Tuesday, 20 August 2013

BREAKING BAD, 5.10 – 'Buried'


written by Thomas Schnauz | directed by Michelle MacLaren

After last week's scintillating episode where Breaking Bad once again managed to throw viewers a delicious curveball by having Walt (Bryan Cranston) confront Hank (Dean Norris), rather than vice-versa, many episodes earlier than expected, "Buried" was another very strong hour. What I love about Breaking Bad is how it tries to stay one-step ahead of its audience, while occasionally embracing the fact everyone knows certain things have to play out a certain way. And while a lesser show would devise a ridiculous way to zag when everyone expects a zig, sometimes Breaking Bad just ensures the zig's so elegantly played that you really don't mind.

After the blistering Walt/Hank confrontation in the garage last week, "Buried" drew the battle lines. The 'brothers at war' both pounced on trying to secure Skyler's (Anna Gunn) loyalty, but Hank managed to beat Walt to the chase. Of course, while he expected full cooperation and tears from a wife who's been blackmailed into keeping silent about her ne'er-do-well husband, he wasn't prepared for a gloomy sister-in-law demanding to get legal representation—the reality Skyler became an accessory to Walt's crimes is still beyond Hank's comprehension. The poor man's bald head will explode if he's made to feel even more like a fool...

What did surprise me about this episode was Skyler's reaction to Hank, as she's decided to stay in her husband's corner and ride the storm out because Hank evidently doesn't have proof to get an easy conviction—without something like a damning statement from herself. It wasn't too long ago that Skyler was a psychological mess about to spill the beans about Walt's drug empire, and I must admit I expected her to be relieved Hank knows and he's prepared to back her up. There's even a chance Hank would fudge the truth to protect his wife's sister from taking too much of the blame, but Skyler appears to have resolved to just keep quiet and make preparations for her children's future now Hank's let slip Walt's cancer has returned... and this time, a remission doesn't look very likely... although the flashforward to months beyond these events, with Walt back to sporting a full head of hair, strongly suggests otherwise...

This episode took some time to present thing from the female perspective of this show, too, with Marie (Betsy Brandt) attempting to get full disclosure from her sister and soon realising just how deep Skyler's involved in Walt's mess. Breaking Bad has always had some issues making the women on the show feel as compelling as the men, but both Brandt and Gunn sold their scene together incredibly well. The sense of betrayal was etched all over Marie's face, although it wasn't made explicit if she's told Hank what she's learned about the depths of Skyler's involvement. Maybe there's still some sisterly solidarity that will keep Skyler safe in that respect, but we'll see how long it lasts.

Faced with the possibility of the DEA coming to arrest him now Hank knows the truth, Walt spent most of this episode being extremely pragmatic once it became clear he couldn't get Skyler's ear: getting hold of his millions and burying the cash inside several plastic drums in the desert, with the treasure's GPS location committed to both memory and numbers on a lottery ticket. It was a task so backbreaking he passed out moments after returning home to shower, to be comforted by Skyler and make her swear she'll use the money to provide for their children after he's gone. This being the exact reason Walt 'broke bad' in the first place; and now Skyler appears to be on the same page. But can the White's family survive now Hank and Marie (the opposing couple) are out to bring them to justice?

The rest of the episode was foreshadowing future episodes. I really enjoyed the respite from the character-based drama with Lydia (Laura Fraser) travelling to inspect the underground meth-lab that's being used by Declan (Louis Ferreira) to keep her drug business going, and finding it falls way below Heisenberg standards—explaining why international customers aren't prepared to pay top dollar for inferior product. I had suspected we'd be seeing Declan again soon, but I was surprised to see this subplot end with Lydia's wiping out Declan's cronies thanks to Todd (Jesse Plemons) and his uncles.

Does Lydia intend to install Todd as the "new Heisenberg", because his cook's at least an improvement on what they have currently? Maybe as an interim measure, but I don't see that lasting very long. My guess is Lydia's going to find a way to blackmail Walt into cooking crystal meth again, but I'm not sure what leverage she has on him... beyond a blatant threat that Todd's uncles will kill his family if he refuses. I also liked the feeling that Lydia's in over her head, forced to take extreme measures like allying with Todd's family, which echoes exactly how Walt used to be in the earlier seasons. There's probably a 'breaking bad' storyline for Lydia's character we're not fully aware of...

And finally, we had confirmation of the popular fan theory that Hank won't get the DEA involved in taking Walt down because it would end his career; having spent a year tracking a kingpin who turned out to be under his nose the whole time. His only viable option is to prove Walt's guilt himself, then hope the act of single-handedly catching the mighty Heisenberg (even though it's his brother-in-law) will be enough for his colleagues to think better of him. This logic is a little woolly, but it's the only decent option the writers had available to them... and it led to the unsurprising moment Hank realised Jesse (Aaron Paul) is the Skyler-shaped testimony he needs to put his brother-in-law in jail. And that's probably something Jesse wants to right now, so things aren't looking too good for Walt. Is it possible the remainder of these episodes will find Hank and Jesse in a partnership against Walt and Skyler?

Overall, "Buried" wasn't as intense as last week's astonishing comeback, but it was nevertheless a terrific hour of drama that's hard to find any major faults with. I love how allegiances are being drawn, and how the foreseeable elements of the plot don't frustrate you because they're just so entertaining to watch happen. I have a broad idea where I think the show is headed in its final stretch (including which characters are likely to survive), but there's just enough doubt and flashforward-created confusion to leave me happy.

18 August 2013 | AMC

  • Finally, I just have to share this amazing article, which presents a compelling theory that Walter White has taken on the behaviour and eccentricities of those he's killed over the course of the show. Even better, if this is true and intentional work by the writers, season 5's flashforward has cleverly foreshadowed the death of two lead characters...
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