Of course Walter sits around gleefully watching Scarface with Junior. Of course he does. Because in Walt’s mind, he is Tony Montana. He is Jesse James (even if Mike tells him specifically that he’s not). And he is the new and improved Gus Fring, determined to be more wily and profitable than his old boss ever was. But whatever jollies he gets seeing himself in Al Pacino are not the only reason Walt settles in with a bucket of popcorn for movie night. It also helps him further perpetuate the myth that he’s on top of everything. That things are going to work out at home with Skyler because he’s going to move back in and will it so. That the new cooking operation is going to put Fring’s to shame. So why not relax and take in a flick?
“Hazard Pay” opens with Mike visiting one of his guys in jail to assure him no one else with knowledge of Fring’s organization is going to be killed like poor Chow and that a nice little nest egg will be waiting for him once he gets out, provided he keeps his mouth shut to the cops. At first, the scene feels like a holdover from last week’s episode, which focused on Mike and the problems that might be created by his people knowing too much. So it’s initially disappointing that the show goes right back to that. But this episode is ultimately about laying out the nuts and bolts of Walt, Jesse and Mike’s new operation, and by the end of it, we learn that Mike taking care of his guys is one of the cogs.
We also learn the location of Walt’s new lab … or locations, as the case may be. Using a Saul-recommended pest-control company as a front, Walt and Jesse are going to hop from house to house, cooking away behind tent-covered windows while the outside world assumes the place is being fumigated. This setup — which involves breaking down and reassembling the equipment for each cook — sounds better suited for a TV-show meth operation than a real-world one, though episode writer Peter Gould spends a good chunk of time trying to convince the viewer that it’s doable. (Nice to see yet another Breaking Bad cooking montage, and this one, with its day-glow molecular super-zooms, is superb.) From a character perspective, I suppose it also helps support Walt’s belief that he’s clever enough to make anything work. Still, that’s a overly complex undertaking for just two guys used to working in Winnebagos and superlabs.
While the first cook goes just fine (as does, apparently, the selling of the goods, which happens entirely off screen), issues arise once it’s time to split the profits. Mike only consented to come on board if the three agreed he would have full control of the business side of things, leaving Walt and Jesse in charge of production. But Mike’s decided that a large portion of their revenue needs to go to overhead costs, which includes building up those nest eggs to keep his guys quiet. This doesn’t sit well with Walt, who needs Mike involved but clearly doesn’t consider him his equal. (“He handles the business, and I handle him,” he tells Saul.) You can feel Walt seething as he watches over a million dollars in cash, piled high on a table, get whittled down to his meager $137,000 take-home. The push and pull between Walt and Mike is clearly going to be one of this season’s focal points.
“Hazard Pay” isn’t all business. It’s also jam-packed with fan service galore. Gale and Victor are name-dropped. Lazer Base is back for a quick gag. And, best of all, Badger and Skinny Pete return. Whoever would have guessed that Skinny Pete could tickle the ivory with the best of them? That dude wails on a keyboard! Badger needs to work on his barre chords though. I’d advise that he stick to single-neck guitars.
Marie makes her first season-five appearance this week, even though Hank is missing in action. She gets the brunt end of a Skyler meltdown, spurred on by Walt’s decision to move back home. (Does Walt really not notice how Skyler is nothing but nervous gulps and terrified stutters when he gives her the news? Or does he just not care?) Marie shows up at their house, vowing not to leave until she gets to the bottom of what’s wrong. Walt calms her down by offering … the truth. Or a small slice of it, anyway. He informs her about Ted’s accident, let’s it slip that Skyler and Ted were having an affair, and basically pats her head and sends her on her way. And it’s not just Marie who Walt’s manipulating this week. He doles out relationship advice to Jesse, which results in Jesse breaking up with Andrea. Just as Walt intended? Unclear, but probably. Walt also gets some awkward couch time with Brock, the boy he poisoned at the end of last season, winning this week’s “Moment When I Most Want To Throttle Walt” award.
So, all in all, yet another rock solid — if straight-forward — episode of Breaking Bad, featuring nothing but stellar work from Bryan Cranston and company. It is starting to feel a bit like Aaron Paul is spending too much time on the sidelines during the early goings of this season. The writers seem to be giving him one really juicy scene per episode to sink his teeth into (like last week’s teary breakdown or this week’s talk about Andrea), but past that, he’s usually playing third wheel to Walt-and-Mike shenanigans or using little character moments to remind us he’s around. (Stolen tortillas are the best tortillas.) Still, these first three episodes have largely been devoted to reshuffling the deck after Fring’s demise and getting Walt back into the yellow jumpsuit. Now that he’s cooking again, it can only be a matter of time before things start going wrong. One way or another, you know Jesse will play a large part. So not a big deal. But it wouldn’t hurt for a Pinkman-centric episode to come sooner rather than later.