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Breaking Bad – Hazard Pay

Hazard Pay is in many ways a real workhorse episode. We’re three episodes into an eight-episode mini-season, and the writers are realising, “Uh oh, we have to go somewhere with this story quickly.” As such, it moves the tale of Walt, Jesse and Mike’s new joint business venture along at a comparatively breakneck speed, in comparison to the series’ usual crawling storytelling. In this one episode, we establish the new meth business, fully stock it, complete a cook and divide the spoils. It’s a lot to take in one shot, but the writing pulls it off. It works because whilst a lot goes on in “Hazard Pay,” it isn’t an action-heavy episode. There are no guns fired and no shouting, apart from one particular scene.

The episode’s premise revolves around the continuing storyline of Mike ensuring that the cops don’t get any leads on the Fring empire leftovers. The reason Mike is in business with Walt is that he needs money to fulfill the contractual obligation that Fring’s employees would receive insurance money as a result of his death to keep their mouths shut. This reason, unbeknownst to Walt until the very end of the episode, results in Walt’s disdain. In the final moments of the show, he even implies that Mike has to be “dealt with,” in a tone of voice not dissimilar to the passive-yet-dominant Gustavo Fring. This is how fast-paced “Hazard Pay” is. If we try and look at season five as one big story with the traditional three-act structure, this single episode contains a definitive end to the first act. In Walt’s mind, the next big problem has arisen and must be dealt with.

Walt has become a curious character these days, and I’m hesitant to even describe him as an anti-hero, let alone a protagonist. Despite coming to an explicit 33/33/33% partnership with Mike and Jesse, he privately tells Saul Goodman that he considers himself in the very least in charge of Mike. He appears to be giving Jesse a little more respect, although with the sociopathic nature of his character, it’s hard to tell whether anything Walt does is sincere these days. I’m a little worried for the character in the sense that I’m beginning to want to see Walt fail. Whilst I know it’s the writers’ intent to make me notice the change in him, I feel like I shouldn’t be rooting for him to get his comeuppance, if only because the fall of Walt will create massive problems for so many other innocent characters around him for whom I still have an affinity.

Whilst I like the way the effective pacing progresses the overall storyline, there are a couple of issues I can pick out with “Hazard Pay.” It indulges in a lot of foreshadowing, and although this is usually done very effectively in Breaking Bad, it seems a bit too obvious in “Hazard Pay.” For example, there’s a moment where the White family are watching Scarface, and Junior says, “everyone in this movie dies.” Skyler, still frozen stiff in fear of Walt, makes a face so overly obvious that I almost expected the camera to slowly zoom in on her whilst she mouths “no, no… Nooooo!” At the end of the episode, after Walt and Mike have a slight falling out over the cut taken for the titular hazard money, Walt has a short monologue in which he describes Gus’s motivations behind killing Victor in front of them (“Box Cutter”). He says that instead of intimidation, Gus actually killed Victor because he was trying to cook, therefore stepping out of his place, or “too close to the sun.” This comes as Walt stares at Mike walking away, and as the camera cuts to the garage door slowly closing on Jesse, I couldn’t help but feel that it could have been a bit more subtle when trying to telegraph to the audience that, “Hey, stuff is going to go really goddamn badly very soon!”

Other than that, it’s yet another strong episode, which is reassuring after the season’s shaky start. “Hazard Pay” is an efficient and fast-paced piece of drama that did what it needed to do in terms of advancing the story. With only five more episodes to go, we’re going to see the serious conflicts go down much quicker than we’re used to. Most people expected season five to comprise of Walt v Hank or Walt v Jesse, but so far, it looks like it’s going to be Walt v Mike—at least for the first eight episodes.


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