Breaking Bad Frame-By-Frame: Season Five (Part 1)
With the greatest villain of all time finally defeated, Jesse, Mike, and the rest of the White's all come to the same realization: in a post-Fring world, the man who killed him has become the true terror.
S5E3 Hazard Pay
With the help of his former subordinate Dennis Markowski's crooked lawyer, Dan, Mike gains entry into the prison in which Dennis is jailed. Dan opts to listen to music while Mike speaks to Dennis, allowing their deliberation to fall on deaf ears.
Mike instructs Dennis not to reveal anything to the DEA, ensuring that he will receive his overdue hazard pay from Mike's newly formed operation with Walt. "The deal is the deal," Mike emphasizes to a worried Dennis, remaining fiercely loyal to and diplomatic with the people that made his former partnership a success, even at the risk of angering an already volatile Walt. As the two talk, their faces both frame Dan's body, visually propagating the surreptitious nature of their discussion and ironically reminding us that, in this case, members of law enforcement are often the most responsible for the actions of lawbreakers.
Feeling secure and on top of the world in his business life, Walt tries to achieve the same feeling in his personal life. He confidently moves back into his home, shoving Skyler's clothes to the side of the closet in order to squeeze his own clothes in the middle of the rack, indicating his self-centeredness and complete dismissal of Skyler's opinions and feelings. As he unloads his books, he comes across his copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, happily reminiscing about his times with Gale. This is not the last time Leaves of Grass will make an appearance on the show; it is the one piece of evidence Walt has in his home that links him to his many crimes.
Skyler walks into the bedroom, frightened by the idea that she must share her bed with a power lusting criminal who has now made her home a viable target for his most dangerous enemies. "Do you really think that's a good idea?" she asks. Walt carries on, knowing that Skyler is too fearful and reticent to stop him.
But before Walt can get too comfortable, he, Jesse, and Saul meet at Saul's office to determine the organization of their business. The first topic of discussion is Mike, who Saul is wary of given their testy history. Walt and Jesse try their best to convince Saul that Mike is a necessity, arguing that he "knows the business." Mike, meanwhile, waits in the lobby, having a humorously awkward staring contest with a wheezing Huell.
Saul folds to Walt and Jesse's request and invites Mike to the meeting. Mike quickly asserts himself, declaring, "Here are the ground rules. Division of labor: I handle the business. Making the stuff: that's your end." With this setup, Walt has gotten what he has wanted since the First Season: complete authority and control over producing the purest meth that he can without having to interact with distributors.
But Walt is not about to completely relinquish his control over the business as a whole. When Saul asks Walt if he is okay with the agreement with Mike, Walt tells him, "he handles the business, and I handle him." Walt ostensibly makes himself the CEO of their business, claiming the title that Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz robbed him of so long ago.
With the business officially established, Saul takes Walt, Jesse, and Mike on a tour of various potential cook sites, including a box factory and a tortilla factory. The men argue about the lack of feasibility of these locations, continually pointing out their flaws. Saul then reluctantly takes them to his last resort option: the cramped garage headquarters of Vamanos Pest, a pest control company.
Just when the others are about the dismiss the site for being too small, it dawns on Walt to use bug bombed houses as their cook sites. He explains the brilliance of the plan one afternoon as the four men watch the Vamanos Pest crew prepare to bug bomb a house from Saul's car, which is parked across the street. Walt argues that their activities will be blocked off from everyone's sight, and that any chemical smells emitted from the house will never be met with suspicion. When Mike asks if they should take a vote on it, Walt simply asks, "Why?" Even Mike's seniority and experience is no match for Walt's obtrusiveness.
Lending some helping hands, Badger and Skinny Pete buy roadie gear in order to easily and safely transport Walt and Jesse's meth lab and supplies into bug-bombed homes. In what is simultaneously a hilarious and sad moment, Pete plays a gorgeous rendition of C.P.E. Bach's "Solfeggietto", only to be interrupted by Badger's horrendous guitar strums. The musical clash represents their dashed potential due to their involvement in drugs, both its usage and its creation.
Before their first day on the job, Mike instructs Vamonos Pest workers to be on their best behavior and to never bother Walt and Jesse. "As far as you're concerned, you're a ghost ... you don't speak unless you're spoken to," he says. Walt and Jesse exchange slight smirks, gaining a sense of power and independence that they never felt under Gus' constant surveillance.
That night, at Jesse's house, Walt and Jesse draw up their plans on how to easily transport and assemble their new lab. In the middle of their conversation, however, Andrea and Brock -- who Walt has not seen since he poisoned him -- arrive, and Andrea encourages Walt to stay over for dinner. When Walt forcibly introduces himself to Brock, Brock silently stares at him and does not appear to have any recollection of Walt whatsoever.
As Jesse and Andrea make their way to the kitchen, Brock plops down on the couch and plays a portable video game. Walt decides to sit on the far end of the couch, staring at Brock with both intense discomfort and disbelief. Has it hit him that he almost killed this innocent child, or is he afraid that Brock will finally recognize him? In the end, Brock turns to Walt and briefly returns his gaze, only to direct his attention back to his game seconds later. Walt, however, remains paranoid, turning his head forward and evidently pondering how he can spare himself of another awkward run-in with Brock.
But first, the day has arrived: Walt and Jesse drive up to their first house, donning their Vamanos Pest uniforms. One employee, Todd, immediately takes advantage of his brief moment with the pair to inform them that he disabled a nanny cam inside of the house. Walt and Jesse have obviously turned into an admirable, legendary duo, even leaving one of their own co-workers completely star struck.
They slip into the shrouded house, finding their yellow suits and respirators neatly laid out for them on the kitchen counter, almost like spa robes at a luxury resort. To The Peddlers' sleek and cool song, "On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)", a dreamy montage including Walt and Jesse effortlessly assembling their laboratory in a tented lab in the middle of the house, close-up shots of bright blue meth cascading from a pipe like a waterfall into pans, and the rapid chemical reactions taking place plays on, displaying the blend of artistry and science that Walt and Jesse put into the creation of their signature product. This is one of the Breaking Bad team's greatest montages yet, as it effortlessly renders the process of making something so horrific and deadly seem exceptionally beautiful.
After a hard day's work, Walt and Jesse wind down in the living room, drinking beer and watching The Three Stooges. Though they look like they are off the clock, Walt seizes this opportunity to toy with Jesse in order to regain full control over him. "Seeing you with Andrea and that little boy is nice," Walt says, laying the foundation for something bigger. "So, it it, um, moving in any particular direction?"
Jesse simply tells Walt that he isn't sure where the relationship is going, spurring Walt to probe him further. "Have you thought about what your plan is vis-à-vis honesty? Secrets create barriers between people. Speaking from experience, believe me," Walt says, knowing that Jesse is still emotionally scarred about killing Gale. Because Jesse is well aware of Walt's marital woes (which have never weighed down on Walt), he believes that he is genuinely concerned about his relationship with Andrea.
Walt is a master of learning people's weak points and the behaviors that are a result of them; without having to say anything to Jesse directly, Walt states, "If you choose to spend the rest of your life with this person, then you will have to decide how much you share with her." In a childlike manner, Jesse worriedly asks, "Everything? Like Gale?" Walt is all to well aware that Jesse is not one to bottle up his feelings without any consequence, after all, he threw a never-ending rave at his own house just to avoid being alone with his thoughts about the murder. Given his moral compass, there is simply no way that Jesse can remain in a committed and honest relationship with Andrea without having to tell her about his most heinous crimes.
We see just how a dishonest and untrusting relationship with can completely affect one's psyche in the next scene, as Skyler has lunch with Marie in her office at the car wash. Marie is in an especially nitpicky mood, and her constant chirping proves to be the main ingredient in Skyler's own recipe for disaster. Not only does she bring up Hank's case, but she also interrogates Skyler about Walt's upcoming birthday, which she believes should be an even bigger celebration to recognize his overcoming cancer.
When Skyler curtly replies, "I don't think we're going to do anything this year," Marie is even more agitated. She eggs Skyler on so much that Skyler reaches into her purse, taking out a cigarette and a lighter without even thinking twice. Marie, stunned, shifts the conversation on bashing Skyler for smoking and therefore harming her husband and her baby daughter's health. Bubbled over in anguish, Skyler repeatedly and increasingly violently yells at Marie to "shut up," ultimately breaking down in tears at her desk. Until this point, Skyler has dealt with Walt's deepest secrets as gracefully and privately as she could, but with his recent move back home, it is simply too much to bear.
Back at Vamanos Pest, Jesse and Walt discover that they have an "excellent yield," and soon pack up for the day. So far, things are looking up for their business, so long as Walt remains Jesse's puppet master.
Walt later comes home to a concerned Marie, who is nervously sitting in the dark living room. She informs Walt that Skyler is in the bedroom resting after an unusual breakdown. Hoping to get to the bottom of Skyler's behavior, Marie presses Walt into telling her what has gone wrong between them, asking if he is gambling again or if his cancer has returned. Marie is no fool, she knows that whatever is irking Skyler, it has to be about Walt.
Instead, Walt, cognizant of the fact that Marie thrives on drama, decides to turn the focus on to Skyler's own wrongdoings. "You heard about Ted Beneke. The accident. Well, um, a couple weeks back, Ted took a fall, a bad one," he tells her. Again, without having to say anything directly, he simply lets Marie come to her own conclusions. When Marie is not sure how Ted's accident could have lead to Skyler's breakdown, Walt says, "Yes it could...you do know, right? You must know." He pretends that he accidentally let the cat out of the bag, further fueling Marie's shock.
Nailing his role as the kindhearted victim, Walt instructs Marie not to tell Hank anything about Skyler's affair. "I don't want Hank to think less of her," he says, pretending that he is actually concerned with how others perceive her. In fact, he is simply mimicking what he selfishly said to Skyler in Season Four's "Bullet Points" in response to her making him out to be a weak criminal in her speech about his purported gambling: "I don't want Jr. to think less of me." In the end, Walt paints Skyler in the exact manner that she said others perceived her in "Bullet Points": the "bitch mom" who could not cut Walt "any slack."
Marie hugs Walt tightly, visibly upset over her sister's actions. Walt, however, is smirking; he has gotten his way once again. After Marie leaves, Walt slowly approaches the closed bedroom door in the hallway, but decides to enter the kitchen instead. He picks up a large red apple, the forbidden fruit, from the fruit bowl and takes a satisfying bite. Though he is off the hook once again, it is only a matter of time until he falls.
For now, Walt's plan to keep Jesse subordinate works, as Jesse emotionlessly plays video games with Andrea and Brock. He is regressing back into his state of numbness that he lived through after he killed Gale; he realizes that he can no longer try to have a cookie cutter relationship with Andrea knowing that she deserves to hear the truth.
Later that evening, Skyler remains in bed, staring straight at the ceiling. The sound of rippling gunshots tear through the bedroom, reminding her once again of the imminent danger Walt has imposed on her and the children by moving back into the home.
The gunshots are coming from the living room, where Walt, Walt Jr., and Holly happily watch Scarface. Skyler slowly walks in on them, stunned by the images of a maniacal Tony Montana unrelentingly shooting his assault rifle. What is especially troubling to Skyler, perhaps, is the possibility that Walt too has killed multiple people in the same manner. "Everyone dies in this movie," Walt says nonchalantly.
The episode ends with Walt and Jesse's first major payday. Mike divvies up each man's money in piles, and Walt is already upset that his share is far too low. Mike explains that their mules get a "flat 20%" due to hazard pays, but Walt argues that he is making even less than he did with Gus. Jesse remains neutral, distracted by recent events in his personal life to even be concerned about the money.
To make matters worse for Walt, Mike reduces his money pile even more to account for the hazard pays that he promised his former subordinates earlier in the episode. "So we are paying them why?" Walt snaps. "Because it's what you do ... my guys are keeping their mouth shut. We keep them whole," says a noble Mike, sticking to his principle of full measures.
As the two bicker about whether or not Mike's strategy is simply a blackmail device, Walt places his hand over his stack of money in order to shield it from him. Jesse once again intervenes as peacekeeper, offering Mike to take the hazard pays out of his share. Walt backs off, but it does not stop Mike from giving him a piece of his mind. "Let me tell you something. This is how it's gonna be from here on out. My guys are an ongoing expenditure. So you best get yourself comfortable with it."
Though he chalks himself off to be the boss, Walt is going to have to deal with the remnants of Gus' operation if he wants to move forward with his own business. Mike proceeds to put Walt in his place: "Just because you shot Jesse James, don't make you Jesse James." If anyone can call Walt on his bullshit, it is definitely Mike.
After the deal is over, Walt asks Jesse how he is feeling, to which he responds that he broke up with Andrea. Walt rudely dismisses him, saying, "I meant this," raising his bag of money, "how are you feeling about the money?" Jesse assures Walt that they have actually received more than they ever did with Gus, telling Walt that he need not worry so much.
Although Walt has successfully gotten Jesse to break up with Andrea, he delivers him one last warning. He brings up Victor, saying, "All this time, I was sure that Gus did what he did to send me a message. Maybe there's another reason -- Victor trying to cook that batch on his own. Taking liberties that weren't his to take. Maybe he flew too close to the sun, got his throat cut." In other words, Walt subtly warns Jesse not to overstep his boundaries with him, and to not overtake his efforts. Walt then walks away from Jesse, who looks to the ground, digesting what Walt has just told him. Karina Parikh