TV Club

Breaking Bad Season 5 review: “Fifty-One.”

I hate to say it, but I’m on Walt’s side in Walt vs. Skyler.

I was born and raised in Manhattan and so, tragically, never owned a car in my life until my new wife’s Buick became community property in April. So I spent the entirety of the first montage shuffling awkwardly in my seat. I get it—the cars are a symbol of Walt’s newfound hypermasculinity—but on another level I don’t get it and never have. Fast cars mostly just scare me. If I were to blow a bunch of cash on a manly undertaking, I’d want some floor seats to an NBA playoff game. (Sadly, that might cost as much as a car.) Honestly, my sneaking suspicion is that the lack of big-league sports franchises in Albuquerque, N.M., is the root cause of Walt’s derangement.

Speaking of deranged—Skyler, Skyler, Skyler! It seemed to me that we were supposed to read that walk into the pool as a calculated effort. And yet if she’s pulling herself together for the sake of calculation, I’m not sure she’s really doing it right.

Breaking Bad.
Walter White (Bryan Cranston)

Ursula Coyote/AMC.

I hate to take the sociopathic meth dealer’s side in a domestic dispute, but if Skyler felt that Walt’s post-Fring attitude didn’t adequately consider the risks to their children, she should have just said so plainly. Instead she visited Ted in the hospital, then fell into a dayslong depression during which she was totally noncommunicative with her husband. Then she drops an atom bomb into the family dynamic with a cry-for-help suicide attempt. It’s just not a great way to raise marital issues.

So maybe it wasn’t calculated? Maybe she really is overwhelmed and can’t take it anymore? But when Walt confronted her directly, suddenly the nonresponsiveness was gone. I was puzzled, but I loved the scene with the bacon—a gem that more than justified the fast-forward that opened the season.

On to less psychically distressing speculative topics! Where do we think that Lydia and the Madrigal warehouse facility are located? Fresno, Calif.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Houston are all about a 14-hour drive from Albuquerque. My money’s on Houston, which is something of a chemical industry hub; one of the legitimate uses of methylamine is making methylpyrrolidone, which is used in hydrocarbon extraction and processing. Houston stuff, in other words.

I’m not so worried the DEA will go off the scent without Hank to ride herd. The case seems almost trivially easy to crack at this point. The DEA just needs to get around to actually following Mike, instead of discussing the desirability of surveilling him behind closed doors. The amateurishness of the New James Gang around this point keeps rankling. Suppose, for instance, that Mike had been under surveillance while he walked to the extermination company’s headquarters for the meeting with Walt and Jesse. Then suppose a car had stuck around to see who followed Mike out. The DEA would have immediately seen that Mike Ehrmantraut, Gus Fring’s enforcer, was in a meeting with known methamphetamine dealer Jesse Pinkus and suddenly wealthy trained chemist Walter White. That’s the whole case right there. What’s taking them so long?

I’m more concerned with how Hank is going to deal with a new and different set of responsibilities. The Hank Schrader we met in Season 1 was basically an asshole. Being crippled left him with nothing to do but solid detective work. And he turned out to be good at it. The investigation redeemed him professionally and turned him into a better physical therapy patient and a better husband. How’s managing an office going to suit him? Is he going to be any good at it? I’ve got some doubts.

As for Lydia: I dunno, Mike’s logic seemed persuasive to me. I think she’s guilty. But again, where’s the DEA surveillance? The big plot was to have Lydia disable the security cameras and then Jesse … walks right in the door. Apparently the DEA just figured, Hey, we know two Madrigal employees were drug traffickers and a third killed himself under mysterious circumstances, so obviously there’s nothing more worth looking into here. I’m not sure what’s more baffling: The DEA’s lackadaisical attitude, or Mike’s nonchalance about the risk of being followed. I was hoping some kind of exciting political corruption angle would arise to explain why there’s so little non-Hank urgency, but at this point I’d settle for a throwaway line about budget cuts.

But these are really all sidelines. Skyler is at the heart of the episode, and I just don’t really know what to make of her actions. Is she scheming on some level, or has she really broken down? And where’s this going? Is it such a large leap from openly wishing Walt dead to trying to kill him?

I’ll take paranoid,