Breaking Bad – Hazard Pay
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” While it’s another line from another classic gangster film that gets the most attention during this episode that is the one I was left thinking of. For the first two weeks of the season the show has gone out of its way to depict its lead Walt as wild, dangerous and dastardly beyond repair, a villain. Then comes this third week and things slide back towards normal with Walt being made almost empathetical again, we almost root for him
While last week had a strange, singular focus on Mike Hazard Pay followed a more similar structure to episodes of old and with more familiar emotional beats, but all of it skewed just slightly by our newfound worries about Walter. Like much of the series to date the drama came in the form of cooking (in one of the cleverest guises yet) but was actually about character; it was another hour about Walt, Jessie and whether the twain shall meet.
For years now we’ve been wanting them to get together, like some strange on-again-off-again romance, and so when we see these types of scenes again it’s hard not to slip back into supporting the relationship, into wanting Jesse to side with Walt. When Walt speaks he says such sweet things, winning us over; it’s only when we see him smirk afterwards, when he thinks he is alone, that we understand again just how abhorrent he has become.
Walt then does pretty well at shaping others to his will, Jessie especially, but this week Marie also falls sway to his sleaze. He has lied to his sister-in-law before, the show has gone to great lengths to depict those lies, so again this should be a familiar scene but it too is twisted, this lie is different. The gambling story showed Walt to be weak and immoral, rightly so, but his latest explanation is the inverse of this, in it he paints himself as the hero and Skyler the villain; that sense of guilt, of self-flagellation that once existed now long gone.
Really though Gilligan is the master manipulator, because not only does he script all of Walt’s words from on high but he is also molding all of us audience members watching to his own will. It’s worrying. He manages to make us start sliding back towards Walt’s side without ever actually redeeming him; there is no evidence whatsoever in this episode that he is still even a human being at heart, he is still Scarface, he still scares us but the Stockholm Syndrome is simply too strong.
As for that scene; I think its symbolism is quite obvious, so obvious in fact that it almost rules out them going down that road literally. If Walt were to go out in a blaze of glory now, if everyone in this movie were to die, then it would be too on the nose, seeming more derivative than dramatic. I think the really important beat of that scene is the way in which Walt is watching the film. Yes, he mimes the line but he does so in sync with his son, daughter in arms; it’s an almost harmless seeming depiction in comparison to the Cuban’s.
He’s still soft in places, sloppy in others. Inside his house, inside his mind maybe he is Scarface but out in the real world, our with his partners he is still just another stooge whose errors can be as comedic as they are dramatic. Speaking of symbolism, the way that the suburban super-lab mirrored Walt’s own McMansion must have been intentional; he may think that he has everything contained but there is still poison in the house. And bugs in the lab, the idea of a single fly was once enough to halt production but now cock-a-roaches glitter past in forced perspective while they cook. Post-Gus he lacks the drive and desperation of one Tony Montana and this, rather than reaching too close to the sun, may be his undoing.
We know now that next week’s episode, the halfway mark of this short season, will also be the halfway mark of the show so far. We will be one year in and have one more year to go before we reach the flash-forward of the premiere. Like a good novel that spends its final hundred pages breathlessly skittering through shortened chapters and epilogues after luxuriating in the detail of all that came before, this show won’t have any time to waste over the next few episodes and I’m excitied to see where they go if this one is any indication. I’m also interested to see how we feel about Walter when we get there; if the ending of this episode is any indication I would guess not good but you never really know.