Breaking Bad Episode 503 “Hazard Pay”

I think this episode could unofficially be titled, “Walt’s Ego is Bigger Than Jupiter.”

On Breaking Bad, there is always so much attention paid to visuals, colors and sound, and all of this seemed especially true in this episode, starting with the sound of the metal detector wand thingy in the first shot of the teaser.

The teaser for this episode was the most straightforward we’ve seen this season. It was pretty great to see Mike dressed as a paralegal. And we meet another one of the guys on Mike’s list, Dennis, who was mentioned in last week’s episode during the conversation between Mike and Lydia–he’s the manager of the laundry. That lawyer, Dan, seems pretty nervous, what with the way he taps his fingers and the way he’s looking down and not making eye contact when he says he has his paralegal with him.

All of Dennis’ money was taken by the feds, just like the money Mike had set aside for his granddaughter Kaylee.  Like I mentioned last week, a lot of this happened because of the magnet vs. laptop heist that Walt, Jesse and Mike pulled off in 501 that broke the frame, revealing the account info that gave the DEA the money trail. But that’s in the past, no way to get that money back, so Mike wants to move forward, and as for his guys, he’s promising to “make ’em whole.” Love that phrase!

And then we are back to Walt and his ego. He moves back into the house, clearly without consulting Skyler. He’s not overly aggressive about it; his moving in reminds me of the calm, almost offhand way that he said “because I say so,” in the season premiere. To him, there’s just no question that he should do this simply because that’s what feels right to him. And he knows that Skyler is afraid of him now, and that she’s too intimidated to protest. So he takes what he wants, moves back in as if it’s nothing and casually chats about how he’ll keep the condo because he’d be a fool to sell it in this economy. He is all about money during this episode, but even more about his oversized ego.

Really, it’s completely out of control. The problem is that he keeps “winning” and winning is like meth for Walt. The more he wins, the higher he gets from it, the more invincible he feels, and the more he needs to keep winning to feed the cycle.

I think all of this contributes to Walt’s choice of their new cooking process. It’s higher risk. It’s more in plain sight than the underground lab at the laundry or the RV out in the desert. It’s an operation that will be constantly on the move, in people’s homes. Yeah, there are a lot of reasons that Walt cites for why this works better than other options they looked into, but the high risk and the constant movement and going into the homes had to add to the adrenaline rush that Walt needs now. I think that even if they found the perfect stationary place to cook, it wouldn’t offer the rush that this does.

Does anyone else think that this new cooking scheme could be a colossally bad idea? Basically, the plan is this: Ira and his guys (Sandor, Fernando and Todd) the exterminators of Vamonos Pest will check out the homes they’re supposed to work on for the week, find the one that’s best to use for a cook site,  and that’s where Walt and Jesse will set up shop. They’ll bring in all their equipment once the house is tented, then set up another tent inside to help contain the smell, and then they’ll cook some meth. What I love about this is how original it is. A lot of people were guessing where the next lab would be, with top contenders being another RV, Grey Matter, and under the carwash. No one guessed this new setup or anything even close. How do the writers come up with this stuff?!

I have to say that cook scene was GORGEOUS. The music, the montage, the aluminum, all the crazy camera angles, that little time-lapse, all the colors. Who knew that cooking meth could look so beautiful? Seriously, that was some excellent cinematography set to sound.

Some little things I loved from the tour of potential cook places: Saul’s outfit, of course. That bright reddish colored shirt was perfect with that crazy tie. Jesse taking a tortilla. The fact that the laser tag place came back. Saul even mentioned Danny (at the end of Season 3, Saul was trying to convince Walt to launder his drug money through the laser tag place instead of the carwash because it had “a Danny,” the guy who will look the other way).

Again, there were a lot of returning characters who showed up on “Hazard Pay”–Skinny Pete, Badger, Huell, Andrea and Brock–and others that were mentioned, like Ted, Joe (junkyard guy), Victor, Gale, Danny as mentioned above, Gus, and I feel there are others I’m forgetting. Really love that continuity, and that even people who were killed off in previous seasons still live on in some ways. It also seems that out of the new guys from Vamonos Pest, Todd could be the one to play the biggest role.

Oh also, the scene with Badger and Skinny Pete was awesome. Who knew that Skinny Pete had piano prodigy skills like that? I loved the way that Badger’s playing was such a sharp contrast, hahaha. And Skinny P’s, “Hey man, I’m trying to do business over here bitch! Sorry man, he’s like, overly enthusiastic,” may be one of my favorite lines of the episode. Seeing Badger and Skinny Pete do business was a much-needed moment of lightness. It’s been so dark this season that this scene made me kinda yearn for the older days when Jesse was working with those guys. I hope they come back at some point this season.

I wonder if Jesse was feeling that way when he had to turn down their requests to get in on the business in any way possible. I felt a certain sadness in that moment, like things had changed so much. Even though they got those cases and helped out in that way, it felt like Jesse was very separate from Skinny Pete and Badger, like he had to pull away from them because of the business he’s in now.

I’m not sure quite how to phrase this right but it got me thinking that the relationship that Walt and Jesse have almost reminds me of an abusive marriage or something. Walt already successfully “gaslighted” Jesse in the previous episode with the whole ricin cigarette ruse, and now he’s isolating Jesse from all the people who are important in his life. In the case of Skinny Pete and Badger, it’s probably not intentional as it’s unlikely Walt cares enough to register their existence (remember when Combo got killed because Walt ordered they push into territory that wasn’t theirs and then asks, “Which one was he again?”), it’s more a by-product of the new business and the renewed Walt/Jesse “partnership.”

But with Andrea and Brock, Walt was cunning and deliberate in isolating Jesse from them. I found that scene hard to rewatch. Walt is just so conniving. He is in some ways, purposely I believe, acting like he has this newfound respect for Jesse. Notice that Jesse was the one person Walt was okay with paying at the end of the episode. And when Jesse shows him the plans for transporting the equipment, Walt gives him praise and makes no corrections. When has Walt EVER not had to fine tune someone else’s plans for something like that to prove that he’s the superior thinker. This was deliberate. He’s again playing that fatherly role. Then he hangs out for a beer both at Jesse’s house with Andrea and Brock, and then later at the house where they’re cooking.

And then he starts talking up Jesse and Andrea’s relationship, the way Andrea looks at him, the instant family that Jesse wants, starts even talking about Jesse spending the rest of his life with Andrea…then appeals to Jesse’s goodness as a person to manipulate him into ending the relationship. How many levels of f’d up is that?! The thing is that Walt knows exactly what buttons to push. He knows that if he convinces Jesse that he should tell Andrea about “everything, even Gale,” he’s planting the seed in Jesse’s mind that he should probably remove himself from the relationship, for Andrea and Brock’s sake. He does it while playing the good guy who’s rooting for the relationship to work. Walt probably always had this knack for elaborate psychological manipulations inside him and is now embracing it full throttle.

And Walt does that all so that he won’t have to face the little boy he poisoned or potentially get found out. This whole storyline left me as uneasy as some of the scenes between Walt and Skyler this season. And wasn’t the scene where Walt and Brock sit on the couch just brilliantly awkward and creepy? I don’t think Brock recognized Walt (I think Saul is the one who delivered the poison in some form) but it was so tense.

Walt also knows exactly what buttons to push to manipulate Marie. What was so slimey about the way he did it is that he told her that Skyler had an affair with Ted without ever saying it. He intimated and let Marie fill it in. He cast himself as the victim and put all the blame on Skyler and garnered Marie’s sympathy, perhaps isolating the sisters from each other as well. Not cool at all. And then he proceeds to go watch Scarface with his baby who’s less than a year old.

When Walt makes the comment, “Everyone dies in this movie, don’t they?” I wondered if that was some sort of foreshadowing. Just the way Walt said it made it seem that way. Or was he saying something like that just to remind Skyler that he’s a killer because he’s enjoying intimidating and tormenting her?

Ted keeps coming up. His story keeps coming back and being played in different ways. This leads me to believe even more firmly that we haven’t seen the last of that storyline. Same goes for the cancer. It was mentioned a few times during “Hazard Pay.” Marie reminds Skyler about Walt’s diagnosis a year ago, and later asks Walt if the cancer’s back. I think it will be. These little mentions are planting the seed.

I also again have to wonder if it will be Marie who figures it out. I think she’s always been more suspicious of Walt than Hank. But maybe Walt’s ruse will be enough to steer her onto his side for awhile. I also have to wonder if, with all this manipulation and abuse of power on Walt’s part, either Skyler or Jesse will commit suicide. Jesse had a Walt-induced emotional breakdown of sorts last week, Skyler had one this week. I could just see it going too far and leading to something like that. I am thinking more Skyler at this point (and perhaps it would explain his actions in the teaser for the premiere, when he seems to be missing her, has assumed her maiden name as his last name and isn’t wearing his wedding ring). Walt’s really causing a lot of damage to both of them and I think he could push it until it breaks with one or the other.

I rather liked the scene with Skyler yelling “Shut up!” fourteen times. It seemed very realistic to me that it would come out at Marie since she feels she can’t direct it at Walt. She’s been holding so much in, and Walt has really bullied her a lot lately, with moving back in being the latest in these acts of force, and it was somewhat cathartic to watch her yell and release some of that even if she didn’t yell at Walt. I also find it interesting that Jesse’s breakdown was all about crying and blaming himself, more inward directed, while Skyler’s, even if at the wrong person, was at least outward. I gotta say, I loved Marie in that carwash scene. There is something so real about the way they interact as sisters, the way Marie’s always poking at Skyler, the way that even if the person Skyler was really fed up with was Walt, you know she also probably wants to tell Marie to shut up fairly often. I just love the way these sisters interact.

Now, the Mike and Walt power play. This was major this week. Mike kinda takes over in Saul’s office, telling people how things are going to go down. Walt is not okay with that, and remarks to Saul, “Mike handles the business, and I handle him,” again in that self-assured, nonchalant way. Then when Walt is talking about all the reasons they should work with Vamonos Pest and Mike asks if they should take a vote, Walt replies, “Why?” Perfect assholery. He has to get the power back.

But things really came to a head in the scene when they are dealing with the money. Walt doesn’t like that they have to pay the mules to transport the meth, or Mike’s legacy costs. He complains that he’s taking home less money than he did working for Gus. You almost have to wonder if the power has gone to Walt’s head so much as to make him a complete idiot. Of course, what Jesse says is right–working for Fring, Walt was making a LOT more meth, so was getting a pretty small cut, but now that he’s making much less product, he’s getting a much bigger percent. How does he not realize this? He’s a mathematical-minded type of guy. But money equals ego stroking to him (always has) so this feels like an affront.

Like I mentioned earlier, the only person Walt seems okay with paying is Jesse. I do have one question. Walt owed Jesse $40K from the premiere for the magnet deal; is that the same $40K that gets paid to Jesse here as “start up costs” or were start up costs the equipment and supplies and Walt still owes him an additional $40K? In this scene, Jesse has to be the buffer between Mike and Walt. The only thing that gets Walt to back down is when Jesse offers to pay his share of the hazard pay. Mike says that the cost of his guys will be ongoing, and I’m sure the power struggle will be too.

Plus, did Walt really think Gus didn’t have a ton of overhead costs? And this is the first cook, of course there are going to be extra expenses like start up costs and Ira’s initial fee. After this, he should be able to take home more (even though they’ll now be paying for the methylamine). Can’t Walt just get a grip? No, he has “the green eye shade” on. And does Walt really not realize that making Mike’s guys whole is in his own best interest? Does he think none of those nine guys, like say the laundry manager Dennis, ever saw him? Or realize that even if they never did and could only point the finger at Mike, it would ruin their current operation since they need Mike?

And that brings us to Walt’s little speech about Victor at the end. First I have to say, how completely true to character is it that Walt thought that Gus killing Victor was all about him? Victor was seen at Gale’s crime scene! That was the number one reason Gus slit his throat. And yeah, Gus was sending a message to Walt and yeah Victor had stepped out of line by doing the cook himself, but the main reason was that he was seen. Now, Walt focuses on the fact that Victor took liberties that weren’t his to take.

What exactly do you think he’s saying there? Was he planting the seed in Jesse’s mind that they might have to kill Mike? Is Mike the one who took liberties he shouldn’t have, by using some of their money for hazard pay for his guys? Or simply by taking charge a few different times this episode? Or was it meant to intimidate Jesse too? Jesse did mention his solo cook down in Mexico earlier in the episode, so I could see Walt needing to establish some extra dominance over Jesse, but it seems more that he’s talking about Mike.

If he is, he’s batshit crazy. And stupid. Like Mike says, “Just because you shot Jesse James don’t make you Jesse James.”

~Emilia J

P.S. I will come back later today to put in all the links. Right now, I’ve gotta run to go mentor some blind kids about college, which will be a complete shift of gears from writing about this TV show and all its meth and madness.

Okay, here we go

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10 thoughts on “Breaking Bad Episode 503 “Hazard Pay”

  1. I love reading your commentaries, I like how they explore details and are spot on. I also loved the Jessie eating the tortilla bit, and Skinny Pete’s moment playing the piano. The one moment that really stood out for me in Hazard Pay was the very sublime and spooky look that Heisenberg gave Brock. The interaction between those two leaves the question lingering; who physically gave Brock the poison? Brock is clearly scared when he sees Walt and reacts more like a kid who was molested and is too scared to tell anyone. Then there was that look, that menacing character that Walt puts on when he becomes Heisenberg. We have seen it many times throughout the series anytime Walt has to do something ruthless or intimidate another. Like the time that he drives up to Gus’s home to shoot him, at first he’s scared, he sits in his car contemplating, but once he’s made up his mind he dons his black hat and his face becomes steely. That is the same look Walt gave Brock, that moment we see Walt has become Heisenberg permanently.

    In the end I think the Icarus story was meant to be aimed at Mike. I can see why Walt was upset over the hazard pay. Perhaps Mike should have cued him in on it before agreeing to work with him. I think it would have went over better, or at least let him know that was the only reason Mike had changed his mind. What I love about this show is that nothing is placed that isn’t meaningful. Watch out for Mike’s granddaughter, I think Walt would stoop that low to put Mike in his place.

    • Thanks so much for reading! It’s a lot of fun to analyze the episodes this much and try to predict what’s going to happen even though I know they’ll always keep us guessing.

      I still think it was Saul who physically delivered the lily of the valley. The way he said to Walt, “I didn’t know that kid would end up in the hospital,” in the season premiere sort of cemented that thought for me. And also that’s what Jesse accuses when he’s threatening to shoot Walt, and Jesse’s interpretation of events at that point seems to be spot on.

      Yes, Walt gave Brock the creepiest look. They really let that scene play out and linger. It was so uncomfortable! And the way Walt talks to Brock, bringing up the hospital stuff, was just creepy. And now he got Brock out of the picture.

      I’ve actually never watched Mad Men (yet). People keep saying it’s so good but I just haven’t ever watched it. BrBa is definitely the best show I’ve ever watched, hands down.

  2. I love every spin on Breaking Bad. It is the best show in the history of TV. My thoughts go before Mash.. They compare it to sopranos, the wire (couldn’t get into it) and Mad Men. As far as any comparison to MM. NEVER. Thats fun, but not brilliant. When you watch that, you wonder if it’s going to be good. Enough said. Just heard the podcast. Amazing. Emmy awards for all.

  3. Pingback: The science of Breaking Bad: Hazard Pay « weak interactions

  4. Mad Men is a great show, but it’s definitely apples and oranges when comparing to Breaking Bad. I can watch BB over and over, it has an intensity to the beats that make you want to sit back and inject it into your veins. I can’t say I have the same enthusiasm for MM. Further more the directing is more artistic. There are scenes that remind me of the way Stanley Kubrick directs, the camera tells a story, it pulls us in visually and emotionally. (The last scene in Crawl space). I think that’s what sets BB apart from every other show. I love Mad Men as well, but it’s great in different ways, there are so many more emotional notes in that show along with plot lines for the various characters. It’s character arcs are more realistic and universal in subjects. I’ve met Don Drapers, and Petes before, I’ve never come close to a Heisenberg, a Gus, a Mike, or even a Saul.

    I’m also a superfan of Game of Thrones, which again, I can watch over and over. I have trouble saying one genre is better then the other, apples, and poppies. I read that one of the directors from BB is going to be directing for GOT, I can’t wait to see how she adds to what is already a great show. I have to be honest, I’ve read all the books for GOT, and I’m a geek of epic proportions, so I was a bit disappointed with the second season, the stories really went of the rails for many of the characters, and for me, they were poor choices. I hope it follows it more closely next season.

  5. My fav scene in this episode was definitely Skinny Pete playing Carl Fillip Emanuel Bach’s (one sone of many that JSB had) Solfeggietto. Did you ever expect this from a guy who isn’t able to spell “street” (Peekaboo) right? I watched the scene over and over again and could have killed Badger for banging in the guitar chord (not!) :-)

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