We had no idea what we were in for with the final half of the final season of Breaking Bad. Well… we had a pretty good idea of a few things we’d see — Hank confronting Walt about his meth-making, Marie learning the truth about her brother-in-law, Jesse pulling further away from his former mentor — we just didn’t know when these things might happen, or exactly how.
It was a surprise to many viewers in last week’s “Blood Money” that Hank and Walt’s conversation got as heated as it did, laying all the cards on the table — Hank knows without a doubt that Walt is Heisenberg, and Walt knows that he knows. Breaking Bad is a series that often teases such things out over multiple episodes or even seasons, rarely giving us the explosive confrontations we expect, but rather finding clever ways around conflicts we think are coming right up. One example? The death of young Drew Sharp. His shooting at the end of “Dead Freight” was one of Breaking Bad‘s signature “Oh shit!” moments, and many of us thought the subsequent episodes would have a major fallout from that. Would the boy’s death lead the police to discover the methylamine heist and connect this crime to Heisenberg? Would it cause the group to turn on Todd? Or would Jesse and/or Mike turn on Walt?
As it turned out, there weren’t many direct consequences from the death of a little boy. It was certainly a factor in Mike and Jesse abandoning ship, but not the factor. And so far, the police are in the dark. (Though that could change now that Jesse is in custody.) My point is, Breaking Bad often delays or even avoids the consequences we imagine will follow a major event. Walt’s first half-assed attempt on Gus Fring’s life (trying to walk up to his front door and shoot him) was not immediately followed by Gus attempting to take him out; Ted’s injury did not immediately lead to a change of heart from Skyler or some power play from Ted. Fittingly, Breaking Bad is all about the slow burn… or has been, up until now.
With only a handful of episodes left, the return of Season Five has wasted no time in getting right to the showdowns we always knew were in store. “Blood Money” gave us Walt versus Hank, whereas “Buried” is essentially all about Skyler. Here she has a lot to answer for with Hank and especially her sister, and she gets a meaty scene with each of them as the ugly truth is finally dug up for (almost) all too see. Like her husband, Skyler White is all about appearances — being good isn’t as important as looking good to the outside world. Aside from her children, no one’s opinion matters more than Hank and Marie’s, and Skyler really blows it when it comes to defending herself in any way as she is asked to explain with the twisted knot of deceit she concocted with her husband. (Suddenly that “script” she wrote in “Bullet Points,” designed to fool Hank and Marie into thinking Walt was a gambler, seems extra calculated and cruel.)
Hank truly gives her the benefit of the doubt, even if Skyler correctly assesses that he’s more concerned with nabbing Heisenberg than he is with his sister-in-law’s well-being. Skyler probably could have played the sympathy card, pleaded innocent, and at least saved her own good image (since it’s far too late for her husband’s). She might even have been able to get away with money laundering if she claimed that she thought that gambling story was true… especially if Walt went along with this and took the fall. (Something he might actually be willing to do. Discuss.) Instead, Skyler has one of her amazing Tourette freak-outs, repeating “Am I under arrest?” at an increasing volume until she has alerted the entire diner that something is not quite right with the lady in beige. Granted, Skyler is competent enough not to give Hank a recorded statement (or any information), especially not without a lawyer present. (Better call Saul!) But the way she leaves certainly won’t work in her favor; instead of trying to buy some time and at least keep Marie in the dark, she runs off and leaves her fate in Hank’s shaky hands.
Hank, then, returns to Marie and tells all. (Off-screen, unfortunately. I might have liked to see that.) Marie goes to Skyler looking for a denial, but instead gets basically the same silent treatment Hank did. But Marie is quicker to assume that her sister was complicit in Walt’s scheme, much more complicit than Hank believed. That Skyler’s secret nearly got her husband killed is the tipping point for Marie, who slaps Skyler in a nice moment of decisive action for a character who has for so long sat on the sidelines. I expected her to take a little knick-knack on her way out of the White residence, but instead her kleptomania flared up in a bigger way and she tried to take Holly. It was a teriffic display of Skyler’s transformation over the past few months — not long ago, she was the one desperate to get Holly over to Hank and Marie’s because she felt this house wasn’t safe. “Buried,” then, is the episode when Skyler White finally plants herself on the dark side. Just like when Walt learned he was in remission and no longer needed his meth bucks to pass on to his family, Skyler can no longer claim to be a victim in this. She’s making a choice to stay with Walt.
It’s hard to say precisely what is running through Skyler’s mind here, because for an episode that centers around her, she doesn’t say much. You can see her struggling to speak, especially in that tense confrontation with Marie, but she gets so few words out. The explanation is — drumroll, please! — “Buried” inside her. We see so many excuses trying to fight their way out, and yet Skyler knows that each of them is hollow. At every turn, she made the decision she felt was best for her family in one way or another. But now that she’s confronted with them all stacked up, looking at them in hindsight, it doesn’t seem like such a smart way to go. But she made these choices, and she’s stuck with that. After Walt collapses from his post-money burial fatigue, Skyler delivers a speech that is reminiscent of Walt’s words to Hank in “Blood Money,” suggesting that their best course of action is to “stay quiet.” (Or is that “tread lightly”?)
Skyler has clearly become a Lady Macbeth, and the way she takes care of Walt shows that there’s still a lot of love left for him despite the hatred she displayed in the first part of the season. I’m not sure that Breaking Bad has really bridged the gap between fearful, desperate-to-get-out Skyler from a few months ago and Skyler now. After you’ve told your husband you hope he dies of cancer, it’s hard to come back from that. When, exactly, did Skyler flip that switch? Sure, Walt is all she has now, and if she doesn’t stick with him, she may very well land in jail alongside him. But this Skyler doesn’t seem that torn. She isn’t a woman who would rather come clean, but can’t because she’s afraid. She seems relatively content to stand by her man, and never even flirts with the idea of turning him in. Now the show has drawn a divisive line — it’s Walt and Skyler vs. Hank and Marie. We didn’t expect all this to happen so soon, but there’s still a lot of story to tell this season.
“Buried” also unearths storylines for two other major players, Jesse and Lydia. In an episode in which Walt literally buries millions of dollars (the title’s most literal source), there is a continuation of Jesse’s “Blood Money” joyride that saw him tossing stacks of money out his car window like a paperboy who just won the lottery. One old man finds many of the spoils and then finds Jesse himself, spinning on a merry-go-round like a demented toddler — he’s going ’round, though he’s anything but merry. It seems success doesn’t agree with Jesse Pinkman — he was much happier as a low-life loser. Money has ruined him, as it has done to Walt and now Skyler. If this show has a villain, maybe that’s it: money.
Walt and Jesse once coveted money because they didn’t have it and felt they needed it — now it’s an unwanted burden, as both have more money than they can spend. Jesse’s is “blood money,” something he feels guilty about, while Walt’s is more of a nuisance — evidence against him and Skyler, if found. He makes Skyler promise to keep the money so that his “empire business” wasn’t all for nothing, but of course, it was. It must be assumed that Walt Jr. will find out about his father’s legacy, and even if he could somehow get his hands on that money eventually, do you think he’d take it? It’s the same gift Mike wanted to leave behind for his granddaughter, but it’s hard to imagine these kids growing up and actually wanting this money. (Not to mention that millions dropped in a young adult’s lap are not likely to be saved and spent wisely.) I imagine a spin-off show 18 years from now, with Holly White and Kaylee Ehrmantraut buying a mansion in Beverly Hills together. Mike, Walt, and now Skyler seem to be completely on the wrong page about what children need from their parents. Blood money isn’t it.
So Walt’s whole reason for doing this — greed — has basically yielded a lot of money that nobody can use and nobody wants. For the time being, Walt is a legitimate car wash owner, but that doesn’t mean Heisenberg’s product (or a cheaper facsimile) isn’t still moving, which is where Lydia comes in. Wearing a blue coat that aligns her with that deadly product, Lydia drops by to “check up” on the operation and ends up wiping out Declan and his men with some help from Todd and the neo-Nazi bunch (while she hides in a “Buried” bus). So Lydia’s officially a badass bitch — albeit a badass bitch who can’t stand the sight of a dead body.
And with Declan out of the way, are we led to believe that future Walt needs his heavy artillery to fight of the very neo-Nazis who proved so helpful to him in “Gliding Over All”? I’m not sure who else he’d be fighting, since it’s hard to imagine Walt in a police standoff. This means that Lydia could be Walt’s nemesis in the final episodes, if she has the white supremacists in her corner. Of course, for now, she’s going to be in the market for another cook, though Walt has turned her down once already. Hmm…
“Buried” isn’t an episode that immediately stands out as one of Breaking Bad‘s best. While a number of moments are satisfying — Marie slapping Skyler, Lydia’s ruthless massacre, and the final scene with Hank about to confront Jesse in hopes of getting the dirt on Heisenberg — none of them quite achieve water cooler status. And that’s fine. The more I reflect on “Buried,” the richer I find it, mainly because Skyler’s choices in it are so fascinating. It’s very reminiscent of “Fifty-One,” thanks to its focus on a near-catatonic Mrs. White, but it’s a radical departure in terms of where Skyler’s loyalties lie. This is a character who has struggled with her morals for so long, and now she finally makes some peace with where she’s landed. It’s almost touching, in a way, to see her stick with Walt in a moment when she might just as easily walk away. Of course, it also might be sealing her fate in a bad way.
Hank and Marie’s discovery has long been a promise we knew Breaking Bad would deliver on, and now that it has, perhaps it’s only natural to want a little more out of these scenes. Hank hit Walt, Marie slapped Skyler, but at the moment, the Whites are still out of harm’s way and out of jail. Walt Jr.’s reaction is on the horizon, but despite some emotional confrontations, the status quo has been maintained.
We know that won’t last — the family pool becomes a skate park roughly nine months from now — yet I can’t help but feel that there could have been a little more juice in “Buried,” given that there are now only six episodes to go.
Then again, the fact that the series got such long-awaited confrontations “out of the way” so early means that there’s room for plenty more excitement that we don’t know is coming.