Sunday, August 05, 2012

BREAKING BAD - "Hazard Pay"

Welcome to a roundtable discussion of this week's episode of Breaking Bad from your friendly neighborhood LowBrowMedia savants.
This is a spoiler-heavy zone. You have been warned.



Jon: Another solid installment of our favorite chefs this time out, but in terms of episode recapping, nothing enormous happened in week 3; mostly this was just table-setting for what I'm sure will be typical Breaking Bad craziness later on this season. What I mean by that is there was lots of minutia on how Walt and Jesse will be cooking their blue meth for the foreseeable future. Great to watch, but not that interesting to talk about, really. The gist of it is they're going to forgo having a traditional laboratory, and instead will employ a roving lab temporarily set up in pest-infested homes with the help of shady Terminx-type dudes. Frankly, it's a pretty ingenious plan and severely reduces the chances of their getting busted, but there does seem that it's only a matter of time before a cockroach or other vermin may contaminates a batch at some point. I'm sure hilarity will ensue if that comes to pass.

One moment of significance did occur during the cook, when Walt continued with his manipulative ways while the two were waiting for the meth to finish cooking. After seeing how close Jesse and Andrea were becoming again earlier in the episode (a scene that also contained the most awkward stare imaginable between Brock and his poisoner), Walt convinces Jesse under the guise of fatherly advice about commitment to break it off with her to further his own interests, all while making Jesse believe it was his idea in the first place. The cook turns out to be a successful one, and the two seem pleased with themselves after they leave the tented house.

Getting back into production has generated their cashflow once more, but the total is not to Walt's liking. Mike divvies up the mullah in plain sight  of all and, by the end, there is less than half left of what Walt thought he was going to get to take home. He and Jesse's product yield is lower than it was while working out of Gus' lab, plus they have tons of overhead now in paying off Saul, dug mules and "legacy" members (aka the 9 of the 11 guys left Lydia was trying to off last week), which lowers their payday considerably. Walt had not considered either of these factors when their payday arrives. After making his displeasure known, Mike responds with the line of the season thus far: "Just because you shot Jesse James, doesn't make you Jesse James." It looks as though Walt will try to find a way to usurp Mike's authority once he figures out a method of replacing what he brings to the group, which is basically everything aside from the actual product.


Meanwhile, on the homefront, Skyler continues to veer off the deep end of sanity. Just when she thinks things can't get any worse than they already are, they do. The culprit this week? Walt's moving back into the house unannounced. This leads to a scene at the car wash at Marie (hey, remember her?) where Skyler officially snaps, screaming "SHUT UP!" repeatedly. This had the rare effect of actually getting Marie to stop talking for 10 seconds. She takes Skyler home to sleep off her panic attack and waits for Walt to return from cooking. When he finally arrives, she's ready to let him have it and get to the bottom of what's going on with her sister. But Walt turns the tables on her quickly. I don't think he actually lied about anything during this exchange. He just dropped a hint here and there, and let Marie's imagination do the rest. Next thing you know, he's out of her line of sight and she'll focus her well-intentioned but ultimately misguided wrath at Skyler instead.

Of course the big news of the week was introduction of Lance... er, I mean, Landry from Friday Night Lights! Better known in the real world as Jesse Plemmons, he'll be playing Todd, who will... well, I don't know yet, but he'll do something memorable before long. And for those you unfortunate folks that have not treated yourselves to FNL, you are going to be pleased by what he's able to bring to a scene. He's one of the pest-control burglars, capable of spotting and disabling nanny cams. In other words, he could be useful to Walt.

For as long as I can remember, I've been drawn to books, movies, shows, etc., where the criminal is, if not the hero of the story, the focus of the it. It's one of the many reasons I enjoy Breaking Bad as much as I do. But one movie I have never gotten around to seeing is Brian De Palma's Scarface with Al Pacino from 1983. And even though I haven't seen it, basically everyone knows it's the story of the rise to power and thunderous collapse of a drug lord. So deep into this week's episode when an increasingly horror-stricken Skyler walks into the living room to find Walt watching the end of the movie with their two children (yes, including their little baby girl), I couldn't help but connect Walt and his big bad machine gun we saw in the season premiere's cold open to a coke-infused drug kingpin Tony Montana blowing the shit out of everything in his sight. Obviously their paths are incredibly different, but each season we've seen Walt come closer to becoming the top dog in the southwestern U.S. meth landscape. Judging by his continued displeasure with his current situation, it stands to reason he'll keep cutting through anyone in his way until he's able to call all the shots. Any guesses as to which person will Walt's little friend be saying hello to in the coming weeks?

Mike:  Here’s my take, in conveniently hyphenated bite-sized bullet thought points!

- Mike Ehrmantraut, the hardest-working man in “loss prevention,” is really hustling this entire episode.  That’s the thing about him, though.  He knows exactly what needs to happen, and he’s got a plan as to how to accomplish that.  This is, of course, due to his many years on the job doing things that required some pretty fancy footwork in order to keep everything running.  So, if I was in business with him, I would pretty much let him do his thing.   Walt’s already got a problem with letting Mike handle the business, simply because he apparently thinks that he can do better.  Well, he’s done fine so far, but only through an incredibly disproportionate dumb-luck-to-smarts ratio. If he takes Mike out, as he’s getting ready to manipulate Jesse into getting behind by the end of the episode, we’ll just have to see how smoothly this whole operation will run.

- That said, I’ve got to wonder about the whole process of making the former employees of Gus Fring “whole.”  To me at least, it seemed as if it was presented to Walt like an ongoing concern.  I can’t help but wonder if Walt might have handled the bad financial news better if they looked it as a loan that needed to pay off, and then profits would be back up to a higher level.  Now, something like $20 million in makegoods (by my calculations, there are 12 people on the list including Mike’s granddaughter, minus the two dead guys from last week, multiplied by $2 million a piece) is nothing to sneeze at.  But at least it’s a goal to move towards.  I can imagine that seeing those stacks of bills get decimated as each piper gets paid has got to hurt.

- But Walt has to keep the long view.  (OR DOES HE?)  It just doesn’t make sense that Walt wouldn’t see the wisdom in Mike’s business sense.  (OR DOES IT?)  Maybe, just maybe, Walt doesn’t really see much of a future for himself.  But then, if his cancer is back, as I honestly and truthfully do believe it is, what is he working towards?  It can’t be as “pure,” relatively speaking, as it was when he started out.  I’m sure we’ll be seeing and hearing more on this during that big 51st birthday celebration that his wife and sister-in-law are planning for him.  We’ve all seen how Walt likes to celebrate poolside with his family -- drunk, swaggering, and belligerent.

- Man, oh, man.  Though Walt and Jesse’s plan for using a series of about-to-be-fumigated houses to cook meth is pretty brilliant, the image that has stuck with me all week is the fumes being ventilated right near the kids’ swingset.  Wasn’t Jesse in trouble a few seasons ago because, essentially, once you use a house to cook meth in, it leaves poisonous residue, and renders the house unlivable, or at the very least extremely dangerous to live in?  Just another way that Walt infests and kills everything around him.  Just think, who could have foreseen that just because he watched a young woman OD/choke to death, a devastating plane crash would occur which would affect the entire community?  The dominoes, I believe, are stacking up and are going to fall down hard.

- The series of scenes where Saul took Jesse, Mike, and Walt to all the prospective meth cooking sites was wonderful.  Poor Saul, he’s working so hard for these guys.  Would it be so bad to say “thanks” once in a while?  Just look at these knuckleheads, working together for the common good:

 - A lot of favorite incidental characters reappared for the first time this season, too.  Skinny Pete shows some business acumen, while Badger seems to have been correctly nicknamed, if badgers are lumpy, dense, and oafish.  (Actually, I’m pretty sure they’re not.)  I still haven’t mentioned the return of Saul’s bodyguard Huell!  You gotta love all the noise he makes when he breathes.  Finally, as Jon mentions above, we’ve got Jesse Plemons joining the cast this week as an up-and-coming fumigator with an eye for security systems.  I’m really looking forward to seeing what he adds to the mix.

- Also, a lot of movement this week with Jesse's personal relationship, as well as Marie and Skyler butting heads and Walt continuing his truth-telling and gameplaying.  I'm not going to get into them too deeply right now, but these are important things that are going to have huge consequences this season.  Though this was another one of those table-setting episodes in a lot of ways, I’m cool with the table-setting.  I can wait.  I know it’ll be worth it when it all blows up in Walt’s face.

See you next week!




Previous Breaking Bad season 5 roundtables: 
Week 1 - "Live Free Or Die"
Week 2 - "Madrigal"

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