This week’s cold open is very straightforward, with no major temporal or spacial shifts or impressionistic flourishes. Instead, it shows us more of Mike takin’ care of business (and working overtime). I liked it more than last week’s episode because he is more purposeful, snazzy in his suit, and clever in his posing as a paralegal so that attorney-client privilege blocks the cops from recording him. It does, interestingly, end with him giving a surveillance camera a nice direct shot of his face. Not that it will mean much to the APD, but if Hank or Gomez ever catches sight of it, they would be very interested to find out he’s falsifying his identity to access suspected fellow criminal conspirators. Could be nothing, but it’s also the exact kind of little detail that this show likes to return to (remember Hank tracking down the Crystal Ship from an ATM camera?).
No movement on the Madrigal front this week, or sign of Lydia, but in the exchange we get extended sequences with Walt, Jesse, Saul and Mike all together, so whose going to complain? And their new scheme is deliciously devious, setting up temporary shop in tented houses under the guise of exterminators. Also Badger! Skinny Pete! Landry! Even with no Hank, it was a great episode for the men of Breaking Bad. Less so for the women, although we did get our first Betsy Brandt sighting of the year and Skyler finally edged her way north of 5 lines. Skyler’s storyline is obviously building toward something big, though, so it’s not a big deal that she hasn’t got much screentime yet. And both women make the most of their short scenes.
My biggest reservation with this season has been the low stakes for Walt and Jesse, and “Hazard Pay” is still without the pressure-cooker intensity that has marked even the least eventful episodes of the first 4 seasons. On the business side of things, Walt comes up with a new scheme and the guys pull it off without any hitches or the horrifying twists that marked even the most basic tasks in years past. And on the domestic end, there’s a moment where it seems like Marie is going to demand answers, but Walt has gotten so adept at telling just enough truth to divert suspicion and paint Skyler as the villain that he’s convinced her he’s the wronged husband practically before he’s exhaled.
But Walt is such a bastard in this episode that that’s not even the worst of it. And it’s not even the scene where Walt subtly plants doubts in Jesse’s mind about Andrea, as tremendous as it is. The way he couches it in compliments, and compliments that have some core of truth to them, is evil genius, and I love how Jesse is sort of instinctually afraid the second Walt brings up honesty vis a vis the business, quickly assuring him that Andrea doesn’t know anything. But no, Walt's most douchebaggy moment in my opinion is the amused little smirk he gives upon finding a copy of Leaves of Grass, the book that he talked about with Gale back in S3. He’s so far beyond feeling remorse for the gentle soul he had murdered that he looks back on it as nothing but an amusing anecdote.
Anyway, the lack of intensity is much less noticeable in this episode than the last because it’s just so much fun to watch the boys get back to business, scheming and cooking up a storm. Adding Saul to the mix always makes things 88% better (I checked the figures), but it’s also just that we got more with our main characters and they are on the fast track back to trouble even if they aren't there yet.
And it’s not just me feeling restless with how easy Walt has it these days. He seems to be a little antsy without any imminent threats to his life and freedom, and to be, if not consciously than unnecessarily, courting new enemies. He’s practically giddy at the prospect of butting heads with Mike, smugly telling Saul “he handles the business, I handle him” 5 seconds after agreeing to stay completely out of the distribution side of the business, and seeming to end the episode pondering if it would be too gauche to start plotting the murder of a guy within a week of becoming partners with him. And there’s also the Brock/Jesse situation that he decides to meddle in despite his appearing to be completely in the clear. Sure, having another wife who might know something sensitive is potentially a problem for him, but they’ve barely got this thing going and he’s a terminal case; none of this will be Walt's problem a year down the line no matter what. Hardly seems worth kicking sleeping dogs over.
But Walt is kicking dogs and poking nests all over the place. He seems so desperate for a challenge that he’s actually developing a rivalry with the ghost of Gustavo Fring, in an impressively self-defeating move. Mike, in his typically blunt fashion, explains that “Just because you shot Jesse James, don’t make you Jesse James.” Walt disagrees, though. In his mind, shooting Jesse James proves he’s better than Jesse James. But of course he’s not, so what does that make him? Is he the slasher villain that the show frames him as when he stalks around his own house? One of the three stooges he watches with Jesse? Scarface?
The last one seems to be the most pertinent, as it has always been the logline of the show. And the scene of the Walters watching Scarface was not exactly subtle in what it portends, coupled with the flash forward to the machine gun in the trunk. Walt has risen meteorically through the Southwest drug trade, but he is dissatisfied with just sitting on top. And he seems dead set on turning everyone in his criminal and familial circles against him before long.
“Everyone dies in this movie, don’t they?” That they pretty much do. Now would be the time to start being very afraid for the fictional denizens of Albuquerque.
Estimated Profits: -$40,000 + $13700 = + $97000
Murders - Emilio, Krazy 8, Jane, two of Gus’s dealers, Gale, Gus, Tyrus, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, two other Fring goons
Collateral Damage - One innocent janitor loses his job and goes to jail on a bullshit marijuana charge. Hank had to kill a guy, even if he was an insane, degenerate piece of filth who deserved to die, giving him fairly severe PTSD. Combo was killed dealing for Walt. Jane’s father’s life is utterly ruined. 167 passengers on two planes are dead. Skyler is forced to become an accessory after the fact (or take down her son, sister and brother-in-law with Walt). 3 broken Pontiac Aztek windshields. Jesse’s RV is destroyed. On their mission to kill Heisenberg, the Cousins kill 9 illegal immigrants and their coyote, an old woman with a handicap-accessible van, a grocery-shopping bystander, an Indian woman and the Reservation sheriff that investigates. Also they shoot Hank multiple times, forcing him through a long, painful physical therapy process. Andrea’s kid brother is murdered by Gus’s dealers due to trouble Jesse and Walt stirred up. Jesse murders Gale, crushing him with guilt and destroying his hard-fought sobriety. Gus murders Victor to send a message to Walt and Jesse. Three Honduran workers get deported (or maybe worse). Walt purposefully wrecks a car, straining an already-injured Hank’s neck in an unspecified fashion. Ted Beneke breaks his neck fleeing from Heisenpire goons. Brock is poisoned and nearly dies. Tio blows himself up, but no one’s weeping for that vicious old fucker. The staff of an industrial laundry is out of their jobs. Dozens (hundreds?) of criminal prosecutions are compromised when the guys wreck the APD evidence locker. Hank’s boss gets pushed out of his job for his failure to apprehend Fring or Heisenberg. Herr Schuler, Chau and a low rent hitman get offed as Lydia scrambles to cover up Madrigal’s connection to Fring’s drug empire in the wake of his death. Walt manipulates Jesse into breaking up with Andrea.
Heisenberg Certainty Principle - “He handles the business. I handle him.”
Best Lie - Definitely Walt “accidentally” spilling the Beneke beans to Marie. Credit to Chud boards genius Syd for calling it a few hours prior to airing. Betsy Brandt’s wide-eyed, slow motion reaction is also a highlight. It's chilling how good Walt has gotten at telling just enough truth to sell his lies. His talk with Jesse wouldn’t be half as effective if there wasn’t a good deal ofmuch honest affection woven into the manipulation.
Official Walter Jr. Breakfast Count: 14
It’s The Little Things - The entire cooking montage is wonderful, particularly the Christmas-y look (augmented by the music) of the aluminum shavings being shaken into the vat and the beautiful shot of the smoke being sucked into the ventilation tube. Jesse burning himself while sneaking a fresh tortilla off the factory line. Saul still trying to find an illicit use for the Lazer Tag arena. The little guitar lick Badger punctuates his one line to the music store salesman with. The patter of Scarface’s little friend (the second time in the episode Walt watches someone on TV firing a machine gun) transitioning into the sound of the bill counters.