As Mike foretold last week, Walt is tick-tick-ticking away. And the countdown for that bomb seems to be accelerating. All the seeds that he’s planted deeply beneath his foundations of friends and allies, are starting to take root, albeit damaged roots that have been twisted into loyalty—except for Mike. And Walt thinks Mike has forgotten his place.
He uses an Icarus metaphor, “he flew too close to the sun” to describe Victor. To refresh your memory, Victor was one of Gus’ muscle who got his throat cut in the haunting season four premiere. That swift slice changed Walt. For the rest of the season, he felt hunted, his life on a tether that could easily snap. Walt was aware, after a rare instance of Jesse spelling it out for him, that a message was sent. And while that message may have been a benefit to staging Victor’s execution before his rebellious cooks, he now sees it differently. Without any orders from Gus, Victor cooked his own batch. He’d watched Walt and Jesse’s steps so many times from surveilling them, he was able to produce an approximation from memory. Walt tells Jesse that Victor “took liberties that weren’t his to take.” Then he channels the greek myth as reasoning for the vicious act. At this episode’s end, Jesse looks back disgusted as he watches Walt find purpose to such a senseless, vulgar action that has undoubtedly scarred him. Could Walt be considering that punishment for Mike stepping out of bounds? Is this Heisenberg-fueled empire not big enough for both of their brilliant minds? We may be headed for another “Face Off,” and I wonder if that would be pushing Jesse’s allegiance too far.
We’ll return to Mike’s deductions that wounded Walt’s ego later. “Hazard pay” is drug dealer jargon for insurance. When shit hits the fan, and the guys aren’t receiving regular paychecks, they have Gus’ Cayman savings to fall back on. But now that the feds have gobbled that up, the solid nature of Mike’s crew is being tried and tested. Sneaked in as the most intimidating paralegal, Mike visits Dennis Markowski, the laundry guy. Mike guarantees that he “will be made whole.” His operation with Walt will be up and running and the deal will stay as it was intended. It’s implied that the lawyer will gain Mike entrance to several other correctional facilities where his crew has been stashed. Watching an impatient, suit-wearing Mike wait for the door to be unlocked, as he barks at the security camera in frustration, was a priceless image.
Walt gets more brazen by the minute as he brings his stuff back in the house without consulting Skylar. She stammers when she asks if this is really a good idea. Walt gives an even-keeled yes. I hope Skylar gets some of her bite back, and isn’t a wreck for the remainder. I enjoyed her as an accomplice, despite how throughly it sacrificed her moral standing. She was carving a niche for herself, and I hate to see her stepped on. But I fear that she won’t be able to live with herself and the monster she’s let back into her home for much longer.
As a snoring Huell guards the door, Walt and Jesse soothe Saul’s reservations about letting Mike join the team. He doesn’t like the sound of “The Four Amigos, plus he feels threatened by his “dead mackerel eyes.” Walt wise-cracks that threatening is what Mike does: “He probably threatened someone before breakfast today.” Saul consents, however hesitantly. Mike lays down the groundrules. Equal three-person split, and he solely handles the business end. Walt agrees. Saul wonders why such a proud man would agree to that arrangement. Walt replies, “He handles the business, I handle him.” Walt is at peace when he’s in control. And if this is to be his meth machine (though it’s an established triumvirate) he will have his hand on all mechanisms.
Saul gives them the tour of all his potential locations. “Breaking Bad” is at its finely-tuned best when I feel as though I’m watching a documentary on how to run a meth business. Here, the competency of all three is on display. First, a box factory. Saul details the specs and it seems sound, but Walt is proficient in all matters boxing, and says the corrugating machine uses salt and steam to crinkle packaging—that would botch their pure cook. Next, tortilla factory. Rather obviously, the food would be contaminated, and as Mike mocks, “Someone’s bound to notice that.” Walt also reminds that food means random government inspection. Firm no. It seems in this sequence that they were diligent about covering all potential plot holes. This is a smart audience, they would jump on inconsistencies in a flash.
Third, is a familiar site. Formally one of Saul’s money laundering suggestions, and Jesse’s hideout during the third season’s scramble for survival, LAZER TAG. Both Walt and Jesse blurt “NO” before they can park the car. And last is a dingy storage shed for a pest control company. Jesse recognizes it’s too small, Mike noticed a “cop shop” a quarter of a mile away, but Walt mutters…”It’s perfect.” The other two think he’s lost his marbles, but he assures, “Not here,” as he kicks the tarps. Walt gathers that they don’t need a permanent location, just one that won’t attract attention. So he concocts a plan where they use this pest control company’s clients’ homes that are designated for fumigation to set up shop in. It’s perfect. No one is allowed inside, they’ll bug-bomb the place to erase any chemical trace, and Saul points out that the crew won’t be an issue since they’re notorious B&E artists. They steal unnoticeable items, or sell copies of the keys to other looters. Saul believes Mike will approve of Vamonos Pest’s owner Ira—”Buy him, he’ll stay bought.” Seeming rock soild, Saul proposed a vote. Then Walt’s screaming hubris pipes up from the back seat, “Why?” Echoing his “Because I said so,” Walt never misses an opportunity to remind Mike who’s boss.
We reunite with Jesse’s buddies Skinny Pete and Badger. Pete tickles the Yamaha ivories as Badger slaps a keytar. Turns out that they’re doing Jesse a favor and buying roadie cases with which they’ll transport all the lab equipment. They even get “the band name” stenciled on—”Vamonos Pest” (Seriously, that’s the best Spanglish name for a pest control company I can think of. It even makes perfect sense for the New Mexican, spanish-infused culture. Well done, Vince Gilligan). We get some memorable lines from the stoner pair, too, like Badger’s “Stacking Benjis till the rubber band pops!” Such delightful gangster wannabes. They ask if there’s any role they can play in his big league operation, but the loyalty police a.k.a Mike, watches from afar, giving Jesse the necessary pause.
Next, Mike addresses the Vamonos Pest troops (love saying that name). My immediate reaction—LANDRY! For those who don’t know me and my other articles, I’m a big “Friday Night Lights” fan, as well as an advocate for actors from favorite shows crossing over. I freaked when Michael B. Jordan a.k.a Wallace from “The Wire” had a two-season stint on “Friday NIght Lights.” Now, Jesse Plemons, will be assuming the role of Todd—an attentive and savvy employee who makes an impression with Walt, quickly. Mike drills into his new “guys” that they don’t steal from now on. No hot tips either—these houses are out of bounds. But no worries, they’ll be heavily compensated. He also mentions that Walt and Jesse are ghosts to them. But if they ask them to jump, they jump. Their names are “Yessir, and No sir.” That gave Walt some monetary glee, as you would imagine.
At Jesse’s place, they work out the logistics for carrying everything, and Walt seems genuinely impressed. They talk about Junkyard Joe scavenging some of the parts, and using a plastic tent to keep the stench out of furniture, when Andrea interrupts with Brock. My first thought is, ‘Oh man, we’re going to find out if Brock recognizes Walt.’ I’m referring to the implication in season four’s last frame that Walt poisoned Brock with Lily of the Valley berries. It’s unclear how they were administered to the boy, but here it seems clear that Andrea, at least, does not remember Walt. Brock doesn’t seem terrified or even weary of him, so I’m still waiting to find out how he did it. The writers tease us though, by having Walt sit next to the child alone as he plays his handheld. Walt fixes his eyes on the boy, menacingly. How did you all take that? He looked mean enough that maybe he could have been thinking, “Boy, you better keep your mouth shut” or maybe he was contemplating how that kid could create a killer wedge between him and Jesse, a relationship that continues to be vital, if not treasured (I strongly debate that, even if Walt would tell himself that still). I highly doubt there was anything close to remorse in that stare. I interpreted it as disdain and not sorrow.
The homeowner is aghast when he sees the humungous cases being rolled in, but Ira assures it’s all standard. He signs a waiver that he won’t reenter the premises (very important) until post-inspection. They wave goodbye, and right after, the cooks roll up. Todd (a.k.a Landry) gets Walt’s approval when he informs him that he disabled a nanny cam in the living room clock. That really could have tripped them up. I guarantee that when Walt needs a favor from these employees, he’ll know who to approach.
Then it’s cooking time! Is it wrong I missed the production of narcotics? Well, regardless, the yellow suits make their triumphant return and they gaze in wonder at their elaborate setup within the plastic tent. A chill, groovy song—On A Clear Day (You Can See Forever) by The Peddlers—plays in the background as they go through the familiar steps. If it wasn’t for the jump cuts, I might be able to make that meth! They also threw in some computer animation of the molecular process, just to add to the awesomeness and gorgeous factor of this show.
When they’re finished, they prop their feet up on another man’s couch, crack open some brewskis and watch Three Stooges. Walt remarks about how sweet it was to see Jesse so happy with Andrea and Brock. Watch the master manipulator go to work. He asks if it’s “going anywhere.” Jesse smiles, and says maybe. He’s attracted to the idea of “instant family.” Then Walt wonders aloud how much he’s going to tell her. “Secrets create barriers between people. Speaking from experience, believe me…If you choose to spend the rest of your life with this person, then you’ll have to decide how much you share with her…like Gale.” Jesse insists he hasn’t said anything yet, with a nervous urgency in his voice. Walt calms him and says he trusts him. “I know you’ll make the right call. If she loves you, she’ll understand.”
Whoa. That was like watching Shakespeare write a play. Genius. He accomplishes a lot, subtly, while reaffirming his faith in him. First, he makes Jesse reconsider his relationship with Andrea on the grounds that she might not accept the wrongs he’s committed. Second, he reestablishes his obligation to look out for Walt. Basically, while he implied that he wasn’t adamant about a breakup, he forced a hard choice on Jesse. Who will you protect? Who means more to you? Who will still love you after knowing about how you murdered the “innocent” Gale? It’s actually a non-choice that he gently trapped him in. Well frickin’ done, you despicable man.
While Hank is absent, we see Marie for the first time this season. She’s hounding the car wash employees about their scrubbing techniques (anal retentive, much?) as Skylar still looks dazed. Marie brings up the subject of Walt’s upcoming birthday, and Skylar seems resistant to the idea of celebrating her husband. She says they’re won’t be any party, and Marie is shocked. After all, it’s been about a year since Walt’s diagnosis (I love that so little time has passed, gives even more weight to the events), so time is precious. As she trembles, she reaches for a cigarette to settle her nerves, much to Marie’s chagrin. Her sister jumps on her as if she’s committed a cardinal sin. And in her fidgety, fearful state, she asserts what little control she can grasp at. She shrieks at Marie to “SHUT UP!” several times—fourteen, by my count. Then she breaks down into tears, and it’s a disturbing site to behold. Walt’s disregard for the feelings of those he claims to care for have his wife spiraling out of control, and Jesse relinquishing the only happiness he had. And the sickening part is, he couldn’t care less.
The cooks count up their weight and end up with an exceptional yield. Then they bail, bug-bombing the joint. Marie is waiting on the couch when Walt arrives. Skylar is resting and she tells him about her breakdown. She also scolds him, in typical Marie fashion, about not answering his phone. She demands the truth about what’s going on. So he spills…about Ted Beneke. He could have easily said ANYTHING to get Marie off the scent, but he used this opportunity to turn himself into the victim once again. Man, is he uncomfortable with being the bad guy. You would think this suggests regret, but I think it’s all about perception for him. He’s convinced himself, he just needs to convince others that he’s a slave to circumstance. He says her grief over his accident would explain her erratic behavior, never coming right out and saying she had an affair, but pushing Marie to the realization. He apologizes, playing like he thought she knew. He turns Skylar into an enemy for her own sister. He makes her swear she’ll keep it from Hank and she excuses herself (And her purple purse. Honestly, it’s one of the weirdest quirks. EVERYTHING is goddamn purple.) Marie hugs him, and he earns Jackass of the Year honors. Walt walks toward the kitchen and chomps on an apple like…well, like he owns the place. Master of all he surveys. He already sees himself as king. He killed the monarch, so what else would that make him? Mike will straighten him out.
In a quick foreshadowing of the future split, we see Brock and Andrea at Jesse’s playing Mario Kart (they love that game!) and he’s distant from her, deep in thought. Back at the White’s, Skylar is jolted awake by the sound of gunfire. Walt is watching Scarface (the iconic final scene) with Walter Jr., and Holly’s on his lap. My instant response was “NO WAY!” Too on-the-nose? Perhaps. But ballsy. The comparisons have been made numerous times by TV critics this season. Some literally stating that he’s turned into Scarface. His overweening pride, the increased volatility, a growing empire. Will Walt become hooked on his own product? Walt doesn’t seem to be denying his kingpin persona, he’s embracing it! Hell, he’s basically buttering up his son to think he’s a badass. Skylar looks on horrified as the bullets blaze, and she watches her reality played out in hyper-violent fiction. Is that how her family will end, with her hubristic husband spraying into a crowd of hired guns?
In an inspired bit of sound editing, the barrage of bullets transforms into the money counter flipping through bills. Mike bands the last of it, and has split their profit into $367,000 three ways—1,101,000 total. Walt interjects saying that after dealers’ cut, there should be 1,379,560 total. Mike reminds him of mules, the transportation. They get 20 percent. Walt is astounded, wondering that even with the risk, if they should be paid that extravagantly. Mike cajoles him after he asks what Gus paid his mules. Fring had no mules. He spent 20 years building a distribution network w/ refrigerator trucks that are now in government impound. He jabs, “If you don’t like paying 20 percent, maybe you shouldn’t have killed the guy.”
Just as Walt looks as if he’ll jump the table, Jesse breaks them up. His two father figures at each other’s throats must be straining. Mike is unimpressed with Walt’s “green eyeshade” and drops more bad news. While this first barrel of methylamine was gratis, his supplier (Lydia) will be expecting a hefty sum next time. That’s not the last of the deductions. Jesse gets 40K from each for fronting the investment costs, Vamonos Pest owner Ira gets 45K from each. Ira’s guys an additional 10K. Saul’s fee is 18K from each—seeing a pattern developing? And lastly, legacy costs. Walt loudly objects to what sounds like a phony fee. Sounded to me like a bogus surcharge from Ticketmaster (Thank you, Louis C.K). Legacy cost, is for Mike’s guys. They need to be made whole, and this is how he plans to fill their pockets. Walt is dismayed that he’s funding Gus’ men. Always one to distort the truth, he calls it blackmail that he has to pay up for them to shut up. Some would call it loyalty. He insists all of it being deducted from Mike’s share. Jesse again tries to squash the bickering and says he’ll double his sacrifice, which causes Walt to change heart. After all, he can only take advantage of the kid for so long. He relents, and Mike strongly suggests he get comfortable. This is how it works. Obviously, Walt fancies himself above the conventional codes of conduct.
In the end, Walt’s left with a meager $137,000 after the one batch (I’d be overjoyed, you prick). He calculates that he made more with Gus as an underling. Mike delivers an apt warning for the aspiring druglord. “Just because you shot Jesse James, that don’t make you Jesse James.” Walt asks Jesse how he’s feeling, and he reveals that he ended it with Andrea, but Walt interrupts his pain with his griping over money. Jesse says he’s looking at it wrong. He points that they would churn out 200 lbs. a cook for GUs, when they barely cleared 50 lbs.”We may have cleared less money, but we got a bigger piece of the pie…We’re owners, not employees, just like you said.” Then Walt dismisses that naive, and correct, perspective. Instead, he shares his latest thoughts on Victor. I don’t like when Walter thinks. And neither should Jesse. Will there be a threshold that his mentor crosses where he won’t defend him anymore?
“Hazard Pay” —while mostly serving as hour-long exposition for the upstart operation—is essentially Walt pissing on everything in sight, marking his territory, and that includes all those people he supposedly values (awful pornographic image not intended). He gives Mike the keys to the car, but like a controlling dad he wants a detailed log of where’s he taking it. The money is supposed to be Mike’s branch of governance, but Walt over-extends his executive privilege and temperamentally questions where his revenue stream is flowing. I don’t think he’s bold enough to off Mike yet. Like when Gus was in a similar bind, he needs him. At what point does Mike become expendable? Hard to say. If anything, this episode showed that that steely command Gus possessed can be credited largely to Mike. He hired the muscle, he made sure they were taken care of, he vetted the laundry owner. He made that chicken man smooth.
To be truthful, I wonder if Gus gets whacked if Mike weren’t recovering in Mexico as Walt was scheming. You gotta believe his spidey senses would have been tingling beyond what Tyrus detected. Walt may be savvy in lab construction, manufacturing meth, and manipulating the psyches of his loved ones. But if his castle were stormed, he’d be shouting “Say hello to my little friend!” in a desperate last stand. His reach goes as far as he can make others believe they need him. And there’s your time bomb. When the clock runs out on Walt’s utility, what can he hold onto? Chemistry has kept him alive so far, but that could blow up in his face.