Breaking Bad 5.03: Hazard Pay

SPOILER WARNING: This post will appear every Monday following a new episode of “Breaking Bad.” It is intended to be read after seeing the show’s latest installment as a source of recap and analysis. As such, all aspects and events that have occurred up to and including the episode discussed are fair game. 

Walter White or Heisenberg?

The transformation is nearly complete. The artist formerly known as Walter White is almost pure Heisenberg, although the sympathetic family man we (along with his family and friends) once knew and loved is still in there, popping up now and again to, say, be fascinated by machinery and tell an anecdote about the summer he spent working in a box factory. Then poof, he’s gone as soon as he appeared, and we find that the only reason he was hearkening back to days gone by was to explain why such a location will not be a suitable for his meth lab.

This juxtaposition of (what’s left of) Walter White and his super villain alter ego Heisenberg is one of the major themes of the final season, but it played an especially large role in “Hazard Pay.” At any given moment, the viewer can and should be questioning just which “aspect” of the man is speaking and acting. Sometimes it can be hard to tell, and sometimes, as in the above example, you can be positive it’s Walter White, only to discover it was just the opposite.

“Hazard Pay” was chock full of such moments. Was that a man casually enjoying “Scarface” with his son, or a “real” ultra-violent drug kingpin idolizing a fictional one? Was the guy sitting on the couch with Brock awkward because of remorse or was he silently confirming that poisoning that very child was simply doing what needed to be done? Can it be both?

In those instances, maybe. But the best and most important Whitenberg contrast came during his (their?) post-cook beer with Jesse, while discussing love and honesty in relationships. At first it was a quietly beautiful moment of genuine discourse: the friend and father figure offering advice to his business partner while acknowledging that the choice was ultimately his own and treating him as an equal, perhaps for the first time. But by the time the commercial break rolled around I found it was something else entirely: Heisenberg subtly manipulating Jesse to ditch Andrea and Brock—the only loose ends remaining from the Gustavo Fring saga.

Jesse realizes this too, although it takes him a bit longer. After the money squabbles have run their course, Walt asks Jesse if he’s OK. Given their earlier conversation, Jesse believes Walt’s asking how he chose to deal with the Andrea situation, and says he’s broken it off with her, although he will continue to support she and Brock financially. Walt brushes this away, because in his mind, of course Jesse broke it off, that’s what he had intended, so that’s what’s occurred. Just a few days earlier, Jesse was honestly considering marrying this woman.

Instead, Walt is referring to the money. Seemingly out of the blue, he brings up Victor, the man whose throat Gus slit  just to send a message. Only he’s thinking that might not have been the whole story. Maybe Victor, who decided to begin the cook himself when Walt and Jesse wouldn’t, “flew too close to the sun, and got his throat cut.” It’s hard to know just what Walt’s really talking about, but I’ve got a guess: maybe Walt feels Mike is flying too close to him, the sun, and that sometime soon he’s going to get his throat cut, and Walt will take over the business end too. In this analogy, Walt is the sun, and the universe quite literally revolves around him.

Killing Gus has given the ever-prideful Walt a surge of confidence. He feels as though he’s untouchable and that everyone answers to him. When Mike asks if they should take a vote on the tented-house plan, he responds “Why?” as in, “Why? I made the decision and that’s all there is to it.” Mike’s noticed this and tries to set him straight with, “Just because you killed Jesse James doesn’t make you Jesse James.” Clearly, Walt’s not so sure that’s the case.

Skyler’s Breakdown

As she said, Skyler is afraid of her husband. Her murderous, drug-cooking, sociopath husband, and rightfully so. Indeed, Walter has abused her sexually, and now he’s moved back into the house without so much as asking her opinion on the matter. All she got to do was stand in horror and mumble questions about whether he thinks that’s the right decision. Just a few more notches in the Walt thinking he’s the invincible boss count. Why should there be a vote on where to cook? He’s decided. Why should there be a discussion about whether he should move back in? He’s decided.

Walt’s unannounced return is the last straw for Skyler. She’s visibly shaken, but can’t discuss these things with Walt, so it all comes out on Marie instead. When Marie demands to know the cause of her sister’s breakdown, Walt makes himself the victim, the cuckold, the honest, sympathetic man who’s still trying to put things back together despite his wife’s infidelity. That’s Heisenberg talking, there’s no doubt about it, and that’s Heisenberg who stops to chomp on an apple before checking up on Skyler. Then, when she finally emerges from her room to find him playing the good guy with their son and watching Tony Montana go up in smoke, it’s all her fears realized. Heisenberg is sitting there with their daughter in his lap and their son at his side, perfect father that he is, and asks Skyler to join them. After all, they’ve got popcorn. He’s doing his best Walt impression, but that’s the bad guy. She knows it, he knows it, and ultimately, we know it. It’s getting harder and harder to root for Walt, for those of us who still are (to some degree) anyway, and I’m wondering how much longer we can keep this up.

A few extra bits:

-It’s more than a bit ironic that it’s Walter’s genius idea to cook in houses being fumigated for pests. This is the same man (sort of) who once refused to cook because of a single fly in an otherwise immaculate laboratory.

-Walter notes that “everyone dies at the end” of “Scarface.” In that film, there’s a big shootout as the result of one arrogant drug kingpin’s rising too power way too fast. Probably just a coincidence Walt was buying that M60 in the first scene of the season, right?

Follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

 

  

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