This week's episode of Breaking Bad didn't feature a single gun. There was nary a high-speed chase. The only scene that could be considered an action sequence involved a pair of Walter Whites revving their engines in the driveway.
And yet "Fifty-One" was as tense as television can get.
As the increasingly cocky Walt, who spent the opening of the hour excitedly convincing his petrified wife to throw him a birthday party because - in his warped mind - there's much for the family to celebrate, rambled to Hank and Marie about the trials of the past year, viewers saw Skyler in the background.
She waded in to that pool one step at a time. How far would she go? For what purpose? How would Walt respond? It was a perfectly paced and directed few moments, featuring a simple edge-of-your-seat thrill and curiosity that no other show can come close to pulling off.
I briefly complained last week that we are yet to really see the Season 5 story amp up. Walt has reached his Scarface-like pinnacle, but where's the tension? Where's the outside force that will lead to panic and suspense and that scene exactly one year from now, on his 52nd birthday, where Walt is in dire need of a shotgun?
But it looks like there will be no outside interference. Walt really might be the ultimate drug kingpin.
Instead, the final run of this incredible drama will deal with internal obstacles, the true disintegration of Walt's family; first in Skyler's bold act and stance on Walt Jr. and Holly; and eventually, of course, in Hank learning of his brother-in-law's secret.
We're not too close to the latter development just yet, but every detail of the former was simply mesmerizing and brutal to watch. I shuddered when Walt caressed Skyler in bed. I marveled at the basic way he shot down her desperate plans to get the kids away from this dangerous environment.
That won't work. Next! What else you got?!? It seemed like Walt had won the verbal throwdown... until Skyler hit him with the ultimate comeback, a slap to the face of the man who truly believed he was a strong influence on his family and had been acting on their behalf all along: I'm waiting for the cancer to return.
Yes, Walt has been that delusional. One could have argued that he's just a self-aware asshole who moved back home to make Skyler's world a living Hell because he's The Danger, he can do whatever he wants. But I never saw it that way.
Walt has viewed himself as a meth-making knight in shining armor when it came to his wife and children. He's been doing this all for them! He's the hard-working employee who has earned a promotion into the corner office and can now confidently provide for his loved ones. So to actually learn that his wife wants him dead appeared to affect the mad black hatter.
But only in the moment.
Back in his comfort zone, Heisenberg hat in hand, Walt simply grew inspired. There would be no slowing down of the operation no matter what fears Mike may have or what challenges supposedly lie ahead. There are no challenges that cannot be overcome in Walter White's world, not when he's in control.
And not when he has Jesse unquestionably under his thumb by his side. It's worth noting how Walt now views love or affection: as someone who once wanted to kill him changing his or her mind. Isn't that sweet?!?
The closing scene was more overt than usual for Breaking Bad. Time is ticking for Walt, whether that's due to the return of his cancer, the uncovering of the truth by Hank or my new, sure-to-be-wrong-yet-I'm-gonna-throw-it-out-there-anyway theory: Jesse is working against him.
I don't really think this is true. But the thought was planted in my head when Lydia questioned him, and then there was the close-up of the watch (might it contain a tracking device or recorder?) and the overall 180 Jesse has taken in how he views his mentor. Is there any chance, any chance at all, that Jesse is somehow scheming to turn Mr. White in?
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