TV Review: “Breaking Bad” Episode 3 – Hazard Pay

Written by Devin Barnes August 03, 2012

From Mr. Chips to Scarface.

It’s officially impossible to keep excusing Walter White’s behaviour. Yes, even poisoning a child had a horrific tinge of nobility to it, as Walt needed Jesse’s full allegiance to conquer the venomous Gus Fring and save his family. Now, Walt’s continuing the cook purely for ego’s sake; his actions are explicitly self-serving, as are his aspirations to fill Gus Fring’s lofty shoes and assume the role of criminal mastermind. Breaking Bad’s fifth season uniquely propels Walter White into dangerous new territory: he’s no longer doing what he does to help his family.

While the two previous episodes lacked anything in the way of genuine shocks, “Hazard Pay” delivers some of the creepiest, most memorable moments we’ve yet seen on Vince Gilligan’s glorious canvas. Skyler’s “shut up, SHUT UP!” meltdown is an instant classic, almost on par with “I am the one who knocks!” – and Walt’s impromptu meeting with Brock, and the silence shared between them, ranks with the show’s most squeamish, stomach-turning moments. And this is a show that sewed a man’s head onto a tortoise.

Employees need their “Hazard Pay.”

The “Hazard Pay” of the title refers to money afforded to Gus Fring’s ex-employees, the bulk of whom are currently imprisoned and understandably anxious about not getting the money they need for their families. Mike, shrewd businessman that he is, goes out of his way to visit each of them, ensuring that they will get their “hazard pay,” as there’s a new operation in the works; in exchange, they’ll keep their mouths tightly shut about Gus’ business. This, of course, results in further tensions between Mike and Walter. “The one who knocks” isn’t opting to give any of his pay cut to perfect strangers.

One of television’s greatest duos.

If nothing else, “Hazard Pay” puts Walt’s alarming capacities for manipulation center stage, as he subtly plants ideas into Jesse Pinkman’s mind about breaking up with Andrea, in the guise of appreciative, fatherly kinship. Walt even paints himself the victim following Skyler’s aforementioned car wash meltdown (to which Marie was a witness), claiming that Ted Beneke’s hospitalization caused the panicked outburst, adding the significant postscript of Ted and Skyler’s adultery. Marie is understandably shocked and sympathetic towards Walt; if only she knew with whom she was dealing (Walt’s idea of using fumigated homes as meth cooking sites is actually quite brilliant; the once meek chemistry teacher is gone, with a budding crime boss in his place).

“He flew too close to the sun, got his throat cut.”

It’s ironic that Mike, once perceived as an antagonist, re-enters the fold for reasons not unlike Walt’s at the show’s outset: he needs meth money to provide for his granddaughter, in addition to aiding the ailing former employees of Gustavo Fring. But why does Walt continue to cook meth? “Hazard Pay” establishes the none too subtle Walter White/Tony Montana comparison: the Whites (a traumatized Skyler is largely in absentia) even enjoy a family viewing of “Scarface.” Skyler continues to suffer from severe depression mingling with post-traumatic stress disorder, and Walt doesn’t seem to care. But that infraction doesn’t begin to compare with Walter White’s horrifying closing monologue, in which he seeks to justify Gus’ murder of the loyal Victor, claiming the worker “flew too close to the sun, got his throat cut.” Walt’s gunning for Mike, the person who questions his authority and keeps him in check. It’s a testament to the utter brilliance of these scripts that Walt’s final words are, in many ways, more profoundly disturbing than actually watching Gus Fring do the deed.

My rating: 9/10

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