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 TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom