Monday, August 6, 2012

Meth Monday no. 3: "Fifty One" (5.04)

Hello, Readers Mine, and welcome to the latest installment of my regular series, Meth Monday, where I chat a bit about the latest episode of Breaking Bad, and hopefully whet your appetites for more via the forthcoming Wanna Cook? The Unofficial Companion guide to Breaking Bad which my co-author K. Dale Koontz and I are knocking out right now. As always, I'll be writing as if everyone reading this has seen last night's episode, so !!!SPOILER ALERT!!!

Skyler is the heart and center of this episode, but before moving on to focus on her, it's worth taking a brief look at another element. Walt's birthdays are becoming progressively more lonely. In "Pilot/Breaking Bad" (1.01), Skyler had cheerily arranged Walt's faux-bacon into the big 50, and later Walt came home to a house full of people celebrating his birthday with a massive surprise party. Last night, Walter Jr. had to talk an increasingly distant and frayed Skyler into repeating the tradition by spelling out 51 on Walt's plate, and Walt came home to an awkwardly quiet family dinner (comprised largely of take-out). As seen in "Live Free or Die" (5.01) Walt's 52nd birthday breakfast is a grand-slam from Denny's served by a professionally cheery waitress, and he breaks his own bacon into a 52, all alone. This is a very nice shorthand for the ongoing disintegration of Walt's family and home. Family has always been Walt's excuse for his actions, yet what he does progressively destroys what he professes to love. His actions belie his words.

On to Skyler, played by the incredible Anna Gunn, who is really showing off her chops this season. To this point in the season, Skyler has been living in terror in her own house. She had made an accommodation with Walt's meth-cooking, particularly as it provided a way for her to move into a business of her own, and to share in Walt's profits from the more or less controlling position of being his money launderer. Granting that Skyler never really understood the world she had dealt herself into until season 4's deadly final episode, her eyes have been open wide throughout the new season. Her sudden walk into the deep end (yo, metaphor much?) was just brilliant TV. Remember how she kept screaming at Marie to shut up during her breakdown in "Hazard Pay" (5.03)? Well last night Walt was spinning another exquisite line of bullshit about everything he had been through during the last year, playing on Hank and Marie's sympathy, and Skyler, unable to make him shut up literally went to a quiet place. The similarity in the shots of Skyler floating in the pool to those of the electric pink teddy bear in Season 2 is no coincidence, and may well carry the same significance in the ongoing storyline.

Skyler has rather literally hit bottom. She has been pushed down and aside, ignored, and overruled. After all, it was Skyler who put the kibosh on the fancy cars in Season 4, with a very reasonable fear that such sudden expenditures would look more than a little suspicious. Season 5 sees a whole new Walt, and a much meeker Skyler. Until last night. There's really only one place to go from a bottom that doesn't kill you, after all, and that's back up. Skyler began that climb last night, and with a vengeance. She is done with being powerless, done with being passive, and done with Walt. because she sees through all of his bullshit. From throwing his own words into his face ("I thought you were the danger") to telling him that she's just waiting for him to die, Skyler is coming back, and if Season 5 has brought the audience a new Walt, I believe it is also about to reveal a new, and much more dangerous, Skyler.

Finally, there's the hat. The Heisenberg Hat, which Walt dons for the first time this season as he takes Jr. on a car-buying spree, and again at the end of the episode when he tells Mike and Jesse that "the methylamine must flow" (yo, Dune much?). Walt is beginning to realize that the hopes and dreams of Walter White are going to Hell in a hand-basket. He is never, ever going to have the family he had before. So if those dreams are dead, the only ones left, the only ones he might have some control over, belong to Heisenberg.

On a side note, Skyler is the character that fans love to hate, and more than hate, with comments on various fan sites regularly reaching a disturbing level of vitriol, which Anna Gunn discusses in an interview with Rolling Stone. She identifies this kind of hatred as being aimed not just at Skyler, but also at other female characters, and as a disturbing cultural trend, and she's right. Its yet another facet of the widespread misogyny on the web, and honestly, if you hold the character of Skyler in contempt, or see her as nothing more than a bitchy obstacle to the plans of the Great and Powerful Walt, you're missing the point, and are likely not going to be happy with the way this show may end. Not to mention that you're overlooking the consistently stellar performance of Anna Gunn, who brings this character so completely and complexly to life. The thing to remember about Breaking Bad  is that nothing is ever static. Everything, especially the characters, are in a constant state of change. Watch Skyler, take things from her POV and you see things very, very differently.

Okay, that's it for this week's Meth Monday. Tune in over at Unfettered Brilliance for Dale's Walter White Wednesday later this week, and check me out on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for various updates throughout the week. Next week on Meth Monday: "Dead Freight" (5.05). See you next time!

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