Happy Birthday, Walt. “Fifty-One” is a big episode in the series; it’s been exactly one year since the pilot, and this episode manages to take us full circle and show us who Walter White has become. And, for the first time in the entire series, I think my lingering sympathy for Walt has vanished. That’s a huge step, and I suppose it means the writers have succeeded in their original vision.
“Fifty-One” - a episode that we assumed would be about Walt, considering it’s his birthday - is actually a Skyler-centric story. And it’s a damn fine one. Skyler’s catatonic state throughout Season 5 has led to this, and her melting point is handled perfectly. While Walt reminisces about the year (aka:the series), Skyler quietly slips into the swimming pool. The desperation and motivations are hazy at first; I suspected depression and exhaustion… after all, who else has could live with Walter White?
The reason, however - and this is a testament to the excellent writing - is that she wants to protect her children. What started as a subtle, “what about boarding school?” turns into a desperate attempt to get Walt, Jr. and Holly away from their father. The confrontation between Walt and Skyler is one of the most powerful performances of the series. I suspect Anna Gunn will be submitting “Fifty-One” for next year’s Emmy awards; she’d be crazy not to.
The escalation of the confrontation is handled beautifully. It almost feels like a physical alteration, though it’s all dialogue. Walt menacingly quizzes Skyler, like he’s back at the chess game with Gus. I love Skyler’s eventual surrender; she admits that she has no idea whatshe is doing. The scene culminates with a great reveal: she’s waiting for the cancer to return. It’s a brutal line, yet Gunn delivers it in such a way that it feels honest and genuine. She is not trying to punish Walt by saying this; she believes it.
I don’t often mention the directing on Breaking Bad - which is usually superb - but “Fifty-One” bears special mention. Directed by Rian Johnson, “Fifty-One” is gorgeous and oddly different. Johnson also directed one of my favorites from Season 3, “Fly,” and “Fifty-One” will surely be less polarizing. Every peculiar camera angle feels intentional, and I love the end image of the ticking clock. Time: the only thing Skyler has on her side. And speaking of “Fly,” did anyone else notice that fly poster behind Walt? You can see a bit of it in the above still.
There are numerous other significant moments in “Fifty-One,” such as Hank’s promotion, and Lydia’s batch of methylamine. All of these other moments feel significant but don’t resonant quite as strongly as the deteriorating White marriage. Still, it’s important set-up that will no doubt play into next week’s story.
I especially like how Walt compares Jesse’s story arc to Skyler’s at the conclusion. Let’s not forget that Jesse gave a similar speech to Walt in “One Minute,” detailing the ways in which Walt ruined his life. The same holds true for Skyler, as Walt continues to be cancerous to those around him. However, I have a feeling Skyler won’t be giving Walt any more gifts. His ego will no doubt come crashing down by the end of the series.
Overall, “Fifty-One” is a truly powerful episode of Breaking Bad - the strongest of Season 5 so far. It pushes Walt even further away from us, while managing to show us a very human side of Skyler. While we wait for next week, let’s take a moment to mourn the loss of the Aztek. God, I’ll miss that car.
What did you think of tonight’s episode? As always, share your thoughts in the comments.
Note: This review is taken from Review Hub Central.