Breaking Bad series 5, episode 10: Send him on a trip to Belize

Old grievances bubble up to the surface as the main players fall into line. But where does Jesse Pinkman's loyalty lie?

WARNING: This blog is for people currently watching Breaking Bad series 5, part 2. It contains spoilers.

Fittingly for an episode entitled “Buried”, yesterday’s Breaking Bad contained a number of descents. Walt, a man undergoing chemotherapy for terminal lung cancer, took up a shovel and an axe to bury his millions. When he returned from the desert, he stripped down to his underpants (the scene and the action recalling the series' prologue), then fell and cracked his head on the bathroom floor. He was nursed there by his wife, who had recently learned that his illness had returned. Back out in the desert, Walt’s former colleague Lydia climbs down into the filthy meth lab in which her new cook is failing to live up to Heisenbergian standards of purity, while at the top of the hour we saw a catatonic Jesse Pinkman spinning on a kids’ roundabout: a symbol his depleted innocence, and of the show's ever-shifting fortunes. Lydia and Walt are heading down - but what about Jesse?

Picking up after last week's showdown, Walt emerges from the garage and tries to call Skyler, only to find that Hank has beaten him to it. She meets with her brother-in-law in a roadside diner - where would American fiction be without the transience of those anonymous pit stops? - but seems unable, or unwilling, to talk. Hank tells her that catching Walt before he dies is his number one priority, at the same time revealing that he still lacks the necessary evidence to do it. He tries to paint her as a victim of abuse, to which Skyler responds with a fractious ambivalence, then flees. The narrative thread nurtured by this episode pits the Schraders against the Whites. Throughout the series they have been gracefully opposed: Hank’s law enforcement machismo against Walt’s high school impotence, Skyler White’s swollen motherliness against Marie’s sharp impulse to steal - taken to extremes in a difficult-to-watch tug of war over baby Holly. Now they are rivals. Marie’s slap mirrors Hank’s at the end of the previous episode. Like Hank, her husband, she had quickly moved from disbelief to yearning for rough justice. “You have to get him,” she says as the pair sit grimacing in the car.

Down, down, down and ... out? Walter digs a grave-shaped safe for his money. Image: Ursula Coyote/AMC.

Amid the nausea room is made for a little comedy. Upon seeing the solid block of cash Skyler was unable to launder through the car wash, Saul’s bodyguard Huell announces “I gotta do it,” then lays - more comfortably than Jesse - on his back, cozying up to the cash. He turns to Kuby, the skinnier half of the double-act: “Mexico - all’s I’m sayin.” But the fear of Heisenberg runs deep. “Guy hit ten guys in jail within a two minute window - alls I’m sayin,” Kuby replies. Saul tells Walt things could be worse, but acknowledges the problem with Hank: “Can’t exactly see him turning the other cheek.” His suggestion that they “send him on a trip to Belize” - an addition to the gangster vernacular so thoroughly Saul Goodman it takes Walt time to figure out what it means means - provokes a fierce protectiveness of Hank, who remains “family” despite his personal mission to destroy Walt.

Lying on his bathroom floor after collapsing from either exhaustion or from his illness, Walt tells his wife that he will give himself up, if only she promises not to hand over the money. “Don’t let me have done this for nothing,” he says. Before the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad began last week, I felt one plot prediction could be made with certainty - that everything Walt’s compassionate side cherished would be ruined, and that he would know it before he died. I’m no less sure now. In episode ten we begin to root for the Whites - not least because the Schraders’ ugly vendetta seems to have little to do with Walter's victims, and a lot to do with their own grievances. The chance for some kind of bloodless resolution temporarily appears in Hank’s reluctance to talk to the DEA, but as the episode comes to a close and a tight-lipped Assistant Special Agent Schrader returns to work, a familiar face appears, turned to one side, in the interrogation room.

Skyler (Anna Gunn) and Walter White (Bryan Cranston) guard their treasure. Photograph: AMC.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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From Victoria Wood to Prince: how radio handles celebrity deaths in 2016

You have to listen to Front Row, and then Today, and see how they are covering it, what’s left to do, a ­different angle...”

“So I got a call at 6pm saying, ‘You’ll never guess who now . . .’” Fiona Couper, editor of the obituary programme Last Word (Fridays, 4pm), tells me about what happened just as she got home on Thursday, having left the show ready for the following afternoon’s broadcast. Naturally, they’d gone big on Victoria Wood, but the sudden news of Prince’s demise sent her scurrying back in to work. “Then you have to listen to Front Row, and then Today, and see how they are covering it, what’s left to do, a ­different angle...”

Fortuitously, Last Word’s presenter, Matthew Bannister, had been among a small audience invited to see Prince at the BBC Radio Theatre in 1993.

We heard archive of the singer walking on to the stage that night and saying tenderly to the crowd: “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you,” and then playing so rambunctiously, while doubtless wearing a cheerful little hat (he did often make everybody else look like the Traveling Wilburys), that the whole event “interrupted Radio 3’s broadcast next door”. News hadn’t yet filtered through of the reality of his life aged 57: that his hips were killing him, that he was frequently vomitous with stage fright (I also have it on good authority, btw, that he loved Coronation Street). Instead, mention was made of how prolific he was: all the rumoured ­unperformed songs, thousands of them falling off him like seeds, like Schubert, a whole ocean of stuff.

A little later in the same programme, the item on Victoria Wood was as memorable, simply offering close analysis of the various key changes in her song “Let’s Do It” and pointing out the ways in which Wood’s influences as a songwriter were as much jazz as music hall. Both obits – by accident as much as design – underlined forcefully just how awed and attracted we are as human beings to those who can put lyrics and a tune together and play. The ne plus ultra of art.

It’s quite a programme to be working on right now, I suggest to Couper: that strange sensation of watching an odometer moving jerkily. She sighs. “We’re just about holding on,” she nods. “That’s how we feel most weeks at the moment.” 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism