Season 5, Episode 3- Hazard Pay
“He handles the business. And I handle him.”- Walter White
Running a business isn’t an easy thing to do. Never mind a business “big enough that it could be listed on the Fortune 500.” And yet, that’s just the predicament Walter, Jesse and Mike find themselves in, and it’s the crux of another entry in what is easily Breaking Bad‘s strongest season yet (which is saying something). Putting this business back together starts with Mike’s visit to Dennis, the former manager of the laundromat. Mike, posing as a paralegal, guarantees Dennis that he, and by extension, all the rest of the names on Lydia’s list will get all the money that’s owed to them. Which explains why Mike has decided to enter into business with Walt again.
A business which gets its start, fittingly, in Saul Goodman’s office, where Mike meets up with Jesse, Walt and a protesting Saul. The first major sequence is Saul taking his three clients on a tour of possible lab venues, including Danny’s Lazer Tag, which Walt and Jesse reject immediately (it’s fun to imagine what, exactly, Mike thinks this place is. So strange that barely a season ago, Jesse was hiding in this place while Mike was trying to kill him). Eventually, they check out a small warehouse belonging to a local extermination company (Vamonos Pest), and while there, Walt comes up with an idea. They’re going to hire this extermination company and use the cover provided by their bug bombing to conduct a quick, efficient cook. In the client’s homes. The only catch is that they’ll have to take their lab equipment with them, which is a small catch in the face of becoming almost completely untraceable.
With the help of Badger and Skinny Pete (who plays a wicked keyboard), they complete their cover, and almost immediately begin smooth production. Despite Mike’s warnings to never talk to Walt and Jesse unless spoken to (a move that draws a modicum of respect from Walt. Mike is nothing if not professional.), one of the exterminators, Todd (played by Friday Night Lights‘ Jesse Plemons) comes up to Walt and Jesse and lets them know that he disabled the nanny cam in the first house. Walt asks his name, obviously marking it down for future reference. A king always needs more pawns.
And what does Walt need pawns for? The upcoming power struggle with Mike, of course. After their first batch sells, the three new owners meet to divvy up their profit. Mike begins taking cuts from all three to cover the costs of operation. Drug mules, operation costs, Jesse’s cut for financing the setup (and also the mission they undertook to destroy Gus’ laptop). Through all these things, Walt is quiet, if visibly annoyed. But when Mike takes a slice to put towards his guys’ “hazard pay,” Walt loses it. He maintains that since buying the silence of these former members of the Fring Empire is a business decision, it should come solely out of Mike’s pay. Walt has no desire to adhere to any form of criminal honor or decency. He’s in the hole, sure, but it’s not like he isn’t making a profit from all this, a fact Jesse is all too eager to remind him of. They aren’t making as much as they did under Gus’ rule, but they’re the owners now. They get a bigger cut. Plus, they’re only cooking 1/4th as much as they did as Gus’ wage slaves. Jesse is content. Which isn’t where Walt wants him.
Earlier in the episode, after their first cook, Walt sneakily inquires about Brock and Andrea (whom he officially met at Jesse’s earlier). He suggests that if Jesse is unwilling to share the secrets of what he does for a living with Andrea, then their relationship is doomed to fail (which is true, except for the fact that he and Skyler have nothing that could be considered a working relationship). Jesse is visibly panicked, and after the money-splitting issue with Mike, Jesse informs his old mentor that he has broken things off with Andrea. Walt dismisses him. He never really cared anyway. He just wanted Jesse all too himself, because, as he tells Jesse, he now understands why Gus killed Victor. “He reached too close to the sun,” Walt says, referring to Victor’s attempt to cook the formula while they were under house arrest at the superlab.
Walt’s insidious use of the truth to manipulate those around him continues when, after Skyler blows up on her at the carwash, Marie confronts him (of course Marie just assumes that Skyler being upset couldn’t possibly have anything to do with her.). While playing the cuckolded husband card, Walt tells Marie about Skyler’s affair with Ted, and how his accident is to blame for her recurrent breakdowns. Marie buys it immediately, since this is too juicy a lead for her not to sniff out (and also possibly something for her to hold over Skyler’s head in a few episodes).
The quote for this episode, from Walt to Saul, comes early in the episode, after Mike’s assertion that the business side was entirely his jurisdiction. Does that division of labor sound familiar? It’s similar to the one Jesse and Walt made late in Season 1, one that Walt almost immediately fractured when he marched into Tuco’s hideout with a bad full of fulminated Mercury and a new haircut. The difference now is that when Walt first became Heisenberg, he did so as a way of protecting himself from the criminal underbelly that he’s now all too acquainted with. At this point, it’s less about escaping the chafing bonds of middle-class servitude as it an all-encompassing desire for more. More money. More power. More freedom. If Walter White met the Buddha on the road, he wouldn’t kill him. He would dominate him and use him as slave labor. I think’s it time we stop calling Walt an anti-hero.
Season 5, Episode 4- Fifty-One
“Nobody stops this train.”- Walter White
Upon a re-watch, this episode’s cold open serves as some of the most welcome comic relief sequences in the show’s history. Walt and Junior go to pick up his Aztek from the shop, where the lead mechanic spends most of his screen time telling Walt just how reliable his old car is (“she’s got nine lives, this car”). After a passing reference to the “gunk” they cleaned out of the fender (the Rival Dealers’ blood, which Walt told them was from a deer), Walt sells the mechanic his car for $50. He’s done being dependable. It’s time for him to buy a car befitting his status as kingpin. Notice how this differs from Gus’ Volvo. Hiding in plain sight, Walter is not. It’s like he doesn’t even think about how the man in charge of the task force made to find him is his own brother in law. Regardless, after a pitiful look from Junior as they pull up in their respective rides, they return to the dealership, and Walt buys another Challenger for him. The exact same model. Let’s see Skyler take this one away. Walter is in such a dominant position in the relationship that he’s almost Big Brother to Skyler. He dictates her reality. “Life is good, Skyler,” he tells her, and you can almost see her soul leaving her body.
On the business side of things, Jesse pays a visit to Lydia’s plant after Hank’s investigation forces her to give up her “guy.” As Jesse removes the soon to be ignored barrel of methylamine, she notices a tracking device on the bottom. Mike figures out what her game is soon enough. By trying to make it seem as if the DEA is tracking her shipments, Lydia hopes to give herself a reason to escape her dealings with Mike. It’s a bold strategy, and one that bodes well for her character, if not her future (“she’s dead). Mike’s remarks that he and Jesse are being sexist in simply disregard her as being crazy is an interesting one, since that seems to have been this show’s go to move in dealing with its female characters (Hank himself jokes that Marie isn’t exactly the picture of mental health). I hope Lydia sticks around a little more, what with her mismatched shoes and all.
The centerpiece of this episode is Walt’s birthday celebration. It’s been a year since he was diagnosed, and it’s fun to pick out the contrasts between his 50th birthday party and his 51st. When Skyler threw him a surprise party in the Pilot, he was nervous and unabashedly against the entire affair. This year? This year he seems to expect it, and is visibly disappointed when his birthday bash turns out to be just Hank and Marie coming over for dinner (of course, Marie almost immediately told Hank about Skyler’s infidelity. Walt’s glare at her when he realizes is priceless). During Walt’s grand speech about how much he’s had to go through, Skyler begins inching closer and closer to the family pool. After Hank and Marie notice (Walt’s back was turned to the whole thing, of course), Skyler jumps in and attempts to drown herself. The shot of her below the water is the first time all season she’s looked happy. She can’t hear Walt. But then, in a jarring shot, he appears behind her below the water. One does not simply escape from Heisenberg.
One thing to notice is Hank’s reactions to all this. Before Walter Junior leaves (just in time, because Junior seeing just how desperate his mother is might be enough to sway him to her side. He’s not ignorant about his father. He just chooses to ignore it), Hank makes a quick joke about his nephew being “a millionaire.” He’s just been promoted to replace Merkert as ASAC of the the New Mexico office. He will no longer be in charge of the Fring investigation. Most reviewers have thought that he’ll find a way to continue it regardless. I think he’s going to find himself with ample opportunity to begin a new investigation. One into his brother in law. It has to be happening soon. There’s no way this show isn’t going to ignite that particular fire.
After Marie puts Skyler to bed, she and Hank corner Walt into letting Skyler get treatment, and offer to watch Junior and Holly for a few days. After they leave, he confronts Skyler, dropping the doting husband facade and practically chasing her around the bedroom. He calls her on all her attempts to get the kids away from the house, stating that there is nowhere safer for them to be. Gus Fring was the danger. “I thought you were the danger,” she retorts, and suddenly, Walt isn’t dealing with a comatose shell of a woman: Skyler has decided to fight back. Much like Walter himself did when he broke into the house in Season 3, Skyler has decided to stop being dominated in the War of the Whites. Unlike Walt, Skyler’s methods are much more patient. After Walt shoots down every one of her possible escape plans, she admits that she doesn’t have his “magic,” the magic that allows him to weasel his way out of everything. Skyler has no illusions of innocence, which is refreshing for her, considering nearly her entire run on this show has dealt with her rejecting just how bad things have gotten, either with Walt and with her own dealings with Ted. Walter has a new enemy to deal with (to go along with Hank, the enemy he doesn’t even regard as a threat), and this enemy is content simply with waiting. She says so herself. When Walt asks her what she could possibly be waiting for, she chillingly responds “for the cancer to come back.” Walt stops in his tracks. The show has been building to this for awhile, and as we saw in the flashforward that started this season, it’s a eventuality that the show hasn’t forgotten about. Walt was taking that pills in a Denny’s bathroom for a reason. Right now, he’s on top. He won. But the cancer that, a year ago, started all of this, is still lying in wait.
As he sits and listens to Jesse and Mike argue about what to do with Lydia, Walt has his trademark hat, which he recovered from the Aztek before selling it. When he found it then, he immediately put it on, in public. In front of his son. It’s not like anyone could do anything about it. But while he fiddles with the hat, he finds a loose strand. And as he lays down to sleep in the bed his wife is powerless to keep him out of, the watch Jesse got him for his birthday is ticking. Fifty. Fifty-one. Fifty-two. I don’t think he’s going to reach fifty-three. The clock is ticking, Walter.