Monday, July 30, 2012

Meth Monday No. 2: "Hazard Pay" (5.03)

Welcome back, Readers Mine, to the second installment of Meth Monday, where I take a look at last night's new episode of Breaking Bad. As usual, I'll be writing this as if you've already seen the episode, so: !!SPOILER ALERT!!

Season 5's beginning has been all about ratcheting up the tension, and doing it without any violence whatsoever, a complete change from Season 4's opening episodes. Yet every scene is weighted with the potential for violence, and I can feel my shoulders knotting as I sit through every 42+ minute episode, just waiting for the right domino to fall and for the screen to go bloody. In the meanwhile, Gilligan & Co. are giving viewers some truly brilliant TV.

My favorite licks from last night's "Hazard Pay" include the soundtrack of a bunch of children playing as Walt, Jesse, Mike, and Saul check out Vamonos Pest, and again as Walt and Jesse enter that big tented house in its upper middle-class neighborhood and begin to cook. Breaking Bad has never shied away from presenting the viewer with the realities of crystal meth, and this is another dose of the same. Walt and Jesse are cooking poison so vile that it has to be tented away from the rest of a house that is itself tented so it can be filled with poison gas, and they're pumping out the fumes from their cook right beside a brightly colored kiddy pool in the back yard. This isn't the first time the audience has seen meth cooking going down in an affluent suburb of Duke City. Way back in the series pilot during Walt's ride-along with Hank and Gomey during their bust of a suburban lab (manned by none other than Jesse and the late Emilio), Hank carefully has his team wait until a school bus has left the area before assaulting the cook-house. Now Walt and Jesse have come full circle to cook near a neighborhood playground, maybe even one connected to a school. These two men are the protagonists of the show and the viewer roots for them more often than not, but Gilligan & Co. always remind the audience of exactly who they're pulling for: a couple of guys who will plop down a poison mill next door to a playground without a second thought. It's an uncomfortable position, and makes the viewer complicit in Walt's ongoing moral descent.

And then there was the Scarface audio-visual edits. Skyler, terrified to the point of breaking, wakes to the sound of shouts and gunfire, to find her murderous, drug-kingpin husband holding her baby girl and sitting with their teen-age son, reveling in the uber-violent climactic scenes of Scarface as a cocaine-fueled Al Pacino introduces his house-guests to his "little friend." As Skyler is bombarded with the sight, Walt, chuckling, says, "Wow, everyone dies in this movie don't they?" as the chattering of Tony Montana's M-16 slides into the chattering of a cash counting machine ripping out Walt, Jesse, and Mike's take from the first batch. Just freaking brilliant!

Finally, note how pouty Walt gets when confronted with the necessity of "legacy payments" to keep members of Gus' old organization quiet. Walt bring sup Victor at the end, but he still doesn't get it. Victor wasn't killed because of hubris, as Walt seems to think, but because of carelessness. He was seen at the scene of Gale's death, and potentially left some prints. Victor was killed to protect Gus' organization, and ultimately Gus himself. Gus was more than willing to make that sacrifice, and his message was that he would make any sacrifice to accomplish his goals. Walt isn't even willing to sacrifice part of his pay to protect his organization and himself. Mike's right: "Just because you shot Jesse James does not make you Jesse James."

That's it for this week's Meth Monday. Tune in next week for 5.04 "Fifty-One." My prediction is that Gilligan & Co. will give us another flash-forward cold open to Walt's 52nd birthday, to tease us with some more of the plot that involves Walt driving around with an M60 in his trunk. Next Sunday's episode marks the passage of a full year in the series storyline, a year in which Walt has gone from milquetoast chem teacher to cold killer and druglord, and as the cold open to "Live Free or Die" (5.01) showed, the next year may well be even more eventful!

See you here next Monday, and in the meantime, catch me on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ for almost daily Breaking Bad updates and sneak peeks, and don't forget to head over to Unfettered Brilliance where by co-author, K. Dale Koontz posts about all things media, and where you can find Walter White Wednesday for your mid-week fix.

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