Somehow, we're already halfway through this summer's half of Breaking Bad Season 5. Episode 4: "Fifty-One" rang in the 50 percent mark with an emotional gut punch, bringing the festering Skyler-Walter tensions to a riveting boil — though other elements suffered for it.
A note: Breaking Bad is a story about moral decline and the reasons people commit crime; in that spirit, we'll be using our recaps to track the moral state of the key players each week. Sound good? Then read on for Wetpaint Entertainment's recap of Breaking Bad Season 5, Episode 4: "Fifty-One"
Walter White: "There's Absolutely Nothing for You to Be Afraid of Anymore"
The good news: Normally, it's hard to believe Bryan Cranston is the same man who played Malcolm's dad in Malcolm in the Middle, but in this episode the good natured father is on full display. He has an easy chemistry with Walter Jr. that speaks of his real love for his children. That's the one scrap of decency left to him, and it's a testament to Bryan Cranston's skill that we still find his banter with Walter touching.
And hey, anyone who likes chocolate cake with chocolate icing can't be all bad, right?
The bad news: Walter's relationship with his children may still have a basis in love, but his marriage to Skyler is completely poisoned. It has been an obvious charade all season, but their blow-out confrontation this episode is still incredible stuff. Again, major kudos to Bryan Cranston. Over the last four seasons he has so thoroughly developed this character that we can hear when he is in full Heisenberg mode just by the controlled tremor in his voice. To turn that on Skyler is shattering. He is now menacing his family, not protecting them.
Skyler has been given hints of Heisenberg before, of course; "I am the danger" is one of the most iconic lines of the series for a reason, and it's nice to see it referenced here. But this is the first time Walter really turns on her, beating her down with the combination of intimidation and logic that makes him so dangerous. He doesn't stop for a second to consider that she may be correct that he's putting his children at risk. As with Mike and Jesse earlier this season, he's convinced that when he is in charge, nothing can go wrong.
Pride and hubris have always been Walter's tragic flaws, and this season is driving that point home. Even if you still root for him because we were aligned with him in the past, there's no question that the show now positions him as a full-throttle villain driven primarily by a lust for power.
Skyler White: "There's Blood on My Hands, Too"
The good news: Anna Gunn continues to prove why she deserves her recent Emmy nomination, with acting to rival any of her much-applauded co-stars. Skyler has spent most of the season a blank-eyed shell, but she finally fights back this week. Here, once again, is the woman who fooled the IRS and set up the car wash — but this time, she turns her skills of manipulation against Walter, doing her best to wrench her children free from his influence and the dangers of living in his home. Unfortunately for her, she's not as good at this game as Walter, and she knows it. For every strategy she comes up with — pretend to be insane, pretend Walter is beating her, send Walter Jr. away to school — Walter has a Heisenbergian answer that keeps her trapped.
Despite Skyler's lack of success, the best part of this episode is getting to see her anger erupt. Her controlled fury as she tells Walter she's waiting "for the cancer to come back" is as standout a moment as any this show has had.
The bad news: There's something sad about the way Skyler has accepted her own moral decline. She even calls herself "compromised." In some ways we'd actually kind of love to see her embrace her dark side and team up with Walter, but it's clear that won't happen as long as Walter continues to cling to their children. So instead we get this wreck of a woman desperately fighting to protect her kids from the moral muck her husband has dragged her through.
Again: Is there any question that the writers want us to see Walter as a true villain now? We don't think so.
Jesse Pinkman: "I'm the Guy"
The good news: We don't know. Is Jesse actually in this episode?
Okay. We're kidding. Mostly. But Jesse did seem relegated to the sidelines, a pattern we've noticed all season. Walter and Jesse are clearly cooking, working closely, but we haven't been shown as much of it as we'd like. Is Walter keeping his newfound crazy in check around Jesse? Is Jesse starting to catch on? We know we sound like a broken record with this complaint, but their relationship has always been the heart of the show for us. Hopefully the writers are only holding back now because they have something big planned for these two later in the season.
That said, Jesse still gets his moment of moral clarity this week when he fights Mike about killing Lydia. He may frame it as an argument about keeping their supplies flowing, but his real problem is that killing still fundamentally doesn't sit well with him.
Also, he buys Walter a birthday watch. Adorable, much? He may be growing up and hardening, but this is still the boy who just craves a mentor.
The bad news: Jesse seems very, very comfortable with his new role as career criminal. He was never on the straight and narrow, but he's taken too well to organized crime.
Lydia: "I'll Take Paranoid Any Day Over Getting Gang Raped by Prison Guards"
The good news: What we like about Lydia is how simply freaked out she seems at all times. It's a nice contrast to Walter and Mike's confidence, and Laura Fraser sells the hell out of Lydia's distress. It doesn't make the bad things she does okay, but it makes them understandable in a similar way to Walter's earlier exploits in crime — she's in over her head and panicking.
(Of course, we do wonder why the first major female character involved in major drug dealing has to be the one who is over-emotional and easily rattled, but that's a rant for another day. We're more then willing to give the writers the benefit of the doubt and we're very interested to see how Lydia develops.)
The bad news: If Mike is right that Lydia planted that tracker — and we suspect he is — than that cements the fact that loyalty is really not Lydia's thing. She was willing to kill to keep people silent, and now she's willing to lie to the man who let her live despite that attempted murder spree. She's a dangerous ally, and as much as we're glad Jesse fought to keep her alive, we suspect it will bite the Walter-Jesse-Mike operation in the butt at some point down the line.
Hank & Marie Schrader: "It Involves Infidelity, That's All I'm Going to Say"
The good news: Once upon a time, we found Hank and Marie obnoxious and annoying, respectively. Hank's arc has been interesting for awhile, and we're even warming to Marie this season. We appreciate their good-hearted attempts to help. Their scenes at Walter's birthday are very human. They don't really know what to do, but they try. Both actors really nail that mixture of concern, confusion, and forced optimism.
The bad news: Hey, Marie's still a gossip, and Hank is still Hank. But the writers have done a good job transforming the personality flaws that once made them hard to watch into assets — the biggest laugh-out-loud moment of the episode is Marie pretending to lock her lips after entirely spilling Walter's secret. Physical comedy on Breaking Bad? Who knew!
- Heisenberg hat is back!
- "50 bucks. Are you crazy?" Yes, Walter Jr. Yes he is.
- Spending too much money on cars has been an issue in the past. But it plays out so differently now. The last time Walter overspent Skyler browbeat him into getting rid of the car, but those days are over. Even what seems like a nice gesture for his kid is just another expression of power.
- As always, incredible attention to detail. The car mechanic who thinks Walter ran over a "deer" a few months back. Lydia's mismatched shoes. Skyler wrapping floss around her finger so tightly it cuts off blood. The loose thread on the Heisenberg hat.
- Lots of reflections in cars this week. Walter and his Heisenberg hat in the side mirror. Skyler in the back window of Walter's new car. Walter checking out his appearance in the window before going home for his birthday.
- Hank is offered a promotion at the DEA. This might be a wrinkle in his attempt to track down Gus's organization. But we have a feeling he's not going to give up, particularly because the DEA has already noted that the blue meth is back on the streets.
- Beyond the Walter-Skyler fight, this episode offered another super memorable scene: Walter speechifying about cancer as Skyler stares at the pool.
- Mike line of the week: "That's what I get for being sexist." From now on, Mike will be an equal opportunity killer.
- "We're just getting started. Nothing stops this train. Nothing." This little speech seems so cliche. We trust the writers enough to believe that's intentional. Walter is playing at the role of kingpin, of mob boss. But does he really know how to wear the crown?
- "The person who gave me this present wanted me dead, too," Walter says of the watch from Jesse, before telling Skyler she will change her mind about him just like Jesse did. Of course, we all know Jesse's change of heart is based on a lie; Walter really is bad as Jesse thought when he pointed that gun at his head. Question: Is Walter aware of the irony, or does he buy into the fantasy that Skyer should come around to loving him again?
What did you think of the episode? Let us know in the comments below.
Read the rest of Wetpaint Entertainment's Breaking Bad coverage here.
Breaking Bad airs on Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.
Rebecca Martin is an editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @BeccaMartin47.
For the latest from Wetpaint Entertainment, Like us on our Facebook page at facebook.com/Wetpaint, or Follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/WetpaintTV.