“Hazard Pay” (05.03)
Written by Peter Gould (Previous Episodes: “A No-Rough-Stuff Type Deal,” “Bit by a Dead Bee,” “Better Call Saul,” “Caballo sin Nombre,” “Kafkaesque,” “Half Measures,” “Problem Dog,” and “Salud”)
Directed by Adam Bernstein (Previous Episodes: “Cat’s in the Bag…,” “…And the Bag’s in the River,” “Mandala,” “ABQ,” “Caballo sin Nombre,” “Half Measures,” and “Box Cutter”)
After two episodes focused on character, Breaking Bad goes strongly into plot with this episode. Heisenberg, Jesse, and Mike need to get the new operation going, so they go about finding a way to do it. What they find is rather ingenious as long as one doesn’t think too carefully about it. The problem is that a smell, let alone visible gas, leaking out of a tented house would lead to absolute panic all around. There is no way at all that everyone would just ignore it. However, the exterminators/second story men who sell the info is an amazing idea, probably smarter than the meth idea. More importantly, it’s an idea that allows the show to keep a general aesthetic so that it doesn’t have to find sets all over the place to replace the beautiful Superlab while also giving them a chance to allow for some differences as well. After that, we get another Breaking Bad cooking montage and the setup for the next Heisenberg v. Mike conflict (the title hazard pay)—but it’s really just plot boiling.
The important thing we get out of this episode is some master manipulation by Heisenberg. First, he, in the guise of having a heart-to-heart chat between equals with Jesse, gets Jesse to break up with Andrea. It’s a beautifully well-done, subtle scene for Cranston and Paul. It’s a bit obvious to the audience, but Jesse, now wrapped up in the heady vapors of feeling respected, doesn’t recognize what’s going on. He then uses Walter White’s pathetic image to play Marie by telling her that the tensions between himself and Skyler are the result of Skyler having an affair with Ted and his subsequent accident.
Skyler also has a major breakdown for the first time in this episode. She has been like a rubber band stretched out but holding her place, but she finally snapped here, and it was perfectly aimed at Marie, simply repeatedly yelling, “Shut up!” Their relationship makes her breakdown seem more sensible to Marie than it otherwise would, which makes it perfect fodder for Heisenberg. Betsy Brandt also deserves some credit for the way she plays the breakdown off of Skyler, which is truly brilliant–her reaction is every bit as interesting and indeed more believable than Skyler’s breakdown itself, even though Anna Gunn plays her part well.
This one is really a pretty weak episode, just building for the future, but the structure of Breaking Bad, as a slow burn with explosive bursts of action, requires some episodes like this.