Breaking Bad, Ep. 5.04: “Fifty-One” a stunning showcase for Anna Gunn
Breaking Bad, Season 5, Episode 4: “Fifty-One”
Written by Sam Catlin
Directed by Rian Johnson
Airs Sundays at 10pm ET on AMC
How criminal is it that Anna Gunn has largely been left out of the accolades Breaking Bad has received over the years, only earning her first Emmy nod this year? Skyler White has long been one of the most thankless roles on TV, a woman who spend half of the series being completely out of the criminal loop, and the other half scrambling to come to grips with her family’s new reality by trying on a variety of responses – including one-upsmanship, via her affair with poor Ted Beneke – only to find herself just as completely trapped as ever, only with a fuller understanding of just how trapped she is. That awareness finally leads to some frank discussion on her part about her desire to break free, no matter what that may mean, and those moments provide for the most potent dramatic material of the season so far, whether or not the Skyler detractors will see it that way.
More on that later. There are two, simultaneous, and equally appropriate responses to “Fifty-One”: attraction and repulsion. The former comes partially courtesy of director Rian Johnson (Brick, the forthcoming Looper, and Season 3 standout bottle ep “Fly”), whose tricked-out, anarchic cold open, with Walts Sr. and Jr. high off the euphoria of expenditure, represents the show at its most gleefully stylized and hyperkinetic. Johnson also works to exploit Breaking Bad‘s love of minute detail and extreme close-up to potent effect, from the blood that divides the frame when it’s taken up by Walt’s freshly shaven skull, to the ever-encroaching ripples in the White family pool, to the amplified sound of the fancy watch Jesse purchased Walt that closes the episode in spectacularly macabre fashion. Tick. Tick. Tick.