In which Walt has a birthday, Hank gets a promotion and a hat returns
The hat is, in many ways, BREAKING BAD’s iconic image. THE SOPRANOS had its R that looked like a gun; MAD MEN has the tumbling silhouette of Don Draper. BREAKING BAD has that hat, a transformative garment that marks the separation between Walter White and Heisenberg. When the old Walter White truly disappeared is debatable, but the re-emergence of Heisenberg’s hat in Walter’s long suffering car hammers the point home in his own mind. He is now Heisenberg, king of Albuquerque, and with that in mind, he needs a new set of wheels. Though the scene of Walters junior and senior playing in fancy cars showed us a rare glimpse of Walt enjoying himself, Mr White’s brashness has reached a new level. He’s through with hiding.
This reached a zenith in the first of many painfully uncomfortable scenes between Walt and Skyler. When she realises he’s back in the drug business, he owns up without a shrug: “well, yeah”, as if it’s only right and natural. He’s not even rationalising at this point, just getting on with the business he has chosen. Indeed, it seems so normal to him now that he refuses to see why Skyler might not want his children to live under the same roof as him. In his own mind, he’s untouchable. So what if just a few weeks ago (in the show’s reality) he was bunkered up in his own home, sending an elderly neighbour in as a canary to flush out the assassins waiting there to murder him. He’s top of the heap now, and the idea that his children need to fear for their safety is insulting to him. Walt’s inability to set aside his pride has been an issue on many occasions, and the idea that he can’t protect his own kids must be particularly offensive to him. Walt steamrollers Skyler here, brushing aside her plans to protect her family from the man who protects her family, until she reveals her long term goal – to sit and wait until Walt’s cancer returns.
It’s a line like this that makes it so hard to imagine that the entire story so far has taken place over a single year; it’s a detail like this that makes Walt’s transformation both more and less believable. On the one hand, it is a fairly brief window for such a metamorphosis. On the other hand, the money he’s made and foes vanquished (not to mention crimes committed) in 12 short months would make an instant mark on anyone. It’s also worth mentioning that we’re now one year away from the events in episode one’s cold open; we know (vaguely) where Walt will be in twelve months’ time. Now for the why.
Meanwhile, we’re given another look into one of Walt’s few potential weak spots, namely the spider’s web that is the Madrigal corporation. An increasingly frazzled Lydia finds herself under further scrutiny from a newly promoted Hank and the DEA, leading to her wanting nothing more than a complete severance of ties between her and New Mexico. Mike has been surprisingly calm and cool headed throughout the whole payroll debacle, but Lydia’s messy attempts to scare Jesse into thinking the cops are onto them is a bridge too far. In season five’s increased focus on Mike, we’ve seen that, for a ruthless assassin and wet work specialist, he has an admirable amount of honour – a man with a code, in the vein of THE WIRE’s Omar. Keep your mouth shut and do your time, and you’ll be rewarded with regular pay offs. But try to renege on a deal, and you’ll leap straight to the top of Mike’s hit list, as Lydia manages to do at the end of this episode. Her fate remains unknown – Jesse gives us another reminder that he’s simply too nice for this world when he begs for Mike’s mercy – but when a guy like Mike gets that riled up, trouble surely can’t be far away.
But this episode was all about the implosion at the White family residence. After Skyler promises to take Walt’s kids away from him, one might expect a response of Heisenbergian proportions. Walt’s final monologue – to a heavy smoking (to aid Walt’s cancer in its return?) but taciturn Skyler- threatens something much scarier on the horizon. This is the peak of Walter White’s confidence. His wife of twenty years tells him she’s looking forward to his death – on his birthday, no less – and he returns home fully expecting to be able to resume business. Showing off his birthday present from Jesse, he tells his silent wife that his business partner once wanted him dead too. Jesse forgave him, and so will she. In order to gain Jesse’s forgiveness, Walt, among other things, poisoned a child. What he’ll do to get his wife under his thumb is hard to even imagine.
Check out next week’s BREAKING BAD Series Blog!