“Breaking Bad” Instant Reaction: Cash Couch

Breaking Bad

Here are my insta-reactions to tonight’s episode of Breaking Bad entitled “Buried,” written by Thomas Schnauz and directed by Michelle MacLaren.

*Any episode credited to director MacLaren is sure to be riveting and full of unusually gorgeous, haunting imagery. Her previous ten credits? “4 Days Out,” “I.F.T.,” “One Minute,” “Abiquiu,” “Thirty-Eight Snub,” “Shotgun,” “Salud,” “Madrigal,” “Gliding Over All.” That’s about as impressive a roster as a director in any medium can hope to achieve, and it’s only one piece of MacLaren’s filmography. (She also directed the “Blackwater” episode of Game of Thrones.)

“Buried” is yet another stunning addition to MacLaren’s resume. The discomfiting cold open produced the indelible image of Jesse spinning on the playground carousel, silently contemplating his miserable plight. Walter’s exhausting, religiously charged trip to the desert afforded MacLaren another opportunity to photograph the gorgeous New Mexico landscape in a way that highlighted Walt’s increasingly untenable position in the world. Even the close-ups in this episode (Hank and Skyler’s gorgeously rendered confrontation in the diner, Walter confirming his coming demise after a five-hour fainting spell on the bathroom floor) carried an electric charge, one of anticipation and drain-circling.

Need a master class in directing? Call Michelle MacLaren.

*Who knew that Dean Norris dude could act, right?

OK, joking, of course. Norris has been doing subtly impressive work for several seasons as the writers have evolved Hank from a one-dimensional jackass into one of the show’s most sympathetic, tragically ignorant characters. This episode might have been his finest showcase yet, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s his Emmy submission come next summer. Look at the way he drops his voice and lowers his gaze as he pleads with Skyler to give him what he so desperately needs. Look at the way he assumes the commanding role during the scuffle over Skyler’s daughter Holly. Look at his posture throughout the episode, a mixture of resignation, despair and anguish. In an episode chock full of terrific acting, Norris set the standard.

*This season really is barreling towards the show’s conclusion like the freight train that Walter and the gang de-methylmined in the riveting season five episode “Dead Freight.” Now all of the White household (with the exception of pancake connoisseur Walter Jr. and inhumanely beleaguered infant Holly) has some inkling of Walter’s misdeeds, and tensions are as high as they’ve ever been in a show that’s always been about escalating tensions past their logical breaking point.

*I was surprised to hear Walter sound surprisingly contrite in this episode, but I think the show justified the inclusion of the flash-forwards with this slightly unbelievable change of heart. After all, we know that the cold, calculating, machine-gun-toting, “Hello, Carol”-ing Walter White is less than a year from pushing the cancer-stricken, physically gutted Walt in this episode aside. On some level, Walter knows that he has done wrong, but I expect that his ego and self-destructive tendencies will return in full force soon.

*My one disappointment with this otherwise excellent second helping of this final eight-course feast is that the strained machinations of the White family left little room for destitute Jesse. Aaron Paul was great in this episode even though he didn’t (I don’t believe) utter a single word, but I hope the show’s moral center will return to the forefront soon. (I was amused to see that he hasn’t warmed to the DEA interrogators since his last encounter with them in the fourth season.)

*Welcome back to the fold, Todd! (Or should I say Landry Clarke?) Also, it was nice to see a Friday Night Lights reunion of sorts, with Kevin Rankin (FNL‘s Herc) playing one of the executioners who frightened Lydia so.

*I’m with Huell: if there’s a solid pile of cash lying at my feet, I won’t be able to resist the urge to kick back and bask in the smell of cold hard moolah. Great comic relief in an otherwise gutting episode.

What did you think of this latest Breaking Bad episode? What are your crackpot theories of the week? Let me know in the comments.

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