For the final season of Breaking Bad, CaPC writers will look at some of the most important themes and moments from each Sunday’s episode. Breaking Bad Broken Downis a dialogue about one of our favorite shows. This week, Drew Dixon and Alan Noble look at episode 10, Season 5, “Buried.”
What struck me about this episode is how utterly alone everyone is. Jesse is passed out in a play ground having thrown millions of dollar bills on the ground in the neighborhood. Walt spends half the episode burying his money by himself in the middle of the wilderness. Skyler doesn’t answer Walt’s calls and then Walt won’t answer Skyler’s calls, terrified that she made a deal with Hank. Hank convinces Skyler to meet him alone in restaurant and he only informs Marie about Walt in order to try to get Skyler to talk. Marie loves and believes Hank, but when she stays home from work to be with Hank, Hank then decides to go to work. No one trusts anyone else, there is no real intimacy, they are all alone.
Perhaps the most troubling scene that illustrated this theme was after Marie confronts Skyler and then tries to leave the house with Holly. Marie and Skyler scream at one another while Holly begins to cry uncontrollably–terrified by events she can’t possibly understand. This was troubling because it forces us to acknowledge the most tragic character that might be left alone if her parents are found out. It forces us to recognize the consequences of sin and just how broken the White family is.
What is going to happen to Holly? Last week we discussed whether it is possible that Jesse might be redeemed, but what about Holly? Is there any “good” ending for her?
Also, what is Jesse up to? Do you think he wants to get caught?
When Christians critique stories, one of our concerns tends to be how sin is depicted. Is it glorified? Is it romanticized? Or does it show sin for what it is, for the destructive, dehumanizing force that it is?
In my estimation, it has always been Breaking Bad‘s frequently brutal and unromantic depiction of sin that has endeared it to me. And this loneliness is a great example of that. Sin separates us from God, but it also separates us from each other. And this makes sense, right? If the Great Commandments are to Love God and our Neighbor, we should expect that when we sin, we experience alienation. But what’s interesting is that Hank and Marie experience the alienation, too. And as you point out, Holly suffers for her parents’ sins. The effects of sin cannot be contained. The effects are not just. I’m reminded of the catastrophic plane-crash finale of Season Two, which the show’s producers directly portray as a consequence of Walt’s actions. Sin is this wildly uncontainable destructive force that alienates us from one another.
Or we can think of the various episodes that show the pathetic, hopeless, banality of drug addiction; the best episode like this is “Peekaboo” from Season Two, in which Jesse spends a day with two wretched meth addicts and a neglected young boy. Having witnessed the realities of serious drug addiction first hand in those who I love, I think that episode was stunning. That’s what a lifestyle of drug abuse is like. It’s just sad. It’s not romantically sad or tragically sad. It’s just really sad. And unbelievably and uncontainably destructive.
And there was some of that in this week’s episode, too. Skyler sitting on the edge of her bed crying, unable to speak. Marie horrified and unable to believe. Walt frightened and unable to stop fighting for his money. Jesse spiritually exhausted and unable to reason.
To answer your question, I think he’s the only one of the main characters who isn’t up to something. Skyler has a lot more to fear if Walt is caught, but Jesse’s anxiety is with what has already happened, not with what will happen. And because of that, he seems to be broken, almost catatonic.
What did you think about Walt’s renewed family ethos? He won’t send Hank to Belize because he’s family (the way he takes such offense at the idea is strange, almost unbelievable, since he’s been willing to do so many horrible things to so many people). And he is obsessed with making sure that even if he gets caught that the family gets to keep the money. Does this mean that he really had always been motivated by a selfless desire to care for his family?
I definitely agree that Breaking Bad’s “brutal and unromantic depiction of sin” is what makes it special. There have been moments when the show made sin seem cool–like the episode when Walt buys himself and his son new cars and the various ways that Walt always seems to outsmart his enemies. These moments, however, are short lived and are followed up by scenes where the consequences of sin are deeply felt. Hank might be the best example of this. He is one of the few people who still cares about Walt and yet Walt has done so much to hurt him.
I too was surprised by Walt’s sudden renewed commitment to family. Walt has had too many opportunities to quit cooking and selling meth but he has kept on because he has found something he is good at. Given the way he hid the money, it does seem that he is attempting to leave his family with something. I find it hard, however, to believe that Walt won’t kill Hank because he is family. Perhaps his love for Skyler is holding him back? But it seems like that is the only out for Walt. Hank won’t stop until Walt is exposed and brought to justice. I suspect that the ricin Walt was retrieved last episode is intended for Hank. Much like his decision to ensure that only he knows the location of the money, perhaps Walt’s plan is to kill Hank in a way that only he knows the truth.
Thanks to Jesus, even someone as horrible as Walt can be redeemed, but that doesn’t mean that our sins will go unpunished in this world. If Walt really is trying to spend his last days caring for his family, I think he is tragically naive, as Skyler pointed out, once Walt is exposed, she can’t go anywhere near that money.
This episode made clear that things between Walt and Skyler and Hank and Marie will never be the same but really, we have known that for a long time. If Walt really is tapping into whatever selfless love remains in him, it is too little too late.
You’re right. There are parts of the show that make sin look cool. Jesse’s excessive and exuberant usage of certain profanity when they succeed at something: cooking meth or solving some problem. And like you say, the sexy cars he buys and the clever ways he beats his enemies do make a sinful lifestyle look pretty awesome. Maybe the best example of this is from the first half of Season 5:
(warning, profanity, because this is Breaking Bad)
But here’s the thing. All of those aspects of the show aren’t really about how the drug culture is cool. The most enjoyable moments are enjoyable and cool because the characters do something really good, although it is usually distorted to bad ends. All of these great moments are about people loving each other (Walt buying a car for his son, Jesse getting excited at Walt’s genius, their witty banter) or about them overcoming some insane challenge. We love Jesse getting excited about Walt’s plan to use a giant magnet to wipe the computers in the evidence closet at the police station not because we think it’s cool to destroy evidence and get away with crime, but because we love seeing Walt and Jesse work together and be successful. We love vicariously being excited for them overcoming an obstacle.
There’s still a very real danger here, of course. And so, I think as viewers, it’s valuable to discern what it is that gives us pleasure in the show. We can easily and wrongly conflate the goodness of their relationship for a sign of the goodness of illegal drug manufacturing and selling. But we can also just as easily dismiss the beauty of their relationship because of the evil circumstances of that relationship.
The ricin back at the beginning of this half-season is interesting, because it seems pretty clear that he’s already a wanted man. The house is boarded up and his former neighbor is shocked to see him. And if he is a wanted man, how is he going to get close enough to use ricin? The thing with ricin is that you can use it to assassinate someone quietly. But at the beginning of Season 5, we learned that at this point in the time line he has a huge gun in his trunk. Needless to say, I’m intrigued about what will happen. I was sure Walt would kill Hank until this episode when he so quickly and confidently brushed the idea aside. Maybe Hank will pursue him and his family until Walt is forced to act?