With her family in danger and her husband out of control, Skyler finally finds her voice in this week’s episode of Breaking Bad. Too bad that voice is quickly reduced to a quivering whimper by Walt’s roaring meglomania. Elsewhere, twitchy little Lydia is back, and Mike’s not happy about it. It’s getting harder and harder to ignore that time is running short, so let’s review the major events of “51.”
COLLISION COURSE | Lydia Rodarte-Quayle hasn’t calmed down one scooch since we saw her last. And why would she, with the DEA visiting her at Madrigal’s Texas offices? Mike gives her a heads-up about 30 seconds before Hank, Gomez and two uniformed officers arrive. There’s a shot where it looks like the lawmen are marching her out of the building, but it’s misleading; instead, she’s showing them to the warehouse, where they cuff and cart off Ron, her “guy” when it comes to providing methylamine for Walt, Jesse and Mike’s operation. The look Ron levels at her leaves her shaking in her mismatched shoes, and she tells Mike an embellished version of the whole episode to gain… what? Sympathy? Urgency? That’s cute, Lydia, that you think Mike would care that the feds were being mean to you. But he does care about getting the meth-central chemical to Albuquerque, so he sends Jesse to pick it up. Lydia meets the young cook at the warehouse loading dock and interrogates him to make sure he’s legit. “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to apologize for being careful,” she tells him as she leads him to the goods, adding that she wanted to make sure he wasn’t “one of those people they send into high schools.” (Side note: I find the way this high-strung chick talks to Mike – and now, Jesse — hilarious.) As Jesse pulls down a Golden Hornet-branded barrel of the highly valuable chemical, Lyd notices that there’s a GPS unit stuck to the bottom. But who put it there?
ALL ABOARD | Could be the DEA, considering how on fire Hank has been lately. Back in New Mexico, he and Gomez stare at a board of Fring’s operation — “Six feet under and half a face, he’s still screwing with us,” Hank muses – and Hank posits that maybe Lydia is the link between Gus and Peter Schuler, who AED-ed himself out of existence two episodes back. (Hank also refers to Schuler as “Burgermeister Meisterburger;” anyone who so easily alludes to Rankin/Bass holiday specials is aces in my book.) Gomez says Lydia doesn’t fit in the big, bad meth world, but Hank’s not convinced… and it’s instincts like those that earn him a promotion offer to replace Merkert as ASAC of the Albuquerque DEA. In exchange, though, he’ll have to give up all of his day-to-day work, including the Fring investigation. Hank accepts, and it’s a testament to this show’s writing that I’m quite happy at the success of a character I originally wrote off as an overcompensating blowhard. We later see Jesse, Mike and Walt meet up at the bug biz for an emergency powwow. After looking at Jesse’s cell phone photo of the GPS unit – which he left, with the barrel, in the Madrigal warehouse – Mike deduces that Lydia planted the unit to make them think the cops were onto them, so maybe Mike and crew would leave her alone. Jesse urges a furious Mike not to kill her. “I had a chance to deal with this before, and I gave her a pass,” the ex-cop tells him. “That’s what I get for being sexist.” Ha! Jesse argues that they need their “precursor” and wants to put the situation to a vote. I’ve got a vote for ya: Raise your hand if you think anything good can come from Walt’s argument-ending announcement: “The methylamine keeps flowing no matter what… Nothing stops this train. Nothing.”
SKYLER HAS HER SAY | After all of that talk of lawbreaking, and potential murder, I sure could use a palate cleanser. How about a little family manipulation, intimidation and emotional abuse – with a heaping helping of delusion thrown in for fun? When the Walters pick up the resilient old Aztek from the autobody shop – I’m assuming it was there for repairs incurred in last season’s “Crawl Space” episode — Walt Sr. plucks his Heisenberg hat from the back seat and suddenly asks the mechanic if he wants to buy the newly refurbished vehicle for $50. Walter Jr. is stymied, but he stops caring about his dad’s odd behavior after they both roll home in new hot rods. His son’s love bought, a re-Heisenberged Walter revs the engine with gleeful abandon. Shocker: Skyler is not a fan of the new purchases (they were leased, Walt corrects her) nor of Walt’s expectation that she plan a big to-do for his imminent 51st birthday. And after she realizes he’s started cooking again, she asks him to think about sending the kids away. “A new environment might be good for them,” she says timidly, making me cringe at how quickly this strong-minded woman has adopted the averted eyes and hesitant speech patterns of the abused. Walt assures her that there’s nothing to be afraid of — “Clear sailing from here on out” — but Skyler seems less than sold.
HAPPY (?) BIRTHDAY | At breakfast the next morning, she grudgingly keeps up the family birthday tradition and arranges Walt’s bacon to mark his age, 51 -– the same thing he does in the diner in the flash-forwarded first moments of this season’s premiere. That evening, Walt skips out early from work, telling Jesse there’s probably a party waiting for him at home. And he really believes that, so he’s disappointed to learn that his big bash is just a family dinner with Hank and Marie. It’s an awkward evening, mostly because knowing about Skyler’s infidelity causes Hank and Marie to act super weird. Well, that and the fact that Skyler kinda/not really tries to drown herself in the backyard pool while Walt’s waxing philosophical about her support during his illness. (Walt: “It’s been quite a year.” Marie: “It seems like longer.” Ha!) Walt plays the concerned spouse while his in-laws are there, but his tone changes dramatically later when he confronts Skyler in the bedroom. Seriously? Nothing good happens in that room. Walt careens from confused (about her “pool stunt”) to soothing (“Now, I’m running things. I keep the work at work,” like he’s an IT consultant or something) before settling on terrifyingly threatening. Skyler’s speech to him about her success in relocating the kids to Hank and Marie’s is a little kickass, but it’s soon swallowed by Walt’s relentless badgering and mocking – all delivered in a voice approaching Batman-like levels of raspiness. What’s up with that? She threatens to hurt herself again. He threatens to have her committed. She counters by saying she’ll tell people he hits her, but Skyler’s losing this game, and she knows it. Finally, she admits that she doesn’t have a long-term plan. “I’m a coward,” she says. “I can’t even keep you out of my bed.” So she’s just going to wait. For what? Walt sneers. “For the cancer to come back,” she tells him. My GOD, Anna Gunn owned that scene. The next day, Jesse gives Walter a watch as a belated birthday gift, and Walt uses it as evidence that Skyler will reverse her feelings about him. “The person who gave me this present wanted me dead, too, not that long ago,” he says, so patronizing and smug that I want to shove that watch right up his Erlenmeyer flask. “He changed his mind about me, Skyler, and so will you.” And as they go to sleep, the watch relentlessly ticks down the seconds… but to what?
Now it’s your turn. This episode was packed, and we want to hear what you have to say about it. Do you fear for Walter Jr. and Holly’s future? What did you think about Hank’s crack regarding Marie’s mental health? And does anyone care to handicap Lydia’s and Skyler’s odds of surviving through the series finale? Make your thoughts known in the comments!Follow @kimroots