You Must Remember This

You Must Remember This

Tuesday, 20 August 2013




Breaking Bad sure is committed to its almost scientifically precise dramatic arcs. For instance, if last week's episode, "Blood Money", was all about the chemistry then this week's is pure physics.

In the teaser a trail of discarded money leads a skinny old guy to an abandoned car and a zonked-out Jesse spinning on a merry-go-round. Just as that trail leads him - and us - to Jesse, so a personalized copy of Leaves of Grass has brought Hank, at least, to Walt's door. We watch as Walt leaves the garage immediately after their confrontation - his brow is still bleeding from Hank's sucker punch; his words of warning to Hank - "Tread lightly" - still ringing in the DEA agent's ears. As they face off silently face off, the low-angle tilts or shots framed by their hands, twitching for action, the scene is reminiscent of two weary gunslingers facing off. The rivalry between Hank and Walt has only very recently been brought to the fore of the show, but the implication is clear: only one man will be left standing.

Despite being, in Western terms, the black hat, Walt refuses to, in Saul's parlance, "Send him to Belize". He might be a loose end and a threat, but Hank is still family. His snide retort that he ought to send Saul to Belize seems less in character for the Walt we saw in Season 1 than for, say, Tony Soprano. It's indicative of Walt's warped sense of his own identity: for all he's done, Walt still believes he has integrity; he's offended that Saul would even suggest that he off a member of family! Much of Breaking Bad's power continues to be in how much it can say through implication. The moment in which Walt places a phone call to Skyler while pulling away from Hank's drive only to discover that Skyler's already taking a call, Walt's desperation and anger at discovering, his demand to get her on the line, shows how everything is already beginning to unravel for the master manipulator.

"Buried", though, is almost in equal measure Skyler's episode as Walt's. From her tentative meeting with Hank in a restaurant diner to the intervention of Marie, Anna Gunn gets a chance to display a more vulnerable side to the increasingly implacable matriarch of the White clan. Hank may misjudge their initial meeting - from the forced hug to the assertion of Skyler's victimhood - but it's hard to believe he could have gone about it any other way or that Skyler might have responded differently, even if Hank hadn't prematurely broken out the digital voice recorder. His desire to turn Skyler into an asset fails to take into account Skyler's complicity in Walt's crimes, her need for reassurance, for a lawyer even. Having already had to contend with so much, it's understandable the thought of getting it all out there could bring Skyler to near hysteria.

Having been so unsuccessful himself, it shows how far Hank is willing to go that he effectively uses Marie as an attack dog, setting her on Skyler for maximum emotional damage. Marie, so often an object of comedy for the show, goes from sympathetic to outraged as the depth - indeed duration - of Skyler's involvement becomes clear to her - "Hank said when you walked into the pool, that's when you knew... But not then, before that...". Skyler's tearful lack of response damns her as it draws Marie inexorably to the conclusion that Skyler knew "before Hank had his accident". Skyler's unspoken culpability for Hank's near death unleashes from Marie a resounding slap, a slap followed by an attempt to rescue Skyler's infant. After family having so long served as an excuse for terrible deeds, it's nice to see someone taking a genuine interest in Holly's safety, even if it does come from a place of recrimination. 

Walt, meanwhile, is taking care of business at Saul's office. Saul's henchmen, Kuby and Huell, recover Walt's stack of money from the storage garage, but not before taking a moment to act out a Scrooge McDuck family (after all, when else are you going to get the opportunity?). It's a nice little bit of wish fulfillment given that Walt is too uptight to ever indulge in something so goofy. After all, he is the man who coordinated the deaths of ten prison snitches within a two-minute window; whimsical's not exactly within his ballpark. In order to preserve his cache, Walt takes his cache - all $80 or so million of it - and single-handedly buries it in the desert. Despite being built into the premise of the show, Walt's making money has almost always been abstract to us - you never exactly see him pick up a pay check; even now, stuffed into unmarked drums, it almost seems unreal.

That being said, "Buried" is the first episode in a while to address Walt's supposed motivation behind, well, everything. From him sweating away in the desert, sun beating down, framed beautifully by the surrounding rock formations, to his offer to Skyler to turn himself in as long as she promises never to give up the money, we understand that, for all his ego and empire building, the money means something to him. With the coordinates of the bury site pinned to the fridge in the form of lottery numbers, however, it's easy to believe that something may yet go awry on that front: Walt is the only one who knows roughly where the money is and to anyone else those lottery tickets are just scraps of paper. For all it supposed importance to Walt and to the plot, might those riches yet be lost in the depths of the Chihuahuan Desert. With its emphasis on family and lucre, perhaps Episode 10 might better have been called "Blood Money".

Talking of both those things, Lydia's problems with running Walt's empire in his absence resolve themselves (most likely temporarily) with a bloodbath in a desolate scrap metal yard. The men who've taken over cooking operations just aren't up to scratch - their underground desert lab, however nifty, can't rival Gus' super-lab or even the RV. Lydia, like Walt so concerned with the grime and lack of professionalism, is, unlike Walt, unwilling to get her hands dirty. While he slaves away to bury heavy drums out in the desert, donning an unflattering Gumby handkerchief hat, Lydia takes refuge in the meth lab/bunker in thousand dollar stilettos as, in the scrapyard above, a gang of armed killers take out the cooks. When Todd - goddamn Todd - pops the hatch and offers her a hand up, she can't even bring herself to look at the carnage she's wrought: Lydia has to be led through the crime scene, eyes closed lest she espy the slaughter.

Todd, meanwhile, remains a strangely compelling character. Though not as good a chemist as either Walt or Jesse, his matter-of-fact willingness to commit whatever atrocity he deems necessary could make him the most immediate physical threat that Walt's currently facing. A sense of scope dictates that Walt, in those flash-forward sequences, is taking that M60 to wreak his revenge on the likes of Hank, or maybe Jesse, but what if its the callow, quiet Todd, a character who, like no other, embodies the banality of evil? With Jesse a zombie and in police custody, Hank on the warpath, and Skyler under pressure, it's impossible to predict exactly how this will play out. Jesse's aimless spinning on the roundabout highlights his lack of direction, his metaphysical turning, turning - might Hank be the one to give him a purpose and bring him out of that spin?

As Skyler dabs Walt's brow as he lies unconscious in the bathroom, we remember that, at the heart of it, she still loves him, and looking at Walt, wrinkled and sunburned, admit to having screwed up, we may recall that, once upon a time, this was a character we could root for. When Skyler urges caution, that Hank can't prove anything, we can almost believe that, chastened as he is, Walt might just listen. Still, with so many wheels set in motions, there's no way for Walt to truly delay his downfall. The show continues to gather momentum, heading into the final stretch, as things that are long since buried - Walt's cancer and, perhaps, some small degree of humility; the lies he's told - begin to rise, breaking free of his control. Terminal velocity has been reached, the final destination approaches just six episodes hence; wherever Walter and his loved ones are headed, it's nowhere good.

As Breaking Bad ticks over into the next week, we know, as sure as gravity, Walt's sins will find him out. The next episode is tellingly (excuse the pun) called "Confessions". Till the episode airs and the exact nature of those confessions are revealed, we'll just have to contend with the promo:

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