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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Let’s begin the buzz for Breaking Bad’s fifth season, shall we?

Now that “Breaking Bad” is back in production for its final 16 episodes – which, if you haven’t heard, are going doled out in two parts – it’s time to start ramping up for the series’ return to the airwaves later this summer. As such, AMC is rolling out Q&A’s with some of the cast members. First up is someone Bullz-Eye’s never actually spoken with before: stand-up comedian Lavell Crawford, who plays Saul Goodman’s bodyguard, Huell:

Q: What was it like to go from being a stand-up comic to a tough guy on “Breaking Bad”?

A: I loved it, it was a great opportunity to be on a hot show. There were a lot of directors and they wanted to shoot so many angles — like the scene where I had to take a dump? They made me do seven different takes! They were like, “Do a little more, act like it came out a little more.” I was, like, “Jesus Christ, I’m about to crap on myself!”

Q: What did you think when you showed up on set to find that you were actually one of two comedians playing Saul Goodman’s henchmen?

A: When I walked in and saw Bill Burr (Kuby), I thought it was hilarious. We’ve worked together as comedians, so he laughed and I laughed too. It was so funny that we were playing these guys that were going to scare the hell out of Ted.

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Breaking Bad 4.13 – Lily of the Valley

In last week’s blog, I wrote of Walt sitting poolside, “We see a man who’s spinning both his firearm and his wheels, waiting to figure out how little future he has left. When the pistol spins toward one of the potted plants, however, it’s clear that Walt has gotten an idea.” If only I’d recognized that plant as a Lily of the Valley, I could’ve been a hero among my peers. Damn my insufficient knowledge of botany! Damn it all to hell!

Ahem.

When we first see Walt this evening, he’s making a mad dash through the parking garage to remove the bomb from the underside of Gus’s car, which he promptly carries into the hospital and up to the waiting area. It’s an unabashedly slapstick moment when the magnet on the bomb sticks to the elevator door, followed by a hilarious back-and-forth between Walt and Jesse about the decision to bring the bomb with him (“What, was I supposed to leave it on his car?”), but things get serious immediately thereafter, with the ABQ police showing up and requesting an audience with Jesse about his statement. As the boys with badges walk away with Mr. Pinkman, Walt looks positively pale. Is it just from being in close proximity to the cops?

The conversation between Jesse and his new friends is predictably tense. “We’re just talking.” “So if I get tired of talking, I can get up and leave?” Sure, that’s how it always works. Jesse’s being seriously grilled over the fact that he offered up a very specific poison as what was causing Brock’s illness. His explanation? “I musta seen it on ‘House’ or something.” Awesome. Time to call Saul, but there’s so much shredding going on that his secretary can’t hear the phone when he calls…or when Walt calls, for that matter, as we discover when he busts through the bottom pane of the front door in a desperate effort to find Saul. It’s an unexpectedly hilarious scene between Walt and H.T. (as Saul dubbed her last week), particularly when Walt is initially completely oblivious to the fact that the $20K pricetag for the repairs ain’t nothing to do with repairs. Okay, so it was a little slapstick-y when Walt left the office the same way he came in, but that didn’t keep me from laughing, anyway.

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Breaking Bad 4.12 – No More Prolonging the Inevitable

To call last week’s episode of “Breaking Bad” intense is to undercut the utterly traumatizing effect it had on the show’s regular viewership. This week attempts to start off with a similar level of tension, showing a pair of vehicles pulling up outside the White house without immediately identifying them. Within seconds, however, we confirm that what we’re witnessing is the arrival of the DEA agents who’ve come to put Walt, Skyler, and Walt Jr. into protective custody.

Wait, scratch that: Walt’s not going.

“All that matters is that the rest of you are safe,” Walt tells Skyler. “And that’s why I’m not going with you. I’m the real target.” Ever the naïve one, she can’t quite grasp that being under the watchful eye of the DEA isn’t enough to keep everyone protected, but Walt knows better, just as he knows that he and his family are only being included in the DEA’s protective of Hank because Marie has demanded it.

“There’s got to be another way,” sobs Skyler.

“There isn’t,” Walt says, matter-of-factly. “There was. But now there isn’t.”

And so Walt steps outside and calls Hank, playing his brother-in-law like a fiddle with the suggestion that Marie has a history of overreacting, and assures him that somebody’s got to keep the car wash up and running. Hank isn’t thrilled, but he doesn’t sound suspicious, even when Walt’s voice cracks with emotion as he tells him to keep his head down. The look on Walt’s face as he says goodbye to his infant daughter is heartbreaking, if only because we know that, in his mind, he believes this could well be the last time he ever sees her…but, y’know, you can’t really blame the guy for thinking that, can ya?

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Breaking Bad 4.11 – Go Insane

Let’s get it out of the way now: not only was this the best episode of the season to date – which, given the competition, is a pretty damned impressive feat in and of itself – but it has instantly vaulted into the elite category known as The Best “Breaking Bad” Episodes of All Time.

This is not hyperbole. This is fact.

And with this having been said, let’s get to talking about the proceedings, shall we?

What’s going down ‘round the hospital? Oh, wait, this isn’t a hospital: these are some of Gus’s guys, a rag-tag team of doctors who were clearly prepared for the eventuality that his preventative measures might not do the trick. Unfortunately, they’re not nearly as interested in helping out poor Mike, as evidence by when Jesse says, “This man needs help,” and the lead physician replies matter-of-factly, “This man pays my salary.”

Meanwhile, back at the SuperLab, Walt’s continuing to make with the meth under the watchful eye of Gus’s right-hand man, but as Walt reminds him for what must surely be the hundredth time, “If Pinkman’s gone, I’m done.” So what’s up with Walt’s figures being off? Is he just frazzled and not paying attention? If so, you have to admit that’s a little understandable, what with everything going on in his world…like, for instance, teaming up with Hank on a stakeout of the Los Pollos Hermanos warehouse. Walt’s less than subtle when asking about the status of the cartel, but it works: Hank’s heard rumblings that a major massacre went down, big even by cartel standards. In return, Hank starts asking about the bruises on his face, once again offering him a friendly ear, but Walt stiffens and snaps, “I’m done explaining myself.”

Looks like they found time to help Mike after all. Jesse discovers just how much advance planning Gus put into the goings-on in Mexico, and it’s clear that, although he’s shocked, he has considerable respect for the man. Moments later, the man himself emerges, looking tired but on his way to recovery. Unfortunately, Mike’s still going to be laid up for a week or more, but Gus assures Jesse that he’ll send for their friend as soon as he’s well enough to travel. The lead doc smiles and prescribes water and rest to Gus, and I swear, I think this was the most human I think we’ve ever seen Gus look. I don’t know how far they go back, but it’s got to be pretty damned far. And speaking of far, it’s a hell of a stroll back to the border, and it’s even longer once Gus casually comments that Jesse can run the lab himself. Jesse understands the implications…and he does not appreciate them.

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