Breaking Bad: Fifty-One   Rewatch 
January 11, 2015 6:44 PM - Season 5, Episode 4 - Subscribe

Walt celebrates another birthday. Skyler considers her options. An associate complicates Walt and Jesse's plan.

"What's the plan?"

Andy Greenwald, Grantland:
This is the most radically different season of Breaking Bad to date. For the first few episodes it seemed slightly skewed because the narrative had lost not only its primary thrust — the Super Lab — but also its charismatic villain in Gus Fring. After last night’s wrenching “Fifty-One,” I realized I was looking at everything backwards. Villains are never in short supply on Breaking Bad. What’s missing — and what’s left a gaping, uncomfortable hole smack in the middle of the narrative — is the hero.
Sean Collins, Rolling Stone:
"Fifty-One" had one basic purpose: to squeeze itself between Walt/Heisenberg and Skyler/the audience, then push them apart as hard and fast as it could.
Anna Gunn in an AMC Q&A, describing the bedroom scene:
It ended up as a dance, with Bryan pursuing me all around the room. It was really like I was trapped animal that was Bryan’s prey. It was one of my favorite scenes ever in anything I’ve ever done.
and interviewed by the LA Times:
It really had felt to me that Skyler had been holding onto everything inside her so tightly for all these seasons that it was almost painful. I remember at the end of certain days, driving home, feeling like, “God, my body hurts. My muscles are so sore.” And it was simply because I was physically holding so much tension.
As the LA Times suggests, this episode was indeed Anna Gunn's Emmy submission; she won the 2013 Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series Emmy for her performance. The episode was directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) who had previously directed the S3 episode Fly.

Also of note: this episode is the end of the road for Walt's much-abused Aztek. Jalopnik on Breaking Bad's cars: "It might just have the best selection of cars on television right now." Bold Ride interviews transportation coordinator Dennis Milliken: "The cars on Breaking Bad have Vince Gilligan’s fingerprints all over them." Uproxx reports on a Reddit theory: "The Aztek that Walt drives is a symbol for the status of his soul."
posted by We had a deal, Kyle (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
What’s missing — and what’s left a gaping, uncomfortable hole smack in the middle of the narrative — is the hero.

This was also mentioned in Green With You's comment a few episodes back, about how "Walter has gone from misguided hero to anti-hero to full-on villain who most people can't really root for" ...and while I didn't have the focus to examine that thought fully at the time, my first instinct was to say that he'd gone through that whole metamorphosis back in Season 2. (I'm in the camp that posits Hank as the hero all along, even if he doesn't make it quite all the way to the end of the story.)

What's missing is any sort of real challenge for Walt to overcome since he'd defeated all his formidable opponents up to this point and is just adrift, beating up on Skyler and Jesse and anyone else who's too close to see him as fearsome as he thinks he is. The second half of the season doubles down on this by pitting Walt against both Hank (good) and the white-power gang, who are kind of disappointing as a final-level opponent: they're cartoonishly evil, not even antagonistic to Walt until very late in the game, and offer him the chance to feel self-righteous about attacking them even though they're almost entirely tangential to all his dealings and sins beforehand.
posted by psoas at 1:27 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


while I didn't have the focus to examine that thought fully at the time, my first instinct was to say that he'd gone through that whole metamorphosis back in Season 2.

Agreed. Walt is a straight up villain for most of Breaking Bad. It's not a late term development in any way, shape or form. (I knew what he was in the pilot. It's an old tune, even if they did wonders with this particular remix.)

(I'm in the camp that posits Hank as the hero all along, even if he doesn't make it quite all the way to the end of the story.)

That's a reasonable take. Hank undergoes his own Hero's Journey: he starts out naive and brash and foolish. He has a major setback and nearly quits. He comes back to it with renewed purpose, and he dies with dignity.

What's missing is any sort of real challenge for Walt to overcome since he'd defeated all his formidable opponents up to this point and is just adrift

My read on that is a little different: I feel like Walt is Walt's final boss stage. Like, in earlier seasons, he had the ability to operate within the bounds of a structured world. Thanks to Gus*, drug operations in Albuquerque had some internal system of conflict resolution beyond 'have all the guns.' Before Walt iced those dealers for Jesse, things were actually going pretty well. He made enough money to quit long before he escalated the situation.

Instead, Walt upended the old order and replaced it with a whole lot of anarchy: the only reason people as disorganized and slipshod as the white power guys got into play was that Walt created a power vacuum, then foolishly invited them to occupy it. It simply never would've happened on Gus' watch. They're his own petard that he's hoist in, and their cartoonish villainy is to emphasize just how dumb he was to make that move instead of following Mike's advice. I'll grant that it's hamhanded, but I never felt it was out of left field.

* Disclaimer: I don't mean to make it sound like Gus was a great person, but he represented order and professionalism. (My hero remains Mike. You are indeed never too old for balloons, or to use balloons to help kill people.)
posted by mordax at 8:12 PM on January 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


the white-power gang, who are kind of disappointing as a final-level opponent: they're cartoonishly evil

Yes they are. It's like the writers were trying to come up with one final antagonist to Walt and all they came up with was "HOW ABOUT NAZIS?"

On the other hand, though: they are yet again a demonstration that Walt is, despite all his posturing, a tourist in the world of criminality. Walt's posing as ruthless; the gang truly are ruthless. Walt believes he can control them when he uses them as a tool to further his ends; but he's powerless when they turn against him. They're the rock that he breaks against. He only "wins" against them in the end because he's willing (and ready) to die in the attempt.

But I wish they had a little more nuance besides bikes-n-tattoos-n-swastikas. Declan's quiet menace was more interesting; but maybe that was a bit too much like a repeat of Gus.

I feel like Walt is Walt's final boss stage.

I think a lot of the end game is other players recognizing this. Mike always knew that Walt was his own worst enemy: "learn to take yes for an answer." Skyler finally seeing Walt as a monster. Hank meeting Heisenberg in the garage showdown. Jesse, later in the season: "he's the devil."
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:56 AM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


I wondered briefly if Walt didn't go up against Nazis because of that piss-take of the show where they said that Walt has the kind of cancer that makes you cough a lot, and all of his enemies just happen to be Latino--it just seemed so arbitrary to end it with Nazis, as if there hadn't been enough depravity already. Then I realized that there aren't many possible antagonists left who could make us root for Walt at the end of the series. By then it's a small pool: maybe Nazis, terrorists, and serial killers?
posted by johnofjack at 6:49 PM on January 13, 2015


Walt's posing as ruthless

Oh, Walt's ruthless: he poisons a child without the slightest hesitation, watches a girl die to a heroin overdose without blinking, uses an elderly neighbor as a minesweeper. His assault on the white power guys is totally nuts.

Walt's failure is a social one, the same one that's crippled him his whole life: he buys into the notion of the Self Made Man, and refuses to play well with others on grounds of pride and seething resentment. It's his ultimate undoing with every person in his life: he refuses to believe that his success is in any way contingent upon the people around them, so he spends all his time alienating everyone who's helped him get where he is. He can't give Jesse credit, he doesn't want to pay Mike's guys, etc.

I find the whole thing doubly amusing because it's social connections that allow him to defeat the white power guys: they *should* have shot him in the desert with Hank and Gomie. They let him go his way due to Todd's admiration for him, so in a way, he was successful in the finale because he was literally more willing to break the social contract than neo-Nazis.

think a lot of the end game is other players recognizing this.

This is pretty much his unraveling, yeah. He had all the tools he needed to become... well, not Gus, but certainly Declan.
posted by mordax at 7:27 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yes they are. It's like the writers were trying to come up with one final antagonist to Walt and all they came up with was "HOW ABOUT NAZIS?"

My take on that is it's either or both of these.
  1. Just part of the genre (of which I'm not sure I could name). Breaking Bad was, to me, one of the finest live graphic novels ever created so the American Nazis as villains are somewhat expected or a tribute in some form.
  2. It illustrates how low Walt has dropped in the criminal hierarchy, as it were.

posted by juiceCake at 10:19 PM on January 13, 2015




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