Like a dysfunctional family’s attempt to get along at a holiday dinner, this week’s Breaking Bad was full of people smiling and nodding and assuring each other that everything was just fine — except that of course, it’s not. And everybody knows that when the head of the
meth operation household is mad, he’s the last person you want wielding the carving knife. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s all just smile and pretend everything’s peachy as we review what went down in “Hazard Pay.”
MIKE DOES RIGHT | The episode opens as Mike, posing as a paralegal, meets with Gus’ jailed laundry manager, Dennis. Mike assures him the deal he had with the Pollos Hermanos boss is still in place, but a very nervous Dennis notes that with the Feds taking away Mike’s team’s “hazard pay,” someone eventually will flip and tell the DEA all of the chemical-soaked details. The grizzled security expert assures him, “You will be made whole.” True to his word, Mike spends the rest of the episode making sure that his guys can continue providing for their families and such. At Saul’s office, after a bunch of protests from the crooked lawyer, Mike’s officially a 30 percent partner in Walt & Jesse’s Kountry Kitchen v.2.0. When Saul notes that Mike’s not exactly acting in the subservient way Walt’s come to expect from his business associates, we see more of the creepy self-assuredness the former pushover has exhibited in the past few episodes. “He handles the business,” Walt says evenly, “and I handle him.” The entrepreneurs and their legal counsel then go about finding a new cook site, and after passing on potential set-ups within a box factory, a tortilla factory and a laser-tag facility, Walt finds inspiration in a tiny industrial building belonging to Vamonos Pest exterminators. You know those giant tents placed over bug-infested homes while they’re being fumigated? Turns out, they provide the perfect cover for a stinky, equipment-heavy, time-consuming crystal meth cooking session. And – bonus! — the bug company’s employees are already low-level thieves. Quicker than you can say “bedbug,” Skinny Pete and Badger (aw, hi guys!) are buying roadie-type equipment cases on Jesse’s behalf and Mike is briefing the bug guys – including Friday Night Lights’ Jesse Plemons, who I sincerely hope will have more to do next week – to pretend like Jesse and Walt aren’t there.
JESSE DOES, TOO | At Casa Jesse, Walt and his former student powwow about the logistics of the cook site, and even in this brief interaction, you’ve got to marvel at how Jesse’s changed since we first met him. As we’re reminded later in the episode, only about a year of these characters’ lives has transpired between the pilot and now, which makes their transformation that much more dramatic; in that time, Jesse’s gone from feckless floater to grounded adult… a point driven home when Andrea and Brock arrive with groceries for dinner, and Jesse-as-dad invites Walt to stay a while. He introduces Brock, who could not look more wary of the older man if he had a Lily of the Valley plant growing out of his shiny bald head. When Jesse and Andrea go into the kitchen, Walt gives Brock the side-eye on the couch and I tie myself into knots because it’s all just too tense. I know there’s no reason or motive for Walt to somehow lace the kid’s portable video game device with poison controller knobs or something, and he doesn’t seem to recognize Walt in any way, and yet I am so terribly afraid for this cute little piece of collateral damage. Much later, during a pause in the cook, Jesse and Walt share a beer on the living room couch of the strangers’ home they’re befouling. Walt assumes his papa role when he asks if Jesse and Andrea’s relationship is “moving in any particular direction.” Jesse’s noncommittal, but he hastily assures his partner that he hasn’t told Andrea anything about what they do. Surprisingly, Walt leaves the reveal all/reveal nothing decision up to his protégé, noting that “secrets create barriers between people.” Hmm, is that why the Great Wall of China just popped up between you and Jesse, Walterino? And while on its face, this scene might be taken as a caring interaction between an experienced mentor and the young man he’s grown to love, it played out like a spider drawing a kinda clueless fly into its scary, about-to-be-ripped-down-by-the-DEA web. Or maybe I just have bugs on the brain, because at 46 minutes into the episode, I had to see a cockroach clamber across the screen. UNCOOL, Breaking Bad. I’ll sit through Jane choking on her vomit or Gus walking around with half a face, but this new venture better not mean I’ll have to deal with creepy crawlies all over the place every week. After an unfortunate waterbug incident in substandard campus housing during my college years, there’s only so much my insect-averse self can take. But I digress. Walt’s words resonate with Jesse, who later reveals that he broke up with Andrea to protect her but will continue to provide for her and her son — which, of course, is exactly what the chem king wanted.
WALT, NOT SO MUCH | Walter, on the other hand – who, you’ll recall, started this whole shebang to make sure his family didn’t suffer after his death – seems to have lost sight of that part of the mission. When the batch yields $137,000 for each of the partners, all Walt can do is complain about Mike’s plan to replace his guys’ hazard pay with profits from the new business. The anger doesn’t stem from wanting a better life for baby Holly; it’s all about whether or not Walt’s getting screwed. Jesse tries to get him to see that even though their take is smaller than with Fring, they have a bigger part of the business, and that will ultimately net them more cash. Walt makes a very scary reference to Victor, the employee whose throat Gus slit with a box cutter – “Maybe he flew too close to the sun” – and Jesse stares at him with an appropriately horrified look. Yeah Jesse: Now that Walt’s not even trying to hide his crazy from you anymore, be afraid. Be very afraid.
METH-MERIZING | Let’s take a moment to appreciate: Skyler’s “shut up!”-laden breakdown in front of Marie (who hasn’t wanted to tell that chick to stuff it at least once in the last four seasons?), Walt’s possibly prescient side comment about not trying to sell his condo (“In this market, I’d get killed.”), Hank’s alluded-to progress in physical therapy, Huell’s heavy breathing, Jesse snatching a hot tortilla off the factory line, Walt’s deft non-confession confession about Skyler’s infidelity and the homeowner’s reaction to seeing the ramp nearly buckle as cases of cook gear were wheeled into his house (“Holy crap, how much poison are you using?!”).
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Were you glad for the brief respite from the DEA closing in? Did you long for Lydia? Do you fear for Skyler’s mental state? And when, officially, is Walter going to turn into his version of Scarface? Hit the comments and weigh in!