“Hazard Pay” was a prime reminder of the phenomenal writing and acting which has made Breaking Bad the best drama on TV today.
Mark Margolis (as Hector Salamanca) and Giancarlo Esposito (as Gus Fring) may no longer be on the show to add the tense juxtaposition to Walt’s (Bryan Cranston) Icarus climb, but their legacy still haunts him.
Perhaps in contemporary fiction, martial arts and video games, beating the boss means becoming the boss. It’s the logic Darth Vader used when he cut down Obi Wan. “The circle is now complete,” Vader proclaimed. “When I left you, I was but the learner; now – I – am the master.”
That thinking may work if you’re Darth Vader, Jedi master. However, as Mike (Jonathan Banks) reminded Walt, killing Jesse James doesn’t make him (Walt) Jesse James.
In the Season 5 premiere, we flashed forward several months into Walt’s future. He was celebrating his 52nd birthday – alone. It was a nice call back to Breaking Bad’s early days and Walt’s first on-screen birthday. More importantly, it foreshadowed just enough of what is to come in Breaking Bad’s final season. Although Walt is ostensibly broke, due to Hank’s (Dean Norris) hospital bills and Ted’s ill-fated payoff by Skyler (Anna Gunn), he’s financially bounced back by the flash forward. He initially turns down a free birthday meal offered by the waitress. However, when she rationalizes the free breakfast, stating that even if she were rich she wouldn’t turn one down, Walt took the queue to get his grub on.
Well not really. He got the free breakfast only to walk away from it so that he could meet his old buddy Lawson (Jim Beaver) in the bathroom. So, for whatever reason, Mike is out of the picture and Walt is back to working with a second rate weapon’s dealer. He then left the restaurant, along with an untouched free breakfast and a hefty tip.
So, Walt is sitting pretty on some cash at some point in the future. However, he’s got some heavy artillery, including claymores, in his car trunk. He’s had an upswing financially, but he’s headed towards a major war and immanent downfall. We just want to know if the downfall will be at the hands of Hank, Jesse (Aaron Paul), or a more prominent backer to Gus’s defunct operation.
“Hazard Pay” set the stage for an eventual falling out between the new business trio of Walt, Jesse and Mike, along with their locations manager Saul (Bob Odenkirk).
Episode 5.3 Spoilers ahead.
“Hazard Pay” got off to a familiar smart. Mike was doing what he does – being calm, cool and threatening. He let members of his old guard know that they would be compensated and “made whole” for their continued silence. Surprisingly, he did this right within the walls of a prison. He even yelled at the police camera, hinting that corruption may trickle into the police force.
Tensions are high, especially at home. Walt is moving back in with Skyler without so much as a conversation. In Episode 5.2, “Madrigal,” Skyler didn’t even speak. We just got a very uncomfortable scene of Walt creeping up on Skyler in bed to spoon her, while she held back tears.
Walt has become controlling and possessive. In “Live Free or Die,” he forgave Skyler for giving “his” money to Ted as if the fault rested solely with her. In “Hazard Pay,” Skyler asked Walt if he thought moving back in was a good idea. Walt simply replied, “Yes,” end of discussion. This answer drew a sharp parallel to the “Live Free or Die” scene, where Walt, Mike and Jesse drove away from the police evidence facility. Regarding the success of the magnet, Walt gave Mike a similar minimalist, but controlling response.
“I’m supposed to take that on faith? Why? How do we know?” – Mike
“Because I say so.” – Walt
Walt is also embracing life as a badass. Although Saul has qualms about working with Mike, Walt is becoming somewhat fearless.
“Saul, Mike threatened me. He threatened Jesse. He probably threatened someone before breakfast this morning. It’s what he does. Come on grow a pair.” – Walt
Lord Heisenberg then told Saul that Mike “handles the business, and I handle him.” Walt has definitely come a long way in a short time. We’ve witnessed five seasons, but it’s been less than two years. He’s gone from timid high-school chemistry teacher to threatening kingpin, with almost no regrets anymore. In prior seasons, we’d always see some hint of humanity in Walt. We had some sympathy towards him. That’s all gone now. To put it bluntly, he’s becoming more of an asshole.
By contrast, Jesse is really showing off his intelligence. After Mike and Gus got Jesse clean and helped him to believe in himself, Jesse is almost a completely new man. Brock nearly dying also had something to do with his life change. He’s not running around yelling “bitches” as much or eating funyuns. He’s the poster boy for drug rehabilitation.
We saw Jesse’s intelligence last season when he was able to recreate Walt’s cook in Mexico. Now, we’re seeing more of it. As Saul, Mike, Walt and Jesse went through new locations for their meth operation, Jesse made smart recommendations regarding the pluses and minuses of each location.
However, none of it really mattered in the end thanks to Lord Heisenberg. Walt suggested that they turn their meth lab mobile, utilizing Vamonos Pests’ business as a front.
“Do we take a vote?” – Mike
“Why?” – Walt
Once again, Walt does his minimalist answer routine. He’s asserting control that Mike doesn’t want to give in to. By the way, how funny is the name of the pest control business and ethnic makeup of the employees?
The first cook of the new guard was almost a love story. Jesse and Walt cooked to “On a Clear Day.”
But all love stories must come to an end. When Mike breaks down all the new “fees” associated with the operation, including muling fees and “legacy costs,” it prompts more tension between Walt and Mike. Walt was hoping to make back his losses from one cook. However, it appears he will have to repeat the process ten times just to make one million.
Jesse, surprisingly, was willing to give up his entire share to ease the tension between Walt and Mike. It’s clear that Jesse doesn’t even care about the money any more. Walt and Mike are the only family he has now, especially now that he’s broken up with his girlfriend. And, he just wants to be part of the group – out of loyalty and respect for the people who helped him to stop using drugs.
Once again we got another great Breaking Bad close in “Hazard Pay.”
Walt states that he has been thinking about Victor – aka the guy who got his throat slashed by Gus in one of the greatest moments in TV history.
“All this time I was sure Gus did what did what he did to send me a message… Victor trying to cook that batch on his own. Taking liberties that weren’t his to take. Maybe he flew too close to the sun. Got his throat cut.”
As much as Jesse may respect Walt, the episode closed on Jesse. Walt’s protégé, if you will, is starting to see how evil Walt is now. It makes me think that these two will have to come to blows, if only to partner up once again to stop Hank.
Breaking Bad 5.3 Memorable Moments and Discussion Points:
- Saul’s bodyguard sleeping while standing up, while preventing Mike from coming into Saul’s chambers without permission.
- Walt watching Scarface with his children, and loving it.
- What will happen to Todd from Vamonos Pests? He disabled the nanny cam and spoke to Walt and Jesse, even though Mike said these two are “ghosts.” It seems like the setup for some drama down the road.
- Joe and his guys from the garbage dump are now involved in the meth business on an ongoing basis.
- It’s ironic – or rather hypocritical – that Walt can move back home and have a happy family life, but he uses reverse psychology to coax Jesse into breaking up with his girlfriend.
- I like that Brock makes Walt uncomfortable. It’s the only time we see some humanity in the new Walt, even if it is fear. Or, perhaps, was there regret in those eyes?
- How great was Skyler’s “Shut Up” breakdown? More importantly, how jacked up was it to see Walt blame Skyler’s fling with Ted for the breakdown. He didn’t even try to comfort Skyler; instead he just went to the kitchen and ate an apple. He truly has become one of the most duplicitous characters on TV. It’s been a brilliant, if somewhat unnerving transformation.