Breaking Bad Review: “Buried” (Season 5 Episode 10)
With Hank – who assumes Skyler was entirely a victim in all this, forced to stay quiet by a criminal he knows to be violent – a part of Skyler clearly wants to open up, while a much more forceful side of her personality can do nothing but instantly (and silently) run through a mental checklist of all the crimes she herself has committed. Money laundering. Tax fraud. Conspiracy to harm and intimidate (i.e. the Ted Beneke debacle). The simple fact that she never went to the police after learning the truth. No matter what, Skyler is in part a victim of her husband’s crimes, but she also chose to do bad things, and to keep on doing them, and she knows that if Walt is going down, she will, to some extent, go down with him (*).
(*)Even if it is just a case of personal reputation – Skyler could probably cut a deal with the DEA to testify against Walt in return for immunity (netting Heisenberg would undoubtedly be worth it), but it would come at the expense of her entire family. Not just Hank and Marie, but presumably Walter Jr. and Holly, who I assume would be forcibly removed from their parents’ orbit.
So Skyler stays silent – from a legal standpoint, at least, as shouting “ARE YOU ARRESTING ME” is the middle of a semi-crowded diner is a hardly a quiet means of protest – and while Hank is mostly left baffled, when she tried to do the same thing with Marie later on, she winds up meeting her match.
As problematic as Skyler could be in those early seasons, Marie has always been a difficult character for the show to crack, a figure who has been made intermittently interesting – the season 4 episode “Open House” probably being her most consistently compelling showcase – but never fully functional in the context of, say, her own ongoing character arc. But as spotty as the show’s track record has been with her, Marie’s material in “Buried” was absolutely outstanding, easily Betsy Brandt’s best work on the show to date, and powerful precisely because it drew upon what history the show has managed to establish with her over the years. The core reason why those exchanges between Skyler and Hank and Skyler and Marie are so endlessly fulfilling is because they are fueled by five seasons worth of experience with these characters, so when it came time for Skyler and Marie to have their confrontation, it was readily apparent Marie would see through Skyler in a way Hank never could. Because while Marie can be prone to bouts of excessive tunnel-vision, she knows her sister better than Hank, and she is self-absorbed enough – usually a negative character attribute, but much less so here – to recognize how Skyler’s lies pertain to her and Hank’s own personal suffering.
So Skyler stays silent again, save for a seemingly heartfelt attempt to apologize, while Marie very quickly puts it all together, realizing not only that Skyler knew and stayed silent, but that she has known long enough to have had the chance to prevent Hank’s shooting and countless other crimes. Whether or not it is fair to put all that at Skyler’s feet – she obviously should have gone to the police immediately, but it is much easier to say that now, with perfect 20/20 hindsight – Marie is justifiably furious, and becomes just as determined as her husband to put Walter White behind bars.
And in the midst of all this, what we see from Skyler – or, I should say, from Anna Gunn’s tremendous performance (another person doing series-best work, I think) – is a woman feeling the immense weight of guilt. In these two confrontations, she has come to realize exactly how much she has done wrong, regardless of her husband’s sins, and in those scenes, she looks apt to shake apart at the seams. She barely knows how to hold herself, let alone what to say or do – by the end of her exchange with Marie, she is operating purely on instinct, confident only that her children will not be taken from her (even though I side 100% with Marie on getting that baby out of that house ASAP). And throughout those scenes, what Breaking Bad demonstrates is the singular kind of dramatic richness one can only get with a series this deep into its story, this far along in the arcs of its characters, and this willing to put everything on the line and explore it all in full.
Even then, the show manages to push Skyler one step further in this episode, having her not only feel the tremendous weight of her actions, but choosing, after internalizing them, to transgress utterly and, most likely, irreversibly. In that conversation with Walt on the bathroom floor, after he offers to turn himself in so long as she ensures his money will eventually transfer over to her children, she is the one who gets the last word, speaking in a way that strongly mirrors the attitude of her husband:
“You can’t give yourself up without giving up the money. That’s the way this works, Walt. So maybe our best move here is to stay quiet.”
Is there any way to listen to Anna Gunn deliver that line and not think about Walt’s “tread lightly” threat last week? The sentences are constructed along identical lines, and in insisting that Walt continue trying to move forward, Skyler has definitively entered the same criminal territory as her husband. Her transformative arc that began long ago is, in a sense, fulfilled, as she has now not only given up any hope of getting this monster out of her life, but accepted that this is the life she will lead, no matter what may come.
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