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There has been so much buzz about this final season of AMC's Breaking Bad (and I believe this to be season 6 even though it is being called season 5 – extended version). So whether you believe this is season 5 episode 10, or as I do – season 6 episode 2 – it really does not matter; the latest episode “Buried” further drives home the power of the story, gives us levels of acting unparalleled on television, and reminds us all that the end is nigh.
If you enjoyed last week’s episode – especially the long awaited confrontation between Walt (Bryan Cranston) and his brother-in-law and DEA agent Hank (increasingly superb Dean Norris) – it was nothing compared to two face-offs in this episode: one between Hank and Skyler (Anna Gunn) and another between Skyler and her sister Marie (Betsy Brandt). If these two scenes do not lock in an Emmy win for Gunn, it will be a gross injustice.
After Walt and Hank’s garage showdown (in which Hank clocked Walt so viciously that you realized it was not just for him but for every viewer too), we know that Walt is going to attempt damage control and Hank is zooming in for the kill. Hank accomplishes this – or at least attempts to do so – in a meeting with Skyler at a diner. In this scene Gunn’s acting showed all sorts of ranges, and her facial expressions indicated the simmering emotions that she (and the viewer) has – her loyalty to Walt, her fear for her children, and her own complicity all come into play here. So now that the crystal meth has hit the fan, we question what exactly will Skyler do?
As Hank offers Skyler and the kids “protection,” we see Skyler get her maternal back up. She realizes the future could very well mean (depending on how this all plays out) that Marie and Hank could wind up with her kids when she and Walt go to prison. Skyler also digs deep for her strength, feeling protective of not just the kids but of Walt – she loves him still even after all that he has done.
So, as Hank desperately tries to record their conversation, Skyler shivers and so do we. We realize that Hank has few options left as well. Once he goes to his superiors, it is over for him too. He tells Marie as much. His career is finished once the higher ups realize that he has had the drug kingpin under his nose all this time in his own family. Hank is doing his own form of damage control, hoping to get the goods from Skyler and then throw the book at Walt (yes, I think I’m channeling Dragnet here). Skyler is having none of it.
When Hank reveals that Walt’s cancer has returned, we see another wave of emotion pass over Skyler’s face. If acting coaches and teachers are wise, they will take this scene and show it to their students because it is truly that incredible. At this point Skyler has had enough. She asks if she needs a lawyer. Hank hadn’t expected this, but she is hardened now. Over these past five seasons she has gone through so much, but she has also learned from Walt, perhaps too well. She wants to escape the moment and screams, “Am I under arrest?” Soon she is beating a path out of the diner and Hank has lost this round. What does he do next?
The second confrontation with Marie is just as powerful. Here Hank waits outside as Marie and Skyler sit on the end of the bed, literally on the edge of their seats. These two sisters share great love, but you can see the betrayal Marie feels and the fear and emotion that Skyler is dealing with. When Skyler manages to say she is sorry (referencing when Hank had been shot), Marie slaps her across the face and we can feel the sting. Marie then attempts to take baby Holly out of the house. Skyler’s instincts are right – they are going to try to take the kids! Hank eventually intervenes and tells Marie to give the baby back, but Skyler knows where this is all heading and so do we.
Meanwhile, Walt is continuing his damage control. He goes to lawyer Saul (Bob Odenkirk), who continues to be like the grave diggers in Hamlet, providing much needed humor in otherwise grim proceedings. He suggests that Walt could send Hank “to Belize,” a reference to when Walt killed Mike (Jonathan Banks), but to his credit Walt rejects this idea because Hank is "family" (once again we see into the convulted mind of Walter White and his warped allegiance to family). When Walt quips that he will send Saul to Belize, we realize that this is about as much humor as we need or can expected in such a grim episode as “Buried,” and then Saul proceeds to get his goons to bring out Walt’s large stash of cash from storage.
Walt drives off in a van containing garbage cans filled with money. It is fitting that Walt is protecting – above all things – what matters most in this equation. Why did Walter White go from a mild-mannered chemistry teacher to super bad drug kingpin? It was all about the money. In what is like a formula that Walt once wrote on the blackboard in the classroom, you can plug in family and legacy but it all comes down to equaling money. All that cash is what Walt worked for, and the only way he succeeds (even after his death) is if that money goes to the kids and Skyler.
Walt goes out into the desert and toils for hours, digging what is ostensibly an enormous grave for the cash. The metaphorical implications of “Buried” are obvious – a walking dead man is burying what he gave his life up for. It is the worst case scenario but Walt is going to protect what he worked so hard to accumulate, almost as an ultimate form of revenge against the cancer in his body, Hank, and any of his enemies. Of course, you know the old saying about wanting revenge – you might as well dig two graves. Walt just doesn’t realize it yet.
When he returns home exhausted and collapses on the bathroom floor, Sklyer runs to him. His physical condition is so depleted, and now she knows the truth about the cancer. It almost seems like he is dying right there, and talk about giving up is exchanged, but Skyler once again stiffens her back and tells him, “You can’t give yourself up without giving up the money.” Of course, that is a deal breaker for Walt, and now it seems for Skyler as well as she advises, “Maybe our best move is to stay quiet.” The “our” confirms what we have suspected all along – Skyler is on Team Walt.
Of course, Walt’s "team" has not always had the best players. When we see Jesse (Aaron Paul) in custody, loyal viewers of the show probably thought why did it take so long? Jesse, Walt’s former student and erratic partner in the meth business, has always been the wild card. We have seen him breaking down as Walt’s been breaking bad, and now Jesse could prove to be Walt’s Achilles’ heel. Hank is almost salivating as he sees Jesse in the holding cell, and as he prepares to enter the room the scene and episode ends. We can only hope next week’s show (“Confessions”) will feature that moment when Jesse cracks, although Hank could once again come up with nothing. My bet is that Jesse has nowhere to turn and nothing left – he will talk more than Whoopi Goldberg on The View.
The end of Breaking Bad is slowly breaking my heart, just as the endings of other shows like 24 and Lost have, but here I think show Creator and Executive Producer Vince Gilligan is truly respecting the fans. He is giving us, step by step, the things we have been waiting for – the confrontation between Walt and Hank, one between Skyler and Hank, Skyler and Marie, and so on. The trajectory of the rising tension and action is distinct and respectful of the fans’ loyalty, and you have to give Gilligan enormous credit for that.
We do not know what will happen between Jesse and Hank, but that’s part of the fun. Will Jesse finally and completely breakdown? Or will he suddenly find some kind of spine and protect himself and Walt? “Buried” certainly answers some questions but also creates many more in the process, and that has been the Breaking Bad formula all along, which proves that chemistry can be more entertaining than we ever realized in high school.
Photo credits: AMC