TV Review: “Breaking Bad” Episode 4 – “Fifty-One”

Written by Devin Barnes August 10, 2012

A lot can happen in a year.

It’s hard to believe only a year has passed since Walter White began his increasingly downward spiral into devout criminality. But here we are at Mr. White’s 51st birthday, and it isn’t the cheery affair of yesteryear replete with smiling faces, bubbling champagne and a beaming, pregnant wife. No, this is a dour, halfhearted celebration, culminating in a brutal argument between Walter and Skyler, following the latter’s hauntingly horrifying suicide attempt.

“Fifty-One” is probably the season’s slowest episode, but it lacks none of the brilliant writing and character interaction that have become synonymous with this series. The Walter and Skyler relationship has been put under a microscope, when Skyler – being a “time bomb, tick ticking away,” not unlike her husband – finally snaps, and tries to drown herself in the backyard pool during Walter’s birthday celebration, with Walt, Marie and Hank looking on in abject terror and confusion.

“‘Till death do us part…”

The focus of this episode is, really, Skyler’s struggle to cling to any sense of normalcy in the wake of her husband’s illicit activities. She glides through life on auto-pilot, her eyes maintaining their catatonic sadness accompanied by the occasional violent outburst. The argument shared between husband and wife is particularly telling, as it is Skyler’s opportunity to release pent-up anger, frustration and fear in a manner that is ferociously coherent. Skyler’s best plan is to wait. “Wait for what?” asks Walt. “Wait for the cancer to come back,” she responds.

Jesse Pinkman: Mike’s new “guy.”

The episode’s other storyline focuses on Lydia, who has apparently found GPS tracking devices in some of Gus’ old methylamine barrels, which were presumably planted by the DEA. But Mike believes that Lydia is a liar, fabricating the story to avoid continued association with the “four amigos” (Walt, Jesse, Mike and Saul); he subsequently desires to kill her. Jesse, however, prevents this by getting Walt to vote alongside him, in favour of letting Lydia live. She is, after all, a valuable distributor, and might be telling the truth.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The argument between Walt and Skyler is a thrilling chess match between two intellectual equals. Skyler understands that Walt’s justifications for continuing to cook meth are few and far between, and she desperately desires to free her children from an environment in which “dealing drugs, hurting people and killing people are brushed off as shit happens.” She doesn’t think she can permanently keep her children away from the great Heisenberg, but she counts each and every minute that they are away as small, albeit palpable victories. “Gus Fring is dead, Skyler,” Walt insists. “He was the threat; he was the danger.” “I thought you were the danger,” Skyler replies. A brilliant callback to one of Breaking Bad’s most infamous monologues, in which Walter claimed he was the one who knocks, not the meek meth employee opening his door and getting shot.

There’s a strangely touching scene near the end, in which Jesse gives Walt a watch for his birthday. Perhaps it was my imagination, but I found Walt floored by this unexpected generosity – it remains to be seen whether his conscience, which has been steadily whittled down to a near nub, will catch up with him in the end. And, as the ticking hands of Jesse’s watch remind Walt, and the audience, the end is nigh. It remains to be seen whether or not Walter White will go out in a blaze of glory, or leave the stage with his tail between his legs, all his former loved ones breathing a sigh of relief that the great Heisenberg has finally bitten the dust.

The White family’s disastrous pool party.

My Rating: 7/10

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