Breaking Bad: Time Out

By Tim Surette

Aug 06, 2012

Breaking Bad S05E04: "Fifty-One"

Good gravy, that was an intense episode of Breaking Bad. I was perusing comments on the site the other day and someone said Breaking Bad was overrated. Well, to you sir, whoever you may be, I say click over to somewhere else because I'm about to virtually dry hump "Fifty-One," the best episode of Season 5 so far.

It's a year after the series' pilot in Breaking Bad time, and, accordingly, the concept of time was a huge theme in "Fifty-One." Time passing. Reflecting on old times. Running out of time. Breaking Bad has been so good with time, something other TV series take for granted and mold to fit their needs. It's only been a year since Walter White was diagnosed with terminal cancer. 365 days since he was in his underwear in the desert. One puppy calendar since he made a decision that would change his life and the lives of his family, friends, and strangers forever. One year ago was a very different time.

Now, Walter's having good times. Walter's in a pretty comfortable place at the moment with Gus out of the way, the meth business starting to pick back up, and the Benjis rolling in. He sat at the head of the table during his particularly unspectacular birthday party thinking about what a year it's been. There were times he was "sure [he] was done for," and of course he's talking about Tuco, Crazy 8, Gus, and any other despicable dealer who tried to bump him, but something or someone always got him out of the jam. Walt's speech was self-congratulating internally, but it was more of an appreciation of a team effort to his audience, one member of which was slowly dipping her toes into the meth-blue water of the White family's swimming pool.

What a gorgeous scene, a showcase for the whole Breaking Bad crew. Even before Skyler sank like a Scottie in the pool, our eyes couldn't help but dart back and forth between Walter talking about his near-misses and Skyler shifting in the background. As Walter turned his story to how supportive Skyler had been through his whole ordeal, the perspective shifted to Skyler's face and the cerulean shimmer of the water-filled metaphor reflecting off her face with Dave Porter's excellent keyboard pads filling in the empty space and putting a score to her despair. Skyler's expression was more than a blank stare; it was a look of hopelessness and regret, of letting this thing get out of control, of being part of something she can't escape, of not picking up on things earlier. As Walter recounted the past year of his life in a positive light, Skyler was running through her own account in her head... and it was light years away from Walter's take. It's all about reflection: Walter's dream has become Skyler's nightmare. So she went for one of those fully clothed mental-collape swimming breakdowns (I totally agree with Hank, there's no way that was anything close to a suicide attempt). You bet Skyler wishes she hadn't fought the cancer as hard as she did.

In another fantastic scene, this one controlled by the fantastic performances of Anna Gunn and Bryan Cranston, Skyler found the strength to stand up to Walter after her dunk/baptism. This was Skyler's last stand, and it was all about protecting her family. Breaking Bad is incredible at shifting power on a dime, and Skyler had it for just a second in thinking she could use the kids against Walter, a continuation of their conversation earlier. Hey, at least they're talking now! I'll give her credit, she stood up to Walter for much longer than I could have. But then Heisenberg showed up and growled, "What are you going to do to stop it?" and struck down every desperate plan Skyler came up with. "What else you got?" Heisenberg barked indignantly. The body language in this scene was fantastic, too. Skyler got backed down into sitting on the bed, with just one plan left. She's waiting... for the cancer to come back, and was a brutal declaration. Yep, this marriage is hosed and beyond repair.

Next shot: Walter shaving his head, trickling blood, and eating breakfast alone.

Time again came into play when Jesse gave Walter a watch for his birthday. Walter told Skyler, "See, this guy wanted me dead but he knows I'm still okay. He gave me a watch!" If you listen to that scene closely with bitchin' 5.1 Dolby surround sound, you can hear a clock ticking in the living room. Tick, tick, tick. Next, Walter places his new watch on the bedside table, and the ticking is faster. There's nothing subtle here; Walter's time is limited, and Skyler's plan is to wait it out. But you might want to ease up on the cigarettes, girl, you don't want to get cancer too.

"Fifty-One" brought things back to the homefront for some great domestic revelations, but the business was still churning and ironing things out. Walter's expanding empire relies on others, and Lydia, who reminds me of a scared purse-dog, was quaking in her mismatched shoes. She's not exactly a model employee, and with Hank breathing down her neck she came up with a plan to get out. Well, at least Mike thinks she did. If Mike is correct, Lydia faked a GPS unit on a tub of methylamine to encourage Walter to look elsewhere for hard-to-get chemicals. Mike's solution: "Okay, she's dead." Mike, I love you, don't ever change. Jesse is still a softy (or sexist, as Mike says) when it comes to murder, and wanted to come up with a less murder-y plan. Apparently Walter did come up with a plan, but we don't know what it is. Given that methylamine isn't available at the local Safeway and is a bitch to get, I would think the plan somehow involves figuring out whether Lydia is telling the truth or not. If she is, they'll part ways until the heat dies down. If she isn't, maybe Mike will filet her and hire some lackey to wear her skin so they can keep using that source of methylamine.

As Mike said last week, Walter is a time bomb tick-tick-ticking. The walls on his newly built empire are paper-thin, but he refuses to believe that because he's used to finding some loophole to scamper out of when trouble confronts him. There are more ways that his business can go wrong than there aren't, and it's only a matter of time before one of them does him in. Tick, tick, tick...


– The opening scene with Walt and the cars was amazing. The old Heisenberg hat is back! As was the Aztek, at least for a moment. No respectable drug kingpin (or rather, no drug kingpin who is feeling comfortable) would ride around in anything less than a Chrysler 300 SRT8. And Walter Jr.'s reaction was priceless. He shook his hand as if to say, "It's okay, but you know what would be really great?" And then he's pulling up in a Challenger. UPGRADES FOR EVERYONE! Then the pair, as father and son, let the kittens under their respective hoods roar as Walter gunned it in park. Walter is the one who pushes limits, turning the magnet dial all the way up and slamming the accelerator to the ground. No half measures anymore.

– Congratulations to Hank for getting the promotion! But is he really going to pull himself off this case? Will being able to look at ALL the cases help him connect things better?

– Imagery overload, in a great way. The pool (Skyler lost in a sea of blue meth), the loose thread on Heisenberg's hat (Lydia being a potential loose end), the watch (Walter's ticking clock)...

– How did Mike know Hank would be showing up at Madrigal in Houston to talk to Lydia? Could the DEA actually have bugged the methylamine then?

– Last week, Walter and Walter Jr. were having a blast watching Scarface together. This week, they chummed up over new cars and racing. Walter Jr.'s love for his dad has to be at an all-time high. I loved their chat about doing donuts.

Follow writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

  • Comments (131)
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  • Loooooooooooost Sep 22, 2013

    What a great episode, and an equally great review. Worth the hard work looking for every review after I watched the episode. Btw, in the show Community pages, there should be an easy click link to reviews.

  • KateEinatSzkl Aug 12, 2012

    I enjoyed each and every word. you're brilliant!

  • psguy Aug 11, 2012

    I think a point has been missed here. Survival rates for advanced stage lung cancers of diagnosis after 1.5 years are less than 29%. The meth business has always been a metaphor for the cancer. Statistically speaking, Walt will most likely be killed by cancer. One of the few episodes where he and Walt Jr. shared a vulnerable moment was after he had been beat up last season. His son said it was the first time his father had been "real" in a year. At that time, Walt told a story to his son about when his father was sick. His last memory was of a sick man with a twisted body in the hospital bed and he did not want to be remembered like that. It is Walt's fear and a fitting end. This is the plot device used to introduce the character and would be appropo for his demise.

  • gerhardt78 Aug 10, 2012

    Regarding the flash forward of Walt's 52nd birthday, I think that will be the final showdown of the story. Scarface-like.

    I agree with the idea that Walt Jr will die in a car crash. Not sure what will happen with Skyler.

    What I do think right now is that someone close to Gus, someone from his time in Chili, will take revenge. That would be the reason for Walt to run away and buy the machine gun.

    Live free or die!

    Great tension in season 5, really looking forward to watch the next episode!

  • Swinglabacase Aug 10, 2012

    I understood the "Live free or die" reference more like: prison or death...

    So the showdown must be with cops rather than with mobsters.

  • Swinglabacase Aug 09, 2012

    [off topic], There should definitely be an edit button on the comments pages.


  • left4dead Aug 09, 2012

    I'm maybe way off base here, but I don't see how Lydia could have planted the bug herself. Just look at how rotten she as at turning lights on in the warehouse, I can't see her working a fork-lift. That said, well acted by Laura Fraser. Who grew up 26 miles from my house. My only claim to fame, I fully intend to get out more...

  • RuthDickson Aug 09, 2012

    There has never been a better TV on the air, and it'll be a long time before it's matched, if ever. But I have one little cavil that makes me nuts every time I see it. That baby is eight months old... at least six months too old to still be wearing a hat indoors! PLEASE, wardrobe...give that kid's head some air already!

  • No1Slayerette Aug 08, 2012

    Hey Tim, thanks for the shout out! I'm pretty sure I'm the one that said Breaking Bad is overrated :) I still quite enjoy the show, but it's definitely not perfect. That being said I quite enjoyed this episode, and I love how the writers have redeemed Skyler's character substantially in my eyes.

  • riknight36 Aug 09, 2012

    You're right that it's not perfect. No show can be. But it's definitely the greatest series television has ever had on it. What's been better? Certainly not The Wire, which had many episodes that were slow and never built to anything substantial (Though, I do consider it my second favorite show ever). The Sopranos? Please, a great show, but immensely flawed, especially in its last season. Its only competitor is Mad Men, and while I enjoy that show a great deal, it still doesn't build like Breaking Bad. No show is better, now, or ever.

  • Swinglabacase Aug 10, 2012

    "The Shield"!

    Maybe not necessarily better but definitely as Great.

    "Sons of Anarchy": great show also.

    "24" was also amazing.

    (And I have very hight hope with "Vegas": Denis Quaid - Carrie-Anne Moss - Michael Chiklis - Lennny Citrano)

  • AyeDub Aug 11, 2012

    The first 4 seasons of the Shield had it on pace to maybe be the best ever...but the last couple seasons dragged a bit.

    Sons of Anarchy has never done it for me. I like it, but I don't consider it "can't miss" television and I particularly hate last season's ending. It was cheap and undercut all the great tension built up over the course of the season. It would have been better it if didn't get renewed.

    Lastly...24...ugh...Too many amnesia plots, kidnappings and cougar traps (and yes, ONE is TOO MANY), to even think about putting that inconsistent melodrama in the running. That's not to mention the forced - nearly yearly - mole plots which got old quick and the KEPT DOING IT. 24 was entertaining (especially the early seasons), but it had too much filler and bad red herrings...

  • No1Slayerette Aug 09, 2012

    Well obviously it comes down to personal taste, and what each individual prefers watching, but I enjoy Damages a lot more than Breaking Bad.

  • mad-pac Aug 08, 2012

    Well, it really seems that by Walt's 52nd birthday things will be much different to him, most probably worse. But I can't believe all we've seen of Breaking Bad so far fits only in one year of story time. That means a lot can still happen, and Walter can expand his drug empire exponentially before his eventual downfall.

    Meanwhile, Walter has to be concerned about increasing his meth production because as we've seen in the last episode, the way things are now leaves them with a very low profit margin. Yet, he doesn't seem to be making any steps to improve that.

    I love the new character, Lydia. Laura Fraser is a beautiful woman, and neurotic Lydia is a potential loose cannon. Mike is right to want to finish her off, but I hope he doesn't succeed in doing it.

  • Swinglabacase Aug 07, 2012

    Skylar definitely knew that they would not let her die... Why would Hank or Mary do that?

    She is not suicidal, she is desperate.

    Skylar will NEVER kill herself. Everybody seem to forget that she is a strong woman. Remember how she handle the money laundering situation?

    She is a strong woman in a desperate situation. That was not a weak moment: That was an as coldly calculated moment as Heisenberg himself would have laid.

    The only glitch in her plan to keep the kids away from Walter is that she is giving him a very good alibi if she is ever found dead.

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