Breaking Bad’s episode titles are reliably either cryptic or symbolic. This week’s episode, Buried, is both.
Literally, Walt buries his money. The White and Schrader family relationship is effectively buried. And at the end of the episode, there is the possibility for two bitter old enemies to bury a hatchet.
As usual, the episode as a whole is brilliant. Dean Norris receives more screen time than Bryan Cranston and he helms the show ably, as anybody could guess he would. Plenty of drama unfolds, but compared to last week’s episode a little less happens in terms of momentous story development. But the episode still sailed by and even felt too short. For as quickly as the series’ endgame went into effect in Blood Money, it’s natural that the final moves take time to play out.
Actually, the pacing is interesting. We know what is going to become of Walt; the question is, how quickly in the series will that post-apocalyptic future become the present? At any moment, the hammer could come down on Walt and set into motion the events that lead to his assuming an alias and going on the run. Knowing what’s going to happen but having no idea when is giving these final episodes a palpable suspense at all times. The show may be in its endgame, but right away Buried establishes the postponement of checkmate. The first scene after the opening teaser is Hank’s garage door opening and Walt walking out of it wordlessly. I’m disappointed there wasn’t a scene showing how the rest of Hank and Walt’s conversation went. It’s nagging not so much in terms of wanting to know for the story’s sake, but because I wanted to see more of the two of them squared off.
In the opening teaser, a resident Burqueño finds Jesse Pinkman’s cash lying all over his neighborhood and Pinkman himself hanging out on a merry-go-round by his idling car. I have a minor gripe about this eerily creaking merry-go-round. That steady, dissonant melody produced by the gears breaks my suspension of disbelief. It just doesn’t sound real, and it repeats itself out-of-phase with the merry-go-round’s rotation. The scene is probably an homage to horror films with their creepy playgrounds. It’s worth noting, though, that the extra who plays the citizen does a great job. The range of emotions that come over his face when he discovers Jesse’s money articulate exactly the kinds of thoughts a real person in that situation might have. First, he feels like he must be the luckiest person on the planet; then, he is afraid. When he sees more money lying around and eventually discovers Jesse’s car, I guess he knows he can’t just put the wad of cash in his cookie jar.
After Walt leaves Hank’s garage, he immediately calls Skyler, only to discover Hank has beaten him to it. When the garage door opens back up and Walt and Hank catch one another both trying to call her, it’s the craziest moment of the episode. From here, the drama and suspense mostly wane as Buried moves along, which is more of an impartial observation than a criticism – there’s still plenty going on.
Skyler is either woefully underwritten or concealing the show’s true mastermind. Anna Gunn is a good actress, but I get a little tired of her just listening and not saying anything. The conversation between her and Hank at the diner is brilliantly acted by Dean Norris, but Skyler just quivers and squirms until she has another outburst and storms off. Of course, she is being careful not to say anything incriminating. What’s most frustrating about this scene is Hank’s density in figuring that out. That it never seems to even dawn on him that Skyler not only knew about Walt’s empire but was directly involved in it is a little unfair to the perceptive, thorough character of Hank established so far. In light of his revelation about Walt, Hank should know better than to assume anyone’s innocence. Later in the episode, he even tells Marie that Skyler will talk to him once she comes to her senses. Skyler seems to be the only character with any sense left about her, although her conversion to the dark side seems nearly complete.
Just about every living major character introduced so far shows up in Buried. The comic relief factor of Lavell Crawford’s Huell and Bill Burr’s Kuby is always welcome and it’s worth noting how seamlessly it fits into the show. Both characters are reasonably serious and professional around their employers, but in private they let loose a little. And why shouldn’t they? They’re essentially just working-class stiffs like any of the rest of us. Understandably, they are stunned upon seeing Walt’s huge pile of money in the storage garage. Huell lying down on it is a riot. It’s probably what anyone would do, knowing that there’d never be another opportunity like it again. Thanks to Huell, Saul, and Kuby, Buried is simultaneously among the series’ most intense and funniest episodes. Actually, there is a single line that captures both these dimensions perfectly. When Saul uses “sending him on a trip to Belize” as a euphemism to suggest offing Hank, Walt reacts by telling Saul he’ll send him to Belize. Since Walt has threatened Saul before, this is more than merely a flippant retort, and Saul takes it with due seriousness.
Todd and Lydia also return. They’ve apparently formed a new alliance. For reasons I can’t understand yet, Lydia has Todd’s Uncle Jack’s gang wipe out Declan’s crew. Declan provided distribution for Walt at the end of the first half of Season 5. When Walt stopped cooking, the product Declan’s in-house chefs produced to replace it fell short of Lydia’s Czech buyers’ standards. I can’t tell what it is Lydia does with her phone in this scene, and I wish I did because it seems important. Either way, Declan is gone, which is sort of too bad. I thought his character had potential; instead, he pretty much just strutted around in the desert in all his appearances. But Uncle Jack’s crew is an interesting addition. They are a fresh change from the cool, dignified villains the show’s spent much of its time dealing with. Instead of hiding beneath a veneer of respectability, Uncle Jack’s crew is openly crude and scummy. And their business with Walt is obviously not concluded, or else they wouldn’t be in the show at all.
A primary strengths of Breaking Bad is its characters’ realistic, human reactions to their preposterous circumstances. One of the few decent negative reviews I’ve read of the show points out that Breaking Bad is more of a plot-driven than a character-driven show. While that may be true, the plot wouldn’t matter so much if it wasn’t these characters involved in it. Leading up to Buried, I spent a lot of time wondering just what might happen next. I had no educated way of guessing; no one I know has ever been in this kind of situation. Never would I have imagined that the focus would go to Skyler or that Hank would let Walt run free after confronting him in the garage. But the show is usually careful to justify its characters’ actions. Hank and Marie’s discussion of how to proceed, with Hank worrying about his career, is a textbook example of exactly this kind of airtight writing and character-driven rationalization. It makes the show almost impossible to predict, just as the actions of real people are notoriously difficult to predict.
After getting the barrels full of money from Saul and his guys, Walt drives a van out into the middle of the desert and buries them. The burying serves as the episode’s obligatory music montage. It’s far from the show’s most interesting one, but it probably provides a little foreshadowing and is certainly symbolic. The hole Walt digs to put his money in looks suspiciously like a grave. Seeing Walt standing in it strikes a chord – it is Walt’s lust for money that dug his grave in the first place.
Back home, with the money safely buried and a clever lottery ticket purchased to remember its coordinates, Walt and Skyler finally get to talk. Walt makes Skyler a reasonable, even honorable, proposition: he will turn himself in and, presumably, do so in such a way as to absolve Skyler of all her guilt as an accessory. But Skyler, too, is now chiefly concerned with the money. Skeptical of the amount of evidence Hank has against him and fearful of losing the money, Skyler proposes that she and Walt simply lay low. Hank will live with his suspicions, but as long as he is never able to mount a real case against Walt, the Whites will be safe. There obviously won’t be any more margarita nights or bowling plans with the Schraders, but Skyler believes her immediate family unit will stand.
Conspicuously absent among all of this is Walt Jr. The episode contained a lot of drama surrounding the children, but Junior never shows up. Right away, Hank suggests to Skyler that she and the kids go to the Schrader house. When Marie confronts Skyler and learns that she’s known of Walt’s involvement in the meth industry for far too long to be forgiven, she slaps Skyler and tries to take Holly away. Hank intervenes, but the look he gives Skyler suggests he may be onto her. Junior must be stuck at school or hanging out with friends. Hopefully by next episode, his loyalties and role in the show’s endgame will become clearer. My guess is that Hank will approach Junior directly and Walt and Skyler will lie to him, turning him against Hank.
But by far the most interesting piece of the puzzle now is Jesse. Just as Hank is about to put his career on the line and come to his fellow agents with his suspicions about Walt, he learns that his old sparring partner Jesse has been picked up and is in custody after being found with a bagful of money. With one dramatic swoop, Jesse moves from the show’s outskirts back into a starring role without even speaking a word. Hank knows of the Jesse/Walter connection. The smoking gun Hank needs to bring Walt down – some kind of testimony against him – is waiting in a police interrogation room. When the door to that room closes behind Hank, the episode ends.
Though it’s an enticing cliffhanger the ending is a little unsatisfying. As a viewer, I wish I had been given at least a sense of what direction Hank and Jesse’s conversation will go. Jesse is trying desperately to make up for the crimes of his past. Putting Heisenberg behind bars is a big step toward that. But he really does hate Hank, and as dramatically converted as Jesse has seemed in recent episodes, he is not the show’s most morally centered character. He is still petty, prone to indulgence, and a criminal. Juxtapose his past with Hank and his quest for atonement, and the interrogation could go either way.
Until the very end of Buried, and starting from about the middle of Season 5a, I worried the writers had run out of things for Jesse to do. Just like I couldn’t wait to see Walt and Hank’s next moves after last week’s episode, I am excited for Jesse and Hank’s first face-to-face since Hank beat the crap out of Jesse in the third season. The title for next week’s episode, Confessions, is appropriately tantalizing. Like Buried, it could refer to any number of things. Lots of the show’s characters have beans to spill, and it sounds like they’ll be spilling next week.
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