By Alec Lindner
It’s so nice to be back to business as usual. After a great Mike-centric episode last week, “Hazard Pay” put Walt back in the spotlight to great effect. Walt’s new organization meets for the first time in Saul’s office to find a new lab site. Walt, Mike, and Jesse shoot down every potential lab Saul shows them (including the laser tag place Saul desperately wants to get involved in Walt’s operation somehow) until they come to the last place: Vamanos Pest, an exterminators’ warehouse, a long shot Saul includes only out of a sense of completionism. Jesse and Mike shoot it down: it’s tiny and near a police station. Walt however, sees more than just the physical location. He reasons that they don’t need a permanent lab, just a steady supply of cook sites, so they’ll set up labs in houses before they’re fumigated. Walt may be overly ambitious and arrogant, but he is very smart. After Skinny Pete and Badger buy some large roadie cases, Walt and Jesse are ready to move in and cook. It’s the first cook we’ve seen in a while, so it’s treated with one of Breaking Bad‘s famous montages, a really cool one with lots of scientific-looking CGI animations. Afterwards, we get to see more of Walt the manipulator. Walt realizes that Andrea and Brock are competitors for Jesse’s loyalty and trust, so he brings up the issue of Jesse telling the truth to Andrea about his work. Walt advises Jesse that keeping secrets among family members can damage relationships, as he knows well, and that, if Andrea cares for him, she’ll understand. What Jesse infers from this talk, and what Walt is really implying, however, is that his secret life will seep out eventually and that after all he’s done–including murdering an innocent man–she’ll never really be able to accept him.
This was a fantastic episode for Skyler as well. At the beginning of the episode, Walt moves back into the house. Just a few months ago, Skyler forced Walt to move out. Now, as he nonchalantly begins to move his things into their bedroom, the best she can muster is to weakly ask “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Skyler is trapped by Walt, and now that she knows her husband is capable of blowing up a nursing home, she is terrified. It’s no surprise, then, that when Marie presses her about planning a fifty-first birthday party for Walt she completely breaks down, first trying to light a cigarette, then repeatedly screaming “SHUT UP” until she falls to the ground. Marie, understandably nonplussed, asks Walt what has happened, and Walt–while not directly stating that Skyler has had an affair–sadly reminds Marie of Ted Beneke and informs her of his accident. Walt has been psychologically torturing his wife, and when pressed about the evidence, not only saves himself, but makes his wife look horrible in the process. Skyler’s gambling addiction story may have been impressive, but it’s clear that Walt is the real master liar in the family. That night, Skyler wakes up to the sound of gunfire: her husband, son, and infant daughter are happily watching Scarface. Walter Jr. offers his mother popcorn while Walt remarks, ominously to Skyler, “everyone dies in this movie, don’t they?”
One person Walt cannot bully or intimidate, however, is Mike. In the cold open, Mike disguises himself as a paralegal and goes to jail to assure Dennis, the manager of the laundromat to whom Gomey talked last season, that the incident with Chow was a fluke and that he will be released and paid as long as he stays silent. In the meeting at Saul’s office, Mike makes sure Walt understands that Mike alone handles the business end of things. Walt agrees, which surprises Saul. When Saul asks him about it afterward, Walt simply replies “He handles the business, and I handle him.” Walt’s vision of himself as puppetmaster is put to the test, however, when payday arrives. For a fifty pound batch, Walt, Mike, and Jesse earn $367,000 each. Before he can take his money home, however, Walt has to watch Mike shave away at their piles: a cut for Goodman, a cut for the exterminators, a cut to pay Fring’s men. When he reaches this last cut, Walt protests since the men are not providing any services to them. When Mike insists the payments are necessary, Walt demands the money all come from Mike’s cut, and Jesse, always the mediator, has to defuse the situation by offering his own money. Walt puts his money in, and is left with $137,000. “Less than with Fring,” he grumbles. Does it really matter how many hundreds of thousands of dollars he’s earned for a few hours work? Of course not. He has more money than he could possibly begin to spend, much less launder. He’s Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, the billionaire quibbling over a fifty dollar bill. His pride, not his finances, are truly hurt. Walt asks Jesse how he feels, and Jesse sadly responds that he ended his relationship with Andrea. Walt doesn’t even put up a facade of concern about this, however. His manipulations over Andrea are over, he’s already thinking about his next move. Now that he fancies himself to be the new Gus Fring, Walt is starting to more carefully consider and evaluate the man he previously only let himself think of as the enemy. He remarks to Jesse that, while he had thought Gus’s murder of Victor was a message to him. Now, however, he’s thinking it was because Victor didn’t know his place, cooking without Gus’s permission. Is Mike the reason Walt is buying an assault rifle in this season’s opening flash-forward? Possibly. But, as Mike tells Walt, just because you killed Jesse James don’t make you Jesse James. It makes you the coward Robert Crawford Ford.
Odds and Sods
I love how Walt and Jesse have built up their own little network of associates through their misadventures. They have Joe from the junkyard making parts for their new lab and, of course, Badger and Skinny Pete buying the roadie equipment. The pair ask Jesse if they can be a bigger part of the business, but a stern look from Mike means they’ll be staying on the sidelines, unfortunately.
What was with that scene with Todd warning Jesse and Walt about the nanny cam? At first, I thought it was going to be about Walt’s megalomania, that he would fire Todd for speaking to him without being spoken to as Mike instructed. I guess it was meant to show that he could be useful in the future.