Breaking Bad – “Fifty-One” – review

A very Sopranos-esque, character-driven episode is offered this week to mark Walt’s fifty-first b-day, an occasion that also means that all the shit we’ve seen go down on Breaking Bad over the past four years?  Yeah, that’s only been one year in the world of the show.  As the flash-forward that opened this season indicated that Walt was possibly turning fifty-two at some point, I’m placing my bet now that the machine gun return to ABQ is something we’ll see resolved in season five part deux, not in 2012.

Rian Johnson, director of Brick, Brothers Bloom and the upcoming Looper, directs this fantastically acted episode with much of the visual flair he brought to his famous season three “bottle” episode “Fly,” an episode that, if spinetingler comments are to be believed, is either the greatest of worst episode of the show to date.  (Doubtful this one will be nearly as controversial.)  We open Walt deciding to sell that awful Aztek to the mechanic and don the Heisenberg hat full-time, leasing some far more sporty cars for both him and Walter Jr, Skrillex (I’m assuming) booming over the soundtrack as they rev their engines in the driveway.

Skyler keeps mum, not even bothering to scold either of the boys, though Walt placates her unnecessarily just so he can pretend they have a normal-ish marriage.  When Walt hands over some more money to be laundered through the car wash, Skyler learns that Walt is back in the game already, prompting  her to suggest they put Walt Jr in boarding school.  When Walt asks for cake and a party on his birthday, Skyler only invites Hank and Marie.  After Walter Jr takes off for the night in his new ride, Skyler makes her big play, taking a Benjamin Braddock-style trip to the bottom of the pool.  (Why don’t the characters swim more?  Seems like all the assholes who have pools never use them.)

This forces Walt to square up his lie with Hank same as he did with Marie last week, telling him that Skyler is taking Ted’s handicappifying particularly badly.  Then Marie comes out and says that Skyler has asked that she and Hank keep an eye on the kids for a while so she and Walt can work some shit out.  After they’ve left, Walt and Skyler have a big fight where Walt pokes holes in her plans to keep the kids out of the house for as long Walt is there, with Skyler admitting that no, she has not thought all this out because she just isn’t as calculating as Walt.  (She showed some pretty mean skills last season but no, she just ain’t as good as Walt.)  This fight also reveals that the only thing Skyler is counting on these days is Walt’s cancer coming back and killing him.

To take a side-tour for a moment before putting the main arc of “Fifty-One” to rest, elsewhere we’ve got Lydia’s paranoia fucking shit up yet again.  After she watches another guy on the Cayman list get arrested, she decides to put a tracking device on the methylamine she’s put aside for Jesse to pick up.  Jesse freaks out about the DEA getting too close but Mike sees right through it, decides he should do what he was “too sexist” to do before – put one in Lydia’s brain and disappear her troublesome ass.  Jesse votes to keep her alive out of the goodness of his heart, but Walt votes to let her live because he doesn’t wanna stop “the train.”  He’s heard his wife’s concerns and seen how fucked his family is and how pointlessly risky his present business situation is and decided, fuck it, I’m keeping the Heisenberg hat on.

Before he leaves the vote meeting Jesse gives him a sweet watch as a birthday gift.  When he returns home to a house containing only a chain-smoking Skyler (if she’s still on American Spirits she’s a champ – those things are basically inhale-able cigars), he at first tries to play the “everything’s perfectly fine” creepy version of himself, but then rethinks it, shows her the watch.  He tells her that the man who gave her that watch put a gun in his face just a few weeks ago, hence she too can change her mind about him.  Like a classic Sopranos episode, we see Walt get an opportunity to change, an opportunity that he wholly rejects.  But as the final image of the ticking watch reminds us, time is running out for him, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be the cancer that takes him down.

As there wasn’t much new shit going down in “Fifty-One” that pointed towards where the show is headed, I can’t say that I have too many questions this week other than this: With Hank getting his promotion, do you think the writers have given him an easy way out of getting in Walt’s line of fire or will he still be looking into his beloved blue meth with even more fervor?  (Why oh why didn’t Walt just tweak the formula?!?)

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Jack Getze

Spinetingler's Fiction Editor is a former newspaper reporter and author of five crime novels from Down and Out Books. His short fiction has been published on the web at BEAT TO A PULP, A TWIST OF NOIR and THE BIG ADIOS.

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About Jack Getze

Spinetingler's Fiction Editor is a former newspaper reporter and author of five crime novels from Down and Out Books. His short fiction has been published on the web at BEAT TO A PULP, A TWIST OF NOIR and THE BIG ADIOS.

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