Thursday, 2 August 2012

BREAKING BAD, 5.3 – "Hazard Pay"

Thursday, 2 August 2012

I love how this season's giving us a good insight into the ins and outs of running a top-level drug empire, and what's necessary when the serpent's head is lopped off. Mike (Jonathan Banks) is calmly trying to ensure the remaining elements of Gus's business don't breathe a word to the cops, but it's difficult now the feds have taken their hazard pay—which is another good reason for Mike to start working with Walt (Bryan Cranston) on another drug racket, to pay for people's silence. Frustratingly, Walt would prefer to wash his hands of anyone and anything connected to his predecessor, which shows a curious lack of intelligence and forward-thinking on his part. Is this an early sign that Walt's hubris will be his undoing? At the moment he's happy to let Mike believe he's in control of the business end, so long as Saul (Bob Odenkirk) knows he's in charge of Mike, but is that just wishful thinking?

In many ways another episode tying up some loose-ends from last season, but there was significant progress for Walt and Jesse (Aaron Paul) and their aspirations to keep cooking meth. I was particularly delighted by the replacement for the RV and the Superlab, with Walt deciding to hook-up with a crooked pest control firm ("Vamanos Pest") who burglarize homes. A tented home full of dangerous fumes to kill insects isn't going to attract unwanted attention, so Walt and Jesse can cook in peace for the duration of a fumigation before leaving unnoticed. It may be more hassle to be constantly on the move, building and dismantling equipment, but it'll be far harder for the cops to find a moving target. But I remain uneasy about Mike's involvement, seeing as the cops clearly believe he was a high-ranking member of Gus's empire. Surely if the DEA follow Mike around for a week, it'll soon become clear what's going on. Mike's a weak link that the show hasn't managed to justify yet.

Away from the excitement of Walt and Jesse getting back in business, there were a few notable changes for the women in their lives. Firstly, Walt manipulated Jesse into leaving his girlfriend Andrea (Emily Rios), after planting the seed of doubt that she can ever be trusted knowing what he does for a living. This is the second good relationship Jesse's had that has been brought to an end thanks to Walt (the other being that astonishing moment when he let Jane choke on her own vomit), and it seems to have only come about because Walt was uncomfortable around Andrea's son Brock (the boy he poisoned last season to pin the blame on Gus).

Secondly, and most memorably, Skyler (Anna Gunn) had a total breakdown at the car wash on front of Marie (Betsy Brandt), screaming repeatedly for her to shut up. Skyler's reached breaking point, now she realises just how dangerous her husband is, and as a result feels helpless to oppose him moving back home to play happy families with Walt Jr (RJ Mitte). For now, the danger of Marie being suspicious about Skyler's mental state has been blamed on what happened to Ted Beneke, with Walt having to reveal his wife's infidelity to his sister-in-law, but is that enough to keep things contained?

With the cops sniffing around Mike and Marie looking out for her sister, you get the feeling that Walt's going to have to deal with these weak spots to protect himself. I still have a suspicion that once Walt's learned everything he needs to learn from Mike, he'll be looking to eliminate him—which is pretty much the inference Jesse got from Walt's parting words about that grisly moment Gus slit Victor's throat in front of them. "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 and got his throat cut." The look on Jesse's face said it all. Walt is now trying to rationalise a monstrous act of Gus Fring, as if he's trying to learn the lessons of his forerunner. As Mike told Walt earlier, "just because you shot Jesse James, don't make you Jesse James". That's a true and undeniable fact, positioning Walt as "the coward Robert Ford" in that particular scenario from history, but it looks like Walt's keen to learn from the past and become the Jesse James figure.

Season 5 isn't quite rocking yet, but the slow-build has been engrossing to watch and I've enjoyed the minutiae of Mike's activities to keep himself and his co-workers safe from reprisal, while grudgingly getting into business with Walt because he needs money to grease the wheels of this process. Will someone flip on Mike and blab to the cops? Is Skyler going to confess everything to Marie, putting her in a very awkward situation with husband Hank? Is Walt a fool to keep Mike alive once he's tied up the loose ends regarding Gus's operation?

Another really good episode with plenty of forward momentum, strong writing, and some excellent character moments. This season has a different feel to it, as Walt's situation isn't as tense or hopeless looking without Gus around to tighten the skrews, but I expect that to change very soon...


  • It was great to see Jesse's friends Skinny Pete (Charles Baker) and Badger (Matt Jones) again, but it was very clear from their interactions that Jesse's left them way behind. He's big time now, so we'll perhaps be seeing less of those street-level punks, unless they stick around to do more donkey work like buying roadie cases to transport a meth lab. I also liked the unexpected moment when Skinny Pete played the piano to Grade 8 standard; a rather sad sign of how his talent's been squandered thanks to, I assume, a poor upbringing and mixing with the wrong crowd.
  • The scene where Skyler caught Walt and Walt Jr watching Scarface was perhaps a little too on-the-nose, if you're aware that it's always been showrunner Vince Gilligan's intention to have Walt become a Scarface-type by the end of the series. I just had to wonder if the violent scene of Scarface's "final stand" in the movie is foreshadowing something with Walt, given our knowledge that he'll be procuring a machine gun in the near-future...
written by Peter Gould / directed by Adam Bernstein / 29 July 2012 / AMC