By: Daniel Reynolds
When you think of the underworld, your mind maybe jumps to something out of myth; Hades, perhaps, or a good ol’fashioned Milton-endorsed lost paradise. With whatever horrific setting you may conjure up, the common element always seems to be geography: out of sight, underground, that metaphorical southern underworld. Breaking Bad has always trafficked in this notion, of course. Walter White has always been one man on the surface with a vast network of hidden connections, corrupt feelings and dark desires coursing underneath. But, there are secrets and lies buried within the entire cast, a vast netherworld; and as this season continues to show, you don’t even have to dig too deep to find it.
So, Walt thought he was out of trouble at the start of the season. With the end of last week’s episode, he realized he is in serious trouble. Now, after peeling out of the Schrader’s driveway, Walt knows there is one significant bit of evidence linking him to all of his crimes: that incalculable pile of money, that great big matzah ball hanging out there in a storage locker. With more and more of the truth coming to the surface, Walt acts by burrowing. He knows that it is not what you know, but what you can prove. And while Hank, truth in hand, is excavating in one location, Walt races off to another, burying the one real monument to his underground success. Only Walt knows where the money is now. It’s just too bad for him that while he works to cover himself and his family, his inner rot (I mean the cancer, not the metaphorical kind) has apparently wormed its way back into his life. Having seen “Mr. Lambert” a year hence, we know better.
This is just the start of the heavy stuff, but it is not all doom and gloom! As all of our characters circle the drain, and as grim as this episode was, I still delight in those appearances from Saul Goodman and his motley crew of helpers, Huell and Kuby. I imagine them as something like the carnival barkers at a circus of the damned, the sideshow attraction to the terrifying main event. Even as we barrel towards the breakneck conclusion here (with only 6 episodes left!), I like that Breaking Bad reminds us that there is always time to embrace your inner Scrooge McDuck. Before getting to the gasps and tears, I just wanted to mention the parts still hanging out in the perverse sunshine.
For Skyler, she doesn’t want to hear about any McDuck. She knows all about the money, too. She’s been washing it, funneling it, stashing it, and hiding it for far too long. So long, in fact, she can’t remember the last time she’s been happy. Imagine that, more money than you can spend and still unhappy. Skyler doesn’t have many tools left to use, or even a rock to hide under. OK, there is a rock in play, but Skyler isn’t hiding, she’s trapped. Skyler meets with Hank and all at once realizes how difficult it will be to jump to the surface, how impossible it will be to emerge clean. There’s the money, but Walt is taking care of that; no, the real problem is her complicity, her knowledge of the real goings-on. Skyler may not know where the bodies are buried but she knows enough to realize silence may be her only salvation. Her gasped “I’m sorry” doesn’t help her with Marie. Does it make sense for her to tell Holly it will be alright when her family is sinking into an abyss around her?
The painful realization is that even Hank, our virtuous hero, is not without a shadow. He admits to Marie – who is also finally waking up – that he alone has to bring down Walt, the infamous Heisenberg, so as to not bury his career with only “clueless joke” for an epitaph. That’s a depressing thought for Hank, labouring as he is to dig up the truth. It’s easy to see why he threw himself so easily into the study of rocks and minerals, polishing dirty clumps for the gems of truth within. Hank is now perfectly suited for the job of catching Walt; he’s just got to figure out how to move the rubble. Fortunately for Hank, he is thrown something of a shovel.
Last night’s episode began with yet another harrowing scene from Jesse’s descent into oblivion, beyond even the grasp of Hades. He doesn’t have any lines this week, just empty stares. Jesse is done bargaining. Did you notice the look of that little interrogation room? Dark, lit by one buzzing overhead light. The cops are keeping Jesse away from everyone, singling him out in an underground chamber, trying to make him talk. Hank, ever so affably, marches down into this small room to see his old pal Pinkman. From the look on Jesse’s face, neither will enjoy their time there. Still, I guess it is better than a trip south to Belize.
 One thing that still bothers me: Where, oh where is Walt Jr. during all of this? Even as a clueless teenager I could usually tell when my parents were in the midst of an argument or there was some broader familial tension going on. The artist formerly known as Walt Jr. always seems to be way, way out of the frame. Just how long are the school days in Albuquerque these days anyway?