Breaking Bad: Business Time

Breaking Bad S05E03: "Hazard Pay"

For the writers of Breaking Bad, part of the fun of making a show about the illegal manufacturing of meth (beside the throat cutting, ATM head-crushing, and wheelchair exploding) is plotting out how they would do it if they were a drug kingpin. And in "Hazard Pay," the writers had a blast.

If "Live Free Or Die" was cleaning up loose ends so they could start business, and "Madrigal" was figuring out a way to get Mike on board so they could start business, then "Hazard Play" was getting down to business. There's no doubt that the team's quest to find a new cook site dragged on a little long, but there's also no doubt that it was a fascinating adventure that spanned box-making companies, tortillerias with bonus perks, and Saul's favorite pastime... LAZER TAG.

But again it was Walter's brilliance and ingenuity that provided a solution to their problems, and the door to their new business model would be opened by cockroaches. The idea of using regular neighborhood houses that are being fumigated as temporary meth kitchens is insane, but as the episode progressed, it started to make a whole lot more sense, didn't it? No one is going to enter that circus tent of death, any weird noises and smells will be associated with the sounds of bugs screaming for their maker to take them away, and the driving time that Walter saves from being centrally located instead of out in the desert will save on gas money and keep the wear and tear on the Aztec down. Those perks aside, the best advantage from house-hopping is the mobility of it all. No stationary meth lab, no tracks constantly left behind, no place for the good guys to stakeout. When you're done with one cook, you're done with the place. Poof! Gone.

The only problem with this system is trust. Last week I talked about how the hardest part of building a drug empire is taking on others that might not be "solid." The fine employees of Vamanos Pest provide a great cover, but they're all degenerate crooks that are always on the lookout for opportunity (even if one of them IS Landry Fields from Friday Night Lights). They're associates of Saul Goodman, for chrissakes, how reliable could they be? Add Lydia, and that's a lot of unknown variables in the equation to account for. If anyone knows the importance of putting the right ingredients together, it should be chemistry wizard Walter.

As long as the end product (cash!) comes out satisfactorily, these unknown variables won't be a problem. But at the end Walter saw his stack of bills whittle down as Mike took out expense after expense, leaving Walter with a fraction of what he started with. And that's when Walter dropped a bomb on Jesse with his thoughts about why Gus really killed Victor. Walter reasoned that Gus killed Victor because Victor cooked meth on his own in Walter's absence. The way Walter saw it, Victor knew too much of the business and the chemistry and that made him a potential threat to Gus. He got "too close to the sun."

The real translation of that, I think, is, "Hey Jesse, let's kill Mike and keep all the cash for ourselves." And when you think about it, Mike coming into the partnership without telling Walter and Jesse about the "hazard pay" is a bit of a dick move. Mike's not going to budge on the business side of things, but he's taking advantage of Walter and Jesse to pay off the debts that Gus owed. The only problem here is that Walter and Jesse could be linked to Gus' mess through Mike, so if Mike's guys aren't paid off and the feds come crashing down on them, it could lead to Mike and it would take a second-and-a-half for Mike to flip on Walter and Jesse. But if Mike is buried in a shallow grave somewhere in the desert...

Skyler "Shut up!" White had quite a scene, didn't she? Already wound up from being married to a murderer, Skyler had to deal with Marie being all Marie and pass judgment until Skyler cracked and spewed enough "shut ups!" to set the record for a single scene in film or television (breaking Arnold Schwarzenegger's record from Kindergarten Cop). It's probably more of a major moment than you think. With Hank back to work, Marie will be sniffing around for something else to dig her nose into a like a hog looking for truffles. Walter did the right thing by telling Marie that it was all about Ted, but that's only going to make Marie dig deeper into that (could Marie talking to Ted somehow drag Hank into the picture?). And what if Walter does go through with killing Ted like we suspected from the first episode of this season? There are tons of possibilities here, and none of them are good for Walter.

The most gorgeous sequence in "Hazard Pay" was the meth-making scene from within the house. Unlike previous gritty cooks, it was romanticized into the perfect job. Billows of toxic fumes dancing like Fred Astaire, chemicals with more syllables than this sentence mingling together and turning into something even more poisonous, and liquid crystal so blue that Esther Williams should be swimming in it. And it was all done against the backdrop of the American dream: a suburban family home. Just like the cockroaches that hide in the cupboards, America's most dangerous drug is being made right under everyone's noses. It was beautiful commentary on a social plague that's hollowing out parts of America.


– This isn't the first time Walt Whitman has been brought into Breaking Bad. Walter White has quoted Whitman (name similarity duly noted) before. This particular book that Walt unpacked in this episode, "Leaves of Grass," is noted for its highlighting of the human mind and body, particularly the sense, according to my friend Wikipedia. That makes sense. Walter right now is on a total body high from the rush of power. There's no secret motivation to his actions. He's drunk on power.

– Great talk between Saul and Walter about Mike. Saul: "He gave me the dead mackerel eyes." Walter: "He probably threatened someone before breakfast this morning. It's what he does. Come on. Grow a pair."

– With what Mike has to go through to keep everyone quiet, maybe it is easier to actually kill them instead.

– Skinny Pete! Concert pianist! Who knew?

– Walter had considerably less overt Heisenberg moments this episode as that theme was established in the first two episodes and backed off of to progress the story. But how creepy was the moment with Walter and Brock alone? And what do you make of the look he gave Brock?

– Speaking of Walter's looks, what did you make of Walter's menacing stance in the hallway after he told Marie about Ted and Skyler? It looked like he was going to rage, but instead he went to the kitchen and took a big old chomp on an apple. He's obviously not to happy with Skyler's breakdown.

– I was pretty shocked that Jesse broke up with Andrea after all the positive talk he had with Walter, but I think that is exactly what Walter wanted out of that conversation. On the surface, it's great to see Walter and Jesse friendly enough to have a beer, but Walter is still pulling Jesse's strings. The man is a master manipulator.

– The Scarface bit may have been a bit heavy-handed, but it was still awesome. Sweet audio cut to the counting money, too.

Follow writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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