FRAME-BY-FRAME: Breaking Bad S05E10/11 – “Buried / Confessions”

When we left Walter and Hank at the end of “Blood Money”, the two men faced off in what ultimately was a draw. By the time we finish watching this pair of episodes, every other character has become drawn into the ultimate face-off, with everyone’s motivations up for careful critical dissection. What do these people want? What, to each, would be the appropriate ending for Breaking Bad? Over the course of “Buried” and “Confessions” every character gets the chance to showcase exactly what they feel would be the perfect result, and by the time we see Jesse pouring gasoline all over the Whites’ house, setting in motion the future we’ve only seen hints of, we know most of them – if not all – are about to be sorely disappointed.

This is, after all, Breaking Bad, a show which flaunts convention and all but demands an unhappy end for the bulk of its characters.

Poor Hank just wants to see Heisenberg brought to justice, but his Achilles heel is that he alone needs to be the man to bring his brother-in-law to justice. So wounded is his pride after learning just how Walter’s been leading him around by his tail for all these seasons, it is easy to understand his desires, but the mistakes in judgment he makes in “Buried” are critical. He misjudges Skyler’s position so severely it’s astounding. “You’re not his victim anymore,” he tells her, but fails to realize she’s just as eager to take some power back as he is. And she’s not likely to want to replace Walter with Hank as the dominating male force in her life, controlling all her decisions. The ultimate fuck-up is when Hank rushes to get her on tape. It was no wonder she freaked the hell out, extricating herself from the situation quickly and loudly.

Skyler, in fact, is the character here whose motivations remain the most cloudy. Months earlier she was so desperate to escape Walter’s clutches she attempted suicide. Now she’s hesitant to turn him in, knowing how culpable she is in the entire affair, understanding that there’s no good to come from any of this. If Walter turns himself in, there’s no way they keep the money. And without the money, what does all this pain and suffering amount to? Is it worth destroying her family and losing everything to rid herself of Walt? Hence she makes the decision to “wait and see” – obviously Hank has shown his hand, and it’s a weak one. Why not let it play out?

Marie of course is livid when she learns of Walt’s deceptions. But the straw which breaks her back is the knowledge that Skyler knew about Walt even as far back as Hank’s near-death experience at the hands of the cartel. After a violent confrontation and attempted kidnapping of the Whites’ baby daughter, she tells her husband he needs to bring the DEA in on this, to ensure Walter is brought to justice and to protect his own ass – “if you don’t tell them, and they catch him first, won’t you go to jail too?” Of course she’s now, to a point, in the position Skyler’s been in. Her husband knows the information will ruin him, and in that case why do anything unless you’re the one who can come out on top and be the hero? Pride goeth before the fall, and on this show everyone’s caught in that dream where you can’t stop falling down an endless mineshaft.

Only Jesse at this point remains a mystery. We start “Buried” viewing the end of his madcap money disposal attempt, spinning around a merry-go-round with vacant eyes as he all but gives up on the world. He doesn’t speak to the Albuquerque police officers who question him, and he’s not giving anything up to Hank when he tries his hand at it. Even had Saul not come busting in early in “Confessions” there’s nothing that Jesse would have preferred than to just spit on Hank’s attempts to get him to give up Walter as Heisenberg. But what Jesse really wants is to simply be treated like a human being by Walter, who continues to try and bullshit him at every turn. “Just admit you need my help!” he cries out, desperate for Walter to acknowledge that he’s more than just a pawn to be moved about the board. Walter of course plays along and tries acting human, giving Jesse a semblance of what he wants in order to get his partner out of town forever. But it’s all fake. And by the end of the episode Jesse knows it, remembering that Huell had indeed stolen the ricin from him the same way he takes the marijuana off him prior to his witness relocation. That reminds him that Walter will do anything, even poison Brock, to get what he wants.

So we get that scene where Jesse beats Saul to a pulp, each punch an attempt to right wrongs which can’t be undone. He really wants to destroy Walter now, but will he get the chance? Will he be capable of acting as coldly and calculating as Heisenberg would, rather than simply lashing out and burning everything to the ground?

That remains to be seen. We know Walter is fully capable of going “Full Heisenberg” via the video “confession” he makes for Hank’s benefit, laying out in brutal calculating detail just what he’s willing to do to his brother-in-law to ensure he wins, even when he loses. “If I die, I’ve probably been murdered by my brother-in-law Hank Schrader,” he monlogues, laying out a complicated series of lies which essentially makes Hank into Heisenberg, a brutal manipulator who enslaved Walt and made him break bad. Hank knows he’s checkmated once he hears about the $177,000 worth of medical bills paid for by Walt’s drug dealings. “You’ve killed me, Marie!” he all but sobs, seeing everything he’s worked for going up in flames.

I see this scene as the one which finally closes the door on any concept that Walter ever broke bad out of self-preservation, or to protect his family. He’s a psycopathic chameleon of the Ted Bundy ilk, capable of putting on whatever face people need to see in order to get him the result he wants. He can kill with no consequence and then put on that charade of a confession, proving once and for all how morally bankrupt he is. As viewers, any of us who wanted to still see Walter come out on top because we’ve watched him this long and continued to at least identify with him, we’re absolutely gutted by this display of filth, of moral blackness. That Walter can stoop to this level proves there’s nothing we’re going to gain by seeing him “win” in the end.

And yet, with all this going on, we’ve also got Lydia in the background making waves of her own. Proving to be every bit of the trouble Mike Ehrmantraut envisioned when he originally planned to (yet failed to) kill her in the first episode of Season Five, Lydia won’t simply sit back and be buried in the box Heisenberg chose for her. She makes an appearance to inspect Declan’s underground school-bus meth lab, determines it is far below the prior cook’s standards, and when the man ignores her complaints, she gives the signal for Todd’s family to quickly and efficiently dispatch of him and all his men. They then pack up the lab and head back New Mexico way. And when Todd, over breakfast, tells his father of Heisenberg’s daring Great Train Robbery, the man seems far more impressed with the legendary meth kingpin than with the woman who supposedly pulls his strings. Whether Lydia’s days are numbered or a potential drug war is looming between Lydia and her European cohorts, Todd’s family and (potentially) Walter White himself, remains to be seen.

Regardless, we now have all our characters at odds with each other, each one’s personal perfect end-game up for grabs, with it looking more and more likely that none of them can get what they want. The final five epsisodes of Breaking Bad are setting up to be a master-class in bringing an entire cast of characters to their knees. We don’t yet know which horrible way things will end, but it’s a safe bet no one’s coming out of this unscathed.