Spoiler Alert!- Read if you want, but there are many spoilers if you haven't seen the episode yet.
Now that the plot and direction of season 5 is clearly established (well, somewhat), and all the anticipated conflicts are well underway, it is great to have the most unsuspecting meth-cooking partners finally back to business. With a location scouted by Saul, production handled by Walt and Jesse, and business (everything else apparently) being managed by Mike, the unlikely Madrigal (see last week’s comment from J. Wiz) is well underway to becoming a thriving criminal enterprise again. But this is Breaking Bad, so nothing good can stay.
Title- “Hazard Pay"
Literally, episode 2’s title refers to the money seized by the DEA that was owed to all of Gus’s main employees. Mike considers all of these men his “guys” and wants to do right by them, and also realizes they are less likely to talk to the Feds if they’re guaranteed their money. The opening of this episode leaves no question as to why Mike had a change of heart in episode 2 and decided to join Walt and Jesse. Yet, the title certainly foreshadows greater discord between the newly formed partnership to be expected, and it doesn’t take long for this unstable and fledgling business to unravel on account of the hazardous costs of poor relations.
Scene 1- Walt and Brock
In arguably the darkest scene of the season, Walt remorselessly gazes over at the young boy, Brock, that he almost killed to acquire Jesse’s allegiance. Walt’s manipulation of Jesse is brilliantly diabolical in this scene when he introduces himself to Jesse’s girlfriend, Andrea, as Jesse’s “friend” a description that seems to equally surprise and endear Jesse to Walt. But it’s Walt’s slow stare over to Brock, which brilliantly contrasts the former interaction, and Brock’s return look, that really steals the scene, reaffirming that Walt’s wickedness knows no limits. It is a stare of a truly coldblooded killer, one that we can expect horrific things from this season.
Scene 2- Meth Cooking Metaphor
With Walt’s seemingly brilliant idea underway (mobile cooking in homes to be fumigated for insect infestations), business is going well again. One of the more brilliant sequences on the show over the years has been the sped-up montages of the chemical bonding process that occurs to form the crystal meth. It’s a process that takes time and must be managed ever so carefully for the temperamental nature of the chemicals involved to bond ever so perfectly to develop the best possible result. The sped-up sequence serves as a great metaphor for the dynamic and volatile relationships between all of the characters. Last night’s montage was reminiscent of when Walt and Jesse first started cooking successfully together in Jesse’s RV and they started to actually bond. The relation is an amazing one, and it’s hard to believe that Gilligan intended to kill Jesse off in season 1. However, the montage also shows how easily things can go awry when dealing with such precarious chemcials and how careful the two are when working with them. It's a shame the two aren't as careful in their management of their personal relationships, especially with each other.
Scene 3- Shut Up, Shut Up, Shut Up!
Apparently there is a large Skyler White-hating contingency that has never appreciated Anna Gunn’s portrayal of Walter’s oft-troubled wife. However, even these haters have to admire the brilliant, yet subtle, acting of Gunn over the past few weeks, playing the absolutely terrified wife of a man turned monster. Two of the three scenes Skyler was in were fantastic in this episode especially. Her nervous breakdown with her sister Marie, screaming “Shut Up!” countless times and collapsing in tears after Marie asked what she was planning for Walt’s birthday, and the shorter scene of her staring in horror as Walt sat with baby Holly and Walter Jr. watching Scarface (A potential foreshadowing for Walt and his massive machine gun?), both perfectly captured the near breaking point that Skyler is rapidly approaching. Both scenes took me back to when Skyler contemplated running, I believe in season 3, with Holly. At this point, I’m sure Skyler wishes she had, as it is evident that there is no moving on with Walt. Regardless, Anna Gunn has certainly earned her recent Emmy nod from her work in season 4, and at this rate is a sure in for another after this year.
Scene 4- “He’ll handle the business, and I’ll handle him”
It is very clear that Walt severely underestimates Mike. It probably has to do with the fact that Walt really only saw Gus as an adversary and in charge, not Mike at all, and this is one aspect that has me slightly confounded. The easy explanation is that Walt is so blinded by his own arrogance and greed that he can’t see that Mike is clearly a worthy, if not superior, adversary, and that he has somehow managed to forget all of the times Mike called him unexpectedly when Walt was in the parking lot of Los Pollos Hermonos, seemingly knowing where Walt was all the time. Also, Mike kicked Walt’s ass, so his cocky swagger and belief that he can easily manipulate Mike the way he has Jesse seems slightly unbelievable for as smart as Walt is. Finally, Walt and Jesse severely need Mike for their business to thrive. Otherwise, they would have to return to depending on Jesse’s friends to sell on the street for a small return or partner up with another sociopath like Tuco. We all know how that worked out, but every time I’ve doubted the writers before, they’ve proven me wrong, so maybe I’m the one who shouldn’t be underestimating anyone.
Scene 5- Daedalus and Icarus
As I said in the Title analysis, it wouldn’t take long for the newly formed corporation to encounter some problems, most notably the issue of payment for services rendered. Walt, envisioning himself as the new Gus, or Jesse James as Mike would have it, expects Gus-like money, or at least as much as he was making under Gus. Even with Jesse’s reasonable explanation that they’re not cooking nearly as much and therefore can’t expect the same pay, Walt struggles to concede to Mike’s other payouts, especially to former employees of Gus. Walt’s hubris perpetuates his agitation, and while some have speculated that Walt desires the money for a potential second bout with cancer, it seems more likely that this is merely a power struggle, one that Walt lost, at least for now. However, the reference to Icarus, son of Daedalus, at the end of the episode in unison with his allusion to Gus’s cutting of Victor’s throat for potentially becoming too greedy and prideful seems to be Walter’s first significant move in “handling” Mike through Jesse. While some have speculated this as a threat to Jesse, for it certainly was out of nowhere, leaving Jesse as confused as many viewers, it seems far more in line with Walt’s character to exploit Jesse, as he’s done in the past, to best his adversary. The irony, though, that Walt is going to lecture anyone about hubris, especially when his was just on full display only moments earlier, is very clear and just another indication of Walt's absolute corruption and single-mindedness.
Patrick Edmonds is a co-founder, editor, and writer for/of The Lunch Break. His passions include Food, Arts & Entertainment, and Education. You can follow Patrick Edmonds on facebook and on Twitter @patrickedmonds1.