Breaking Bad season 5 episode 3 review: Hazard Pay

Review Paul Martinovic 31 Jul 2012 - 08:03

Hazard Pay continues what's already looking like another stellar season from Breaking Bad. Read Paul's review here...

This review contains spoilers.

5.3 Hazard Pay

I was reading a ‘Best of 2012’ round-up over at a rival pop culture website earlier this week (you’re fired – Ed.) and one of the commenters said that the first two episodes of Breaking Bad were good enough to merit the series as a whole a mention. A commenter who disagreed vehemently (I know, I was as surprised as you) said it was silly to include the series as this early stage as “the central villain of the series hasn’t even been revealed yet”; to which another, waggish commenter replied: “The central villain is Walt. Duh”.

Splendid snarky work from comment man/woman there, and while I suspect he was being a tiny bit facetious, he’s right – Walt is, probably for the first time in the series, unquestionably the out-and-out villain of the story. We got a little taste of what this last series, when the icy veneer of Gus was defrosted and humanized by his backstory just as Walt was metaphorically killing younglings – but this is the real deal now. No-one is scarier than Walt.

So who is to be Walt’s main antagonist in this half-series of Breaking Bad? On the basis of the first two episodes and Hazard Pay, it’s beginning to look a lot like Mike.

Mike’s an interesting foil for Walt, because while he’s exceptionally street-smart, he’s not really an intellectual match for Heisenberg – at heart, he’s not really an ideas man. He lacks the taste for the theatrical that leads Walt to pull a roach-killing-cum-meth-cooking-travelling roadshow out of his pork-pie Heisenberg hat after some more conventional avenues were exhausted.

Or were they? Walt did seemed to be nit-picking with some of the issues he had with Saul’s potential cooking venues, and Saul’s frustration at him (“You can’t head to CostCo and pick up a couple of de-humidifiers?”) seemed well justified – although there was a nice moment where his sheepish attempts to sell the Lazer Bowl venue to Walt and Jesse, where the fateful plan to dispatch Gale was feverishly hatched by the three of them, was unceremoniously shot down.

In the end, Walt’s plan worked out just fine, as they have had a habit of doing recently, and also resulted in a gorgeously directed cooking sequence so woozily seductive that it almost makes the meth business attractive enough to make the the bike-lock stranglings and box-cutter throat slicings all worth it. Despite that, all the smoke and mirrors still seemed a little unnecessary, when the other venues remain probably a little less risky overall.

Perhaps the truth is they just weren’t sexy enough for this current iteration of Walt/Heisenberg; a complex, cheeky magic trick on the other hand, that can simultaneously makes him feel clever while giving a fuck-you to both the cops and Gus (who didn’t think of it first), is a no-brainer. Turns out Walt’s still trying to outsmart the chicken man, even after the crude cosmetic surgery he administered via C4 a few weeks ago. Everything he does now has to be even more fiendish, more brilliant than Gus managed – apparently, just killing the guy isn’t enough for Walt.

And it isn’t enough for Mike either, who isn’t afraid to unload some uncomfortable truths to Walt at the most inopportune time – while a huge pile of cash is on the table.

After revealing the administration costs of the new business, Mike drops the bombshell that’s been lingering since a typically tense and funny opening scene – his ‘guys’, 11 incarcerated men who have had their ‘hazard pay’ suspended by the DEA, are going to have to be cut in on their earnings from now on to stop them from breaking.

Despite previously promising him he can handle the business side of things (while simultaneously telling Saul otherwise), Walt immediately objects, going so far as to slam his hand down on his share before Mike can grab it. It’s only when Poor Jesse selflessly offers up some of his that Walt relents, but not before Mike gets in a final body blow: “Just because you killed Jesse James, doesn’t make you Jesse James.”

Ouch. It’s the words that Mike pointedly doesn’t say – “The coward Robert Ford…” – that ring loudest here, and it’s likely what leads to Walt’s chilling final scene with Jesse, where he heavily intimates that Mike is stepping, potentially fatally, out of line. He just questioned Walt’s balls. Never question Walt’s balls.

And this is why Mike is an interesting rival for Walt – it’s a battle of two alpha males, both committing to opposing, competing disciplines of masculinity.  To Mike, being a tough guy is done according to the old school: sticking to a code, being professional, having your word and your balls and breaking them for nobody (I know these recaps are increasingly balls-heavy, but so is the show dammit so bear with me). We saw this in evidence in the opening scene, where Mike’s word in and of itself was enough to stop a potential squealer from squealing.

By contrast, what’s Walt’s word worth exactly? Just ask Jesse. To Walt, what it means to be a tough guy is simple – beat the guy in front of you, by whatever means necessary. It’s this win-at-all costs mentality that blinds him to the reality of his current situation, which is that if he doesn’t pay up, he’ll suddenly have eleven loose ends on his hands. But at this point you suspect he’d be happy to tidy up that particular problem via the route suggested by Lydia in last week’s episode. Eleven drug murders? You’d think that’d seem more reasonable to Walt at this point than being made to look weak in a brief moment.

Let’s not forget that the entire premise of Breaking Bad is essentially a revenge of the nerd on an epic scale; a put-upon schmoe labelled as a test-tube loving dweeb his whole life uses his potential death sentence to become the ultimate in tough guys: a gangster kingpin. It’s all about proving how much of a badass he is: this means more to him than money, more than family, anything. It’s his revenge on the world that mistreated him for 50 years. It’s about proving that Walter White is a man to be reckoned with.

As a quick aside, it’s interesting how Breaking Bad has, along with the other big ‘quality’ TV shows of the past decade – Mad Men, The Sopranos, The Wire, even Lost at a push – male protagonists who on the surface are hardcore alpha males, but beneath the veneer are big tortured mushes of insecurities, flaws and daddy issues. Before shows like these came along and changed the television game, Mike would probably have been the main character in Breaking Bad, not Walt, and as great as he is the show as a whole would have beeen far less interesting. Vince Gilligan, David Chase, Matthew Weiner etc all realized that tough guys have far less interesting dramatic potential that guys who are pretending to be tough.

So if Mike is forcibly removed, who is Walt going to get to replace him? At the moment, the options aren’t looking much better than the hapless duo of Badger and Skinny Pete – who, as it turns out, is a remarkably talented pianist, in one of the best non-sequiturs the show has done since Walt threw the pizza on the roof.

That said, the arrival of half-pest-controller, half-burglar Todd, who handily points out and disables a nanny-cam set up in the would-be meth lab, seems to interest the talent-spotter in Walt, who unironically gives him the whole ‘What’s-your-name-kid’ routine. Todd certainly interests me, as he is played by Jesse Plemons, a fantastic actor who should be familiar to all Friday Night Lights fans as that guy…what’s his name? Lance?

Elsewhere, Skylar is finally melting down, telling Marie to shut up about whatever she was taking about while she attempts to arrange salad leaves into a smiley face and forget about the sociopathic murderer who has just forcibly moved himself back into her bedroom, then adding a few hundred ‘shut-ups’ more for good measure.

She then has to watch a perverse kind-of grooming session where Walt quarterbacks the movie Scarface with Walt Jr. After mentioning the film so many times in these reviews it’s a little shocking to see it appear in the show itself, but it was a nice bit of dark, dark comedy all the same.

Hazard Pay was maybe my favourite Breaking Bad so far of this new batch because the molasses-black humour that has become a trademark was at its strongest and most subtle: Walt’s get-out-of-jail manoeuvre to Marie, where he blames Skylar’s erratic behaviour on her own infidelity was so perversely twisted that it couldn’t help but elicit chuckles and a shake of the head from me; ditto his attempts to appear kind and empathetic to Jesse while secretly manipulating him into dumping his girlfriend, before brutally cutting him off when he tried to discuss it with him after Mike’s scathing put-down.

It seems the more reprehensible and outrageous Walt’s behaviour gets, the funnier it gets. I can’t help but keep going back to the scene in the crawl space at the end of (erm) Crawl Space, where we saw the anguished screams of Walt, at his lowest ebb, turning imperceptibly into huge, cackling guffaws. Thinking back, Walt hasn’t been the same since that moment - perhaps that’s when the absurdity of his situation finally dawned on him. He’s a meth lord, for God’s sake. His life’s a joke, and with his crazy schemes and ironic revenges, he’s beginning to treat it as such. However, for Walt, one thing is for certain: it’ll only stay funny if he gets the last laugh.

Read Paul's review of last week's episode, Madrigal, here.

Follow Paul Martinovic on Twitter, or for more babble, check out his blog here

Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.

Disqus - noscript

Great review- i got the impression that the "too close to the sun" speech was aimed at Jesse, rather than Mike- I get the feeling that Jesse will end up being Walt's downfall, maybe even outsmarting him. Irony, huh?

I am loving the reviews of this season so puts into better words everything in my head! Thank you Paul, keep it up!

Yup, I'll echo these sentiments. Paul's BB reviews are exceptional and I look forward to reading them every week. The show is simply my favourite thing on TV ever and I'm starting to get annoyed it'll all be over soon!

Hands down the creepiest scene was when Walt was sitting on the couch with Brock. That eerie look that he gave him was chilling.

New topic- is there ANY way at this point for Walt's character to be redeemed? Is it inevitable that he will go out in a hail of gunfire?

Shaping up to be a brilliant series. Already nudging Mad Men out of my memory for 2012, which (surprisingly) pushes GoT further down the pecking order of must-watch TV. Now, where's Newsroom to challenge it...

Yup, agreed, the "Walt meets Brock" scene was heavy. Even then, Walt was calculating how to get Brock and Andrea out of the picture while making Jesse think it was his idea. Walt's beyond shrewd; he's always thinking ahead, always planning the next step. Great episode!

I believe the ep is called "Hazard Pay", not Hazard Play. It's a well known term in regard to compensation for work in hazardous environments.

nice review, thanks.

Does anyone else think that Walt's speech at the end was in reference to Jesse and not Mike. Through out the episode Jesse has been asserting himself more and more as the idea man, coming up with a design for the mobile lab and the tent to block the smell, plus he is becoming more assertive in the Mike/Walt conflict. Not to mention that a couple of episodes ago Jesse comes up with the magnet plan, and last season Jesse almost chose Mike over Walt.

I interpreted the speech by Walt as a warning to Jesse to stop coming with plans on his own and get back in Walt's shadow.

I had assumed it was a just a cold, not-too-cryptic warning to Jesse too. The final scene looked to me like Jesse understood the same very well.

Just the two of us then?

nice review!

Love reading these reviews, you write so well!

I thought the speech from Walt at the end was broad based and could have been aimed at Mike & Jessie. I agree with the comments earlier, Jessie definitely seems to have been given a new lease of life and could well be being groomed to be the new king pin once Walt goes completely Ahab ;-P

Nope, Walt is headed for a sticky end and there's no turning back...

Nice review Paul! Some very interesting points. I love Breaking Bad. It's the best thing I've ever seen or done with my time ha. Writers and cast are amazing. It's so well written; the way you could interpret each scene and try to predict what'll happen is insane. Shame we'll have to wait another year for the second half, but at least it'll carry on for longer!

Also, a point I've thought about which was echoed in the BB Series 5 trailer when Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul were chatting in the back of a van; anyone seen Reservoir Dogs? Does anyone remember what happens to Mr. Pink and Mr. White? Their fate could well match the fate of the BB characters, but saying that...I believe the original plan was to kill Jesse off at the end of the first series until we all loved him so much after the pilot!

ok, last season & no one is getting out alive! the first three to die on this order are:
Saul Goodman
Skyler White
Mike Ehrmantraut
remember winners don't user drugs!

That homey's dead, he just don't know it yet.

that was an excellent review! great summary and really digged your insight on everything

You're totally right! The message was 'Mike needs to watch himself...and by extension, so do you. Don't forget who's in charge here.' Great moment. One hell of a smacker for Jesse after all that praise and bonhomie earlier in the episode.

It's all getting a bit Macbeth-y. You start of liking him and then by the end you're rooting for Macduff to do him in because he's turned in to such a class-A bastard (one who's not averse to harming children to get what he wants). And then there's his best mate, Banquo....

Yeah, bitch, Shakespeare!

Brilliant, I love the show just a little bit more after reading that!

Great review.

Agreed, this was brilliantly written. What I love about great reviews like this is that they make me realize plot elements that I hadn't even picked up on, thus giving a certain scene or sequence of events an even deeper meaning.

I think that toward Jesse, it is indeed a threat, but an empty threat. Think about when Gale was working for Walt and he couldn't stand not having Jesse there to boss around and take orders. Walt wants Jesse to stay in his place, but I don't think he'd ever want him dead. Now Mike on the other hand...

I just can't see any reason for Jesse being killed. morally he is far superior to Walt and he deserves to get out of this mess with his life and some dignity. granted hes done some bad stuff- e.g killing gale but he did that under complete duress. poor guy if it wasn't for Walt dragging him into this he'd still be good old Cap'n Cook and doing bored housewives

thanks for another great review. I really enjoyed this ep- the cooking scene brought back some great memories. as did Badger and Skinny Pete-they always make me laugh.

Walt is clearly starting to feel threatened by Jesse's independence and not only manipulated him into breaking off with his women but then threatens him at the not a great move. skyler's just about ready to murder Walt herself-it's not looking good for him!

My favourite line of the episode: When Walt says of Mike: He threatened me, he threatened Jesse, He probably threatened someone before breakfast this morning. awesome.

the entire premise of Breaking Bad is essentially a revenge of the nerd on an epic scale; a put-upon schmoe labelled as a test-tube loving dweeb his whole life uses his potential death sentence to become the ultimate in tough guys: a gangster kingpin."

Yes, exactly. I haven't heard this said quite so clearly anywhere else but for me this is precisely what the show's about. Walt's behaviour, his self-justification, as the show develops is only possible because of the years of resentment and powerlessness that preceded it.

The fact that many of the audience can probably empathise with this from their own experience and have had similar fantasies handed to them by pop culture for years only makes the point stronger.

Sponsored Links