Breaking Bad Season 5
Hank’s promotion and Skyler’s cry for help.
Yee-ikes, that was a grueling hour of television. Now I want to go frolic with a litter of fuzzy puppies.
Or am I just being a girl? After that parade of women teetering on the verge of nervous breakdowns—and manly dudes revving powerful engines—I’m very conscious of gender as I try to separate my thoughts about that episode from the visceral anxiety it produced.
I’m still a bit shaken by Skyler’s Virginia Woolf shuffle into the backyard pool. It was so disturbing to see her staring, affectless, over at the water as Walt droned on about her amazing contribution to his recovery from cancer. Walt is certainly a better actor these days, but he had a very uncooperative scene partner for his big speech. I don’t really know if Skyler’s silent stride into the pool was a stunt—her version of Walt’s “fugue state” from Season 2, a desperate bid to stop the noise and questions and to signal that she needed immediate help—or if she really had a nervous breakdown.
Perhaps in the end it doesn’t matter. Skyler needed Hank and Marie to take the kids over to their place, and now Walter Jr. and little Holly are ensconced in the Schraders’ house. This allows Skyler to devote all her time to sitting on the couch, smoking.
As we now know from that devastating conversation with Walt—which, based on her current attitude (somewhere between bad humor and catatonia), could well be the last words she ever says to her husband—Skyler is waiting “for the cancer to come back.” I guess in a way we viewers are, too. The cold open of the Season 5 premiere gave us a glimpse of the future, and now we’re biding our time, wanting to see how things turn out. In that preview of things to come, Walt coughed. On his 52nd birthday, will Walt be cancer free? Will he just have a winter cold?
And then there’s Lydia, that other crazy, deceptive woman. She’s also in a terrible state, wearing mismatched shoes to work (I love that Hank noticed that detail but didn’t remark upon it, knowing it was more useful if she didn’t know that they understood the extent of her discomfort), and freaking out over a possibly booby-trapped barrel of precursor. I don’t know if she’s responsible for tampering with the container, though Mike is absolutely convinced that she is. We know that she lied to Mike, exaggerating the number of DEA agents that visited her at Madrigal and telling him they were “screaming and yelling,” when they were, in fact, quite discreet and polite. But perhaps that’s a normal response. This is, after all, a woman who justifies her grilling of Jesse by citing the plot of 21 Jump Street. (And she’s right, it’s really not cool to plant undercover cops in high schools.)
I’m glad to see Hank’s hard work—and really impressive feats of deduction—rewarded by a promotion, but if he reassigns all his “day-to-days,” will the DEA ever find the source of the blue meth? No other agent has displayed a fraction of Hank’s detective skills.
I loved the contrast between Hank’s family hierarchy and the other guys’ dysfunctional relationships with women. Back in Season 4, Skyler nixed Walt’s acquisition of a fancy muscle car for Walter Jr. Now that she’s weak, he gets to play the big man, and it clearly thrills him. Mike wants to solve the Lydia problem by killing her. Meanwhile, Hank decided to apply for the promotion because Marie “would murder me if I said no.”
I’m curious, Matt: As the possessor of a Y chromosome, how did you feel about the opening montage? Walt seemed to get a testosterone rush when he saw the Heisenberg hat sitting on the seat of his newly fixed Aztek. It’s as if it were possessed. As soon as he placed it onto his head, he had an irresistible craving for horsepower. Have you ever been overcome by a desire to sit in the driveway gunning the engine?
You don’t hand mash?
June Thomas is a Slate culture critic. Follow her on Twitter.