By John Keegan and Henry Tran
Time moves in only one direction: Forward. We saw it all around this episode of "Breaking Bad". Walt is moving on without giving a second thought to the consequences of his actions. Like I mentioned before in a previous review: Walt is now embracing the Heisenberg persona, and Heisenberg doesn't live in a world of fear. He intimidates. He bullies. He is "the one who knocks."
We see all of this on display in this episode. Mostly, he bullies Skyler -- still terrified of her husband in deeper ways than even Walt can imagine -- but he doesn't even bat an eye when Mike brings up the possibility that Lydia planted the tracker on the barrels of methylamine precursor that he and Jesse need for their work. The operation moves forward. It doesn't stop for anything or anyone. It's like time. Funny that the thematic issue of time is brought up on the day of Walt's birthday, which celebrates one full year in the timeline of the series. Walt's birthday is a reminder of both the metaphorical "birth" of Heisenberg and that everything possibly comes crashing down on him by his next birthday, which was depicted in the season premiere. It's all downhill from here.
This episode made things very clear in terms of how Walt is depicted. He slips on the Heisenberg persona and he is a bad guy. This is evident from the teaser of the episode. The mechanic fixes up the sturdy, constantly suffering Pontiac Aztek, a car Walt has had since the beginning of the series, and Walt sells it to the mechanic for a cheap price once he finds the Heisenberg hat in the backseat. He's leaving all of the old trappings of his former life as a meek, cancer-ridden chemistry teacher behind. In its place is a man who drives a powerful sports car. He even gets Junior the red Challenger that he destroyed after a joyride last season.
Which was another event in a line of them referenced throughout this episode. Even as time constantly moves forward, Walt is getting all these reminders of what he experienced in the past year of his life. But he no longer cares what the consequences are. He has a story to cover the new cars. He arrogantly assumes all of the dangers have been swept clear the moment he murdered Gus. He masterfully weaves one story after the next to cover all of the horrible things he has done since he got cancer. It's quite something to see because though Walt is right to some degree in that the immediate danger of Gus is gone, a danger still exists.
It's Walt's own brother-in-law, who, along with his DEA compatriots, press on the investigation. This time, they put the spotlight on Lydia. She panics, naturally, and easily gives up another connection in the Fring organization with Ron, the warehouse foreman who supplied the methylamine. For a detail-oriented person such as Lydia, it's glaringly obvious when she has mismatched shoes on (a detail obssessive Hank doesn't miss), and it only seems like a matter of time before the hammer is going to get dropped on the entire operation. My thought is that the GPS on the barrel was an idea that the DEA agents pressed on Lydia to try and track the source of the methylamine in exchange for possible immunity. Mike determines it's the last straw for Lydia and that she has to go. I would agree with that mindset, especially given that Mike spent that reprieve on Lydia in a previous episode.
But Lydia will continue to live because Walt doesn't care about all of that. He runs things, and when it's his operation, nothing stops. Being the boss means you have to deal with a slew of potential problems, and Walt is blissfully ignorant of all of that. Throughout the episode, he feels that he, and Heisenberg by extension, is invincible. That nothing can touch him. And that he expects to be lauded as a conquering hero. His birthday party was anything but a triumph. We know from the season premiere that in less than a year, all of it will be gone.
Walt's own ignorance at the things that are important to him lead to Skyler's actions here. It's a slow build, with Walt and Junior's dual sports cars denying Skyler a place in her own home. Then she suggests that Junior could go to a boarding school in Arizona. It's not a small request by any means because it would mean turning Junior's entire world upside-down, but Skyler presents it as such. I love the way this show inverts regular domestic conversations between a husband and wife. There is a touch of annoyance in Walt's voice whenever he talks to Skyler, and she's doing everything she can to fight this monster who has invaded her home and falsely claiming that the entire family is safe. As I said, Walt is a master storyteller and the wheels are always spinning in his head with ways to combat anything anyone throws at him.
The argument escalates just a bit, leading to the birthday dinner where Walt tells Hank and Marie of the trials he went through in the past year. All I did through the entire scene on first viewing was watch Skyler, just off in the background, standing precariously close to the pool. (Second viewing, I fully understood Walt's story.) Given that she recently exploded at Marie, anything but going into that pool would have been a surprise to me. She slowly wades in, and it's a haunting, beautiful scene that's bathed in blue. A small smile creeps onto Skyler's face as she stays underwater. She would have ended things here if it weren't in front of Walt and Hank and Marie.
This is what Walt has driven Skyler to. She can't take it anymore, and decides to drown herself in her own pool. The ensuing argument is where everything comes out in the open. It's mesmerizing just to watch the dynamics of the argument. Walt has a counter for everything Skyler can think of to get rid of him. A lot of what he says makes some logical sense so Skyler gives up all pretense. The best thing she can do is wait. Wait for Walt to die a slow natural death. It's a cold, sobering statement to Walt, one that he is taken aback by.
The reality of the situation doesn't stick too long, though. After he gets a nice birthday present from Jesse, he shoves it right in Skyler's face when he gets home, telling her that the person who gave it to him once pointed a gun at point blank range, threatening to kill him. If he (Jesse) can change his mind about Walt/Heisenberg, surely Skyler will come around as well. What Walt neglected to mention to Skyler were all of the manipulations and lies perpetrated to get Jesse on his side. The difference here is that Skyler knows exactly what kind of person Walt is. There is no lie wedged in between their partnership.
So the countdown begins now for what happens between this birthday and Walt's next birthday. What we see in this episode, from the expensive sports cars, to the cash and the watch, will all be gone by the time Walt comes into that Denny's restaurant to make the bacon "52" sign on his breakfast. Replaced by a far different alias than Heisenberg, the lung cancer possibly returning, and a Volvo with New Hampshire license plates. Oh, and a machine gun for still-mysterious purposes. It's going to be a Greek tragedy of epic proportions, especially since the show is at the stage where Heisenberg is at the height of his powers. The threat is there. Walt just chooses to look the other way.
At some point, he's going to get burned, and it's going to cause collateral damage that he won't expect. It's also telling of how effective this show is that we know Walt will be alive to see his next birthday, but we don't know how he gets to that point. How is he a shell of himself when he's all id and ego just one year before? It may have seemed like a talky episode that had little in terms of action, but I personally love how this show continues to stray from the usual dramatic television format. Scenes on this show, particularly in this episode, play out with a minimum of musical cues, allowing the sparkling dialogue to come to the forefront. There's no other show on television like it.John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision. Henry Tran is Critical Myth's reviewer for Breaking Bad.