In "Hazard Pay," Breaking Bad shows us that going into business for yourself can be pretty tough.
"Just because you shot Jesse James, don't make you Jesse James."
The breakdown of a major money-making operation has implications that ripple out far and wide. Last season, Walt mentioned that Gus Fring's meth business is big enough that it could be traded on the NASDAQ (in his now famous "I'm the one who knocks" speech). So it stands to reason that there are people who are left in the cold now that said business is gone. The nine high-level lieutenants left from the Fring operation, whom Mike collectively refers to as "my guys" are in a precarious position. Gus' death means these "guys" are now pretty close to being looked at by the authorities. In fact, the laundromat manager from last season is already in jail, and ready to inform to the police about everything he knows. Even a visit from Mike doesn't necessarily assuage those desires. Still, Mike believes he can buy their silence for a large percentage of the money made from a batch of meth cooked, which is basically the reason he decides to go into business with Walt and Jesse after all. "Legacy costs," he calls it. "Hazard pay." In exchange for keeping their mouths shut, Mike will arrange for his "guys" to get paid the way they used to be under Gus. "You will be made whole," he tells Dennis is laundromat manager (the way Mike is always repeating such phrases as "my guys," "made whole," and "hazard pay" just drives home his professionalism, and the way the Fring business operated like a corporate entity which pushes forward its dry, repeating vocabulary).
In fact, Walt is at his manipulative best in "Hazard Pay." It starts when he simply moves all his stuff back into Skyler's house without even bothering to check with her first. Skyler is so paralyzed with fear (no, we don't find out what happened after the show cut to credits last week, but we can kind of guess...and it's horrifying to think about) that she can't speak up for herself. In fact, she has a breakdown at the car wash where she verbally lashes out at Marie at the mere mention of Walt's upcoming fifty-first birthday. When Marie tries to find out from Walt what's happening with Skyler, Walt pins the whole thing on his wife. He tells Marie about Skyler's affair with Ted, which puts Marie on Walt's side. His machinations don't stop with his own family. When he sees that Jesse is back together with Andrea (and Brock), Walt gets into Jesse's head. Knowing that Jesse isn't going to question him anymore, Walt, snake that he is, talks about honesty, and whether or not Jesse will be able to tell Andrea, if the relationship gets serious, everything about his life...including the death of Gail Boetticher. Jesse ends up breaking it off with Andrea.
As for the meth business, that's back up and running again. After rejecting some of Saul's suggestions for spaces where they can keep a lab – a box factory, a tortilla factory, and a lazer tag place – they decide to partner up with an extermination business that Saul also represents (no shock, they're criminals too) to create a type of mobile lab. Everytime the exterminators tent a house for fumigation, Walt and Jesse will move in, set up a small lab, and cook up a batch before heading out. Set to the strains of "On a Clear Day," they get to cooking, in yet another visually stunning set piece. The best shot: the billowing smoke getting sucked up into the vacuum at the end.
So after a yield of about thirty pounds, all they could manage in their tiny mobile lab, they make over a million dollars, but the costs run up on them. It's all well and good until Mike starts to take out a cut for "my guys." Mike is trying to keep said "guys" from flipping on them and talking to the feds. Walt thinks it's "a shakedown...blackmail." He resents the fact that there are so many costs associated with running his own business, but the fact that he has to contribute to the well-being of the "guys" is particularly galling. It gets him talking about Victor, Gus' henchman whose fate came at the hands of Gus, via the sharp side of a box cutter. Walt mentions to Jesse that at the time he thought Gus did it to send a message, but now he thinks it's because Victor was "taking liberties." "Hazard Pay" ends with Walt talking about Victor after Mike takes his sizeable cut from the profits of the cook meant to amortize all their costs. The implication is that Walt is displeased, and his newest target will be Mike. "He handles the business," he tells Saul earlier in the episode, after agreeing to Mike's ground rules, "I handle him." It looks like that handling will come out of antagonism, and probably (attempted) murder. Whereas before, Walt killed out of a sense of survival, now he wants to do it to throw his weight around. He is, after all, the king now.
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About the Author - Royal Nonesuch
As Senior Media Correspondent (which may be a made-up title), Royal Nonesuch tends to spearhead a lot of film and television content on The Outhouse. He's still a very active participant in the comic book section of the site, though. Nonesuch writes reviews of film, television, and comics, and conducts interviews for the site as well. You can reach out to him on Twitter or with Email.
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