"Hazard Pay" Review
“Hazard Pay” begins with Mike visiting his co-workers in prison. Mike assures each that he will provide for them and their families with hazard pay - a way to make right for their continued loyalty. This season has already established Mike as a loyal, business-savvy man, willing to do whatever necessary to protect those he cares for. “Hazard Pay” reinforces this conceit, which inevitably leads to conflict with Walt.
By the end of the episode, Mike and Walt do not see eye-to-eye. Walt’s ego continues to expand as he literally compares himself to Gus. I like how he mentions Victor’s murder in “Box Cutter,” incorrectly assuming that the murder was because Victor cooked meth, thus acting out-of-line. In reality, it’s likely that Gus killed Victor because Victor was seen at Gale’s house. Walt’s skewed thinking begins to reveal his dangerous mindset.
On the cooking side, “Hazard Pay” is quite brilliant. Walt comes up with the idea to hide their business in plain sight using fumigation tents. I love the very notion, and it raises few concerns or what-ifs for me. Likewise, there’s a personality to the homes that is somewhat creepy. Something about Walt and Jesse hanging out in someone else’s home drinking beer doesn’t sit right. The domestic setting allows for a moodier atmosphere than the large, cold super-lab. This premise will make a fine landscape for Season 5 and answers any logistical questions almost instantly.
Though she wasn’t given much screen-time, Anna Gunn delivered a chilling performance as Skyler this week. In the previous episodes, she’d been a bit catatonic - a mindset completely out-of-character for Skyler. However, we recognize that her fear of Walt set her down this path, and it culminates in a frightening break-down in front of Marie. The “shut up!” scene was weirdly effective and believable.
Marie confronts Walt (pointing the finger without pointing the finger), who manipulates the truth once more. It was nice to see lying Walt back, and I almost forgot how good he is at covering his own tracks. Walt is a master of deception and his ability to lie to himself often puts him in such dire circumstances.
I have to say that the writers are doing a great job making Walt unlikable. While his subtle manipulation of Jesse (getting him to break it off with Andrea and Brock) was bad enough, I was most disturbed by his interactions with Skyler. I never felt more grossed out (this season, at least) by Walt than when he chose to eat an apple rather than talk to her. Likewise, Walt, Jr. and Holly watching Scarface was appropriately disturbing.
Overall, “Hazard Pay” is a very strong episode of Breaking Bad that manages to both establish the world of Season 5 and provide an emotionally-complex story. I am most intrigued by Skyler’s breakdown and how that pans out going forward. Will she ever go back to strong, aggressive Skyler? It seems unlikely, but I hope she still has a fight inside her.
What are your thoughts? As always, I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below. I’ll see you next week at Walt’s 51st birthday. It’s crazy to think that, contextually, it’s only been a year since the pilot.