WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
The AMC official episode description is relatively cryptic: “Skyler's past catches up with her; Walt works to cover his tracks; Jesse fights feelings of guilt.”
Last week, I described Walt’s ego as his overarching motivator and engine for all the bad choices that he’s made. But in Skyler White’s case, it’s not ego driving choices, but fear.
I know that Skyler annoys many BB fans (a phenomenon that I don’t think creator Vince Gilligan nor actress Anna Gunn anticipated), but I’ve never been in those ranks. I try to put myself in her shoes: at some point not that long ago, her life made sense to her: she had a partner and friend in her husband, Walt; her disabled son appeared to be doing somewhat well; she was expecting a new baby (the space between Walt Jr’s and Holly’s births indicates to me at least that Holly’s conception was somewhat of a surprise), she had a close relationship with her sister (but I suspect felt just a smidge superior to her, due to Marie’s childlessness and kleptomania). And then her husband hits her with a curve she hadn’t expected: cancer. Suddenly, little makes sense anymore and I think that’s why we’ve seen Skyler flail about for some kind of stability. Fear of a future without Walt has forced her to return to Beneke Industries, and maybe even the affair with Ted. When his unexplained absences lead her to suspect a double life, out of fear, Skyler leaves Walt. When Walt finally reveals his meth making life, I read fear on her face as she eventually agreed to help him launder money. But as Heisenberg has emerged more and more from mild-mannered Walt, Skyler has become increasingly more and more frightened, to the point where she walked into her pool in an ill-conceived suicide attempt in episode 5.04. That’s not to say that there isn’t a part of Skyler that isn’t as charged by perceived power as Walt (her response of “Good.” at Ted Beneke’s panicked promise to not go to the cops and her strangely covetous citing of a second carwash location the Whites could invest in in episode 5.09 are examples of darker Skyler impulses). Her own book-cooking for ex-lover Ted Beneke is also haunting her because her bailout of him could lead investigators directly back to Walt’s meth earnings, a event in her past that may be what catches up with her.
Skyler’s metamorphosis from the strong, resilient wife and mom in the premiere to the compromised and frightened shell she is now speaks to the choices made by many abused women. The abuse in this case is not physical, but psychological. She doesn’t know how to escape; there’s no choice she can think of making that will keep her or her children safe. Even her driving away of Lydia in the past episode is tinged with fear. She has no idea who else is in on Walt’s meth business; she has to feel that threat of some stranger coming back to exact revenge or payment from Walt at all times.
One of the things that has always struck me about Walter White’s particular strain of narcissism is how quick he is to point out the ramifications of actions of others, but is completely blind to how his own actions impact psychologically everyone around him, including (or perhaps, primarily) Skyler.
We open on an old man leaving his home at night or maybe it’s the wee hours of the morning, only to find one of Jesse’s stacks of money on his driveway. A quick look down the block finds even more. Merry Christmas, old man! He continues forward, retrieving stacks of cash until he finds Jesse’s car crashed on a playground, the open duffel with millions in cash available to whomever finds it and a nearly catatonic Jesse twirling himself on the playground merry-go-round.
Cut back to Hank’s garage. The entire scene is shot like a modern adaptation of a shootout in a Western, all low angles and squinting faces. The garage door lifts and Walt walks out. Walt and Hank take one last glare at each other as the neighbor kid plays with his RC car in the background. Hank closes the garage door using the remote in his hand, shutting out Walt. The entire scene is shot like a modern adaptation of a shootout in a Western, all low angles and squinting faces. Walt gets into his car and pulls out, trying frantically to call Skyler, but he can’t get her to come to the phone. Still outside the Shrader house, Walt demands that the car wash employee get Skyler, but he can’t do it. Just then Hank walks out again onto the driveway with the phone at his ear and Walt realizes Hank has gotten to Skyler first.
He races to the car wash only to find Skyler’s office empty. An employee tells Walt that she just left in a hurry. Panic has well and truly set in. Remember how I said that Walt’s great demon is his pride? Would he be in this situation, unsure of what’s going on with his wife if he hadn’t let his pride convince him to tip his hand about the tracker to Hank.
Skyler has escaped to a diner, where she meets Hank. Her face is terrified and as she approaches him, he pulls her into a deep embrace. Hank is clearly going with the abused wife theory, reassuring her that she needs not be afraid of that monster any longer. Skyler isn’t reacting all that much, so he continues, telling her that he’s figured out so much of the puzzling things Skyler has done (sending the kids to him and Marie, walking into the pool) in the last year has to do with being afraid of Walt. Skyler keeps her eyes doe-like and averted as Hank lays out his plan: Skyler needs to come back to Hank’s place with the kids. But before they put the plan in action, Hank pulls out a voice recorder and asks for Sky to tell him everything she knows. Skyler hesitates. She wants to know why this needs to be done right now.
And that is where Hank tips his hand. (Seriously, I don’t think Walt and Hank should ever play poker with the women in their lives because their tells are as obvious as anything.) Hank wants a solid case to put Walt away with, telling her he doesn’t want Walt to run out the clock. Sky questions this odd throwaway line and Hank tells her the cancer is back. The wheels of calculation are now running at peak levels through Sky’s brain. She tells Hank that she thinks she needs a lawyer. Just what Hank doesn’t want to hear. He tries to convince her that lawyering up is not in her interest, and how it puts big roadblocks out there for him. But Skyler can see it in his tell: he just wants to be in control of it and a lawyer would take the control away from him. Hank, dare I say it, is sounds a little like control freak Walter there. Skyler tells him that it sounds like he just wants to get Walt at all costs—including her safety. Only at this moment is it clear that Skyler is not going to play the victim for Hank’s big hero narrative. Big props to the writers and actors for playing this scene so subtly that at no time is the viewer ever sure which way Skyler is going to go.
Hank is still trying to play the hero, getting up from the booth to assist Skyler to go with him to get the kids but she doesn’t move. She asks him, trembling at first, “Am I under arrest?” Stunned, Hank tries to calm her down, but she just repeats it, with increasingly strength and volume, until everyone in the diner is looking at them and she’s wrested her arm away from his grip. It’s a nice call back to the “Shut up shut up shut up SHUT UP” moment between her and Marie in episode 5.03. She then runs out of the diner, leaving a dumbfounded Hank.
We see Saul’s goons heading down a storage warehouse to what looks like Walt and Skyler’s storage room with the pallet full of money. Huell has to know what it’s like to lounge on that much cash. It doesn’t take much for Kuby to join him. Huell hints that it would take little effort to go to Mexico with the cash but Kuby reminds him that the money belongs to a man who arranged for the violent murders of ten inmates in ten minutes time, so maybe that impulse is best contained.
Cut to the Goodman law firm offices. Saul is on the phone, ostensibly leaving a message for Jesse. He tells him he’s got to get a hold of those bags of money. Walt’s in the office with him, so Walt is clearly trying to get things under control as much as Hank is. Walt’s cell phone goes off and it’s Skyler. Saul tells him not only not to answer it, but to take the batteries out so they can’t use the GPS to track him. Neither of them know if Hank has turned Skyler or what exactly Hank or Skyler knows, so operating blindly is not the easiest way to attain control. Saul tells him it could be worse, but Walt’s not seeing it. What could be worse than Hank—his brother in law, a DEA agent, a man who knows the real Walt, not the mythological Heisenberg—knowing? Saul suggests that maybe Walt wants to send Hank “to Belize, you know like when you sent Mike to Belize”. Walt is irate; Hank is FAMILY. You don’t send your family to Belize.
Just in time before an ugly scene arises between Walt and Saul, Huell and Kuby arrive. They have taken the money from storage, put them in oil drums and put them in a van. Kuby tells Walt they left the drums unsealed, assuming that Walt would want to check the amount. Walt does and growls, “Good enough.” Huell and Kuby give each other a knowing glance, so maybe there was a little skimming off the top?
Hank drives out to the desert; it looks like the place where he and Jesse first cooked meth in the Winnebago. He’s going to bury all those oil drums. Back-breaking work for a cancer patient, Walt. You couldn’t part with a little spare change to rent a backhoe?
Cut to the White home. As Holly gurgles in the playpen, Skyler is trying to get Saul on the phone. Marie knocks, demanding to be let in. Sky looks out the window and knows Hank is there too. Eventually, Sky lets Marie only in. Sitting on the bed in Skyler’s and Walt’s bedroom, Marie begs her to say that it’s not true, but all Skyler can do is break down. She asks how long Sky has known, was that what made her go into the pool? Sky shakes her head. Marie puts together that Skyler’s known for a long time, that Walt’s gambling story was a lie. Marie is the personification of betrayal. Marie asks if she knew before Hank was shot. Sky cries, “I’m so sorry,” and Marie hauls off and slaps her. Marie leaves the bedroom and the crying Skyler. But Skyler hears her talking to Holly and hurries out to find Marie trying to walk out of the house with the baby. Skyler begs and then demands that her sister give her back her child, but Marie won’t give her up. Holly is screaming that terrified baby shriek as Skyler insists that Marie give her back her baby. Hank bursts in and tells Marie she has to put Holly down. A charged moment later, Marie hands the baby back to Skyler and walks out of the house.
Sitting in the car, Marie’s face is one of determination. “You have to get him.” If Hank and Walter are struggling to control this situation, then Marie’s focus is vengeance and it is single-minded.
Back to Walt’s physical labor. He’s dirty, hot and exhausted. The sun is down before he’s finally got a hole big enough to fit all the drums. We see him covering his tracks and then getting a location coordinates from a device, repeating the six numbers over and over so that he can destroy the device rather than have another item to track him.
Then we see him putting up a lotto ticket with the coordinates on it on the refrigerator. Skyler opens the bedroom door and whispers his name. She asks where he was. Walt says nothing to her as he walks past her into the bathroom to shower off his sweat and New Mexico dirt. She reassures him that she said nothing to Hank, begging him to say something. Instead, he collapses on the bathroom floor.
We cut to Walt coming to, still on the bathroom floor, a pillow and blanket covering him, Skyler wiping his brow. It’s a weirdly tender moment in a strange location. He asks how long he was out and she says 4-5 hours. She states his cancer is back and whispers “Is this it?”
Walt: “Does that make you happy?”
Skyler: “I can’t remember the last time I was happy.”
Weak and at a literal dead end, Walt lays down his cards for Skyler. He knows she talked to Hank, and assumes she made a deal. Walt offers to give himself up if Sky promises to keep the money and not give it up.
And that’s it in a nutshell. Walt just needs to go to his doom with the knowledge that his initial noble justification is still intact.
But this is when we realize that Skyler is still holding her cards. Sky wants to know how Hank found out and Walt admits he screwed up. This is the first time I can remember Walt admitting that to anyone over anything. And maybe it’s that prize that give Skyler the impetus to spell out her strategy. She tells him that Hank essentially admitted he doesn’t have enough to get Walt, so giving himself up is out of the question.
A large black pickup truck arrives at the Mexican junkyard meth lab of Declan. Oh look, it’s Lydia, blindfolded to keep plausible deniability. She is meeting with the Declan and his crew to find out why the cooking is going so wrong. The fluttery, scared Lydia of the last episode is nowhere in view and with business-like terseness, insists on seeing the operation. They escort her down to the underground lab inside a buried bus. Lydia finds the facilities filthy. The guys shrug it off. Obviously, their lackadaisical approach to lab methodology isn’t going to reproduce the same quality as Heisenberg. But hey , if Heisenberg isn’t coming back, what can you do? Lydia suggests bringing back Todd since he worked with Heisenberg, but they refuse, insisting they only want people they can trust. Lydia sighs, “I really wish you gave me a chance”.
Suddenly, a guy appears at the entrance, saying there’s a problem above ground. The cookers go up as Lydia signals something on her phone and takes cover in the bus. We can hear lots of shots being fired and dust crumbling from the bus ceiling. For a show that has depicted some brutal violence quite graphically, it’s a surprisingly coy choice to leave the shootings off camera. The aforementioned Todd then appears at the entrance, telling her it’s safe to come up. But poor Lydia doesn’t want to see the carnage she’s apparently ordered, so Todd thoughtfully escorts around the dead bodies. Todd’s Uncle Jack finds the solicitousness of Todd humorous. Guess you don’t see a lot of chivalry among tweakers. After Lydia is out of the way, Uncle Jack rounds up his buddies and tells them to “gather it up, all of it.”
Hank is sitting at the table looking over all his Heisenberg paperwork. Marie is watching him in her pajamas. He asks if she’s going to work and she replies he has to be kidding. But she thinks that Hank should be at work and he should pull in other agents at this point.
Hank says the day he walks in with this, it’s the last day of his career. There’s no way that he can face them and admit that the man he’s been chasing for the last year plus is his brother-in-law. Maybe some of that destructive Walter White pride is rubbing off on Hank. But Marie’s worried that if Hank says nothing, he’ll go to jail for hiding the evidence too. So off to the DEA goes Hank. But he begs off the mundane duties and asks Gomie to schedule a time for him to meet with some others to get caught up, implying that he’s taking Marie’s advice and seeking out assistance. Gomie tells Hank about the “money thing” and that he won’t believe that it involves his old friend, Jesse Pinkman.
Sure enough, there’s Jesse in a room, being interrogated by DEA agents who want to know why Jesse is throwing out millions in cash. Well, interrogation is the wrong word. The agents are talking but Jess is still catatonic, just staring off to the side and saying nothing. Hank asks for a minute with Jesse, telling the agents that because of their history, Jesse hates him viscerally and that might stimulate into talking.
The final shot is Hank silently walking into the interrogation room.
- Is B024 significant? It was the number of the interrogation room, but knowing how much Vince Gilligan likes to throw little easter eggs into his productions, it could be significant. Bonus trivia: Pixar tries to sneak the number of the animation room at Cal Arts into all their productions.
- The lotto ticket with the coordinates is a brilliant way to hide out in the open a major plot point.
- I’m convinced that Lydia’s “Czech clients” are going to figure in to some horrifying violent event. They certainly aren’t happy with the drop in quality of the meth.
- What exactly did Uncle Jack gather from Declan's lab and where is it going?
- Where was Walt, Jr.? There was a moment in episode 2.07, where Ted Beneke asks Skyler about Walt, Jr. Skyler refers to Walt, Jr. as “handsome” and Ted responds, “Good genes,” to which Skyler looks very uncomfortable. At that time I saw comments in forums suggesting that Walt, Jr. may be Ted’s son and that the affair between Skyler and Ted had been on- and off-again for years.
- A commenter on the Breaking Bad site at AMC noted something that I hadn’t put together: Walt tends to assimilate characteristics of people he’s killed. After killing Crazy 8 (who demanded the crusts cut off his sandwich while imprisoned in the basement), Walt started cutting off the crusts of his sandwiches too. Before killing Mike, he asked for his drink neat and then afterwards, he’s seen drinking a whiskey on the rocks, Mike’s preference. That puts Walt’s choice of “Lambert” (Skyler’s maiden name) and the ritual of writing out his birthday age in bacon in episode 5.01 in a much different light.
- “We’re here to do a job, not channel Scrooge McDuck” I wasn’t thinking Scrooge McDuck but Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal, though likening Huell to Demi Moore is admittedly a little twisted.
- “Jesus, send him to Belize…I’ll send you to Belize.” If there hadn’t been rumblings of a Saul Goodman spin off (please make it so), I’d wonder if this wasn’t a Chekhov’s gun.
- Being a lover of literary allusions, I was taken by "The Hamlet Theory" of how the series ends, but your mileage may vary.
Next episode: "Confessions"