Last week’s episode of Breaking Bad ended with the confrontation fans have been waiting for, as Walt and Hank each acknowledged that the other is now his mortal enemy. This week’s episode, ”Buried,” was almost nothing but such confrontations, from Hank, Marie and Skyler fighting over a baby (I suppose it’s not a huge leap for Marie to go from kleptomania to kidnapping) to Lydia meeting Declan’s gang and terminating their services.
I suspect there are more than a few of these encounters left to occur (the episode ends right as another one begins), and that’s fine with me. We’ve had four-and-a-half seasons of lies and murder, so now it’s time to witness the toll the truth can take on people as they start to realize just how far Walt has fallen. If this episode is any indication, it’s going to be fantastic.
Hank and Walt are two sides of the same coin; both of them are tempted by their egos, but Hank will always sacrifice himself for the greater good (he’s minutes away from telling Gomie everything), while Walt will always choose himself (his plea for Skyler to keep the money doesn’t stem from a desire to help his family as much as a stubborn refusal to lose).
Breaking Bad has often been stylized in the vein of old-fashioned Westerns, and our first look at the two of them is a beat-for-beat homage to a Sergei Leone gunfight, with cell phones serving as the weapon of choice.
Hank draws first, calling Skyler before Walt can warn her that the jig is up, but the shooting is far from over.
The scene where Hank meets Skyler in the diner lasts for over seven minutes, and it’s one of the tensest sequences in the show’s history, bolstered by some of the most nuanced acting yet by Anna Gunn and Dean Norris. In Breaking Bad, knowledge is power, and the only way to defeat your opponent is to know something they don’t. At the beginning of this confrontation, Hank and Skyler are both equally unsure of the cards they’re holding: Skyler doesn’t know what Hank has discovered, and he’s uncertain as to how she’s involved.
Just when it looks like he might persuade her to trust him, he pulls out the recorder, a telling sign that he doesn’t have the proof he needs. She, in contrast, reveals no details about how she’s involved, or even when she found out her husband was cooking meth. When Hank lets it slip that Walt’s cancer is back, he loses all his leverage. The odds are against him, and they both know it.
As soon as he realizes Hank is meeting with Skyler, Walt panics and gets to work hiding his stockpile of cash. Cranston has mastered the art of communicating Walt’s desperation—underneath the facade of Heisenberg, Walt has always been a scared, frantic character. He can hide it perfectly, letting Heisenberg be confident for him when necessary, but once the need has passed his true cowardice always seeps through.
Last week, I noted that Walt was explicitly referred to as the devil, and this week the symbolism continues, particularly during the scene when he buries the money out in the desert. One shot frames him between two barrels, trapped in a pit with hellish red light emanating from below. If what we’ve seen these past two episodes is any indication, he is damned, and there’s no escape.
He isn’t the only one hiding the evidence of his sins underground. Lydia decides to figure out just why the meth she’s paying for has declined so much in quality. Declan’s cook site is also buried in the desert, and it’s a far cry from the superlab Gus Fring built for Walt. His methods are bad for business, so Lydia hires Todd and his uncle to replace them, cowering in the corner while they’re, er, sent on a trip to Belize. She prefers to stay as far away from the violence as possible, as if by ignoring it she can maintain her innocence.
“I don’t want to see,” she says, effectively summing up the entire show in a single line; Breaking Bad has always been about people living in denial about who they really are and how they should behave. Hank is still coming to grips with the fact the criminal mastermind he’s been chasing for over a year was right under his nose. Marie seems reluctant to realize the full extent of Skyler’s involvement (which is why her reaction is so explosive when she finally does).
Even Skyler herself now seems unable to see which action would be the “right” one to take. She’s been both a victim and a co-conspirator over the course of the series, and by the end of “Buried” she decides to bet on Walt, or at least, Walt’s cancer. Granted, she really does seem to think that’s the best route to take to protect her children—I have a feeling she’d betray Walt in a heartbeat if she thought it would help them—but she seems unwilling to even consider the possibility that working with Hank would be best in the long run, at least for now.
The only character who has really “seen” things for a while now is Jesse. He’s no longer under any illusions about who he is and what he’s done, and it’s destroying him. Aaron Paul is only in two scenes this episode, and he doesn’t have a single line, but he communicates all he needs to with his eyes. He might as well be on another planet while he’s being interrogated. It’s the same look he used to get when he was high on heroin (the camera even zooms in on him slightly at the end of the opening scene, a reversal of the moment when he “flew” away from Jane in Season 2), except this time he isn’t lost in a drug-fueled haze, he’s trapped in his own self-understanding. He gazed into the abyss, it stared back, and now he can’t look away.
Unlike Walt, though, he can still be redeemed. Michelle MacLaren—one of the show’s best directors—frames the second-to-last shot like a Catholic confessional, with Jesse stewing in his guilt while Hank watches from behind a grated window.
This might be the most important moment of Jesse’s life. With only a few words, he can save his soul and condemn the guy who corrupted it. But will he? It could go either way. The God’s-eye view in the opening scene finds him on a playground roundabout, presenting him as both a child spinning in a swirl of confusion and a lone bullet in the chamber of a gun Hank can’t wait to fire.
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