Breaking Bad review – 5×03: ‘Hazard Pay’

Courtesy of AMC

We’re back in business this week on Breaking Bad as Walt (Bryan Cranston) continues further into his depths of depravity. Even with every base seemingly covered, why does this new cook operation feel like it’s going to implode at any moment?

Let’s take a closer look after the jump.

Mike (Jonathan Banks) really hit the nail on the head last week when he said Walt was a ticking time bomb that’s going to go ‘boom’ at any given moment. But this isn’t evident looking at Walt himself, who’s calculating demeanour is as composed as ever. Rather, it’s the characters surrounding him that are the most telling. For this review, I’m focusing on Skyler (Anna Gunn) whose performance this week was the one of the most impressive I’ve seen in a while. I’ve never been a fan of Skyler, but there’s just something about her these past couple of episodes that make me continually on edge every time I see her. Gunn certainly plays “terrified” well. In her first scene as Walt merrily moves his stuff back into the bedroom, Skyler cowers asking him to confirm what she’s fearing. What struck me was how Skyler can’t even speak to Walt without stuttering. I couldn’t help but flashback to how this contrasted with confidence she had exuded when she and Walt were on a more level playing field. Remember how she steely whispered in Walt’s ear about her infidelities? Or how she argued with him incessantly when the two of them started to juggle ‘the business’ together? When she kicked his ass out of the house? Quite a difference from the Skyler we see now.

It’s likely easy for viewers to dismiss Skyler as another causality of Walt’s increasing god complex, but I see her as far more instrumental. In fact, I think she’s the key to Walt’s undoing. Consider Skyler’s nervous breakdown triggered by Marie’s (Betsy Brandt) suggestion for Walt’s birthday bonanza. Marie prompts memories of Walt when he was first diagnosed with cancer; essentially the catalyst for Walt’s evolution into stone cold killer. Gunn is brilliant in her delivery of “shut ups” to Marie, which is likened to bullets emptying from a machine gun (Purposefully, Skyler is awakened from her temporary ‘escape’ by the sound of a real machine gun later on). Words are all that Skyler has now. It’s all she can do to drown out everything that’s going on. Superficially, it was a huge catharsis for me, as I’ve been waiting for someone to tell Marie to shut up since season one. But quickly, the satisfaction of seeing Marie put in her place is overshadowed by Skyler quickly going off her rocker.

Hours later, Skyler emerges from her post-breakdown state to find Walt with baby Holly on his knee, laughing with Walt Jr. (RJ Mitte) as they watch Scarface. The film’s ending bloodbath is intercut with increasing close-ups of Skyler’s terrified face, ending with an extreme close-up her quivering lip as the gun shots are aurally matched with a bill counter in the next scene. The Scarface scene is significant in many different ways, with obvious parallels to Walt’s impending future, but again, my focus was more on Skyler. With the path Skyler’s going down, I’m almost thinking murder-suicide, the only way she can guarantee escape for herself and her children. Otherwise, a blending of the living room scene with what’s on the television is inevitable. At this point, only a shock of that magnitude will be enough to knock Walt back to reality. The proverbial “boom” if you will.

Courtesy of AMC

Other observations:

  • During the cold open, we were treated to “paralegal” Mike visiting Frig’s (Giancarlo Esposito) remaining apostles in various prisons. I’ve never seen Mike so fidget-y and anxious. Another side effect from being in Walt’s fallout zone.
  • Walt’s manipulation knows no bounds. He’s getting so good at it, that I’m actually looking forward to seeing how he handles himself. I loved the setup of Marie stating “I’m not leaving until I know what’s going on” almost serving as a challenge to Walt. I found myself perking up to see how he would spin it. Another superb display of acting, writing and direction as he manages to paint himself as the victim with such a sparing use of words. Marie connects all the dots for him. I think one of the keys to my enjoyment of this season is not judging Walt, but to see how high he can fly before his wings melt.
  • I would say that Walt’s manipulation of Jesse (Aaron Paul) was equally as masterful, but honestly, I’m more frustrated with Jesse’s inability to clue in. When he was presenting plans to Walt about the new lab set-up, I actually thought that Jesse was getting on equal footing with Walt -a true partner. But alas, juding by the way Jesse completely plays into Walt’s hands by breaking things off with Andrea (Emily Rios), he’ll always be Walt’s subordinate. Then again, in not truly understanding Walt’s motivations, Jesse might be able to save himself in the end.
  • Meth-onomics 101 was a brilliantly constructed scene. I love seeing Mike and Walt go tête-à-tête with Jesse in the middle again. The surrogate family of bald men is always a good time.
  • When Walt looks at the corrugator in the box factory, he gets a little nostalgic. I think I saw tinges of the old Walt, pre-‘breaking bad’, and it was quite nice. It’s even more effective when “Old Walt” uses his knowledge to discredit the factory as a new lab setting.

So what did you think viewers? The allusions to Scarface a little too spot on? What do you think of the mobile cook operation? Do you think Jesse will ever clue in? What about Walt Jr.? Let us know in the comment sections below.

Breaking Bad airs Sundays at 10:00pm EST on AMC.

About tvangie

Angie is a TV addict currently pursuing a PhD in media studies. A freelance researcher and writer on the side – she really misses talking about her favourite shows because none of her friends watch them. Help her out.

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