TV Review: BREAKING BAD 5.04 - "Fifty-One"

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TV Review: BREAKING BAD 5.04 - "Fifty-One"

Sorry for not catching up with last week's episode, "Hazard Pay," but as with most episodes of Breaking Bad, you can see creator Vince Gilligan and his writers building something between episodes.

And what they're building is a monster in Walter White.

But let's jump back to last week and kind of fold it into this one. Walt, Jesse, and unlikely business partner Mike found a new way to cook, using houses being tented for fumigation while setting up a new distribution network.

One thing I noticed last week that should have struck me earlier: how long has Walt being unconsciously (or consciously) imitating Gus? Back when he was actively using the Heisenberg persona, he was just a mysterious man in a hat, but now he's even taken on some of Fring's mannerisms down to the way he tries to play off the quiet menace thing with people like the fumigation employee Todd (Jesse Plemons, Friday Night Lights, Observe and Report). Walt doesn't wear it well with the people who know him (Mike could care less, Jesse has seen too many facets of Walt to fall for the act), but maybe the one person it's working on--too well--is Skyler.

And let's link up this week and last week's episodes through Anna Gunn's character, who suffers a slow meltdown between these two episodes, the first part seemingly genuine (with Marie in the car wash), the second part for show in order to get some leverage in her situation with Walt (the "suicide" attempt).

"Fifty-One" marks Walt's 51st birthday (placing us firmly a year out from the opening scene in the season premiere), and in spite of the low, slow take from the current cook setup, Mr. White's starting to feel his power and really settling into the role of a drug kingpin. And while he's playing at being a gangster, Skyler is terrified about what that means for their family.

After Walt and Junior pick up a pair of sports cars (leased, Walt tells her, to match their cover story about being modestly successful car wash owners), father and son have a little joking car talk at the dinner table, Skyler watching silently. And pay attention here: this scene could just be a little bit of innocuous ribbing between the two under any other circumstances but Skyler sees what we see, and that's Walt's (potentially toxic) sway over their son.

This episode gives us two confrontations between Walt and Skyler in the bedroom, the first when she floats the idea of Junior going to a boarding school, the second where she lays it all out for her husband, and both use actress Anna Gunn perfectly. In the first, she's terrified of the monster her husband has become, but she's trying to find some way to get Walt Jr. free without causing too much friction. It was a terrible idea, but it was the one she had at the time. The second encounter, after her swim, shows that she still doesn't have a good plan, but she's ready, willing, and able to do what it takes to get their kids away.

And Walt is the perfect ogre here, one-upping her, almost reveling in crushing her plans to get the kids away. He can't turn off the gangster, the monster he's become at this point, and he simply can't see that he's the danger in his house. I wondered a couple of weeks ago who would be the character to take Walt down when all was said and done by the series' end, and I think we might see Skyler start planning either her escape or attack to destroy her husband.

A couple of small observations:

- Never has dubstep been so funny, so terrible.

- It's great that Hank too the job this week. Although it's going to take him off the direct pursuit of the blue meth network, I do think he'll still be a threat to Walt in the long run.

- Not a lot of Jesse this week, although last week saw him in his new role in this enterprise: he's the peacemaker between his feuding father figures Mike and Walt. He's been stepping up with the good ideas, but he's also lost all stomach for seeing any more bodies drop.

- I really want to see Walt and Lydia meet. Both of them are playing at being criminals (her unwillingly now), but I could really see the two of them forming some kind of alliance. Plus, with his marriage all but deteriorated, Walt needs a new partner and I think he might be open to stepping out on Skyler.

Now let's talk this one out in the comments.

Breaking Bad is in its fifth and final season and airs Sunday nights at 8 ET on AMC.

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Sean "The Butcher" SmithsonAugust 7, 2012 4:28 PM

Great breakdown.

To add...am I the only one who is HATNG these goofy musical interludes? It takes me right out of the show, and I think it dates it terribly.

Charles WebbAugust 7, 2012 4:42 PM

Thanks, Sean. And I loved/hated this musical vignette, because it fit so well. I'd agree that it pegs the episode to a recent style of music, but it was scene appropriate.

Wub wub wub.

phatleonardAugust 7, 2012 5:33 PM

Agree that the dub-step music interlude was a bit wack, seeing them both gurn direct to camera while revving their engines just didn't sit right. I am loving the slow burn of this season as you know there is such heavy pay off to come....

I think we could see a relationship form between Lydia and Jessie, he was very protective over when Mike showed his intent of putting her in a ditch. We know that Jessie loves a MILF ;)

Say hello to my little friend....

Charles WebbAugust 7, 2012 5:36 PM

So, over at Slate, in one of their recent recaps they've suggested that Jesse may be running his own game of some sort here, but really didn't elaborate.


Is it possible Mr. Pinkman might have kept Lydia alive for his own purposes? I still stick by my take that after Brock, he can't see any one else die or nearly die, but still...
iatethirtybugsAugust 7, 2012 5:53 PM

I thought this weeks opening one of the best yet. The genre, although not my thing, was appropriate for the scene, but more than that it had me in stitches. Walt is now officially Heisenberg. I also loved how Skyler turned Walt's words around on him "I thought YOU were the danger." its great to see some more interaction between the two of them and especially great to see her fighting back. Can't wait till next week!

Charles WebbAugust 7, 2012 5:57 PM

Right. Skyler's reversal was one of the best moments of the whole episode. Walt's spent so much time playing the heavy that it's backfired on him.


At this stage, I'm curious how many viewers, particularly women, have turned on Walt at this point. He's no longer the cuckolded husband who's reasserted his claim in his home, he's a bully.
Sean "The Butcher" SmithsonAugust 7, 2012 6:45 PM

I wonder if Walt is going to kill Jesse's new family...and Skylar. Then be GONE with the kids, sealing their future fates as defacto drug cartel members.

I don't think Skylar is going to bring the house of cards down by killing Walt or something...only because Cranston has said he'd love to do a BREAKING BAD movie after the series is over (bad bad idea, from a fine fine actor)

Charles WebbAugust 7, 2012 6:46 PM

I can see Walt killing Skylar, but only if he's absolutely sure she's going to out him/sully him in front of Junior somehow. But that's a very outside possibility.