'Breaking Bad' Deconstruction: Ep. 10: 'Buried'

Just as last week's episode absolutely had to have Hank figuring out that Walt was Heisenberg, so too did this week have to be about the reckoning, writes THR's chief TV critic.
The road ends just ahead by the merry-go-round, Jesse.

Just as last week's Breaking Bad absolutely had to have Hank figuring out that Walt was Heisenberg, so too did episode 10 – of 16 – have to be about the reckoning. There's a storytelling logic to what we're witnessing, and if you're just crawling out of your own skin for Breaking Bad to explode like a nuke in the New Mexico desert – since no doubt you've been reading tons of "how it could end" hypotheses – it's important to remember that drama doesn't work until the pieces are in place. So calm down. There will be enough hell to pay for everyone, Vince Gilligan style, when it's all said and done.

"Buried" was an exceptionally helpful episode because it neatly shook out the alliances. It made most of the main characters put their cards on the table. Hank beat Walt to Skyler but it didn't matter. Skyler and Walt – color palette alert for you enthusiasts – dressed in their drabbest and most innocent beige, are sticking together like Butch and Sundance. But at least we know about Skyler now – as do Hank and Marie. Unless Saul gets Jesse out of jail in a huge hurry – and would it even matter in Jesse's current state? – that's a gigantic crack in the Liberty Bell. We know Jesse doesn't care. He's exhibiting all of the symptoms of welcoming the reckoning. Of wanting to pay for his sins no matter the personal cost. Whatever Hank can get out of him (note to Hank: turn off the camera first) just helps make his case against Walt (no matter how difficult that will be).

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We know that Marie – and God bless her purple tea pot because I love it so – has already slapped the shit out of her sister. And if she had a second chance to do it again – especially witnessing that heartbroken look she had after not being able to free Baby Holly – she would have gone in there and slapped Skyler harder and with even more ferocity. Marie wants Hank to win, family ties be damned. Marie knows that Hank – who has admitted that his career is done as soon as he puts his theory into play because brother-in-law Walt has been under his nose this whole time – could even go to jail if he doesn't get this in the open soon.

The sides are set up, then. And that's essential to distinguish. Hell, Lydia and Todd know what side they are on (the side of keeping the empire in business; though Todd doesn't yet know that his white trash friends and family will be no match for what I assume could be the coming endgame onslaught from the Czech Republic partners, a la The Twins in season two, as put in motion by Lydia).

So "Buried" was a very necessary – though possibly less thrilling on the adrenaline meter – episode. For me, the beauty of the episode (written by Thomas Schnauz and apparently dedicated to his father) is how we as human beings make sometimes flawed, sometimes empowering decisions based on our connections to and our love for the people around us. And once we do that, our course is set. Walt was so sure that Skyler had cut a deal with Hank. That scene in the bathroom was an amazing little scene (and dramatically, I was pleased to see Walt pass out from exhaustion, just to keep it real). It was Skyler casting her lot back in with Walt – and not out of some studied, emotionless decision about what would be best for her. But out of love for each other, from their shared struggles and because she circled back to Walt's original decision for breaking bad and somehow understood it. The key element, however, is that she endorses it here.

Everything about it was circular and touching. Knowing Walt's cancer is back struck a chord in Skyler that we might have thought was broken. "Does it make you happy?" Walt asks. It doesn't. "I can't remember the last time I was happy," Skyler says. And she really hasn't been since Walt made this ill-advised decision (and not to drop the anger anvil yet again, people, but hating Skyler and loving/absolving Walt has never, ever made any sense). But when Walt reiterates the hallmarks of his plan, Skyler gets it. She gets why he did it. Walt will turn himself in if Skyler makes a promise. "You keep the money. You never speak of it. You pass it on to our children. Give them everything." And then: "Please don't let me have done all of this for nothing."

I loved that scene because the first part allows Walt to reiterate why he did what he did. And the second statement shines a light on what Skyler has to accept, morally, to make the decision to ultimately benefit Walt Jr. and Holly. Again, we make decisions in our lives that are hard and not always right. Once Marie knew that Skyler was complicit all the way back before Hank got shot – you don't choose your family. But you can choose when to cut them loose. You can choose to accept that you may ultimately be on the side that hurts them profoundly.

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And in "Buried," we know where everyone stands. It's an episode that had to be written. It fits perfectly as the second of the final eight. Because now, as Hank walks into the interview room with a despondent and pliable Jesse, and the scene slams to black as the door closes, then everything in the episodes ahead should be shot from the perspective of chosen sides (though part of me wishes that Walt Jr. was in a scene where he had to know and choose sides as well.).

There is a clash coming. It may not be anything imagined in all of these hypothetical endgame scenarios you've been reading. Or it might line up pretty neatly. But the teams have been separated, and there are a lot of competing interests about to square off. Drama needs characters to commit, to reveal their interests and desires and loyalties. Once they do, it allows the storyteller to tweak our expectations (for good or bad), and it allows viewers to realize the ramifications of their loyalties at that point as well. In that context, it's a lot more legitimate to hate Skyler right about now. 

While we wait for next week's episode, you can find me in the ABQ with these coordinates: 34 59 20 106 36 52.

E-mail: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine