Breaking Bad: Season 5, Episode 3
Hazard Pay
This season is wasting no time completing Walt's transformation into full-on antagonist. This week has him terrifying Skyler into letting him back into the house with a curt "Yes," and a smartly picked movie night involving Scarface and Walt's comment that, "Everyone dies in this movie, don't they?" He also manipulates Jesse into breaking up with Andrea, just on the off chance that he might eventually tell her something that could hurt Walt. He also pretends to grant Mike some leeway in their "partnership," only to very quickly plant in Jesse's mind the idea that Gus might have killed Victor for "flying too close to the sun," letting him know that Walt wouldn't be above doing the same to Mike.

Walter White, master manipulator is all well and good, but Walter White Criminal mastermind is in rare form this week, hatching the perfect scheme for where to cook. His idea, using fumugated houses to cook right before they are bombed, is the sort of thing it wouldn't surprise me to read about actually occurring, and it feels like the stroke of genius that might some day put Walt on par with Gus' empire. That day is not today, as Mike's various deductions point out, and Walt is left with only $137,000 after the first cook.

Mike is continuing to get his chance to shine this season, keeping his "guys" from flipping after finding out their hazard pay has been RICO'd. He is setting up the new business with Walter. He vets the fumugation guys, sets up the mules and the dealers, and gets everything rolling on the new Walter White drug empire. Because make no mistake, as Walt makes clear to Saul: there may be a "partnership" between Walt, Mike, and Jesse, but in Walt's mind, there is no question who is in charge. Walt's arrogance has always been his tragic flaw, but at this point its frankly surprising how much he refuses to see. He beat Gus, and he thinks that entitles him to be Gus, but as Mike makes clear in the greatest line of the night, "Just because you shot Jesse James, don't make you Jesse James." As per usual, Mike is dispensing smart, helpful advice, and as per usual, Walt doesn't even seem to hear him. Walt believes he is entitled to millions without having to pay mules or former Fring associates, and this blind, furious ambition will surely lead to his downfall.

Speaking of downfall, for the first time in the show we get an idea of how long it has been since the pilot: Walt is about to turn 51, meaning his cancer diagnosis is a year in the past, and the flash forward that opened this season is still a year in the future. This means that the show will either start picking up the pace, passage of time-wise, or we can expect a time jump at some point to get us to our Mr. White's 52nd birthday.

"Hazard Pay" felt shorter and less eventful than a standard episode of Breaking Bad. Perhaps its a certain sleekness to these early proceedings, as everything seems to be clicking into place before it inevitably falls apart. Walt has Skyler having breakdowns, but not only does he not seem to care, he has an easy lie prepared, letting Skyler's affair with Ted leak to Marie to put her off his trail. Walt's facility with manipulation at this point is impressive to watch, and his feigning concern for Jesse is masterfully played, even as his anger gets the better of him at the episode's end and he makes it clear he is less concerned about Jesse's break-up and more about his lighter-than-expected take. Nearing the half-way point of the show's abbreviated run this year, we are still in table-setting territory. While "Hazard Pay" won't make any lists of my favorite episodes of this show, it does do a lot of heavy-lifting, story-wise, leaving us with a working knowledge of this new criminal enterprise, and an idea of where things will inevitably be headed in the next few episodes. "Hazard Pay" didn't blow me away, but it sets things up for the rest of this season to be a roller-coaster in the way Breaking Bad often is at its best. I, for one, can't wait for what has been set in motion.

Grade: B


-Skinny Pete and Badger are always welcome. "Stackin' the Benjies 'til the rubber band pops!" should become my new catchphrase.

-"He handles the business. And I handle him."

-Best shot of the night is the one of the bug crawling around right outside the cook site. Where before Walter's endless quest for control lead him to desperately track down a single fly, now his arrogance and rush to grab power has him ignoring the contaminants on all sides of his cook site.

-Walt's meeting with Brock is nicely done, indicating how little regard Walt has for the boy he nearly killed, and how little fear he has of being around people whose lives he has nearly ruined. Our man has fallen far, but he has a ways to go yet.
Tags: Breaking Bad
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