The article below contains spoilers for “Buried,” the August 18th, 2013 episode of “Breaking Bad.”
Directed by the excellent Michelle MacLaren and written by Thomas Schnauz, “Buried” was filled with characters who could barely hear their own thoughts over the adrenaline-fueled drum of their heartbeats. But at least one person was able to keep his priorities straight through all the tension — Huell (Lavell Crawford), Saul’s (Bob Odenkirk) bulky bodyguard, who knew that when presented with a giant pile of cash the likes of which typical humans rarely encounter, you take the opportunity to lie down on top of it. Even fellow Saul A-Team member Kuby (Bill Burr), despite that Scrooge McDuck crack, was unable to resist the allure of momentarily reclining on a mountain of bills. What do they care? They’re not the ones with brothers-in-law trying to take them down.
And at least someone’s enjoying that money, even for a moment. Huell and Kuby were sent to retrieve it from the storage facility, as Walt (Bryan Cranston) was worried, with good reason, that the law was poised to come down on him and that his hard-won earnings will be confiscated. After a cold open that reminded us that Jesse (Aaron Paul) has also been worried about his own money, his guilt and distress leading him to toss wads of it out his car window just to be rid of it before listlessly retreating to a playground to lie on the roundabout, “Buried” began where last week’s “Blood Money” had ended, with Hank (Dean Norris) and Walt having a stand-off in the Schrader garage. “Breaking Bad” has evoked Western imagery before, with its wide-open southwestern landscapes, and that stare-down was pure gunslingers in the street poised to draw — except the only weapons at hand were the garage door opener and the pair’s respective cell phones. Walt didn’t get far before realizing he had to talk to Skyler (Anna Gunn), but Hank beat him to it, arranging a sit-down with Skyler at an appallingly calm restaurant.
Where Skyler would stand and who she’d stand with as things fell apart has been fun to speculate on, and what’s striking as it became clear in “Buried” that she would be sticking with Walt is how much the decision was driven by fear. In the conversation in the restaurant with Hank, in which he unwisely tried to press her to speak on record about her husband’s dealings while assuring her that he’s on her side, it’s clear that she sees herself as complicit and unwilling to throw herself at Hank’s feet and hope he takes care of her. “You’re done being his victim,” he said, but it’s hardly that simple, because she’s also been Walt’s partner in this. She wants time, she wants a lawyer, and sometime during that shocky conversation, she chose Walt, for reasons that emerged as more complicated when Hank brought Marie (Betsy Brandt) to the White house in hopes of bringing her sister around.
It’s not just that Skyler doesn’t trust Hank to protect her from legal fallout, it’s that she doesn’t trust him to beat Walt. Walt’s frightened and impressed her enough that she’s unwilling to risk turning him in, instead calling and then waiting up to plead her loyalty to her husband when he returns from burying their hoard of cash in the desert. It’s something that Marie spotted quickly, as she talked her way through Skyler’s history of lies, and it’s the reason, beyond Walt’s involvement in Hank getting shot, that she slapped the hell out of her sibling: “You won’t talk to Hank because you think that Walt is going to get away with this.” Beyond this, Skyler’s also finally doing what Walt’s wanted her to do all along, to trust him to provide for their kids, even though at this point it means hiding drums of drug money in the wilderness and cleverly keeping a record of the GPS coordinates by buying a lottery ticket with the number.
And also, maybe, maybe Skyler still holds some love for her husband, even though he threatened to take her children away, though he put them all in danger, though he made her a criminal. That he seems, once again, to be dying may make softness a little easier. The scene with the two of them on the floor of the bathroom after Walt collapsed in his signature white briefs was tremendous and terrible in its honesty, with Walt asking Skyler, about the cancer coming back, “Does that make you happy?” and her responding “I can’t remember the last time I was happy.” His only desire is to be able to hold on to and pass along his earnings to the children, and she conceded, telling him “You can’t give yourself up without giving up the money, so maybe our best move here is to stay quiet.”
Hank can’t break Skyler, but he has another possibility — Jesse, with the thousand-yard stare of someone fresh from combat, sitting in the interrogation room following his adventures in spontaneous charity. Whether Hank’s rough history with Jesse will kick the younger man out of his stupor in a way that’ll prove useful to the DEA agent remains to be seen, but meanwhile, Hank’s left the unknowing Walt with a major out — he hasn’t yet reported his brother-in-law’s secret career as the Albuquerque area’s most notorious meth manufacturer to his colleagues, wanting to bring Walt in himself and knowing that the information will end his career.
Walt isn’t a wanted man, yet — he’s still only trying to outmaneuver Hank. It’s one of the episode’s darkest jokes that Walt is horrified by Saul’s euphemistic suggestion that he off Hank, “sending him on a trip to Belize,” because Hank is family. It’s amusing only in part because it’s actually a solid idea from Saul’s perspective — there’s also Walt’s crazy logic. Never mind that he’s going to and has essentially already ruined Hank’s life, never mind that he’s killed other people unnecessarily before — R.I.P., Mike Ehrmantraut — no, Walt is a man with standards, with rules about these things. Let’s see how long they last.
Meanwhile, Lydia (Laura Fraser) certainly has no problem with murder, as she attempted to take care of her quality standards problem by having Declan (Louis Ferreira) and his crew killed after they refused to hire Todd (Jesse Plemons) back. “Buried” had several memorable images — Huell and Kuby on the cash, Jesse spiraling alone in the playground, the POV shot of the Walt’s barrel rolling into the hole he’d spent the day digging — but Lydia refusing to look at the bodies of the men she just arranged to be slaughtered, being led past their corpses in her Louboutins by a gentlemanly Todd, may be the most indelible. “Breaking Bad” rarely gets political, but Lydia really is a damning portrait of an executive slotted over to a new, illicit industry, willing to do anything to keep her margins high and her cash flow going, and shockingly ready to take lives on behalf of her business. Walt may be a terrible person in many ways, but at least he did his own corpse clean-up.