Walter White has never exactly been a trusting man. Through its five seasons, Breaking Bad has shown us time and time again that Walt has issues with control, which has kept him from having much faith in those around him, especially now that he has broken free of the tyranny of living a boring life. And it’s not like it’s that hard to understand why he feels that way— many people want him dead, and a lot of his collaborators aren’t all that dependable or loyal. But it’s something that tends to get Walt into trouble, as the newest episode, “Buried,” proved.
Beginning with the end of the tense showdown between Hank and Walt we saw last week, “Buried” moved into high gear fairly quickly, as Walt desperately tried to reach Skyler, only to realize she was on the phone with Hank already. Assuming the worst, Walt went into damage control mode, tasking Saul’s fan favorite henchmen Huell and Kuby with grabbing his loot from its storage locker hiding spot while he and Saul explore the angles. Though Saul has ostensibly functioned as an always welcome dose of levity on Breaking Bad, he’s far from inept and Bob Odenkirk’s ability to display that while still getting laughs is one of the most overlooked aspects of the show. Saul is pretty sure Walt killed off Mike, and he tests that theory by suggesting Walt handle his Hank problem by sending his brother-in-law to Belize, “you know, where Mike disappeared to?” Walt of course shoots that down and vaguely threatens Saul by saying he should send him to Belize, but you can tell he’s already calculating the odds that the situation will demand he do just that…even if Hank’s Belize vacation comes about because of a little batch of ricin that we may have already glimpsed the acquisition of in last week’s opener.
The whole scene is a mess of failed relationships and breakdowns in trust, particularly since as it’s happening, Skyler is testing the waters of what Hank really knows. The two meet at a diner and if Hank was more perceptive, he would have noticed that Skyler enters the establishment not with a look of thanks or relief, but with quivering terror. Hank, in typical fashion, overestimates his own control of the situation and is clearly counting on Skyler as an ally, so much so that he immediately asks her to testify and give him all the information she has. But he loses that control when he tries to talk Skyler out of bringing in a lawyer, which has the nasty side effect of revealing to Skyler that Hank basically knows nothing and has no proof, he only “has his suspicions.” Walt may be out in the desert taking necessary action and thinking he’s preparing for the future, if not for him than for his family, but Skyler is settling nicely into mastermind mode, reading the enemy and taking in intelligence, confirming her own suspicions about the case against Walt.
The rest of the episode is about waiting, which is made all the clearer by the time lapse cinematography, a Breaking Bad staple, and the exhaustion of the necessary players. By the time Hank and Marie leave the White residence, they look utterly spent; Marie is ragged and tearful because she got the answers she didn’t want when she confronted Skyler and attempted to steal her daughter-in-law, Hank appears to have lost entire years because he now seems to understand all his diner meet-up did was cost him what he felt was his best possible chance at nailing Walt. And in a different desert, Lydia is doing some waiting of her own, deep in the bowels of a knock-off version of Walt’s superlab where she has sold out her current meth partners to Todd, the baby faced quasi-psychopath we all knew the show wasn’t quite done with yet. Lydia’s pathetic exterior behavior remains her best weapon, as she uses it to be seen as harmless, while she continues to help much more powerful forces instigate their bloody coups.
All that brings us to two perennially underestimated threats looming over Walt’s head. There’s Todd, who now has those connections he spoke about last season in tow, and almost certainly won’t be as receptive to a “No” from Walt as Lydia was last episode (perhaps he’s behind that threatening Heisenberg graffiti we saw?). And then there’s Jesse, who is now in police custody thanks to his stupid money throwing stunt (one does have to wonder what he would be charged with, though…unless giving money away is a crime in New Mexico), which appeared to come to its end in the playground where the murder of Andrea’s brother Tomas went down. The cops have no idea what Jesse’s up to, or how he got so much money, but Hank has entered the picture and talked his way into a few minutes with Pinkman. Neither Walt nor Saul thought much about Jesse in their little pow-wow, because neither of them take him that seriously, and that is arguably the biggest threat to Walt’s success at the moment. Walt has done nothing to endear himself to Jesse lately, but he has done plenty to erode Jesse’s trust in him. Because of his ego, Walt is certain that his meeting with Jesse last episode cleared any doubts Jesse had about what happened with Mike, but it seems obvious that it did the opposite and pushed Jesse towards a final breakdown. The question now is whether that’s enough to make Jesse talk, or if it’s enough to make Jesse take all the credit for Heisenberg himself, in order to get what he really wants: an end.
Because Walt trusts no one, Jesse will undoubtedly be the target going forward, both in the sense that Walt will feel the need to silence him and in the sense that Hank may soon figure out Jesse is the only hope he has of building a case against Walt. Walt may have tentatively entertained the notion of giving up, but that was subterfuge, a way of testing Skyler’s loyalty and desires, of seeing whether he has her hook, line and sinker. Her confirmation that she’s in it for the long game has undoubtedly given Walt all the ammunition he needs to convince himself he’s in the right and empowered to face down all these final threats. Now it’s just a matter of waiting to see whether she signed the death warrants of her brother-in-law and Jesse Pinkman in the process.