This review contains spoilers.
Sometimes it’s hard to talk to your family. Particularly if it’s about something important. In an ideal world, the intimacy of a blood bond would win out over everything else, and your loved ones would be immediately receptive and welcoming to whatever you have to tell them, even it conflicts directly with everything that defines them as a person. But no, the intensity of being given bad news by a close relation makes a considered response all but unthinkable.
“Frankly son, I’m over the moon to hear that you’re gay. Come on, you know as well as I do that the eighteen years of aggressive homophobia I’ve relentlessly demonstrated in your presence were ultimately just a reflection of my own insecurity and ignorance. Now that we’re on the same page, I can’t wait to embark on this new journey of understanding and tolerance with you.”
“Little brother, I’m just glad you told me you’re the one behind the nuisance phone calls to my wife. No, I don’t blame you being obsessed with her – after all, I married her. If you heard her snore you might soon change your tune though, heh heh! C’mere knucklehead, I’ll fight you for her!” *grabs headlock, administers noogie*”
“Hey, you know I’m a DEA agent, you silly goose! Why are you leaving me clues about your violent meth business all over the damn house? Anyone would think you want to be arrested! And who wants to read a book of eighteenth-century poetry in the john, anyway? Don’t you have any Dan Brown?” *swigs beer, flips burger*
Unfortunately none of these responses can or will ever take place. It’s their fantastical nature, and the all-too-real responsibility that comes with inflicting crushing, unimaginable pain on your loved ones, regardless of whether you’re in the right or not, that leads to most people choosing another course of action: burying their heads in the sand, getting on with their lives, and praying that their repressed emotions or secrets don’t manifest themselves at an inopportune moment.
That’s every family’s worst nightmare, and Buried focuses on exactly this: the reactions of the White/Schrader family as they comes to terms with a truth so inconvenient it makes global warming look like free Wi-Fi.
After a pre-credits teaser demonstrating the aftermath of Jesse’s ill-fated multi-million dollar homage to 80s arcade classic Paperboy, we pick up moments after the conclusion of last week’s episode. Post-garage confrontation, Walt and Hank briefly face-off in a driveway showdown that self-consciously echoes Sergio Leone spaghetti-westerns, complete with deep focus and twitchy trigger fingers: although this time, the pair are drawing for smartphones, not Smith and Wessons, as the pair raced to be the first to reach Skyler.
Hank won the duel and got to her first; however, his showdown with her didn’t go exactly to the script. Skyler seemed disarmed (as you would imagine) by the meeting, and spends the first half of the scene struggling to gain a footing in the conversation. As Hank sees Skyler’s co-operation as the proverbial open-and-shut case, he greets her with the hug of a white knight. It’s a hug that Skyler doesn’t exactly reciprocate; in fact, there’s a hint that she may have been slightly offended and patronised by this gesture.
As I mentioned in last week’s review, one of Hank’s fatal flaws is his innate trust of his loved ones, and while the revelations about Walt will surely have done much to awaken his cynical side, there are still signs of the old Hank here: it doesn’t seem to enter into his thinking that Skyler may be complicit and an active participant in Walt’s crimes. It’s understandable: he’s already getting over one betrayal from one of his closest family members, so to comprehend another so soon afterwards is a tall order even for the most pragmatic of people.
Skyler doesn’t say much to start with, and this marks the first of a number of one-way conversations in Buried, where one of the participants is too overwhelmed by the gravity of the situation to even contribute and instead chooses to keep quiet, in the hope that a more comfortable way out will present itself.
In this scene, biding her time pays off for Skyler: when Hank lets slip that Walt���s cancer is back, she possibly sees another option, one that doesn’t involve the destruction of her family and Hank’s name being dragged through the mud. She also takes it as a cue to not make any rash decisions just yet, and cannily causes a scene that she knows she can escape from, giving her more time to work out this impossible situation.
She soon finds herself in another conversation where she has nothing to say, however: when Marie confronts her, she finds there are no words she can say to justify or compartmentalise her actions. A disbelieving Marie even attempts to do it for her, but when she twigs that Skyler must have known before Hank was shot, she turns on a dime, slapping her and snatching baby Holly just seconds later. It’s a sobering, awful moment for Skyler, but thanks to Hank’s intervention it ends with Holly still in the house and Walt still a free man. Not to mention alive.
So when Skyler finally meets with Walt – after his rather more literal day of uncomfortable truth-burying, as he attempts to hide his fortune in the desert – her keep-schtum and bide your time attitude has proved to be a fairly decent course of action. It’s unsurprising then, that she pitches to Walt that they just attempt to let the whole thing blow over.
It’s always interesting to take a step back and analyse the episode-by-episode decisions of characters in Breaking Bad and ask if they’re doing the right thing. Hank and Marie, while clearly on the right side of moral divide, still seem to be making decisions that are mainly based on self-interest. From her reaction to Skyler it’s suggested Marie wants Walt to go down mainly out of vengeance for Hank’s life-threatening injuries. Hank can see this. And Hank, though it’s clear that bringing Walt to justice is the right thing to do, his motivation to do so is at least in part also because he needs to be the one who finally brought him justice, and which will go some way to repairing his battered pride. Ironically, of course, it’s an unbearable sense of emasculation that set Walt off on the path he’s on today.
While the scene in the bathroom definitely feels like it has a slight Macbeth/Lady Macbeth dynamic to it – the calmly pragmatic woman tends to the wounded soldier apparently losing the will to fight while persuading him to not relinquish power – and while Skyler may at first appear to be an evil harridan prolonging the madness by persuading Walt not to give himself up, she may have a point when she argues that trying to let things blow over could be the canniest way to go about this. She knows both Hank and Walt intimately, knows they’re the proverbial rock and a hard place, and can’t see a way out; so she opts to hit the snooze button, to pretend that none of this ever happened, and wait for nature to take its course.
Of course, the return of Todd and his family of cold-blooded neo-Nazi killers may not let nature take its course any time soon. Lydia, frustrated by the diminishing quality of meth produced by Walt’s inheritors, arranges for them to be violently taken down by Todd’s family, a coup that frankly can only mean bad things for everyone. Todd is arguably the most psychopathic character we’ve seen on the show: chillingly polite, yet capable of unthinkable violence at a moment’s notice. Lance, man: what happened to you? Also, this scene neatly summed up one of the recurring themes of the episode (and indeed the series as a whole) with a visually striking image: Lydia, her eyes scrunched shut, attempting to pretend that she’s somehow annexed and above all the carnage she helped to create, even while she’s physically stepping over still-warm bullet strewn bodies in expensive heels.
So is Hank willing to shut his eyes to all the evil that’s suddenly engulfed him? Towards the end of the episode, he seems genuinely unsure as to the best course of action: what his discussions with Marie prove is that it’s a situation that nobody can come out of well, so it only makes sense to delay making a decision for as long as possible, and to keep it out of the open. When Hank returns to his office, he seems lost. Where would you even start? He’s waiting for a sign, in much the same way Skyler was in their earlier diner conversation.
He doesn’t have to wait long. Jesse, freshly nicked for his cash-tossing adventure, turns up practically in his lap, and, luckily for Hank, currently exists in an entirely different headspace from the rest of the characters on the show. While everyone else is engaging over much hand-wringing based on what they might lose if they tip too far in one direction, Jesse has nothing left. No family, no girlfriend, no friends worth a damn. No money, now. No prospects, no job. And on top of that, the psychic toll of the incredible guilt he feels at playing a part in a year of abject villainy, that has seen kids and innocent people die as a result of a man he, at least in part, has enabled to prosper.
All Jesse has left is his battered soul. If he confesses to Hank, it will be a spiritual confession more than anything else – Breaking Bad has always been big on religious imagery, the punishment of sin and the management of guilt (Vince Gilligan was raised Catholic) – and this is no different. Will aiding the demise of Walt be enough to save his soul? Perhaps not. But he clearly needs to be unburdened with the weight of his crimes, if only for his own sanity. He can’t talk to those closest to him- i.e. his criminal pals – obviously. What he doesn’t know, is that Hank’s now in the same boat: Hank can’t talk to his friends and co-workers, for fear of ridicule, or his family, because it’s too raw, they’re too close, and they’re unable to think clearly.
You see? Sometimes, it’s hard to talk to your family. So then you just have to talk to someone else.
Read Paul’s review of the previous episode, Blood Money, here.
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