I’ve long been critical of the way Skylar’s been handled – her character’s behavior is always so bull-headed and overt, it’s never fit in well with the show’s infinitely more detailed male characters. But boy, Anna Gunn was on a fucking roll in ‘Fifty-One’, an hour-long extravaganza of visual metaphors and powerful moments between the happy couple at the heart of the show, and the strained mental and emotional state of Walt’s wife. I’d argue this is one of the finest episodes of the show to date, an episode with more tension and seat-gripping moments than the more action-packed pulp fare of earlier seasons.
There’s a lot of allusion tucked away in ‘Fifty-One’, beginning with the obvious halfway point in the story with Walt’s 51st birthday. We met Walt right around his 50th, and we’ve had a peek at where he’s going to be at 52, so ‘Fifty-One’, in many ways, is the halfway point of our story, right at the same moment Heisenberg’s big meth operation and power trip is hitting its plateau. We’ve seen the man grow into a myth through the first four-plus seasons, and now that’s he’s on top of his Mount Olympus, the rest of this series is going to be that myth being made back into a man once again – and probably a corpse, by the time it’s all said and done.
But right now, Walt is living the life. He’s bought himself a new Chrysler and Junior that Dodge Challenger he wanted (Archer voice: “Thanks Dodge!!!”), and he’s basking in the grief it causes Skylar to arrange birthday bacon on his plate, like she wants to celebrate another year of Walt being alive. And because he’s living on this high, he’s completely unaware of how close things are all from going to shit. He sees the loose threads poking out of his hat, but he’s not worrying about – or even taking care of – any of them. All he’s worried about is keeping the train moving, and keeping the money flowing.
For an episode without a lot of action, ‘Fifty-One’ manages to ratchet up the intensity with a lot of sneering close-ups and dimly lit rooms with strained voices, in one of the show’s most visually engaging episodes. My favorite sequence was the birthday dinner on the patio (or is that technically a gazebo? I’m not rich enough to differentiate), where an eye-level shot of Walter with Skylar dipping her toes into the water over his shoulder. He’s talking about himself, and the woman he’s loved for thirty years is being enveloped by the BLUE liquid around her. At this point, there’s no doubt Walt is losing Skylar, who can barely stay afloat enough through all the violence and illegal activities to figure out how she’s going to stop her own husband. In fact, she really has no plan – except for the ace up her sleeve, the cancer that’s bound to come back to Walt.
Personally, I thought the episode could’ve ended right there. It felt like an “I fucked Ted” moment for Skylar, and I wanted her to be able to revel in her small, sick victory. But it’s really the only hope she has: he’s ready to one-up her at every turn, and he’s clearly not opposed to terrifying her a little bit in the process. Would season one Walt calmly stalk his wife around their bedroom and admit to his complete lack of morality? Definitely not, but then again, season one Walt wasn’t a hat-wearing, Chrysler 300-driving sociopath.
I have some other random thoughts to talk about in the notes section, but what stuck with me was the episode’s closing shot, and how poignantly it appears to sum up where the show is headed. Walt lies down in bed, with his new birthday gift from Jesse, a blue Rolex, resting on his nightstand. Now this blue Rolex (of course it’s blue!!!) has two separate white faces within its larger 12-hour clock face (aka the two different Walter Whites in the world). And the the episode ends with a tight shot of the second hand face on the watch (as it passes 51 seconds) and then, cut to black, no sound.
In short, if anyone thinks Walter White is going to live to the end of this series, you’re going to be real disappointed.
- one more allusion to Walt’s death happened during their bedroom conversation. Walt reminds her that he knew Gus was the danger, and now he’s gone, so there’s no danger. Skylar’s reply: “Didn’t you say you were the danger?” In other words, Walter is essentially killing himself by staying in this business – and someone who views him as their Gus Fring will most certainly step in to help the process along.
- interesting thought: Walt chides Skylar for having no good plan and just moving forward blindly, but what is he doing himself right now?
- Hank is not only without a cane, but his brain is getting sharper and sharper every day. He’s still wondering about that second cell phone, which means the trail hasn’t gone cold just yet.
- In a dark, dark episode, Hank and Marie’s car ride was a fantastic little humorous bit.
- who else thinks this was Anna Gunn’s best episode on the show?
- even kings bleed, Walt. And in this world, simple band-aids will not fix the problem.
- so many important scenes have happened in and around the White family pool. No Walt Jr. getting drunk and puking all over the place today, though. But he did eat some eggs and bacon for breakfast!
- How many episodes until Mike’s next rampage? I’m setting the over/under at 3.5 for now. He’s simmering, but definitely not the happiest or most relaxed camper around.
- Lydia is still being played a little too uptight. The eye movements, shoes, manner of speech… again, very unsubtle female characters on Breaking Bad.
What did you think of ‘Fifty One’? Feel free to share your thoughts/comments on the episode and predictions for the season below, and stop by next Sunday for the next review!