Anna Gunn as Skyler White (Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC)
"What's done cannot be undone." -Macbeth, Act V, Scene 1There are three Viennese Schools of Psychotherapy, with each advocating a different primary driving force in the psychology of human decision making. The theories of Sigmund Freud represent the "First School" with his belief the human id makes decisions motivated towards finding pleasure & avoiding pain. The "Second School" was developed by psychotherapist Alfred Adler, and uses elements of Nietzschean philosophy to argue humans base their actions on a desire for power and avoidance of feelings of helplessness. The experiences & observations of Viktor Frankl as a survivor of the Holocaust form much of the basis for Logotherapy, which is the "Third School." Frankl argued the primary motivation to human existence is finding a meaning in our lives.
What fascinated me about this latest episode of Breaking Bad is how the actions of each of the characters can be seen as coming from one of the above motivations, and how it contrasts & tracks throughout the series.
Last week's episode ended with the confrontation between Hank and Walt. What's interesting is that both characters are in some ways mirror images of each other. Both are motivated out of their inadequacies and pride (e.g. Hank begins his obsession with Heisenberg after getting the promotion to El Paso, feeling inferior in that position, and the panic attacks surface). Both believe their actions are in the best interests of their family. And in pursuit of their goals, both may destroy themselves and their families.
"Hank, I ... I think ... uh maybe ... maybe I need a lawyer." -SkylerAnna Gunn is amazing in this episode, as Skyler navigates the fallout to the family dynamics. And it's utterly fascinating, since Hank decides to not tread lightly, & almost every action by each of the main characters is open to multiple interpretations.
From Donna Bowman at the A.V. Club:
In “Buried,” Breaking Bad methodically sets out to answer the most crucial subset of those thousand questions: What do these characters want? And while on the surface this episode is just moving the pieces into place, its singleminded attention to motivation provides just the kind of revelations that prime the engines for the stretch run. Each character chooses a personal victory condition—a definition of “winning” that sets their course but also traps them inside of it. If somebody doesn’t break free, there’s going to be one hell of an explosion, and a tragic periphery of collateral damage.
- Am I Under Arrest?: Skyler's decision to stonewall Hank's questions is interesting. She's finally asked to pick a side, and Skyler chooses Walt's side. Was there ever a chance that she would talk? Or did she go just to feel out how much Hank knows? My read of it was that she was ready to talk if Hank had them dead to rights. I don't think she would of have gone to the meeting in the first place, and avoided Walt's calls, if there wasn't a chance of her talking. But I felt that her demeanor shifts once Hank reveals to her that Walt's cancer has returned (plus Hank pulling out the audio recorder didn't help things). And the scene can be interpreted through the dynamics of the Walt-Skyler relationship. Did she remain quiet because Skyler still has feelings for Walt, even after everything they've been through? Or after hearing Walt's cancer is back, did she reason there's a chance she'll be able to ride this out, Walt might die before Hank can prove anything, and she'll keep the money?
- Interrogating Your Sister-In-Law: Another source of multiple interpretations is Hank's motivations towards Skyler in the scene at the restaurant. Is he trying to help her? Is he trying to use her? Or both? Hank seems to have not yet pieced together Skyler's complicity in this mess. But I didn't believe for a second that Hank gave two shits about Skyler compared to his desire to nail "Heisenberg." Everything Hank does during that scene is "Cop 101" of trying to get someone to screw themselves without guaranteeing anything in return. All of the promises Hank gives Skyler are worthless. He's a DEA agent, not the U.S. Attorney. And as the scene progresses Hank's desperation builds as Skyler asks to see an attorney, correctly deduces that Hank wants Walt at any and all costs, and his chance to get to Walt evaporates in front of him.
- Marie's Kleptomania Now Includes Children: There have been lengthy arguments about the audience's reaction to Skyler (i.e. their hate for her) and whether the dislike for the character is based in part on misogyny. Some reviewers have even called her one of Walt's "victims." I've never felt that was true. Skyler has had plenty of chances to walk out the door, and at every turn she's chosen the duffel bags of money and a car wash over getting out. And I thought the confrontation between Marie and Skyler was great in showing how far and deep Skyler's complicity goes. It's also interesting that Hank seemed to assume Skyler's innocence when he was speaking with her, but Marie ferreted out the truth of how long Skyler's known almost immediately. And going back to one of the questions I raised in the first bulletpoint, Marie firmly comes down on the side that Skyler won't talk because there's a chance she & Walt can ride this out. The confrontation between Marie and Skyler ends with the ultimate irony of Skyler fighting to keep her children in her home, which is the exact opposite of what she wanted in the first half of season 5.
In a way, Marie's interrogation of Skyler evokes the one Skyler put Walt through back in the season 3 premiere, as she guessed that he was dealing heroin, then cocaine, before he finally blurted out that it was meth, but that earlier scene was played for dark laughs. There was nothing funny as one sister realized how much the other had betrayed her and her husband, leading to a brutal slap (do not mess with Marie Lambert Schrader or her husband) and then an even more brutal screaming match over who will be taking care of Holly. (Once again, Marie is trying to take something that's not hers, but in a far more altruistic, devastating context; even with the limited information she has, I do not blame her in the slightest for the primal desire to grab the baby and run.)
- 68% Purity Just Doesn't Cut It: Lydia takes out Declan in this episode, with her, Todd, and his Aryan Brotherhood contacts taking control of the meth operation. Lydia's greed forces her to do things that she can't even stomach to see with her own two eyes. Say what you will about Todd (aka "Ricky Hitler"), he may have no problem with killing children in cold blood, but he is a "gentleman" that will escort a woman through a murder scene. The Lydia storyline is most likely going to reconnect to Walt's at some point. So the question becomes whether the desolation we've seen in the flash forwards are the result of Hank's investigation or something Lydia and the Aryan Brotherhood does?
"Skyler, I'll make this easy. I'll give myself up if you promise me one thing. You keep the money. Never speak of it. Never give it up. You pass it on to our children. Give them everything. Will you do that? Please. Please don't let me have done all this for nothing."
- The Things We Do For Family: Walt's response to Skyler's meeting with Hank is to do the sensible thing of "calling Saul," who sends Huell and Kuby to retrieve the money from the storage locker. After they finish channeling Scrooge McDuck, Huell and Kuby bring the money to Walt who proceeds to bury it in the middle of the desert, and decides to remind himself of the precise GPS coordinates through numbers on a lottery ticket. Walt, exhausted from burying multiple barrels of millions by himself, collapses on the bathroom floor in his "tighty whities" as Skyler begs to talk to him. I thought the resulting scene of Walt, sick on the bathroom floor, was an amazing piece of acting by Bryan Cranston. As low as Walt has sunk, Walt still believes this has all been about "family," and maybe for the first time in a longtime he's able to recognize his own hubris when Walt admits that he's the reason Hank knows what he knows. When he tells Skyler that he'll turn himself in if she'll just keep the money and give it to their children, that was the Walter White that got me on his side in the first season & I rooted for, and still root for, even though I know he's doomed. This scene also connects to the moment from the first half of season five, where Skyler said she was "waiting" for Walt's cancer to come back. It's also interesting that Walt is indignant to Saul's suggestion that they
killsend Hank to "Belize." Walt rejects his criminal lawyer's advice, because Hank is "family." Lady MacbethJesse Has Gone Mad: The episode is book-ended by scenes of Jesse. At the beginning, we see a man walking out of his home and finding the money Jesse had been throwing out of his car in the previous episode. But he also finds Jesse's car in a children's playground, with Jesse spinning around a carousel. At the end of the episode, we find out the cops have Jesse, questioning as to why he has $5 million in cash, and why was he throwing it away? Hank still doesn't have enough to prove that Walt is Heisenberg, to either his colleagues or in a court. But Marie seems to push him into telling the DEA what he does know, when she notes that if Walt is ever caught by someone else, Hank and Marie could be possibly implicated if they don't say anything. So Jesse's act of madness gives Hank an opening. Will Jesse help Hank to assuage his guilt? Will he betray Mr. White? Could somewhere in Hank's notes be something that opens the gates to the info about Jane, Brock, or Mike's murder?