[Review] Breaking Bad, Season 5 Episodes 3 and 4, "Hazard Pay" and "Fifty-One"

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Television
These two episodes are a well deserved pair. More then that, they are excellent bookends to where we were five seasons ago. As is well pointed out in Fifty-one, in universe, a year and a day has passed since Walter got his news, and it is stunning to think that everything that has happened, every miss step and transformation has taken place within twelve months. And how, a year on, we're looking in a mirror, at a world that seemed familiar, but has flipped everything in the opposite direction.

And a reminder that so much can change in a year, and that this season began with Walter, alone and not himself, celebrating his fifty second birthday by buying a rather large gun. This last year was hell for Walter White, and it's taken us five to follow him. The next year seems like it'll be even worse, and we've only got 12 episodes left.

Hit the jump for the reviews, which have stolen spoilers off their partner's plate to make a bigger '1'.

As a pair of episodes to watch together, I couldn't have asked for better. Hazard Pay focused on the business, while Fifty-one made up for the greatest weakness so far this season, the lack of the family story line. Up until now, Skylar has been a moth fluttering in front of a porch light, and Jr and Marie have been almost completely absent.

Vince Gilligan is no stranger to symbolism, so what stood out of Hazard Pay most to me was the recurring theme of threes. All through the episode, three kept coming up, and it was immediately disrupted by a forth. Saul refers to himself, Walt and Jesse as the Three Amigos, not the best metaphor since they were bumbling frauds, and are interrupted by Mike. Walt and Jesse watch The Three Stooges, which, see the Amigos metaphor. Jesse and his family sit at home playing video games, disrupted by Walt's mind games. Walt, Jr and the baby watch Scarface (fine family entertainment, that), and are interpreted by Skylar. Jesse and his old friends get the gang back together, only for Mike to step in and break things up.

Over and over, threes kept jumping out. Now, I'm trying to think back to previous seasons, and if three played a role, but in terms of the world at large, three is the standard number of dimensions. For something to be solid, it needs those dimensions. Is this a sign that things are about to get disrupted, that through addition or subtraction, threes aren't going to be around much longer? Or are the references to the fools mean that these groups are only kidding themselves, and that they aren't as smart as they think? I didn't see any three imagery in Fifty-one, so who knows what they've got in mind.

Walter likes his own ideas, and likes it when things go his way. Back at the beginning, when he and Jesse were at each others throats, they decided to make the business mobile. Now, at the back end of things, they are closer then ever, and Walt still insists on keeping the business mobile, though he's wiser in his methods they he ever was before. Setting up the lab in bug-bombed houses is the evolution of the Winnebago idea, and it shows the sophistication that Walt has grown into. It's a fine art to them now, and they've eliminated the variables.

Except, that as Walt gains control over one aspect of his life, the others inevitably degrade. Look at mid season two to season three for when things were most chaotic in all aspects of Walt's life. He is a sliding balance. One side is high, the other is low. There is no equilibrium for this man. Jesse is closer family to him then his own, his business is safe and strong, but his wife is falling apart. The musical montage of them cooking in peace was the whimsical, romantic interlude that his menacing Skylar in the next episode, over her inability to out think him, wasn't. Walt has turned his wrath on his life now, and he won't stop until everything is perfect (the loose thread on the hat calling back his obsession with the fly). But for him to fix the family, it will have to mean sacrificing the order of the work. He is kidding himself otherwise.

I've often said that the cold opens are the most important part of any episode of Breaking Bad, and the one that opens Fifty-one is an excellent example of that. The man reads off a laundry list of details, each of which Walter understands and respects. But then, he impulsively acts on a larger scale that is beyond his reasoning. Walter is a micro thinker, he works well with a system of variables and interactions. But he cannot understand the macro, the whole picture. He was able to defeat Fring only when he saw it as a series of steps, not as a single stroke. So, when Walter makes decisions, like buying new cars, he does so impulsively, and cannot understands when they only makes things worse. He needs time to sit, to obsess, to plan. Skylar has a similar problem, except she only acts in the macro, never thinking of the details, a fact Walter terrorises her with in one of the most frightening scenes the show has produced.

There were a lot of visual call backs to the first season in this last episode. The pool, with someone zoning out. The patio full of family, the discussion of cancer. The shaving the head, the untucked shirt and tightie whities, the breakfast (who would have guessed that bacon could be a bad oman). The arrival of the hat. All of it, a reflection of their origins. Right down to a wish for the cancer to return.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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