Breaking Bad Recap ‘Hazard Pay’
“Just ‘cause you shot Jesse James don’t make you Jesse James.”
On a recent episode of The Best Show on WFMU, radio host and comedian Tom Scharpling detailed his recent marathon viewing of all four seasons of Breaking Bad to be ready for the season premiere. Scharpling enjoyed the show, but was struck by a silly vibe in the scenes between Walt and Jesse in the lab, and said that if you put wacky music and sound effects behind those moments it would play like an episode of The Three Stooges. Well, sure enough, in ‘Hazard Pay’ we find Walt and Jesse, fresh from their latest cook, sharing a beer and having their first real man-to-man talk of the series–while watching a Stooges short.
It’s an appropriate metaphor, now that Mike has joined the operation in an official capacity, demanding to handle business his way (When Jesse asks Walt if he’s okay with that, Walt calmly responds “He handles the business, and I handle him.”). So now we have two Shemps (Mike and Walt) fighting to be the Moe, hapless Larry (Jesse) trying to keep the peace, and Curly cluelessly spinning in circles on the floor. Saul? Or maybe poor, crazy Skyler.
We first see Skyler approaching Walt with muted terror as he gleefully moves his stuff back into the master bedroom, and then later at the car wash, joylessly eating her salad with a thousand-yard-stare as Marie yammers on about the improper window washing habits of the “more ethnic” of the workers. Skyler does what any rational person would do when trapped in the same room with Marie, which is to repeatedly yell at her to “shut up”. Except she keeps saying it. And saying it. And saying it. Caught in a loop, Skyler doesn’t know how to articulate the fear she feels, just that she needs to find a way to make it all go away. But she can’t, and it just keeps getting closer to her and her family. This evil doesn’t even need to be invited into your home–it will invite itself. Later, as Marie demands to know the truth from Walt he explains that Skyler’s been very distraught ever since Ted took a header into his furniture. Oh, didn’t you know about their affair? Walt makes Skyler into the bad guy, absolves himself of any guilt, and decides to treat himself to an apple rather than comfort her.
Elsewhere, this episode becomes a Friday Night Lights mini-reunion, as members of the East Dillon High class of 2011 pop up all over the ABQ (this is all your fault for leaving, Tami). Landry Clarke, who people in the real world insist on calling Jesse Plemmons and Breaking Bad has decided to call Todd, pops up as a member of a crooked fumigation crew that becomes Walt and Jesse’s new mobile lab. It’s an ingenious set-up, but the base of operations is so close to a police station that Mike warns it would be Custer’s last stand if they were ever tipped off (one of many heavy bits of foreshadowing in dialogue tonight).
And, of course, Friday Night Lights alum Epyck (Emily Rios) has been hanging around for awhile as Jesse’s girlfriend Andrea. Tonight she gets the rare honor of preparing a dinner for the S.O.B. that poisoned her son, and gets dumped by Jesse, after Walt tells him that eventually he’ll have to tell her everything or risk hurting the relationship (“Everything…like…Gale?” Jesse responds). Whether Walt means well or not (this may have been genuine advice to Jesse, it’s so hard to tell with Walt’s constant manipulation of the kid), the mere mention of Andrea and Brock takes away Jesse’s ability to compartmentalize his life of crime with his domestic bliss. Again Walt has seen a potential threat and neutralized it.
But for all of Walt’s caginess he still doesn’t see the darkness gathering around him the way that others do. When Skyler emerges from the bedroom after her breakdown she finds Walt and Walt, Jr. bonding over the ultra-violent end of a drug kingpin in Scarface (a movie about a man who rises from nothing, goes too far, and pays the ultimate price–Walt, ever the scientist, just doesn’t appreciate subtext). “Everyone dies in this movie” Walt chuckles as Skyler envisions a terrible, bloody future.
Skyler’s not alone in seeing the angles that Walt ignores, through his own hubris. Mike knows exactly how close the feds are to stumbling upon this rickety little empire, and is desperate to keep all the players in line, posing as a paralegal to get facetime with the 9 members of Madrigal’s list to ensure them that the check is in the mail, so please don’t squeal. Even Mike has to know that this is a losing gambit, but it’s the only one that they have. Walt bristles at the payment, seeing it as a dead vestige of Fring’s business, rather than insurance for his own start-up. In his final speech to Jesse he coldly re-appraises Fring’s murder of Victor, clearly referencing Mike, saying that he took “liberties that weren’t his to take” and “flew close to the sun, got his throat cut”.
Walt may just be dumb enough to kill Mike (though how he’d manage it I can’t…oh, wait. Ricin cigarette, anyone?), but not smart enough to know how to ward off the hell unleashed when one of Mike’s guys flips. He may fancy himself a Scarface, but he’s really just a Stooge.
Season Five, Episode Three
‘Hazard Pay’: A