Breaking Bad Season 5, Episode 3 Deconstructed

by: Michael Shields

Walt vs. anyone who dares to get in his way……“Stacking Benji’s until the rubber band pops.”

I would like to start out today’s probe into the latest episode of Breaking bad, ‘Hazard Pay’, by taking a moment to officially welcome Jesse Plemons1 to the team.  He plays Todd, an employee of Vamanos Pest2, and although his contributions thus far have been minimal3 I believe that will change moving forward.

In a mere three episodes4 the table is fully set and everything is up and running.  The crew is organized, a mobile lab concocted after an entertaining romp around town on a potential meth-lab tour, and the money has begun to roll in.  How it is to be divided is another thing entirely.

A few cleverly directed cross cuts5 in a meeting between the four “amigos” at Saul’s office makes it clear who is in charge, although Mike and his “dead mackerel eyes” may think otherwise.  Walt’s relationship with those around him is increasingly becoming as congested as Huell’s breathing.  It is truly Walt vs. The World, and I am not sure there are any limits to what Walt would do to win this battle.  Walt’s main adversary’s, the ones who can truly threaten his reign, appear to be those closest to him: Mike, Jesse, and Skyler (And of course Hank and the DEA):

  • Mike: Although they have butted heads their entire relationship the legacy costs (the “Hazard Pay”) that are cutting into Walt’s profit could be their undoing.  Walt believes that it is Mike’s problem and it’s hard not to see his point – except the silence of the 9 corroborators is in everyone’s best interest.  The concern here is that Walt isn’t going to stand by much longer and let Mike make business decisions that affect his income.  This power struggle won’t end well – that is a lock, and adding a Jesse James insult to monetary injury doesn’t help the situation6.
  • Jesse: The cold-blooded manipulation continues at an alarming rate.  A seed planted about his relationship with Andrea blossoms into the break up of their “instant family” and who knows what the seed planted about Mike’s actions will bloom into.  But the problem here is that Jesse is intelligent beyond what most people give him credit for.  His knowledge of chemistry and equipment is vast and he is a talented young cook7, as talented as Skinny Pete is tickling the ivories.  The clever use of the magnet was his idea, the “we’re owners, not employees” speech was as mature as it was spot on, and the idea for the tent within the encased home was his as well – something he learned in Mexico.  How long will Jesse buy into Walt’s lies, his manipulations?  When does he revive from his coma of insecurity?  When does the false partnership, the house of cards, between “Yes Sir” and “No Sir” fall dramatically apart?
  • Skyler: Walt, as we have discussed here, has relentlessly shielded himself behind the lie that he is doing this all for his family.  But what happens when a family member becomes a liability, becomes a threat?  Skyler’s break down, of which one bite of an apple displays that Walt doesn’t give a f*ck about her8 , could be the first step in a downward spiral of irrational behavior that could make Walt susceptible.  What will he do then?

With every episode yet another viewer or two is saying, ‘You know, I’m not with this guy anymore. I’m watching him, but I’m not sympathizing.’ This is a guy moving along a continuum toward ultimately becoming Scarface, and it seems in episode 501 he’s already Scarface. -Vince Gilligan

The birthday that Marie refers to is Walt’s 51st.  We have already gotten a glimpse into the manner in which Walt spends his 52nd birthday but so very much has to occur for us to get from the point A we are at now to that point B.  Much of that journey was set up in this episode, including some possible foreshadowing.  When Walt and his son are watching Scarface9 to Skyler’s melodramatic chagrin we hear Walt, as the scene comes to a close, say something that could hold true as Breaking Bad comes to a climax.  He says “everyone dies in this movie”.

  1. Landry from the remarkable ‘Friday Night Lights’. []
  2. One of the “top drawer second story” men. []
  3. Not to diminish the importance of extinguishing the power on the nanny-cam. []
  4. Essentially 2.5 []
  5. This episode was directed by Adam Bernstein whose TV credits include Shameless, Bored to Death, Parenthood, 30 Rock, and OZ amongst others. []
  6. I wonder if Walt realizes how ironic it is that he implies that Mike is the one flying too close to the sun when he is as close to burning as anyone. []
  7. Terminology not withstanding. []
  8. I am surprised Walt hasn’t sold Skyler down the river sooner in regards to her indiscretion with Ted. []
  9. The irony here is maple syrup thick – just ask breakfast loving Walt Jr.. []

2 Comments

  • I think everything comes back to the teaser in 501, his 52nd birthday meal. The look on his face when he says “It’s my birthday”. There’s some serious mileage and despair in that look. Skyler and Walt Jr. could be in protective custody, in prison, or dead at that point. The look in his eyes says that his family is hopelessly gone from his life at that point. There is really no way that Skyler’s inevitable break down won’t be massively incriminatingly revealing to all or someone. On the other hand, there was that moment after they bought the carwash last season where Skyler and Walt hooked back up upon being turned on by the frantic message Walt left on the answering machine. A change of heart could be in the cards if Walt settles down long enough to pay attention to her feelings. She was impressive teaming up with Saul last season. I’m rooting for her to get back to a place where she’s the fifth amigo. My happy ending would be seeing her go to jail, not because I don’t like her but because I want to see her break bad.

  • Lindsay – you are spot on with your observations. The fact is that we see what by himself on his 52nd birthday doing something that was always done by Skyler (a family tradition) for him – writing his age in bacon on his plate. That leads me to believe something awful could have happened on the home-front. That is jumping to conclusions of course but the evidence is there.

    I, too, want more for Skyler. It is awful what is happening right now.

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