Can you believe we’re only two episodes into Breaking Bad’s final run? This show packs more into two episodes than other series do during half a season. I mean, by the end of “Buried” the suspense practically reached the breaking point. And not because of any “didn’t see it coming!” twists or mindf**k reveals. Because of the building turmoil of the characters conveyed through some pretty incredible acting — especially Anna Gunn, who turned in possibly her all-time best performance as Skyler.
The opening scene was like a suicidal depressive’s drug-fueled take on one of Grimm’s fairy tales: Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman driving through Albuquerque, throwing wads of cash out his car window as if he were leaving breadcrumbs behind him. But whereas Hansel & Gretel threw breadcrumbs to find their way back from whence they'd come, Jesse didn’t seek to be tethered to the past. Each wad of money he chucked out into the New Mexico night was like a stepping stone toward atonement, and maybe his chance at a future. It’s hard not to see Zen symbolism in the playground carousel where he ended his journey: Jesse stuck in an endless loop, a cycle of depression and misery that he just can’t get out of. But maybe getting rid of that money was his first step toward enlightenment. The next step could be spilling all about Walter White to Hank, when he comes in to interrogate him. Certainly Jesse is the witness, the evidence, that Hank needs to put Walt away. What will happen next?
“Buried” then picked up right where “Blood Money” left off: with Walt leaving Hank’s garage after their confrontation last week. As he was walking down Hank’s driveway, he stopped and turned to look back at his brother-in-law one last time. Director Michelle MacLaren framed their wordless standoff like the low-angle buildup to one of Sergio Leone’s shootouts, shot at the ankle and hip. Walt immediately called Skyler, but the car wash attendant told him that she was on the phone talking to someone else and would not hang up. She wouldn’t hang up? Walt turned around and saw Hank on the phone. Skyler must have been talking to him. And she was.
Skyler went to meet Hank at a diner, possibly the same one where Mike met with Lydia when she was playing cloak-and-dagger at the start of Season 5. Hank immediately hugged her. It was a long, slow hug, the kind that are always uncomfortable. See, he had no idea just how far she had collaborated with Walt. He seemed so overly conciliatory and concerned, he must have wanted something from her. And he did. He wanted her to record a statement into his recorder implicating her husband for his crimes. But we saw something more from Hank then and throughout the whole episode: he really has changed. Hank’s been humbled. This isn’t the guy who once was making Schraderbombs. He’s closer to the guy who collected rocks. Sorry, minerals. And he may feel even more vulnerable now than when he was shot by the Twins. Those were two cartel hitmen, an external threat. Walt is family. “The monster” or “the animal” as he kept calling him when to talking to Skyler was right under his nose the whole time. His own family bred chaos. Nothing for Hank will ever be safe again.
Hank told her Walt said his cancer is back. That seemed to change something in Skyler. She may have been waiting for it to come back. She may have been hoping for it to come back. But to actually have it come back is a whole other thing entirely. As Hank kept pressing her, she eventually said she felt she needed a lawyer, and he snapped that she didn’t. That raised a red flag. If he really had her best interests at heart, why wouldn’t he let her call a lawyer? She started to pull away and scream “Am I under arrest?” over and over and left the diner. Sadly, AMC already threw up the hashtag #amIunderarrest to promote their Talking Bad show following the episode, a transparent and phony attempt by them to create a viral moment rather than let it happen naturally.
Actually, #ScroogeMcDuck would have been the better hashtag, and is probably already trending. Huell proved himself one of the best supporting characters Breaking Bad has ever had once again. He and an accomplice had been sent by Saul to pack up Walt’s money at the storage facility and bring it to him in a truck. But Huell just had to lay on it, to wallow in a greenback mattress. “We are here to do a job, not channel Scrooge McDuck,” his partner said. But eventually he succumbed too.
Back at Saul’s, Walt’s attorney assessed the situation with him. Well, once they hide the money Hank won’t have any real evidence, right? As long as they keep Jesse under lock and key, of course. Beyond that, “Have you given any thought to sending [Hank] on a trip to Belize?” Saul asked. “You know? Where Mike went to?” Walt protested. This is different. Hank is family. Meaning that there’s still one boundary Walt will not cross. “I’ll send you to Belize.”
All great moments. But this was Anna Gunn’s night. She topped her own performance in the diner with Hank when Marie came to visit her. Hank had told her sister everything. And now Marie wanted to know when Skyler had found out. It must have been right around the time she took that creepy, fully-clothed dip into the pool, right? No, wait. It must have been when she took the kids and stayed at their place around the time of the Gus Fring explosion? No, wait. It must have been when they bought the car wash? Retracing the events of the past year, Marie came to realize how long Skyler must really have known. All the while, Skyler whimpered and cried, and basically confirmed everything…but without words. Without an on-the-record confession. She said everything by saying nothing. Finally, Marie realized Skyler must have known even before the Twins shot Hank. She slapped her, stormed out, took the baby and tried to leave the house. Now Skyler recovered her speech. She tried to take the baby back and even Hank had to come in to tell Marie to do so. What a classic Marie move to act like such a crazy person that she made this revelatory moment in her family’s history all about her. As she always does. If anything, Hank and Marie finding out about Walt makes them realize how truly small they are — in their vision, in terms of their powers of perception, and even their trespasses. Marie needs little ego trips like pretending she’s a hand model and stealing from model homes to feel transgressive. Walt and Skyler committed far greater crimes but at least made millions off it. Discovering Walt and Skyler’s crimes shouldn’t reinforce Hank and Marie’s worldview, it should shatter it. Their cultivated banality has been exposed.
Walt went out into the desert, buried the money, memorized the GPS coordinates, then returned home. He assumed Skyler had immediately caved to Hank’s pressure. He was wrong. But he collapsed in a heap in their bathroom. When he woke up hours later, he confirmed the cancer is back and said that he’d give himself up so long as she and the children keep the money. “The way Hank talks,” Skyler said, “He’s got his suspicions but not much else.” Maybe their best move here is just to stay quiet. Meaning that Skyler would not take up Walt on his sacrificial offer.
Of course, Walt and Skyler can stay quiet, but who can make their accomplices do the same? First off, there’s Lydia. Off in a desert junkyard, she met with her new supplier, the guy who took possession of Walt’s meth. She was none too happy that he was serving up a product of only 68% purity. It was selling, yes. But her buyer in the Czech Republic really does care about maintaining standards. She wanted him to at least use Todd. So the guy brought her down into the lab, a dark, dank, dirty place where no really high-quality meth could possibly be made. And suddenly, trouble seemed to take place on the surface. He went up to check, but automatic gunfire rang out, shouts were uttered, and suddenly…all was silent. Todd then peered down the Hatch and told her it was safe. He and his family would be taking control of the meth-making operation. He escorted her up, but before she emerged on the surface she said the immortal words, “I don’t want to see.” She can commit these crimes, but she doesn’t have to see them, to have a visual record of them lodged in her memory. As if somehow the horror of what she does would become more real that way. With her eyes closed the whole way, Todd escorted her over the killing field.
Hank then explained to Marie his strategy for bringing in Walt. He had to track down the crucial bit of evidence that would put him away himself. “Who do you think you are, Lone Wolf McQuaid?” Marie asked. But it really was the only way for him to have a shred of dignity in how his career ends. Because his career would end, one way or another. Without the evidence, his colleagues at the DEA wouldn’t believe him and would think that he had truly lost it. With the evidence, they would put Walt away…but never forgive Hank for being so myopic as to not realize Heisenberg was under his nose the whole time. Hank knew it too. He knew that ten seconds after he tells them, his career his over. Which of course means there’s some incentive for Hank to not tell anybody. That way he could preserve his career, unless of course somebody else at the DEA catches Walt instead. If he doesn’t tell the DEA, Hank will betray everything he believes in. If he does tell them, his life as he’s known it is over.
Maybe it’s a decision he won’t even have to make. Jesse Pinkman was picked up for questioning after throwing his millions across town, and somehow Hank knew he was the evidence he needed. The final image was of Hank walking into Jesse’s holding cell and closing the door behind him.
Is that a cliffhanger or what?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt