'Breaking Bad' episode 504 - 'Fifty-One': Walt's not especially happy birthday

bryan-cranston-breaking-bad-fifty-one.jpgBefore we begin the recap of Sunday's (Aug. 5) "Breaking Bad," let's pause and take a moment to mourn the loss of a key member of the "Breaking Bad" family.

RIP, Walt's Pontiac Aztek. It served valiantly for four seasons, getting smashed and bent and damaged in countless ways, and it returns (briefly) at the beginning of "Fifty-One," repaired and ready for action once again. But after the mechanic marvels at how sturdy the car is, Walt offers to sell it to him for $50, then gets himself a sweet new vehicle* to celebrate his 51st birthday.

(*So, clearly, the show has some kind of deal with Chrysler to provide vehicles. But you have to wonder if, given how few Azteks actually exist -- only about 108,000 were ever sold -- if the crew just ran out of ones to wreck.)

Pics: Television antiheroes

After that little interlude, the rest of the episode centers around Walt's birthday -- but not necessarily on Walt himself. Instead, he takes something of a back seat to two of the women in his orbit, Skyler and Lydia. Neither of them is much in a mood to celebrate.

Skyler has been feeling her world close in around her since midway through last season, but you can almost see the psychological weight she's carrying now that she knows just how far Walt has gone. Anna Gunn has been turning in a brilliantly tortured performance so far this season, and she finally let it out -- to some extent, anyway -- after taking a walk to the bottom of their pool.

What's really heartbreaking about the scene is that Skyler admits she doesn't know what to do -- getting Walt Jr. and Holly out of the house for a few days is victory enough for her at the moment. Her admission seems to inspire a mix of pity and contempt in Walt, which is probably the worst possible thing for her at this point: Walt won't consider her a threat, but he also won't forget about it -- or let her forget that he knows what she's thinking.

Meanwhile, Lydia returns and tries another maneuver to get out from under Mike's thumb, planting a GPS device on a barrel of methylamine to dupe Jesse into believing the DEA is watching her every move. Mike sees right through her and is ready to go kill her, but Walt seemingly gives her a reprieve by saying the flow of chemicals can't be interrupted. "We're just getting started," he intones.

Still, given how much time the episode spends on these two women, and how desperate each of them seems, the possibility that one or both might contribute significantly to Walt's downfall -- or at least the flash-forward from the season premiere -- seems pretty high.

Other thoughts on "Fifty-One":

  • We're now halfway through the eight "Breaking Bad" episodes airing this summer, and they've all dealt more or less with Walt getting his business up and running again. Barring another flash-forward, it seems pretty unlikely we'll get too many hints about why Walt needs a great big machine gun.
  • Hank is building what looks like a very strong case around the periphery of Fring's operation. Do you think Lydia will be the breaking point, or does Hank find another way in?
  • While we said goodbye to the Aztek this week, Heisenberg's hat (which was in the car) made its return. Are you tempted to read anything into the loose thread Walt was playing with?

What did you think of "Breaking Bad" this week?
Photo/Video credit: AMC
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