A few things are evident after the most recent episode of Breaking Bad, “Hazard Pay”. First of all, Walt is going to kill Mike somehow. I hate to be the guy to say it, because Mike has quickly shot up the charts to one of my favorite characters, but it’s going happen. At the height of Walter White’s Heisenberginess (copyright pending), there cannot be two alpha dogs running in his pack. Leading the “business” side of things for Team Bug Bomb, Mike also imagines himself as the alpha. Perhaps more accurately, he realizes just how volatile Walt is and recognizes the need for him to be under somebody’s thumb.
Either way, after the chillingly tense scene where Walt was forced to stomach the indignity of Mike taking away his money for the “legacy fund”, there is clearly a problem. After Walt’s speech to Jesse about how some people simply fly too close to the sun and burn off their wings, his intentions are clear enough. As he says to Saul Goodman, “Mike controls the business. And I control him.” Mike doesn’t see things in such a way, so one man will destroy the other. Walt will meet his demise eventually, but for now the smart money is on him.
Second, Jesse somehow became the most intelligent member of this operation. While Walt continues down his path toward a hubris-ridden blaze of glory and Mike stupidly pokes the bear, a certain Mr. Pinkman is suddenly the coolest head. And the coolest head tends to prevail, yes? Plus, he seems to know both the business and the cook without either of their help. In Aaron Paul’s first meaty role of Season 5, it is obvious that Brock’s poisoning episode has done something to raise Jesse’s level of maturity. Add some confidence and hecould probably run Walt’s operation on his own…and, hey, I bet fewer people would be killed in the process.
After a cold open which sees Mike pretending as a paralegal to talk to his guys behind bars, the main thrust of “Hazard Pay” is the establishment of a new infrastructure for hocking the blue stuff. Their pristine laboratory having been burnt, a new locale is necessary, so Saul takes Walt, Jesse and Mike on a tour of Albuquerque’s finest potential meth cook sites. A combination of finicky and savvy, nothing appeals to the trio until a seed plants itself in Walt’s head: bug bomb. The operation will rove around to different sites, houses that are being sprayed for termites. While the circus tent-like material is covering the house, they will be able to cook without suspicion. Any strange smells around town will be attributed to the poison. It’s a plan that’s both elegant and hare-brained. If Walt was afraid of loose ends before, this opens up Pandora’s box. Not only do the chances of slipping up increase with a thousand different set ups and tear downs, but the pre-existing staff of Vamanos Pest is now on board. Saul says they can be trusted. But who the hell trusts Saul?
In the meantime, Skyler continues to live in mental anguish over her new life with Walt back in the picture. The experience with seeing Ted Beneke in the hospital has apparently engendered some variety of PTSD within her. After Skyler screams at Marie to shut up at the car wash (and I love Betsy Brandt, but who hasn’t wanted Marie to shut up at least once?) Walt is forced to tell a convenient half-truth about his wife’s relationship with Beneke. But what happens when somebody less easily duped than Marie catches on to Skyler’s erratic behavior and mood?
This was a fantastic episode. Like the entire season thus far, Hank should be playing a larger role, but we’ll forgive it again for now. The synthesis of Walt’s pending turmoil with Mike is beautifully played. The audience is on pins and needles as it waits for the steely glares to turn violent. I would guess that it’s coming sooner than later. Walt and Jesse’s relationship is also fascinating to watch. Who knows how Walt can find it within himself to exist in the company of Brock after he poisoned him? (Does Brock remember his face, by the way? That could spell trouble.) Either way, he seems to enjoy dispensing fatherly advice to Jesse when it suits him. I still insist that their relationship will take a hard turn to the left before Season 5 Part 1 is through.
In addition to the gripping plot of “Hazard Pay”, the cook scene set to a smooth jazz version of “On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)” was a gorgeously rendered scene in both aesthetic and substance. Sometimes, a musical track complements its visual element so perfectly that there is no explanation. They simply exist together. That was the case here. The producing and editing team should feel great pride.
A new character, Todd, is introduced as an employee of Vamanos Pest (Friday Night Lights fans will be pleased to see Jesse Plemons again). He demonstrates his value to Walt by warning the chemical brothers of a nanny cam at their first cook locale. But is it correct to assume that any character introduced at this juncture will be a stumbling block? We’ll have to see what Todd is all about.