TV Talk: BREAKING BAD 5.03 - “Hazard Pay”
One of the big themes of Breaking Bad is consequences. The show is fastidious in following up on the consequences of actions, going along threads that other series would certainly ignore. The death of Gus at the finale of season four would have been, for most shows, the end of that particular strand; while other showrunners would have Mike and related characters certainly continue, it’s the peculiar genius of Vince Gilligan that he keeps pulling at that string, seeing where it leads.
Last week it led to Madrigal, the German company behind Gus, and it led to death and complications and a whole series of reverberations well outside of Walter’s understanding. This week it seems like some of that has calmed down, and that Walter and Jesse and new partner Mike are building a whole fresh drug empire. But I can’t watch the scenes of Jesse and Walt cooking in someone’s house without thinking about the consequences.
The new lab is a mobile one, but not like the RV. Instead Walt and Jesse have hooked up with a crooked pest control company, and the deal is that they move the lab into a home that is getting tented up for a bug bombing. This keeps the lab from being in any one place, hides it in plain sight - nobody pays attention to tented homes - and even accounts for the smells of the cook.
But watching them in a civilians’ home, seeing the smoke vent out over a kiddie pool and a backyard slide, I couldn’t help but wonder how this is going to go wrong. What will be the consequences? A blown up suburban house? Meth labs are dangerous. A poisoned family? Meth labs use incredibly toxic chemicals. Something worse? Whatever the consequence, it will come as a surprise to Walt, who will be forced to lie and do fancy footwork to keep himself out of jail. Or out of a grave.
Mike is much more aware of consequences. He sees why he needs to keep paying the Fring employees who lost their hazard pay. And it’s why he’s so fastidious with doling out everyone’s cut from the first cook. Walt, meanwhile, gets angrier and angrier at seeing his slice of the pie grow smaller and smaller; eventually it takes Jesse - Jesse! the high school idiot! - to explain that they’re cooking less now then when they were under Gus, and that’s why they’re bringing in less.
But Walt has no understanding of consequences, or cause and effect, seemingly. He wonders aloud to Jess if perhaps Gus killed Victor because Victor attempted the cook, when it was pretty obvious that Victor died because he was seen at the scene of Gale’s death. But what that conversation really means is that Walt’s ALREADY thinking about killing Mike, an unbelievably stupid idea - especially this early in the new operation.
It’s crazy that Jesse has become the most reasonable of the pair, but that’s not all - he’s also the most decent. He broke up with his girlfriend because he didn’t want Brock finding out about what he did. Compare that to Walt, watching Scarface with Walt Jr and the baby, relishing the gangster cliches. Walt even says ‘Everyone dies in this movie,’ seemingly unaware of how he’s living the Scarface story.
The presence of Scarface is a little meta; Vince Gilligan has said in the past that the show is about turning a regular guy into Scarface. The appearance of Steven Bauer last season was certainly a nod to that, and now clips from the film itself show up.
Speaking of TV clips, the fact that The Three Stooges was on while Walt and Jesse relaxed after a long cook was surely no coincidence. Saul has always been the voice of reason on the show, and he counseled Walt against teaming up with Mike. Surely these three stooges will find themselves taking a beating as well.