"Breaking Bad" -- "Hazard Pay": You Gotta Show Some Flex
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"Breaking Bad" — "Hazard Pay": You Gotta Show Some Flex

By Daniel Carlson | TV Reviews | July 30, 2012 | Comments ()


"Just because you shot Jesse James," Mike tells Walt, "doesn't make you Jesse James." He's right in so many ways: Killing Gus may have temporarily gotten Walt out of trouble, but it didn't solve all his problems, nor did it simply put him on the throne with Gus's dynasty intact. "Hazard Pay" was all about the cost of doing business, especially those nagging hidden costs that you always forget about. But it was also, more importantly, the latest in the escalating series of pissing matches between Walt and Mike for emotional and logistical control of their cartel.

I'm not going long on this episode, either, because while it was a strong, expertly paced hour of TV, it was also one of those hours that makes big-picture analysis futile. This is, after all, just one chapter in the story, and though it had plenty of strong thematic moments, it worked more as connective tissue than anything else. That doesn't make the episode a failure, either, despite the YouTube-level comments from some corners of the Internet about episodes like this where "nothing happens." Rather, all we can do is watch more of the pieces take their places on the board.

When Mike announced at the beginning of the episode that he'd be running the business side of things, Walt shrugged and said, "Sure." But Walt doesn't compromise, and he sure doesn't let himself get pushed around anymore. So he decided to raise his complaints when Mike was splitting up the cash from their first cook and showing Walt how much of their profit was being siphoned away by infrastructure. The presentation and execution of the scene were a little stagey -- it would've been a lot easier and more understandable for Mike to simply hand Walt a small pile and walk him through the numbers, or really to address them a lot sooner -- but it was also one of those moments where the fiction was amped up to serve a larger goal. In this case, it was watching Mike and Walt go another few rounds over money, choices, and power. Jesse's intervention stopped things from getting out of hand, but it didn't mollify Walt at all. In fact, Walt looked pissed that Jesse wrecked his flow. He's not at all done with Mike, either. Walt's reference to Victor -- who met his end at the business end of a box cutter -- felt like one more way Walt is preparing to rationalize greater evils on a bigger scale. His supposition that Victor was killed for "taking liberties" he shouldn't have taken sounds like the lie he's telling himself about why Mike might need to be dealt with, sooner or later.

It's that business that makes the show so hypnotic, so real. Walt is basically relearning all of Stringer Bell's old lessons from the corners and community college, putting together a commercial empire one step at a time. Walt and Jesse have to start cooking again, but it takes work and planning to find a location, and even then they can only mix a quarter of what they could with Gus. (The decision to use houses under bug-bomb tents is inspired, and a nice mix of the mobile kitchen they had in the RV and the technically superior set-up they had at the laundry.) This is a real grind, and it's different than what you see in the movies. For all its on-the-nose hinting at how badly this could all end for Walt, the scene where he and Walter Jr. watch Scarface shows just how radically different his operation is from the heightened version of a Hollywood kingpin. The scene works on another level, too. "Breaking Bad" is, after all, not real. The moment is a way for the series to show how much more mileage there is in telling a good story, not making a cartoon.


Best comic moment: Jesse grabbing a tortilla off the assembly line.

Most unsettling callback: Saul's brief attempt to sell the guys on using the laser tag arena as a cook shop. I believe that was the location Saul met Walt and Jesse when they were conspiring to off Gale.

• Creepiest Walt moment: His scuzzy pep talk to Jesse about relationships, a day or two after sitting next to the boy he tried to kill. "Secrets create barriers between people." Ugh.

• The pest control crew is gonna be trouble. The boss had a couple lines, and the two burlier guys were silent. But Todd is played by Jesse Plemons, aka Landry/Lance/the lead singer of Crucifictorious from "Friday Night Lights." You don't cast a supporting actor at his level in a throwaway role. He might save Walt and Jesse's ass, or he could be bad news (the fact that he spoke to them after being instructed not to makes me thing it'll be the latter), but either way, I bet he shows up again.

• Awesome transition from director Adam Bernstein: the machine guns from Scarface turning into the blast of cash through the counting machine.

• I guess we've got a clear answer to the timeline question. It's almost Walt's 51st birthday, meaning we've come just about a year, narratively, since the pilot episode. This season's cold open is another year in the story's future.

• God bless Badger and Skinny Pete, wherever they may lay their heads.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. You can also find him on Twitter.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Anon2501

    I think that the Scarface scene is, similar to the pink teddy bear, a hint to a possible ending of the series. Scarface is making his last stand with a machine gun in his hand, blasting and shooting left and right and from this seasons opener we know that Walt is also in possession of some heavy equipment. Can't imagine how it will get to that but who knows... What do you think... ?

  • Stacey Bryan

    After the show ends, I would like to see a Skinny Pete and Badger Spin-off. I don't know what they would do, nor do I really care. But I would watch every episode and I would enjoy it. I just know I would. I find myself enjoying every episode they are in, even if it's just a few minutes. Sure, they are pretty much worthless to the show right now, but they are so much fun, and they are great characters.

  • Bert_McGurt

    And make it a cartoon!

  • Mariazinha

    According to wikipedia:
    "Psychopathy is (...) characterized by shallow emotions, stress tolerance, lacking empathy, coldheartedness, lacking guilt, egocentricity, superficial charm, manipulativeness,irresponsibility, nonplanfulness, impulsivity, and antisocial behaviors such as parasitic lifestyle and criminality."

    That's Walt right there..

  • winged chorus

    I thought this episode did a great a job of showing us the ever-expanding pool of people who know something, if only something very minor, about J & W's new operation. Now we have Mike's 9, Lydia, the Vamanos Pest guys, Skinny Pete and Badger, Skylar, Ted, Andrea, and probably a bunch of others I've forgotten. Its like a well-written murder mystery where one by one the suspects get innocuously introduced to us, except in this case we suspect them not of a murder, but of being the one who might (knowingly or unknowingly) set off the catastrophic chain of events that we're all waiting for.
    Personally, I think that the catalyst will be something minor and meaningless that will tip Hank to something, and Walt will begin damage control which will set the whole thing off.

    I think that so much has been made of Mike's 9 and their possible betrayal (will they? won't they?) that it probably won't come from them.

    Can't wait to enjoy being proved wrong in every way.

    And I thought Marie was fantastic as always.

  • L.O.V.E.

    The best part of the episode by far was Skylar yelling at Marie, "SHUT UP!" 15 times.

  • Justin Kuhn

    I loved the shot of the cockroach, with them cooking in the background. Look at the cockroaches scurry. Then that connects to Scarface too, because "I'ma bury these cockaroaches." I think the trouble they took to get a roach in front of the camera means that shot was definitely saying something, as all the inserts on this show do.

    Another great visual metaphor I've noticed a lot is a shot from the bottom of a hole, or inside a fridge, or a chemical drum, or a bathtub, etc--they are all the same hole that Walt and Jesse are digging themselves into. When Skylar becomes involved initially, there's a scene where she's shot with a camera inside the refrigerator, the first time she's shown from this type of angle. Then the finale of that season has Walt literally in the hole (crawlspace), the one he's been digging for himself the whole show.

  • JQ

    When Marie revealed that it was almost a year since Walt was diagnosed with cancer, I was disappointed at how much tension was relieved vis-a-vis this season's cold opener and my musings on what could happen this season. If at any point Walt appears to be in danger, I won't be able to help but think that he is going to be alive one year from now. That said, I can't see everyone coming away unscathed and so what implications does this have for Jesse, Mike, Skylar, breakfast Jr, etc.?

  • ed newman

    His scuzzy pep talk to Jesse about relationships, a day or two after sitting next to the boy he tried to kill

    Minor point of contention: I don't think he tried to kill the boy. It was more of an Ivan Drago "If he dies, he dies." kind of attitude. He used the boy to get to Jesse. All he needed to do was make him sick, but he wasn't overly concerned about killing him if he messed up the dosage.

    LANDRY! He will definitely be seen again. He caught Walt's attention in a positive way. I just hope Walt doesn't start to see Landry as a Jesse replacement.

  • stryker1121

    I'm fairly sure Walt knew that the Lily in the Valley wouldn't kill the kid. The scene between him and Brock last night was a strange one, though. The way he looked at Brock w/ annoyance and cold calculation..Walt's a creepy fuck.

  • TheAggroCraig

    So that M60 is going to be Walt's "little friend"? I like it.

  • Assuming it doesn't jam.

  • Weck

    Anyone else curious to know how the hell they got that pile of money so quickly?

    Gus had a system where his meth would get shipped off to the various cities through the Pollos trucks, and the cash trickled back to him from the dealers through the dead drops that Mike collected with Pinkman last season.

    I'm curious how they handled the distribution and subsequent cash flow that would have built up to that much cash in that short of time. To be fair, the episode didn't really disclose how much time elapsed before they were counting the money, but I was thinking it would take several weeks (at least) for that process to unfold.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    It's going to sound fanwanky, but I'm wondering if it's been such a short time between Gus getting offed and Walt and Mike picking things back up that Mike's essentially collecting Gus' previously arranged payments, paying back the shortfall to the distributors and essentially picking up where they left off.

  • Weck

    Good point. If so, he's certainly been busy between that and reassuring everyone that they will be made whole!

  • RilesSD

    Loved the deeper meaning of the Jesse James line too. Mike is basically calling Walt a coward for the way he befriended Gus and then killed him.

  • Mariazinha

    Yep.. In my head it went like: You shot Jesse James and that just makes you the coward Robert Ford.

  • Three_nineteen

    I love all the scenes mentioned here, but the one that blew me away was where Jesse was talking to Walt about the agitator and then brought up the plastic medical tent. How is that Jesse? And after only a year? Not to mention thinking about his girlfriend's feelings and well-being. Our little meth head is growing up so fast! I don't think he said "bitch" even once this week (although Skinny Pete made up for it).
    Plus, after that little photo spread of Aaron Paul on this site a couple of weeks ago, Jesse is starting to look really good to me.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I know it's completely unrealistic, but I hope that A) Jesse gets out of all of this clean somehow, and B) totally goes to college to kick chemistry's ass. I want *all* the good things for him, even if he did shoot Gale right in the face. He's like the anti-Walt in how much I want him to be okay despite all the shit he's done.

  • Three_nineteen

    That's my fantasy ending too - Jesse kills the shit out of Walt and walks off clean, into the sunset. Then he and Mike can star in a spinoff where they dispense vigilante justice, maybe in a loose remake of The Equilizer.

  • branded_redux

    Another favorite little detail was Skinny Pete's virtuoso performance on the keyboard. Guy can tickle the ivories, bitch.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Of course Badger was useless, as always.

  • Bert_McGurt

    I have to disagree about Todd, at least in the short term. I think Walt was impressed by the kid's foresight, finding the nanny cam and disabling it. But if those two are drinking beers and watching TV in the houses in their meth suits...I have a feeling they're going to screw up and leave some evidence behind at one point or another.
    Watching Walt with Brock this episode brought to mind a nagging question from last season: how exactly did Walt poison him? The looks he was getting from the kid made me think that Brock recognized him somehow. Seems like a loose thread, and we know Gilligan usually unravels those threads eventually.
    And maybe I'm reading too much into it, but when Walt and Jesse were so quick to shoot down the laser tag suggestion, it seemed as if they were doing it for different reasons. Jesse simply doesn't like the idea of cooking that close to children, whereas Walt was only concerned about the logistical issues - traffic, smells, nosy kids, etc. He WOULD have had the same concerns as Jesse back in season one, or two, but not anymore.

  • littlelion

    He poisoned him with lily of the valley. You can see it growing in a pot by his pool throughout the season, and then in the finale when Jesse tells Walt the doctors found out it was lily of the valley rather than ricin, Walt is sitting by the pot. He disposes of the pot and flower during his cleanup in the first ep of this season.

    Re: Brock recognizing Walt - I got that impression to. It was never explained how exactly Walt introduced the poison to Brock, but according to Jesse according to the doctors, "sometimes kids see the berries and just eat them." Two things: one, I think Brock's probably old enough not to just be eating random shit found in nature. Two, is there lily of the valley growing rampant in this town? Where exactly is he supposed to have found it? So there is every possibility that Walt had to actually face the kid at some point.

  • Bert_McGurt

    Sorry, I should have been more explicit. I of course knew that he poisoned him with lily of the valley. What I mean is that we don't know how he actually got Brock to take it. Did he take it to the kid's house? School? How did Walt orchestrate the actual ingestion of the poison?

  • TheAggroCraig

    Saul gave the kid a piece of candy when he dropped off some money for Andrea, didn't he? And he seemed pretty upset ("you didn't say the kid would end up in the hospital"). I don't remember if that was after Walt formulated his plan, though. Someone with a better memory, help us out here.

  • Bert_McGurt

    That could very well be it. Which would make Saul even more of a potential loose end.

  • Connective tissue, that's a great way to put it. I really like episodes like these ones because you can watch the story actually set itself up to deepen and become complex. I JUST LOVE VINCE GILLIGAN'S BRAIN SO MUCH!

    I thought couldn't hate Walt any more after he "consoled" Jesse and for the very last scene of last week's episode but, gahhh, so much hate for him this week too! From sitting next to Brock and just staring at the kid, to giving Jesse advice about truth, honesty and relationships, to expertly lying to Marie, to disregarding Jesse when he opened up about breaking it off with his girlfriend... That guy is a straight up twat and oh dear lord my loathing for him just won't die. And yet, watching him turn has been a real pleasure.

    Also, that cooking seen was the sexiest one yet. So. Hot.

  • Ted Zancha

    I don't know why, but the scene with Walt completely ignoring Jesse about his break up was my breaking point. After all the shit Walt has put him through, shrugging off such a sad moment was too much. That poor kid.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    For me, I didn't really find that to be much worse than normal; Walt's pretty consistently not actually given a crap about Jesse's life unless it impacts him in some way (for differing reasons, of course-- first season-ish, it was at least halfway because he wanted his hands as clean as possible). So, as soon as he heard what he'd been angling for at the start, that Jesse had broken things off, he moved right the hell on from it because it was no longer an agenda item.

    What's freaking my shit out is his little psychological war on Skyler. The last couple of episodes, while he was mega-creepy, I was holding out some tiny sliver of hope that he wasn't intentionally fucking with Skyler so much as so far gone in every other way he couldn't see the effect he was having, but then with Marie and the Ted story and then the Scarface? Fuck that shit, he is deliberately trying to make her live in fear. That was my breaking point.

  • Ted Zancha

    I know some people have really hated Skylar through the show and at times I am right there with them. But I know exactly what you mean. He has become such a manipulative bastard. I felt so bad for Skylar when she snapped.

  • WD

    This episode setup another painfully obvious Chekhov's Gun, in Walt's decision to place the book of Walt Whitman poetry by his bedside. Bank knows the real Heisenberg is coded as WW. Walt initially played this off as Walt Whitman last year, as though it were an alias and not initials. I'm sure the book will serve to refresh Hanks memory.

    This show is not as good as everyone thinks it is. Its better than most of the crap put out there, but this kind of lazy writing and directing in a different medium, like a film, and y'all would be shitting bricks about it and calling bloody murder. I don't know why everyone loves it when it's on basic cable, though.

  • littlelion

    Even if the book does serve to refresh Hank's memory and ultimately lead him to Walt, I'm not sure how that's lazy writing. This show kind of specializes in a multi-thread approach where everything is connected and gets drawn together later, whether we can see how it plays out or not. Honest question: would your reaction to the situation be different if, in some later ep, Hank finds the book on Walt's table and makes the connection, without us being shown Walt putting it there? Because to me, this scene was laying groundwork rather than being a Chekhov's Sledgehammer, and if Hank just found it with no groundwork laid, that would strike me as very lazy.

  • Dan

    Edit: WD here, using an actual Discus account.

  • googergieger

    Not to mention it does more to showcase Walt not caring anymore. Walt isn't worried about being caught because he feels untouchable right now. Right now Walt is living in a T.V. show. He thinks he is king. So why not read a book by the favorite author of a man he got Jesse to kill?

    I mean, "just because you killed Jesse James, doesn't make you Jesse James" says it all. Walt killed Gus, so to Walt, that makes him Gus. Hell even Jesse seems to look at Walt as the "boss". Though I have a feeling he realizes they need Mike more than he needs them, and just thinks Walt is the more dangerous of the two. Be interesting to see what happens when Walt finally gets his wake up call though. Much like when Gus told him he'll kill his family. Something is going to happen that makes Walt realize he is in way over his head and he isn't as untouchable or important as he thinks he is.

  • Long_Pig_Tailor

    I think it's pretty clear that Walt *is* the more dangerous of the two, though. Don't get me wrong, in a straight up fight, obviously Mike wins, but if you give Walt even a half a warning at this point, I would argue that sooner or later you will lose. Mike seems more than willing to cut and run when things get bad, whereas Walt will mount a magnet in a U-Haul and break into a police station. I think the flat out scariest thing about Walt is that the show, practically speaking, is letting him pull off what amount to supervillain schemes while everyone else is just a normal villain.

    Certainly Walt will eventually lose, because at this point Hank's basically getting reborn as a meth-crusading superhero, but I don't know if there really is a wake-up call anymore. His family is... not the same kind of priority it once was. It won't shock him into, "Oh shit, I can't handle myself," and he'll back down to save them, he'll just work the problem and then blow up another nursing home. He's arguably the smartest man in the room right now, and definitively the one who will go the furthest. He won't back down anymore, he doesn't think he needs to, so from here on out, he'll double down.

    Then he'll die, of course. He can no longer conceive of going back to what he was, I believe he would literally rather die.

  • walt's whit man

    at this point, it could really go either way...

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