out of the house.
In the aftermath, Walt is confronted by his wife’s less than pleasant feelings towards him, and her plan to get herself and the children as far away from him as possible – a plan that may or may not include feigning abuse to see her husband taken away. Walt has a counter for all of her plans, causing Skyler’s hope of escape to wither until all she has left is enough resolve to wait for his cancer to return and kill him – which she seemingly hopes to facilitate later by chain smoking in their living room.
Lydia (Laura Fraser) is caught in a similarly unfavorable position in having to supply Mike with methylamine or face the business end of his handgun, while Hank and the DEA continue to sniff around Madrigal, picking up another person responsible for the El Pollo Loco case that’s now provided Hank with an overdue promotion. The question from that now becomes: will Hank’s inevitable handing off of the Fring investigation result in a stroke of luck for Walt, Mike and Jesse?
Still, Lydia’s hyperbolic response to the DEA’s appearance leads her to deliberately sabotage the delivery of the methylamine by tagging it with a GPS device and convincing Jesse the authorities are tracking Madrigal’s raw materials. Mike, however, is not so easily convinced, and manages to poke enough holes in the story that it’s sunk in a matter of seconds. Putting his game face on, Mike heads for the door to terminate Lydia once and for all, but is stalled by Jesse long enough for Walt (in full Heisenberg mode) to decree that the meth does not stop flowing for any reason, earning Lydia another stay of execution.
Walt’s continued blindness to the circumstances, and willingness to allow the existence of loose ends and wild cards may seem reckless, but considering his perception of the situation, it may only be a matter of time before he reacts in a manner not unlike Gus Fring. There is a lot of waiting going on right now. While Walt will undoubtedly be primed to show the monster that’s been growing inside of him to those who are replaceable, he’s prepared to wait for Skyler to come around, telling her that the man who gave him a handsome new watch was trying to kill him just a short time ago. Walt may be willing to wait for Skyler to see things his way, but the clock will continue ticking, and there’s no telling whose patience is going to win out.
Breaking Bad continues next Sunday with ‘Dead Freight’ @10pm on AMC. Check out a preview below: