There is still a lot of ground to cover between the present on “Breaking Bad” and the future we’ve glimpsed where Walt is carrying a machine gun in his trunk and retrieving poison from his empty, graffiti-covered house.
But there was almost no way Sunday’s (Aug. 18) episode, “Buried,” couldn’t pick up in the immediate aftermath of where the previous installment, “Blood Money,” left off. It also carried over the mood of “Blood Money’s” final minutes, giving the entire hour an unnerving, claustrophobic feel. Seriously, when was the last time an episode of TV that was largely made up of two-person dialogue scenes felt as suspenseful as this?
Each conversation — Hank and Skyler, Skyler and Marie, Hank and Marie the next morning, Walt and Skyler in the bathroom — is shot primarily in closeups or tight two-person shots, adding to the penned-in quality of the episode and mirroring what pretty much everyone is feeling. For an action-light episode, exec producer and frequent director Michelle MacLaren does an awfully fine job keeping you on the edge of your seat.
Hank and Marie are still shell-shocked over what they’ve learned about Walt and Skyler, while the Whites are now scrambling — both mentally and physically — to stay a step ahead of them. And where last week’s episode was a great showcase for Dean Norris, this one is huge for Anna Gunn. Watching Skyler process every piece of what Hank told her about Walt (and just as important to her, what he didn’t say) was a brilliant exercise in controlled emotion, up to her final and more frantic cry of “Am I under arrest?”
Hank, given what he’s just learned about Walt, is inclined to think the absolute worst of his brother-in-law, so he assumes Skyler was, at least, coerced into going along with whatever Walt’s plan was, and her dip in the pool in “Fifty-One” from the first half of this season happened after she found out what Walt was doing.
Marie, however, intuits that Skyler has been aware of and complicit in Walt’s business since well before then — her offer to pay Hank’s hospital bills with Walt’s “gambling” winnings came several months before Walt’s 51st birthday. She’s so repulsed by Skyler’s tacit admission that in short order she slaps her sister, tries to take Holly out of the house and then says to Hank, “Get him.” Marie has never been at the center of the drug story of “Breaking Bad,” but she does not strike me as someone you would want on your opposing side.
Then — then! — after Walt wakes up from his fatigue- and stress-induced collapse after burying the money*, Skyler reveals just how deep she’s gotten. Walt admits to her that his own arrogance led Hank to discover him — no small thing, given the size of his ego — and he’s thinking about turning himself in, provided Skyler keeps the money: “Please — don’t let me have done all this for nothing.”
(*Walt’s process for getting rid of the money allows for the return of Bill Burr as Saul’s guy Kuby; he and Huell share the episode’s funniest scene as they lie down on the pile of cash in the storage unit and contemplate making off with it. Huell: “Mexico — all’s I’m sayin’.” Kuby: “This guy hit 10 guys in jail in a two-minute window — all’s I’m sayin’.”)
It’s the most human moment we’ve seen from Walt in some time — which makes it all the more jaw-dropping when Skyler coolly asserts that Walt can’t turn himself in without giving up the money, and she knows Hank doesn’t yet have the proof he needs to make a case. “So maybe our best move here is to stay quiet,” she tells him. It’s an amazing role reversal, even if it’s temporary. Skyler probably still ultimately has more conscience than her husband, but her instinct for self-preservation is clearly very well-developed.
Hank, meanwhile, brings up something that didn’t really hit home during his electric confrontation with Walt last week: No matter how the Heisenberg case comes out, it’s basically the end of his career at the DEA. Even if he has an unimpeachable case, which he doesn’t yet, the fact that the guy he’s been chasing all this time has been literally right next to him is probably a fatal blow to his job. He’s likely to become increasingly desperate to get the proof he needs before Walt’s cancer wins out, and who knows what that might lead him to do. But boy, will it be fascinating to watch.
Other thoughts on “Buried”:
– Lydia and Todd working as a team cannot be a good thing, can it? It certainly isn’t for Declan, who doesn’t take Lydia’s quality concerns seriously enough and ends up dead, along with his entire crew, for it. Todd is taking over the cook, and we learn his sub-Heisenberg standards are good enough for Lydia’s Czech clients. For now.
We also got another glimpse of Todd’s uncle and his nasty crew. As if the prison killings in “Gliding Over All” weren’t proof enough, they are not to be trifled with. It’s unclear still how this thread will intersect with Walt’s, but it’s bound to, and it’s bound to be unpleasant.
– Aaron Paul appears in only the opening and closing sequences of the episode and doesn’t speak in either of them. He doesn’t much need to — the catatonic look on his face as he spins on the playground and his stoic expression in the police interview room say plenty about his state of mind. And as with Hank and probably Lydia and Todd, it feels like he’s tightening the net around Walt.