"Breaking Bad" -- "Buried": If This, Then That
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"Breaking Bad" — "Buried": If This, Then That

By Daniel Carlson | TV Reviews | August 18, 2013 | Comments ()


“Breaking Bad” is a much simpler show than some people want it to be. Are there layers to the show, thematic resonances, grand story arcs of tragedy and doom? Absolutely. But what’s interesting about the way we (i.e., pop-culture obsessives in the Internet age) consume serialized media is our insistence upon coincidences and meanings that aren’t necessarily present. It’s as if we want to will them into being, to take an already-great drama and make it a puzzle that needs to be solved.

Part of this probably goes back to the success of “Lost,” which provided fodder for obsessives like few shows before or since. Many episodes seemed designed as a trap for viewers, a series of rabbit holes down which it would be possible to fall forever. Theories and speculation from the audience seemed to be the invisible guest star in every episode, the unseen presence fueling so many of the stories and tangents. As a result, a show like “Breaking Bad,” which is ultimately a tightly focused narrative designed to answer a single question — “What would happen if Walter White became a criminal?” — is grafted onto the template of a puzzle show, and the fit is often awkward. A few days ago, BuzzFeed ran a flimsy piece with the typically hyperbolic title “21 ‘Breaking Bad’ Easter Eggs That Will Blow Your Mind,” and true to BuzzFeed form, the list was a superficial assemblage of basic plot points, wild speculation, and laughable stretching to connect the dots. (My favorite is probably the assertion that Walter White and Jesse Pinkman are the reincarnated versions of Jules and Vincent from Pulp Fiction because both sets of men have eaten at diners, the kind of evidence only a child would produce or believe.) It’s the kind of ill-fitting, breathless guesswork that doesn’t make sense for most series, but it’s the kind of wild-eyed theorizing that’s become a production empire unto itself. It’s kind of what makes AMC’s “Breaking Bad” Story Sync make sense. Viewing and consumption are starting to blur.

And things like that can detract from the fact that “Breaking Bad” is as straightforward and riveting a narrative as anything that’s ever appeared on television. This is not “The Wire,” which sought to explore theories of systemic corruption across the living organisms of criminal justice, education, politics, or the economy. This is a show dedicated to exploring causality, plain and simple. Walter White, if he were real, would be able to quote it to you without missing a beat: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When you decide to sell drugs, the existing drug dealers will fight you; when you kill them, you become responsible for their lives; when you abuse your wife, she will hurt you in kind; when you try to leave the life, you create a vacuum. And nature — she abhors a vacuum. There is no action without reaction.

That’s what came to mind most in “Buried,” the latest episode of “Breaking Bad.” Do this, feel that. Say this, learn that. It all kept coming back to the relentless causality of Walt’s deeds, and how things are now getting harder for him to control. It actually took Walt a while at the beginning of the series to start cooking; most of the first season is about a cook gone wrong and his attempt to deal with the fallout. Here on the backend, as we head toward the finale, he’s not cooking anymore, either. He’s back to dealing with the flat consequences of his actions, still scrambling to keep a lid on things. Hank, as Saul said, isn’t exactly going to “turn the other cheek” and just let Walt off the hook, so for now, Walt’s story is about trying to rein in the effects of everything he’s caused. The problem, as Walt’s realizing, is that he’s done so much that trying to control it is almost impossible. “Please don’t let me have done all this for nothing,” he begs Skyler. He did what he did for a specific set of ends, and if that were to go away — if he found himself penniless and cancer-stricken — he’d be back where he started, as if there’d never been any action or effect. He’d have to actually reckon with himself.

Everything else falls in line with the “opposite reaction” theory, too. The White home, now drenched in shadows. The fact that sometimes these people can barely speak above a whisper. They’ve been driven into sadness and death by Walt’s actions, and everything he’s done hasn’t just made him rich; it’s destroyed his world. That’s the thing he can never face.

It’s not that the dominoes are starting to topple over now. It’s that they always have been. Walter White is now basically in the third act of Goodfellas, playing out the string and trying desperately to make his increasingly frantic plans hold together. At this point, we know a little of what will happen — Walt will, if nothing else, survive until his next birthday and pick up some startlingly heavy weaponry — but it’s the actual mechanism of watching these reactions unfold that makes the show so fascinating, and that have made it such a phenomenal experience. If you want to be a killer and a kingpin and a monster of a man, you absolutely can. But this is what will happen to you, and mercy on you if you don’t see it coming.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. You can also find him on Twitter.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Mook

    I usually agree with you, Daniel, but this show does love its puzzles and easter eggs. From the title of every Season 2 episode that opened with the burnt teddy bear spelling out "737 Down Over ABQ" to the convoluted way that Walt had to get the poison to Brock and play-act it out with Jesse, Vince et al. like to cook up a labyrinthine route for a straightforward story.

  • St

    Breaking Bad is breaking my heart. I literally could not decide what side to took. You see Walter and Skyler being in panic and you root for them to outsmart Hank and not get caught. Then you see poor Hank and you root for Hank to take down monster Walter.... I don’t know what side to choose! And then we know that Walter WILL be exposed soon...

    I’m so done with "miserable Jesse". Come on. Come to your senses. It’s just flat out boring. The whole "throwing money away because I feel depressed" thing... I hated every second of it.

    Also in Walt/Skyler situation - what should any person do when they know they will be caught soon? Just sit on a plane and fly to Mexico, Australia, Europe, some tropic island or find the country that does not give criminals to US. And live there with all your money. Saul will help. But of course they will never do that.

    But really - that would be the smarter decision for Walt. He can stay to have ultimate showdown with everyone, but he easily could put Skyler and kids on plane to any tropic island. Send them on vacation. Hank can’t arrest Skyler now. He has no proofs. Walter can even move to another town. But no - of course he will stay here....

  • Maddy

    Did anyone else get really annoyed when Walt was complaining about Skyler going straight to Hank? Dude you have absolutely no right to act all hard done by, or expect her unquestioning loyalty.

  • Clitty Magoo

    1) Jesse had zero lines in his two scenes. He's gone completely catatonic.
    2) "The monkey's in the banana patch."
    3) "I'll send YOU to Belize!" is my new favorite death threat.
    4) Marie is a great character. So narcissistic, lacking all self-awareness.
    5) These episodes are exhaustingly intense.

    As for BB being "simple," I would argue that Gilligan has absolutely nailed Occam's Razor storytelling. The story is written in its most minimal form. Nothing wasted. Nothing unnecessary.

  • apsutter

    Jesse barely spoke last episode too. All of these actors are doing so much emoting just with their faces and body language...give them all the Emmy's!

    Marie is narcissistic but I think she's definitely more than that as well. As much as she's wrapped up in herself she definitely has a deep love for her family and especially for Hank. I love that she slapped the hell out of Skyler when she realized that Sky knew about Waltwhen Hank was almost murdered.

    And these episodes have been crazy intense. I was so tense and on the edge of my seat last night. I keot glancing at the clock and wanting more time and being bummed when it ended with Hank closing the door.

  • Maddy

    I don't know that I agree that Maree is narcissistic - she's definitely highly strung and I remember disliking her initially but I loved when she slapped Skyler (and I'm no Skyler hater) and the fact that she read the Skyler situation much better than Hank. I think ever since Hank's shooting I have really liked them as a couple and found their relationship a bit more believable, whereas before that I didn't really understand what they had in common or why they ever got married.

  • dizzylucy

    It really is sort of beautifully simple, nothing too convoluted, no dropped threads or tangents that go nowhere. Storytelling at its finest.

    I still can't get over how my attitude towards Hank has changed over the course of the series. He was so obnoxious in the beginning, and now I'm rooting so hard for him. And for Marie, who was also excellent in this episode.
    I'd love to see Dean Norris get acknowledged with award nominations this year. He is conveying more per episode than most actors do in a season.

    I am beyond feeling any sympathy for Walt. Even filthy, collapsed on the bathroom floor, cancer stricken Walt, worrying that all this will be for nothing.

  • chanohack

    I started the series over with my brother about a month ago, and Hank is especially dick-ish in the pilot, at Walt's birthday party no less! He couldn't go two sentences without putting someone down. The contrast to this episode, with his half-hearted "didn't know you had balls" zing to Gomey and empty eyes... wow.

  • Sean

    It is going to be worse than "for nothing". For nothing would mean back to point zero. Now...there is nothing but carnage for everyone that Walk ever cared about.

  • emmalita

    I felt like I was holding my breath for the entire episode. I felt so bad for Hank and Marie. I wonder how Skyler would have reacted if Hank had started with an assurance that No Matter What he would protect Skyler and the kids. At this point, without immunity, Skyler would end up in jail and she would loose every single thing she owns.

    I loved the color contrast with Hank and Marie and Skyler and Walt. It looks like Skyler and Walt will be sticking with the beige.

  • chanohack

    It's a really interesting wardrobe choice. Before now they've been doing the typical "dress darker as you get badder" thing with Walt, Gus, and even Jesse (whose clothes got better-fitting and edgier while he was Mike's wingman), but the scene between Marie and Skyler (and then Hank) was so interesting-- Marie wearing black and dark purple, Hank wearing dark jeans and dark red, and then Skyler in her beige and pink...

  • emmalita

    To me it said that Hank and Marie are strong and resolved, while Skyler and Walt are hiding, and pretending to be sheep. Skyler is masking herself in light colors and soft, flowing fabrics. She's not a weak, soft woman. She's put together a money laundering scheme, fooled her sister and brother-in-law into thinking she was having a breakdown so they would take the kids, and arguably convinced Walt to stop being a drug kingpin. (I wonder if he would have stopped if the cancer hadn't come back). Marie does not have to pretend. In her sharp purple top and fitted black skirt, she cut like a knife through her scenes with Skyler. Of the four, Marie is the least conflicted. She's not trying to protect her sister and she's not trying to protect her husband's career or reputation. If/when Walt and Skyler go down, Marie will get custody of Holly and Walt Junior, although he's nearly an adult. Hank is less slightly less resolved, his red is a little muddier in color. He wants to keep his career long enough to take down Walt, but he is willing to sacrifice himself. Oh, I am going on. I took costume design classes back in my misspent theater youth and now I think I know stuff.

  • chanohack

    Go on with your bad self.

    So what's your take on the season (or two) when Skyler wore jungle green in EVERY single episode? (I thought it was just because she looks great in that color, but we haven't seen a shred of it since Gus got blowed up and she became Walt's "prisoner.")

  • emmalita

    In the first couple of seasons she was pregnant and wore a lot of colors associated with innocence and fecundity. She also didn't know what Walter was doing at that point, although she was becoming increasingly suspicious and tired of his shit. But here's a good article from a couple of years ago: http://esteeochoa.com/breaking...

  • Maddy

    I freaking loved Marie so much in this episode. Also - the scene with Skyler and Hank was absolutely fantastic and I loved that Skyler could see that for Hank it was absolutely about getting Walt rather than protecting Skyler - not that Hank doesn't care about Skyler and the kids but he absolutely has pride/hubris about being the one to get Walt, and shame that he hasn't seen it before. I actually really like how the supporting cast is getting so much screentime.

    Also - that scene with Lydia was so grimly hilarious, that actress does such a good job! I have such complicated feelings about Skyler - I want her to just turn Walt in and take the kids but I understand why she feels that she can't because she's implicated and still cares about Walt (WHY????? WALT FREAKING SUCKS SO HARD!!!)

  • Mrs. Julien

    I agree that Hank does have hubris about it, but unlike Walt he chose the moral and ethical path over his pride. Hank went in to the office to fall on his sword; he didn't follow through because Jesse appeared, but he did start out to be honest with himself and those around him.

    This is where I mention for the umpteenth time that one of the things the show is is a meditation on hubris.

  • Homestar

    Again, I agree with you. But I'd love to hear what you think about Jesse's character. With Walt, Hank, Skylar, Marie, and even Hank, Jr., to an extent, hubris has been a factor. But Jesse is different. I'm extremely curious what's going to happen to him, or what he's going to do.

  • Maddy

    I'm sure this is a really boring uninteresting point but it continues to astound me how my initial feelings about characters at the start of the series have been pretty much completely subverted - at the start I was sympathetic for Walt, disliked Hank, found Marie annoying, disliked Skyler, was ambivalent about Jesse ... whereas now I am absolutely rooting for Hank and Marie, despise Walt, feel sympathy for and frustrated about Skyler, and my heart absolutely breaks for Jesse - I know he's not innocent but he absolutely has much more of a moral compass and self awareness than Walt at this point. Jesse is such a loose cannon and question mark at this point with what he's going to do with the plot . .. I think he FINALLY seems to see Walt for what he truly is and hoping he will team up with Hank

  • junierizzle

    Also, is it just me or is Lydia ridiculously hot?

  • el_mediocre

    She is and Laura Fraser has been that way since A Knight's Tale. Kinda wish Lydia turned up earlier in the series - she's such a great character to see in this world. Someone who is definitely dirty and in many ways just not built for this shit, but learning to adapt within the context of what we can expect from the character.

  • apsutter

    Dean Norris and Anna Gunn knocked this one out of the park. Fantastic episode that had me so freaking tense the entire time.

  • Maddy

    Also - Betsy Brandt!

  • apsutter

    How could I forget?! Betsy was wonderful as well. The scenes with Hank and Marie were so good. Even though I'm not rooting for Walt I do love that both sets of couples are dedicated till the end, for better or worse, if you will.

  • Fredo

    You have to be careful with expectations by the audience of a show building to a climactic final shot. I agree with you that Lost seems to have been the one to put the idea in people's heads. I'd also add The Sopranos thanks to the infamous "cut to black".

    Final shots work great on anthology series like The Twilight Zone because they're like short stories and that's what they're building towards. Long-running narrative series aren't that. In a sense, the tale of Walter White is told. We're just hanging around to see how it ends, but the ending isn't what the show is about. The show is about his transformation from milquetoast desperate to monster drug lord. (And how interesting that, besides Jesse, the show does not waste many moments on the meth addicts that Walt has destroyed. It's always "product."). This is the final act, when everyone comes face-to-face with everything their actions and nothing goes back to normal. Ever.

    To steal a line from another novel-like show I love: "the avalanche has started. it's too late for the pebbles to vote."

  • junierizzle

    Nice piece. I am getting kind of annoyed at people "predicting" the ending as if it all will have a huge twist. You hit it right on the head, Daniel. This stuff has been happening since the show started. Whenever Walter or Jesse fix a problem, that problem becomes an even bigger problem. The magnet destroys the laptop but a frame is also broken that reveals names of associates and bank accounts or they still chemicals from a train only to have Todd kill a kid. Those are only two examples but you get my point.

  • L.O.V.E.

    Watching this episode was like watching the show's greatest hits. Walt out in the dessert burying his bounty, Jesse getting the one-two from the APD and then Hank, Lydia doing what she needs to do to survive, Hank as a wounded (physically and emotionally) man coming back to the office and keeping secrets ... Jesse on that merry-go-round was just the perfect symbolism for this episode.

  • chanohack

    I like those APD douches, but next week's episode with Hank and Jesse in the shakedown room is going to be THE BEST. I'm dying to see how he reacts to seeing Hank... if at all.

  • This episode was simply brilliant for several reasons, not the least of which were Hank and Marie (Marie! ) I practically jumped with joy at how quickly Marie figured everything out with Skye, and the emotions of that scene between the two sisters with Holly was alternately heartbreaking and terrifying. I felt for both women in that moment, but I understood what Marie was trying to do. Then again, the moment between Hank and Marie in the kitchen, she stepped up again and saw what Hank was missing; he had to go in and tell what he knew to protect himself. I adore Marie for being able to see through her own pain to the heart of each situation. She's annoyed the heck out of me in the past, but she really got to me here.

    I predict no one ever sees that money Walt buried again. Maybe it'll even be the series last shot--that empty location.

    Adored the sound of the wind (beginning of the episode) heard when Walt and Hank just stood facing each other; it was framed like a Clint Eastwood showdown (if I'm not mistaken, Hank's hand twitched near the spot where his weapon would be if he'd been wearing a sidearm).

    I figured the end of the episode would have Hank sitting down across from Jesse...same difference. Just a beautiful, heartbreaking episode for Jesse, Hank and Marie, though I felt almost no emotion toward Walt or Skyler.

    Oh and, nice move Lydia!

  • John W

    That scene where they're fighting over the baby...whew....I thought something bad was going to happen. I was squirming the whole time.

  • Wigamer

    I had the exact same thought about the money. It would render every one of Walt's horrible actions futile. Fitting end.

  • Mrs. Julien

    It's also appropriate that the money is gone because it never really was about that anyway. It was just the rationalization.

  • Homestar

    Totally. It's all been about Walt trying to give meaning to his life, everyone else be damned. The money, the responsibility, was all an excuse for him to assert his ego in the face of death.

  • JQ

    I disagree. Providing for his family in his absence was Walt's original motivation for starting to cook. It was only in pursuing this and realizing his potential that Walt found new meaning to his life.

  • Homestar

    And I will have to disagree with you, too. If it were about providing for his family, he would have stopped sooner than he did. When Jesse was trying to convince him that $5 million was enough, Walt told him the story of the company that he left (presumably because the other dude started dating his ex-girlfriend), his point was that he'd missed out on the glory. He didn't take his rich friends' money, either, when it was offered. What kind of poor person with cancer doesn't accept that help? What kind of person doesn't think $5 million isn't enough money? Walter White is the answer to that.

  • apsutter

    The scenes between Hank and Marie broke my heart. The pain they were in was so clear and written on their faces but I love that they are a solid unit in times of despair. I also love how quickly Marie picked up on it and was right there with Hank when deciding a course of action.

    And I knew that Lydia was gonna to take care of the Arizona idiots using Ricky Hitler and the skinheads!

    Edit to say, I actually felt a little bad for Walt during the bathroom scene. When he asked if the cancer made Skyler happy...his eyes just looked so small and sad

  • mswas

    It's so unusual to see him without his glasses, you are right, the eyes were just pinpoints.

  • Wigamer

    There is no one intimately connected to Walt that won't be in some way destroyed by the Heisenberg revelation, and watching it all unfold is obviously part of being a fan. But the genius of this show is that the characters are written and portrayed so realistically--you get so invested in them--watching that destruction is even more gut-wrenching than I thought it would be.

  • ed newman

    This was a fantastic episode, even better than last week. The Skylar/Hank, the Skylar/Marie and finally the Skylar/Walt scene were every bit as good as the Hank/Walt scene from last week. Basically, Skylar owned this episode.

  • Leland Eidson

    Yeah I was really impressed by her this episode. Hopefully this will be enough to convince all the Skylar haters to back off.

  • GDI

    Not really.However, Marie and Lydia were killing it.

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