Breaking Bad recap: Hazard Pay
The Icarus myth makes a pretty good cautionary tale. And that’s exactly why Walt brings it up with Jesse.
Remembering Gus Fring’s henchman Victor, who tried to cook meth on his own and got a box cutter to the jugular in return, Walt concludes that the poor guy was the victim of his own ambition. “All this time, I was sure that Gus did what he did to send me a message,” says Walt. “But maybe there’s another reason. Victor trying to cook that batch on his own? Taking liberties that weren’t his to take? Maybe he flew too close to the sun, got his throat cut.”
Maybe he’s right that Gus wasn’t sending a message to Walt, but Walt’s certainly sending one to Jesse. It sounds like he’s suggesting that Mike needs to go, just like Victor. But by that logic, Jesse might be in trouble, too. Like Victor, Jesse can now cook on his own, as he proved in Mexico. And he’s only getting savvier: it was Jesse who came up with the magnet plan, who enlisted Badger and Skinny Pete to buy some crucial equipment, who figured out how to hide the finishing tank without the motor getting in the way.
Walt knows that he needs Mike (if only for his methylamine connection) and Jesse (if only to keep Mike from losing his patience), and he’s smart enough to understand that those guys might not need him with the same urgency anymore. But he’s missing the irony of his story. If anyone needs a lesson about hubris, it’s Walt. Why did Walt keep cooking meth even after his cancer was gone? Hubris. Why did he keep working the magnet long after he and Jesse should’ve made their getaway? Hubris. What will eventually lead Hank directly to Heisenberg, if he’s not careful? Hubris.
That’s exactly why Jesse’s lucky that he has Mike.
Watching Mike in the opening scene, it’s clear that he’s the opposite of Walt. He’s a careful, practical, long-term thinker, and he’s trustworthy to the guys who’ve served him. When Mike visits Dennis Markowski in prison, he assures him that his deal with Gus is still in place. (It’s a good callback to last week, when Lydia asked Mike, “What about Dennis at the laundry? They are sure to pick him up.”) Although Dennis promises he’ll keep his mouth shut, he brings up a good point: Gus is dead, and the lab’s a hole in the ground. He will stay loyal, but sooner or later, someone’s going to flip, so why does it matter?
Mike’s answer? Because Dennis will still get paid. Mike admits that has a new venture to help him keep that promise. “Something new, with the Feds looking at you?” says Dennis, incredulous. “How?”
“How’s my business,” says Mike.
And he’s right. We might know all about his “pest control” situation. But something tells me that we don’t know everything about what Mike has planned for the future just yet, and neither does Jesse or Walt.
NEXT: Walt rediscovers Leaves of Grass
Back at home with Skyler, Walt’s busy moving back in with Skyler when he comes across an ominous relic from the past: there’s a copy of Leaves of Grass in his box. Walt Whitman’s classic keeps coming back to haunt him. Gale once quoted from Whitman’s poem “The Learn’d Astronomer,” and it was only after hearing a Jeopardy question about Whitman’s “barbaric yawp” that Walt decided to kill those dealers in “Half Measures.” Also, when Hank looked through Gale’s belongings, he found a familiar-looking image of Walt Whitman (bald head, goatee) near some equally familiar initials, “W.W.” Does Walter White = Walter Whitman?
True, some of Whitman’s poetry feels like a perfect mantra for The One Who Knocks, especially “I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, / I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.” But those words, from “Song of Myself,” also feel like a warning. Early in that poem, Whitman explains that grass is like democracy: it grows everywhere. Looking at the graves of Civil War vets, he realizes that everyone will die eventually, and grass will grow on all of our graves. It’s a lesson that Walt should keep in mind when he’s dealing with Mike: democracy is the great equalizer—and when democracy doesn’t work, there’s always death.
For now, though, Walt’s pretty certain that he’s the boss of everyone, including Mike. When Mike insists that he will be the one who handles the business, Walt tells Saul, “He handles the business, and I handle him.” Fair enough. It’s Walt who comes up with the idea to cook with a traveling pest control business. (Though the other options—box factory! tortilla plant! the laser tag place where Jesse hid in “Full Measures”!—make for a great comedic montage, especially with Jesse gobbling up hot tortillas.) And that cover story couldn’t be more apt. If anyone knows how to remain inconspicuous, even while draping a giant yellow and green tent over the house, it’s Walt. There’s nothing that thrills him more than hiding in plain sight.
Also, it’s fitting that it’s his job to make those houses toxic. That’s a pretty appropriate metaphor for what happened when he moved back home with Skyler. If it wasn’t bad enough that he put the whole family in danger, he’s now forcing Baby Holly to watch Scarface (a movie that echoes Walt’s own journey “from Mr. Chips to Scarface”) and threatening Skyler with his commentary: “Everyone dies in this movie, don’t they?” No wonder Skyler’s inching closer to a nervous breakdown. She won’t eat breakfast. She sleeps all day. And she’s so nervous about Hank’s promotion, she’s chain-smoking (beware of that ricin!) and screaming at Marie.
Maybe Skyler only said what all of us have wanted to say to know-it-all Marie all along: “Shut up shut up SHUT UP!” But I actually feel bad for Marie. She’s seriously concerned about her sister. And she seems legitimately shocked when Walt explains her outburst by revealing that Skyler slept with Ted. (Nice work, Walter: the one time you basically tell the truth, it’s only to blame your wife. And under the pretense of saving Skyler’s dignity, he prevents Marie from telling Hank.) When Marie hugs Walt, her face is full of compassion. But Walt is just proud of what he’s pulled off.
Of course, Skyler still knows too much. The wives always do, including Marie. And that’s one reason why Walt wants Jesse split up with Andrea. (Obviously, the other reason is Brock, who could blow Walt’s cover at any time. Right now, it’s unclear whether he knows that Walt poisoned him, but as Mike would say, he’s like a time bomb tick-tick-ticking.) Walt’s strategy for facilitating the break-up is pure genius. First, he convinces Jesse that he’s the one in control. (“This has to be your decision,” Walt tells him. “I mean, you’ve earned that.”) Then he pushes Jesse to remember the worst things he’s done (“You mean Gale?” Jesse asks, horrified). Finally, he makes the decision for him. “She loves you; she’ll understand,” says Walt, knowing that Jesse will realize that this isn’t true. By the end of the episode, Jesse has left Andrea. Done and done!
As for Mike, well, he’s much harder to manipulate. He insists on paying off all his men, even the ones who ended up in jail. Mike shows a coolheadedness that has somehow escaped Walt. Explaining why they have to pay the mules—something that Gus never had to do, because he ran his own distribution—he tells Walt that if he doesn’t want to cover the extra costs, he shouldn’t have killed Gus. “Just because you shot Jesse James don’t make you Jesse James,” he growls.
Funny, that’s another way of saying, don’t fly too close to the sun. But Walt’s too worked up to listen. Why can’t he just let Mike run the business? Hubris. These guys are in the pest-killing business now. And the biggest pest they’re dealing with is Walt.
NEXT: a few points of discussion for you readers
Until next week, a few random observations:
—Whenever someone eats an apple on this show, you know something really bad just happened. The Mexican guys who shot up Gus’s van in “Bullet Points” were eating green ones. And the first thing Walt does after lying to Marie is take a big bite out of a red one.
—So glad to see that many of my favorite minor characters are back! Huell the Heavy-Breather! Badger and Skinny Pete! Who knew that Skinny Pete could play classical piano so beautifully? If “Vamonos Pest” was a real band, they’d cover “Fallacies” by Twaughthammer.
—Saul compares his partnership with Jesse and Walt to the Three Amigos: “All for one, and one for all.” But later, we see Walt and Jesse watching the Three Stooges. Maybe that’s a more apt metaphor.
—More great lines from Saul: “He said he was gonna break my legs. And don’t tell me he didn’t mean it, cause he gave me the dead mackerel eyes.” “You can’t just pop down to Costco and get a couple of dehumidifiers?”
—The song playing during that awesome extended meth-cooking sequence is “On a Clear Day” by the Peddlers.
—As a big fan of Friday Night Lights, I was happy to see Jesse Plemons as Todd, the new pest control worker who warns Walt about the nanny cam in the living room. (Possible spoiler alert: I hear that this character “may not actually be who he appears.” Hmmm. Any predictions? That description applies to most everyone on Breaking Bad, but let’s hope he’s not an undercover cop.)
Okay, your turn: what did you think of the episode? Favorite scenes? Important things you noticed? Predictions for the future?
Walter White descends into the criminal underworld.