Breaking Bad: Episode 5.03: Hazard Pay-The Death of Walter White

By Ron Peltier

Late in “Hazard Pay,” the third episode of Breaking Bad’s fifth season, Walt Jr. and his father with baby Holly in his lap watch perhaps the most iconic scene from Scarface, (say hello to my little friend). Vince Gilligan has said in many interviews that Breaking Bad is “a story about a man who transforms himself from Mr. Chips to Scarface.” As son and dad enjoy the scene with all its spectacular violence, we understand that now Walter White has ‘transformed’ into Heisenberg—Walter White is dead. Whatever remnants that Walter had maintained from his ‘Mr. Chips’ life are now gone. Usurped. Killed. Expunged. He is all Heisenberg henceforth. The scene not only announces with clarity Walt’s complete transformation, but also it may hint at the show’s potential end. Heisenberg says to his son that “everyone dies” in the scene. Indeed, everyone, including Scarface, die.

Skylar has wandered into her living room, still unable to process her criminality and her relationship to it, as her family giggles in glee over Pacino’s violent and final last stand. Her face registers, as it has all season, the abject horror and isolation of her situation. We feel sorry for her.

Earlier in the episode, she melts down in front of her sister, who to be fair, is really annoying. One’s siblings often irritate the most. “Shut up,” she repeatedly says as each pronouncement slowly crescendos to screams in the chilling scene. Her character this season serves to remind us of the high stakes and the emotional toll it has taken on her. She should be terrified. She grounds the season in appropriate pathos. Heisenberg labors under a false delusion and fails to recognize the threat that he creates. Without Skylar, we might not properly recognize just how evil Heisenberg is. He is the bad guy.

Prior to the Scarface scene and Gillian’s team of writers clearly announcing Walt’s metamorphosis with it, the episode cleverly demonstrates Heisenberg’s naked manipulation—an important characteristic of Heisenberg and not one ascribed much to Walter White.

Heisenberg continues to play Jesse like a fiddle. First like a concerned parent, he broaches the subject of their profession and how he plans to deal with it regarding Andrea and Brock. Keeping secrets, Heisenberg informs Jesse, is difficult, as it creates ‘barriers.’ Heisenberg expresses sympathy and concern for the situation and leaves it to Jesse to decide if he should tell them. This is pure bullshit, as we know, just know, that Heisenberg has ulterior motives. Of course, he reveals as much when he confesses that he as some interest in knowing. In short, Heisenberg knows that Jesse will break off the relationship, as a good, moral person should do. Too much collateral violence and damage in being a ‘meth’ producer, Jesse knows and he simply would be crushed if anything happened to them because of his professional. This is all Heisenberg’s hubris.

The naked and frankly cruel manipulation continues. After Mike outlines the rather enormous financial responsibilities that the business creates and leaves with the money to cover the costs, (Heisenberg is none too happy with the “legacy” expenditures) he reminds Jesse of Victor’s death. They both were present when in the season four premiere Gus brutally kills his right-hand man, Victor, with a box cutter. Heisenberg tells Jesse that he thought all along that Gus was trying to send him a message, but now Heisenberg thinks that perhaps the brutal execution was attributed to something else. He tells Jesse that maybe Gus killed because he “flew to close to the sun, and got his throat cut.” He speculates that Gus killed Victor because he tried to make ‘meth.’ The episode ends with the camera focused on Jesse as he tries to comprehend the ‘story.’ Is the threat meant for Jesse? Or is it meant for Mike? It seems like it’s meant for Mike, as Heisenberg clearly believes Mike took some liberties that he did not have the right to. A showdown awaits the two men, no doubt. Will Jesse catch on to Heisenberg in time to save himself?

Heisenberg’s manipulations abound in the episode as he dupes Marie with the Ted/Skylar affair. It was rather quick witted of him as this suggests that he is embracing his new role as ‘meth kingpin’ well.

There is much more to like in the episode besides Heisenberg’s transformation. The truly inventive way the ‘business’ gets going again feels organic and plausible. Vamonos Pest, a legitimate pest control company, serves as a front for making the meth—I wonder if the writing team plucked this idea from a real story.

That we see Huell, breathing heavily as he stands, Skinny Pete and Badger was all good. Skinny Pete and Badger bring some well needed humor into the episode, and one hopes they feature more prominently in later episodes—the characters express a desire to, after all. And Skinny Pete has some skills on the piano.

One the other the side, the only minor compliant I have relates to Mike playing a paralegal in order to shore up his guys. I like that the show attends to the details, but it seemed risky, really risky, for him to ‘play’ a paralegal, given that he was questioned by Hank and Gomez. Entering a prison or jail to talk with his guys, strains believability. If he were to be seen by anyone who knows him, wouldn’t that lead to more problems? And further, his frustration at not being allowed out of the holding cell promptly, shows his mounting tension, but draws too much attention to himself. Finally, does Mike, a weathered 65 year-old look like a paralegal?

The episode, per usual, is very strong and provocative. Next week’s episode is title 51, which we know is a reference to Heisenberg’s birthday. So does the clock begin to Heisenberg’s 52 birthday where he purchases an M60 for his last stand, vis-à-vis Scarface? All speculation on my part, but there are some clear hints to that effect.

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