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Breaking Bad, Ep. 5.03: “Hazard Pay” is a Classic Get-the-Pieces-Moving Episode

“Hazard Pay” is a classic get-the-pieces-moving episode, of the sort that serialized dramas generally need to make their season arcs tick. In other words, it’s not likely to be recalled as “the one where…” anything of spectacular import happened. That’s not a complaint, really; scan back on any given season of Breaking Bad and you’ll remember that they can’t all be “4 Days Out” or “One Minute” or “Half Measures.” It’s not that nothing happens in “Hazard Pay”; if anything, it continues this season’s trend of barreling through plot at a much faster click than Season Four did. It’s that the episode leaves you with the feeling that the real turns of the screw are still to come.

With Mike, Walt and Jesse’s partnership cemented, “Hazard Pay” opens with Mike tying the final loose ends left by Gus’s death: the people left behind, whose assets have been frozen by the DEA, need to be “made whole.” If last week didn’t make it clear enough, Mike is by far the most scrupulous criminal the show has ever seen. He leaves the man behind because, as far as he’s concerned, that’s just how things are done. Walt, being the greedy SOB he is, bristles at this idea, watching with barely-concealed rage as his cut of the first week’s take gets shaved down to a fraction of its former glory. It’s a foregone conclusion that Walt won’t let that indignity stand, even as Jesse tries to reassure him that it’s a healthier arrangement than the one they had with the deceased Mr. Fring. With the episode’s final bit of dialogue, in which Walt ruminates on the fate of poor Victor, he makes it clear that he’ll ice out Mike for good the moment it’s a feasible option.

Last week we met the frail-but-shady Lydia; she’s absent this time around, but we do get another new addition, Todd (Friday Night Lights‘s Jesse Plemons), a member of the crooked insect-killer squad who seems destined to muck up the works in one way or another. He disobeys Mike’s order not to address the “ghosts” by noting that he disabled a hidden camera ahead of their cook; to be sure, it won’t be the last time he oversteps his bounds.

On the house-fumigation scheme: besides being as inventive and out-of-left-field as we expect from Breaking Bad, it’s sort of ingenious as both a metaphorical device and for its visual opportunities. It moves the cook from a lavish basement lab to the cloaked innards of, well, anywhere, reflecting the insidious nature of the drug trade, as well as dovetailing nicely with the series’ motif of familial disorder. No iteration of the nuclear family can seem to last for long for those whose lives revolve around elaborately hidden lives. Mike has managed to retain ties to his granddaughter, but that’s about it. Skyler breaks down in spectacular fashion in front of Marie, no longer able to hold up her end of the great deception under any amount of scrutiny. (When she disappeared for the latter half of the episode to hole up in the bathroom, I began to fear she wouldn’t emerge alive.) And then there’s poor Jesse, whose ever-nagging conscience leads him to sacrifice his relationship with Andrea and Brock. (This is precipitated by the most subtly brilliant scene of the episode, in which Jesse and Walt discuss the strain of secrecy while The Three Stooges carry on mute in the background; Walt continues to subtly play Jesse like a fiddle, even if he thinks he’s just being fatherly.)

One complaint. Skyler’s moment of Scarface-induced terror was way too on-the-nose; if it had to happen, it would have been better off as a dream sequence. We already get that Skyler is terrified; it’s more or less the only note Gunn has gotten to play so far this season. The episode’s other visual flourishes were much more successful, especially the almost-virtuosic cooking montage, complete with its evocative flashes of chemical reaction, and the image of the insects crawling over top of Walt and Jesse’s oblivious heads (a canny callback to “Fly”). With many bits of business out of the way, it should be a familiar delight to witness just how all of this machinery begins to break apart.

Simon Howell

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Simon is a sometimes writer and podcaster living in Toronto.

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