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Mike Flies Too Close To The Sun in BREAKING BAD’s “Hazard Pay”
“Hazard Pay” covered a surprising amount of ground – more than I had ever come to expect. How long did it take Walter and Jesse to move away from the RV and get into their superlab? Yet in the span of a single episode, Walter, Jesse, and Mike find a suitable location to cook and manage to sell their first batch. It’s a testament to how much they’ve learned and how far they’ve come to so quickly get their business rolling, though a lot of credit must go to Mike – he handles the business side of things. Still, seeing the three of them actually working together and setting up what looks like a solid operation was thrilling, and at times very comical. Watching everyone’s reactions to the various locations Saul shows them as potential lab sites was a lot of fun and it led to one of Walter’s more ingenious ideas.
What was so great about the RV in the first couple seasons of Breaking Bad was the idea of having a mobile meth lab. Being able to move around and cook in a different spot each time greatly reduces the likelihood of being caught. The downside was the RV was too recognizable. If anyone became suspicious of it, all they had to do was tail it. Walter’s new idea takes after, and greatly improves upon, the idea of a mobile lab. Never cooking in the same place twice is a smart way to work, but how do you hide your lab? Meet Vamanos Pest – the new front for Walter’s drug empire. Mike’s crew of house burglars are hired by homeowners to rid their houses of unwanted bug infestations. They sneak in all the heavy-duty equipment needed for the cook under the pretense of fumigation, setting up a nice little area in the middle of house covered in tarps. Walter and Jesse show up later and do their thing, stopping only to enjoy a beer and The Three Stooges, and then take their product and leave as if they were never there. The homeowners come back to a pest-free home, oblivious to the fact it was just used as a meth lab.
But there’s much more going on than just cooking meth – this is Breaking Bad after all. Walter continues his main game of manipulating Jesse. He knows that if he ever loses him, he could lose everything. Without Jesse backing his plays, there’s nothing keeping Mike on his team. And as ever, Walter is as subtle as a leaf. His manipulations have become second nature to him, like breathing. As he and Jesse take a break from cooking, Walter brings up the topic of Andrea and how much she knows about what they do. Whereas Walter used to remind Jesse of how stupid he is, here he appeals to his ego by telling him he trusts him. He needs to tell Andrea everything if they’re going to be together – secrets are no good in a relationship. But telling her doesn’t guarantee his silence. No matter what Jesse decides to do regarding Andrea, it will be the right call, but Walter makes it known that Jesse puts him in danger by telling Andrea too much. It’s clear to us Walter doesn’t want Jesse to tell Andrea anything, but Jesse needs to figure that out on his own, so he feels like he came to the conclusion without help. Now, you might think Walter is simply trying to separate them to keep Andrea from talking to anyone about their business, but the truth is far more chilling.
Earlier in the episode, while Walter and Jesse are going over plans for their new lab equipment – courtesy of Joe from the junkyard – Andrea and Brock show up for dinner. Walter tries to leave to spare himself the uncomfortable feeling he gets being around Brock, who he poisoned last season, but accepts the invitation to stick around for a beer. Jesse and Andrea head off to get dinner going, leaving Brock and Walter sitting awkwardly on the couch together. Walter turns to look over at Brock and his expression screams the question: “Does Brock know Walter poisoned him?” That Brock returns Walter’s gaze and then quickly looks away suggests he may. So when Walter hints at Jesse to break things off with Andrea, he’s really trying to distance Jesse from Brock. Who knows when Brock might decide to tell Jesse how he really got his hands on those Lily of the Valley berries.
But Walter doesn’t stop with Jesse. After an uncharacteristic outburst from Skyler, Marie confronts Walter about Skyler’s wellbeing. She can tell something is very wrong, shocked to see her sister smoking, and can only think that it must be something Walter did. She immediately thinks he might be gambling again, or perhaps the cancer has returned, but Walter would never take the blame for anything he’s done. Instead, he mixes truth with lies, pushing the blame for Skyler’s behavior squarely on Skyler’s shoulders. He reveals her affair with Ted to Marie, suggesting Ted’s recent paralysis has caused Skyler large amounts of grief. It’s completely despicable how quickly and easily Walter can tell these lies and get people to believe them.
While Walter was busy showing us how far he’s fallen, Mike spent his time reassuring “his guys” he’s still looking out for them. Loyalty is a big part of Mike’s character, so much that he’s willing to set aside a good chunk of his, Walter, and Jesse’s profits to make sure they get their hazard pay that was taken away from them when Gus Fring was exposed. This serves two purposes: it eases Mike’s conscience knowing these men who have worked hard for Mike and are going to be looked after, and that includes their families. It also ensures their silence. With Gus gone, there’s no reason for them not to cooperate with the DEA, and that puts Mike at risk. Paying these guys off is unfortunate, but necessary. Now if only Walter could see that. When he learns how much of his money is being taken away for these other expenses, he almost loses his cool. He doesn’t understand how the business side of things works, clearly having assumed they would simply sell their meth and keep the majority of the profits. As clever as Walter has proven himself to be, there’s no arguing – except from his end – that he really has no idea how to run a drug empire.
But try and tell Walter that and he immediately starts pondering how to get rid of you. He compares – without actually comparing – Mike to Victor, the poor soul who had his throat cut by Gus. Walter wonders if maybe Victor died because he took too many liberties, “he flew too close to the sun, got his throat cut.” With Mike telling Walter how to run this business, isn’t it the same thing, at least in Walter’s eyes? Is Mike taking liberties by dictating what is done with the money? Where will this leave Jesse, who has been given the role of the son torn between his two parents? If I were Jesse, I’d start looking for a way to distance myself from Walter before he turns on me as well.