Review: Oslo, August 31st (2012, Trier)

Oslo, August 31st opens in the Boston area for five shows between August 29th and September 3rd at The Museum of Fine Arts and for a limited engagement at the Somerville Theatre starting August 31st.

Norwegian director Joachim Trier burst onto the international film scene in 2006 with Reprise, a stylistically inventive debut about two young writers which alternates between overindulgence and the flashily sublime. Overall, the film left me cold but with the internal understanding that yes, I would make it a point to see all of Trier’s future output. His second feature, Oslo, August 31st, capitalizes on the evident potential seen from his debut as he reins himself in for a more subtle, somberly reflective work that is markedly more rewarding.

Set over the course of one day, Oslo, August 31st follows Anders, played by the marvelous Anders Danielsen Lie of Reprise, over the course of 24 hours. 34 years old, he leaves his drug rehabilitation center for a day to attend a job interview. He takes the opportunity to reconnect with his past, roaming around the city visiting old friends and relatives.

There is something ever-so-slightly vague about Anders’ existential quandary that, despite the specific nature of him and his struggles, cannot help but propel a similarly existential spirit in the viewer. It pulls you along in its ability to promote simultaneous self-reflection, without losing the story it wants to tell. By the end it becomes clear that in a subtle way, Oslo August 31st feels as if it is representing something bigger than itself.

A very early scene depicts Anders unsuccessfully attempting suicide by drowning. A consequential unshakable sense of fragility follows Anders around for the rest of the film. We know that with every encounter, with every stroll through Oslo, a question is eating away at this man; what’s the point? This might sound miserablist but it strikes such a sincere tone as to avoid becoming a mess of self-indulgent sulk.

What makes Oslo stand apart from other ‘drug addiction’ films is that it is not about the struggle to stay clean. It is about what one is left with after the fact and questioning the point of continuing. Anders has money, friends, family, looks and talent. But when addiction comes to define and ruin, at the end of the day, what is left when a layer of disconnect invades him, his former haunts and his interactions with others? That ever-palpable ‘why bother’ and the honesty with which it ponders this question is what stood out for me most in Trier’s sophomore effort.

Anders spends the day looking for some sort of sign to continue living. A series of conversations and experiences bring him closer and closer to his fate. A planned meeting with his sister does not materialize. His job interview is at first promising and then awash in the self-destruction that eats at him. He continues to call his ex-girlfriend and leave messages for her even though she is in New York. A party where old friends abound reminds of lost time and a place he cannot get back to.

There is a stand-out early sequence in which Anders makes his first visit of the day to see an old friend. Thomas (Hans Olar Brenner) is now married with a kid but the two friends used to live it up with booze and drugs as they intellectualized with each other. Those days are gone and after a scene with Thomas’ wife, the two speak alone. It becomes clear that while Thomas may be in a conventionally better place in his life, he has lost something. He is somehow unhappy. And he cannot reach any real level of insight when it comes to Anders. By the end of the scene it feels like neither can really do anything for the other though each vaguely wants to and it is heartbreaking.

Thankfully the film doesn’t victimize Anders. We feel badly for him and want him to pull through but it is also evident that he has screwed over many a friendship and family member in his efforts to fuel his addiction in the past. While the audience is given tidbits of backstory, each encounter he has only supports the immediate understanding that these are very complex and history-filled relationships. He wants to want to live, but he just cannot seem to find any reason to keep going.

It also serves as a love letter to Oslo. There are two scenes that broaden the scope of the individual experience of living in a city. The capital is highlighted throughout as Anders wanders the streets like a ghost of himself. Trier uses the setting to make a point about the collective memory a city holds for its many inhabitants. For all the good and bad times that come with it, the result is the magical significance of a city unattainable by any one individual but enjoyed, despaired and contributed by all.

The juxtaposition of broadening the Oslo experience and then focusing on Anders highlights the importance of each individual life and the joys, heartache and crises that come with it. Many films that try to do this sentimentalize or overtly make this point, but again, Trier strikes a perfect note here. Bleak but not miserablist. Gently nostalgic without a drop of saccharine. Oslo, August 31st overcomes the many pitfalls of the addiction drama, making for a haunting and contemplative existential journey through Norway’s capital over the course of one day.

Breaking Bad: Season 5, Episode 5: “Dead Freight”

As we launch into the back half of these first eight episodes of Breaking Bad’s final season, we close up the methylamine crisis that has stood in the way of our Three Amigos. At the same time, we experience the gut punch that is the irrevocable murder of an innocent curious dirt-biking child who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The fallout from this incident is surely going to be the basis of these final three episodes.

I did not get around to reviewing “Fifty-One”. I would still like to, but time got away from me, as well as the fact that the Rian Johnson directed episode intimidated me with its complexities from a reviewing standpoint. Suffice it to say that of the five, it is my favorite to air thus far. Those kinds of character-driven episodes are the ones I particularly look forward to on this show (as fabulously as on-the-edge-of-your-seat episodes like “Dead Freight” are). What is so exciting about going into next week is that the final seconds set up what is sure to be juicy character material on every front.

I have noticed that it is becoming standard practice now in “Breaking Bad” reviews to view the episodes on the prioritized context of logistics. Instead of feeling like genuine concerns, these mostly feel contrarian for contrarian’s sake; nitpicks for the sake of nitpicks. I listen to the Breaking Bad Insider Podcast every week and the research and time that goes into the logistics on this show are insane. Obviously there are plot holes. But to view this show as if its realism makes or breaks it is a shame. It discredits the innovation in the top-notch writing, directing, acting, visuals and its overall vision. And I feel sorry for those people that cannot at a certain point let it go and say they had a damn thrilling time during the exquisitely executed heist sequence.

But let’s go back to the beginning. The significance of the elusive cold open this week became clear only at the episode’s tragic end. At first, the child’s wardrobe actually had me thinking if maybe this was a young Jesse but I put that to rest by the end of the teaser when we hear the train whistle blowing. Then part of me, correctly I may add, feared the worst. The episode made me forget about the kid until the end when celebration ensues and you realize there is no way this episode will end with our characters victorious.

How Much Is He Acting?

In a piece of Walter White Master Class Acting, “Dead Freight” gets started with a visit to Hank’s new office. Hank has made a point to verbally acknowledge Walt’s spending habits recently. He may not be connecting it to Walt being Heisenberg but it is becoming very clear that once Hank gets the missing piece of the puzzle, the rest will immediately click into place for him.

I loved seeing Hank squirm when confronted with Walt coming to him with domestic problems and then proceeding to break down.  This is clearly not his forte and his discomfort turns into some really funny stammering by Dean Norris. Frantically closing the shades and “You want a cup of coffee? I’ll get you a cup of coffee”. Of course the other thing is that Walt, while coming to Hank under false pretense and putting on a performance, is once again manipulating with statements of truth:

“Skyler doesn’t love me anymore. I don’t know what to do Hank. I don’t. She…she says that I’m a bad influence on the kids. And uh—that I’m not good for them. She thinks I’m a bad father.”

Walt will continue to get all the sympathy from Hank and Marie, considering how they view him and all that he has been through with cancer this past year. Skyler will continue to look like the mentally troubled catalyst for all of this. But how much of Walt is acting here? These are certainly feelings he should be deeply struggling with. He feels the fact of his statements but he will not let himself feel the enormity of his domestic situation. He has bigger fish to fry and his blowout with Skyler last week caused him to throw himself even deeper into his financial endeavors. My interpretation is that this is a performance that, while rooted in genuine feelings and truth, is buried so far down in Walt’s psyche that there is no hidden catharsis for him here. Then again, when Hank leaves, there are a couple of notable beats where he gathers himself together before proceeding to plant the bug. That Bryan Cranston is towing this many layers in one scene is remarkable.

Discussing the Fate of Lydia:

In the first of many darkly lit interior scenes, Lydia has been taken to a warehouse where she is to answer for the tracking device on the methylamine barrel. This is also the first of a series of conversations in this episode about letting people live or die. As Lydia sits in the background, Walt, Jesse and Mike discuss her fate. Jesse still wants to save her while Mike clearly still has it in for her. Walt, very quickly giving his first okay for someone to be executed, says to Jesse that the vote is two against one. Although Lydia is saved in the nick of time, both Walt and Mike (not that Mike being ready to kill people is a new realization) ultimately have few qualms about killing people off who may threaten their enterprise.

The conversation between Walt and Lydia seems like it will become very important later on. The only real thing being pointed out about this scene is the mention of children in a nice bit of foreshadowing. Walt talks to Lydia (alone by the way; Mike and Jesse are outside) about why she put the hit out on Mike. They have similar interests. Walt is unable to get past the hazard pay Mike is paying to his nine men. Lydia sees these nine men as liabilities that need to be taken out. They both want the same thing.

There’s a nice little scene with Hank and Marie sharing some down time with Holly. I think a lot of people, me included, are thinking about the possible eventuality of Hank and Marie taking Walt Jr. and Holly for good. This is where I see them ending up, but this show never turns out how I expect. Also; Emo McGee.

And then we are out on location in Santa Fe with some truly stunning shots of the three walking along the train tracks:


Unknowingly Giving an Indirect Order, or: What We Say Matters:

In a crucially important conversation, Todd asks Walt and Jesse about the logistics of the train robbery in what seems like a convenient exposition scene. But this exchange sneaks in:

Jesse: “The point is, no one other than us, can ever know that this robbery went down. Nobody. Got it?
Todd: Yeah. Absolutely.
Walt: You sure?
Todd: Yes sir.

Todd is seemingly just a young thief who wants to get in good with the guys on top. What Walt and Jesse do not understand in that moment is just how seriously Todd is taking these words. The implication of ‘doing what is necessary’ is present everywhere in this exchange. Particularly Jesse repeating “nobody” and the absolute conviction in Cranston’s line delivery of ‘you sure?’ From Todd’s point of view, it is hard to misinterpret that. Walt and Jesse obviously have no reason to ever think about a contingency plan for what happens when a kid wanders onto the scene. However, Walt is trying to get into the big time. This isn’t a small operation Walt is trying to build. So Todd is likely under the assumption that taking a kid out is on the table if it comes down to it. So did they pull the trigger? No. But for Todd, an aspiring foot soldier who knows that Walt and Jesse mean business, and the two were indirectly and unknowingly giving a future order in that moment resulting in the death of a child.

Something also to note is that this whole thing was Jesse’s plan, the point of which was to avoid having to kill the two crew members. Now from Todd’s point of view, this plan was put into place so that nobody knows the train got robbed in order to avoid further investigation. While these are all added bonuses to the plan, the crux of it was put into place by Jesse to avoid having to off the crew. Again this season has made Jesse into the guy who comes up with a plan in the midst of Walt and Mike feuding. This formula is getting repetitious but by the looks of things, factions are shifting next week.

The Domestic Front:

The White household is lit like a rotted out hollow shell of what it used to be. I am loving it.

The anguish of Emo McGee is pretty much the last thing people watching care about. But it shows that the domestic situation is really spinning out of control. There is no way this can be kept up for much longer. The kids are out of the house. The entire charade is cracking under Walt and Skyler and each time they make a move against the other, the closer they get to mutual self-destruction.

Walt and Skyler’s conversation feels like a watered-down lowly prioritized rehash version of what came in the episode before and I am not sure how certain lines like “Don’t start Walt. I won’t change my mind about you. Ever.” were necessary. There was a touch of ‘in case you forgot’ about it. But I do love Skyler calling him out on the fact that his somebody had a gun to my head story was told with pride. That last moment of Walt acquiescing felt a bit like the emasculated dynamic he had striven so hard to get away from. Of course though, he has the last word as his ‘robbing a train’ delivery mirrors the pride Skyler spoke of him expressing earlier. And how about the foreshadowing on that ‘out burying bodies’ inquiry?

The Heist:

The final heist sequence is a bravura turn by first time (first time!) director George Mastras who also wrote this episode, his ninth overall in the series. This is the man responsible for “Crawl Space”, “Hermanos” and “Kafkaesque” among others. I cannot imagine how complicated shooting this sequence was especially for a first time director. This is the most ambitious set-piece the series has taken on and from everything I’ve listened to about the making of it, how long it took and how much meticulous research went into this; it definitely sounds like they had their hands full. Even Vince Gilligan, who is rarely on set because he is so busy in the writer’s room, was present for the four days it took to get this sequence shot.

For Mastras and editor Skip MacDonald, what most impressed me were the various camera placement choices and the precise tension ratcheting management between them. The urgency mounts with a balance kept between Walt, Jesse, Todd, Mike and the Bill Burr (Bill Burr!) character. Additionally, there is never a moment of confusion as to what is going on or how far they are in the operation. We know where everyone is and what everyone is doing at any given moment. For my money, a great deal of action or heist sequences in films have a hard time transferring such a clear sense of what is actually happening at all times. “Breaking Bad” did it this week.

A shout-out once again to Dave Porter for his shifts between ambience and industrial-sounding music. Porter is doing some really intricate beautiful stuff every episode. Way more distinct and ambitious than the mostly phoned in role that music plays on other shows.

Was everyone else on the edge of their seat like I was during this entire segment? Even watching it for the third time, the tension in my body remained. And what would an episode of this show be without some Walt stubbornness thrown in for good measure? His insistence that they keep going to the 1,000 gallons they set out to procure is typical Walt. It is another reminder of Walt’s full measure philosophy. All or nothing.

The audience’s involvement in the heist makes us automatically and understandably complicit in the momentary celebration that follows. When they manage, by the skin of their teeth, to succeed, it is truly an accomplishment for them. As they share a rare instance of pure joy and relief, laughing and clapping abound, damn if I didn’t have a big gaping smile on my face. It worked! Jesse’s plan worked! Then my brain starts grinding. We have one minute left. What about that tarantula kid? No way will this episode end in celebration. Boom.

I have noticed a few grips regarding the fact that Todd pulled the trigger. And I have to say, I admire the show for going in this direction with it. Did these dissenters think Walt should have been the one? That would have felt cartoonish and inorganic. Too easy. The importance, the weight of having Todd be the culprit is far more interesting. Walt and Jesse were standing there. It happened before they could even say or do anything. It largely came from an unknowingly indirect order they gave earlier. Instead of another ‘what do we do about’ moral dilemma, we and they are thrust into the aftermath of a brutal cold-blooded shooting by a foot soldier under their command. It is already over. It already happened. They didn’t get to discuss it. Hell, they didn’t even get a chance to fully process the situation. And now there is a dead kid lying on the ground. What next?

A lot can be said about predicting where we are going with this, but as I said before, this is a turning point in the season. Factions will divide, new factions will form. Words cannot describe how eager I am for the fallout from next week. While most of me was horrified by the final seconds of the episode, there was admittedly a simultaneous jump for joy that my heart did in anticipation of the juicy material and direction this incident implies from both an acting and writing standpoint.

From the previews for next week, it looks like the DEA is on Mike’s tail, prompting him to want to pull out. Everything is coming to a head. Obviously Jesse and kids being killed do not mix well (I’ve always been amused that Jesse is the heart of the show in large part to his very normal abhorrence for children being murdered and/or exploited). He was willing to sacrifice himself at the end of Season 3 if it meant taking out the guys who shot Tomas. Now he is working with someone who did the exact same thing. Jesse will want Todd gone one way or another. I would also assume he starts thinking about getting out of this business considering that it has been only a few weeks since Gus was killed and they already have a child’s blood on their hands.

As for Walt, while he may a delusional prick full of arrogant hubris, a child being shot in front of him is certainly going to affect him greatly. It is interesting to note that the episode purposely does not cut to a reaction shot of Walt after the shooting. We never see his reaction; only Jesse’s. But I think his power to excuse himself and his actions are going to win out in the end. After all, he didn’t shoot the kid. These things happen. They will establish ground rules and will make sure that they are not in a position for anything to be done without his direct order again. And he will not get rid of Todd. They are in this together. That is how I see Walt’s reaction.

Another question I have is will Todd be seen by Walt as a potential replacement for Jesse if Jesse wants to pull out? Todd is the perfect minion. Walt’s best interests are his best interests and most importantly, he has zero moral qualms about what must be done.

What did you think of “Dead Freight”? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Until next week!

Breaking Bad: Season 5, Episode 3: “Hazard Pay”

“Just because you shot Jesse James don’t make you Jesse James”. This line, spoken by none other than gruff one-liner extraordinaire Mike, will certainly end up being one of the most telling pieces of dialogue in “Breaking Bad”. With each episode that passes this season, it becomes clear that Walt’s reign on top is destined to be even shorter than we may have anticipated. With every inspired decision he makes, his God Complex interferes in ways the audience can see will hurt him and those around him in the long run.

“Hazard Pay” is bookended with scenes showcasing Mike’s considerable efforts towards keeping his guys, who were on Gus’ payroll, in place. The episode starts with Mike (in a suit!) posing as a paralegal in order to visit Dennis, who managed the industrial laundry where Gus’ team did their cooking. He is there to reassure Dennis that the hazard pay will keeping coming, lest he feels compelled to talk. Not only does he have to convince everybody on the payroll that keeping quiet is in their best interests, but he then has to follow through by continuing to supply hazard pay, or ‘making them whole’, as Mike awesomely calls it. And he has to calm everybody down about Chow’s murder. Mike is the one holding all of this together. I only hope that Mike can get out of this okay because I have gotten to the point where Mike’s survival is almost as important to me as Jesse’s.

The Logistics of Building a Business:

The business logistics of “Hazard Pay’s” first half is captivating to watch unfold. We get some excellent location work (particularly the box factory, seen above) as Saul and company trek to various possible locations to house their meth lab. This gives us the chance to see Saul work his magic again (though Walt ends up coming up with the pesticide idea) and it shows all of the potential pitfalls that have to be taken into consideration when embarking on such an enterprise.  I love the little touch of Saul bringing them to the Laser Tag location again. Their reactions:

Walt: No.
Jesse: Hell no.

The hiding in plain sight plan that Walt comes up with is pretty ingenious. I do not see a ton of longevity in it, although that is more likely because of the various other internal cracks that are already starting to appear within Walt’s endeavors. But for now, it has a touch of the dry humor that this show always likes to inject into the minute plot details. There is the dichotomy of cooking meth within the innocence of people’s homes. Then there is the additional dichotomy of creating a different kind of poison than the kind that allows for bug extermination. There is a great shot where the camera focuses on the innocuous family photo as Walt and Jesse cook in the background.

We are introduced to Jesse Plemons who plays Todd, who will assumedly make his mark sometime this season. After being explicitly instructed by Mike not to speak to either Walt or Jesse, he makes sure they know that he found and disabled a Nanny-Cam for them.

A shout-out is in order for the lovely green and yellow color scheme of the tent colors. It feels intuitively right for this show. I enjoyed the way it changed the lighting in the interior house scenes, not to mention the added value on the visuals by having the tent within a tent set inside the house.

Walt and Brock Meet:

In one of the squirmiest scenes to date, Walt and Brock formally meet. The scene begins with Walt and Jesse brainstorming how to solve problems for the upcoming cook. Something that works really nicely here, and in this season in general, is that it shows that Jesse has grown into being a legitimate team member and not just a hanger-on. Walt may only need Jesse because he can mold him, but Jesse still understands enough and has enough experience to contribute ideas that actually morph into viable solutions. Walt and Jesse are collaborators. Adorable. Also; is he the one drawing these diagrams? Using his artistic interests? Double adorable.

Anyways, back to the creepiness of the Walt and Brock meeting. The scene somewhat prays on the fact that we still do not quite know how the poisoning went down, although it is clear that Saul was certainly involved. Also, I do not believe for a second that Walt would have taken the chance of being at Jesse’s house if he had been the one to carry it out, covert poisoning or not. What works about the scene is that it is not the ‘does Brock know’ quality, but the fact that we know that Walt poisoned Brock. It uses context as a means for single-handedly creating discomfort.

The meeting itself is short and minimalist. 3 shots. A close-up of Walt looking at Brock. A close-up of Brock looking at Walt. A long shot with the two sitting on opposite sides of the couch. The only sound we hear is of Brock’s video game. Cut to commercial. The audience can really project whatever we want to onto this visual exchange. Having watched the episode multiple times, the ambiguity here is enormous, which is why it’s so effective. For me it comes down to a deeply unsettling atmosphere. It also uses the fact that Brock is always uneasy around new people to add a level of instinctive ‘I don’t want to know you’ vibe that comes from the kid. On Walt’s end, to me, there was a humanistic moment of him being almost afraid to look at the child whose life he actively endangered. But then there was also the next moment where he seemingly has no real problem facing him. That breakdown at the end of “Face Off” when Jesse leaves and Walt lets out his relief has basically been supplanted with no real remorse. Brock is sitting on the opposite side of the couch playing video games. He’s fine! And to Walt, as long as he’s fine, why should he feel bad about what was done in the past? In the end, I took it as a moment where Walt finalizes his own validation towards the poisoning.

Cooking Again:

It is a safe bet to say that this cooking montage was the best “Breaking Bad” has done. It has been a while since we had one of these, right? The song choice, “On a Clear Day (You Can See Forever)” by The Peddlers, had a laid-back cool to it with a wistfully nostalgic tone. The montage went full speed ahead in glorifying the art of the cook and turning it into a beautiful looking process. The yellow, blue and silver colors pop out and the music combined with the subtle use of slow-motion, the editing, and the ridiculously stunning effects work of close-up of chemical close-ups achieved one of the show’s best sequences to date. The dripping, the smoke, the translucence; all of it. I lost myself in this scene.

In the first half I will admit that two moments felt like a retread to me. Both are lines from Walt. The first is “Mike handles the business. And I handle him.” The second is “Why?” in response to Saul’s request that they take a vote on Walt’s idea. It was very easy to see both coming and I feel like we have already established these kinds of remarks out of Walt and that they did not really add anything to the proceedings. But they also did not take away, considering that character work is low on the priority list for the business-heavy first half.

The montage segues into the second half of the structurally succinct episode. What would an episode of “Breaking Bad” be at this point in the game without Walt blatantly manipulating Jesse? Nothing I say.

The Cruel Manipulation of Jesse Pinkman Continues:

The second half is all about the enormous chess game Walt is playing with everybody around him. The catch is that nobody else, except perhaps Mike, knows about this chess game. Walt continues to carefully maneuver those around him right where he wants them to be. He does it to Jesse here. He does it to Marie later. He does it to Skyler through the tale he spins for Marie. He has already done it to Saul. Again, Mike is the only one he cannot control.

What starts as a seemingly touching scene with the father/son dynamic that Jesse has always craved from Walt soon turns into something else. Everybody watching probably saw the turn the conversation takes coming. As they sit, drink beer and watch The Three Stooges in the temporary house/meth-lab, Walt expresses delight over Jesse’s relationship with Andrea. “And the way she looks at you…oh-ho.” Then he starts in on his ploy to get Andrea and Brock out of the picture while making it seem like Jesse’s ultimate decision. “Have you thought about what your plan is, vis a vis honesty?” I really truly hate you Walt. You are just the worst.

Basically Walt needs everyone else that would elicit loyalty from Jesse out of his life. Jesse cannot really have anything else going for him outside of Walt and the work they do. He proceeds by asking if Andrea knows anything. Jesse mutes the TV and immediately makes sure Walt knows without a doubt that he would never say anything to her, although she likely knows something is up (my favorite bit of acting from Aaron Paul in this episode). Walt then states that he has to decide how much Andrea knows, that “secrets create barriers”, and that he trusts that Jesse will make the right decision.

So basically, Walt implants this seed of uncertainty in Jesse. Walt knows that Jesse would not have the heart to tell anybody he loves what he has done. Let’s face it; Jesse’s committed some horrific crimes. So with that in mind, Walt is subtly saying, without actually saying, that nobody will ever accept Jesse as he truly is because “everything you’ve done is a part of you”. And he throws in an “everything we’ve been through, the two of us” in there for good measure.

What I love about Walt’s manipulations is the way he uses truth to create a lie. He uses truth to manipulate and in some ways, theses manipulations are the only time his human side comes out. It’s evil in one way and yet, at least a little of how much he reveals to others in service of manipulation feels genuine. This comes up again when Walt throws Skyler under the bus in order to save face with Marie.

Skyler and Marie:

Clearly Skyler is starting to crack in some big ways. If anyone could instigate a mental breakdown of sorts it would probably be Marie (in her first appearance this season). Anna Gunn was marvelous here. We are moving through the stages of trauma with her and I feel like something has to give very soon. We have gone from a catatonic kind of depression and paralyzing fear to frightening outbursts. Pretty soon I am assuming we will move to the next stage where Skyler will break out of this enough to see that something has to be done to, in her words, “protect the family from the person who protects his family”.

Walt plays selective truth-telling to Marie in a scene that goes down exactly as Walt would want it to. Marie’s presence forces Walt to think on his feet. While her immediate insistence is a challenge, Walt very easily slides into storytelling mode in yet another cruel masterstroke. He allows himself to be a cuckold and plays the victim by painting a picture of Skyler as the two-timing wife of a cancer-ridden husband. Yes, Skyler cheated on Walt. And yes, part of Skyler’s depression is induced by the harm she caused Ted. But it makes Skyler seem like somewhat of a villain to her sister, and it also paints a picture of Skyler that she has no control over. This harks back to Skyler’s gambling backstory that she simultaneously sprung on Walt and Marie, and seems like a dose of payback for that as well.

In a moment that registers as particularly callous coming from Walt, when Marie leaves, instead of checking up on his wife, he struts over to the kitchen table and takes a very self-satisfied bite out of an apple. It is a minute moment but it permeates with a passive maliciousness that counteracts the grander moments of Walt’s heartless persona.

The Scarface scene at first seemed a bit too on-the-nose for me, given how many times Vince Gilligan uses the “Mr. Chips to Scarface” line. But the way it unfolded and stayed so insistently in Skyler’s point-of-view made it work. There was something nightmarish and surreal about it. She cannot get away from her mindset to the point where she is living in her own personal hell. The “everybody dies in this movie, don’t they” line that happens off-screen is like the cherry on top.

Walt and Mike Have Their First Dispute (aka well that didn’t take long, did it?):

To reiterate, Mike is under more pressure than anybody else on this show right now, by a long shot. That he is working with Walt should make that evident enough. But he’s got every single person on the payroll to worry about, the business end of the partnership to deal with and his new corroborations with Walt and Lydia, who each present their own set of problems. This coupled with the fact that Mike is now the only character on this show willing to cross Walt makes him a major player we root for, but also a major character we have to most immediately worry about.

As Walt and Jesse watch their cuts dwindle away, Walt has his first breaking point as he witnesses just how much money is taken away when Mike is the one conducting business. The legacy cost is what does the trick. That Walt cannot see why taking a major pay cut for the hazard money is the right call is downright imbecilic. I get that the blunt visual of your money being taken away for others who do not even work for you might be upsetting, but Walt’s increasing inability to look at the big picture is very quickly getting out of hand. He sees himself on Gus’ level, not least because he was able to take him out. But he is not on Gus’ level. Walt has no experience and yet he expects to be hauling ridiculous amounts of money from the get-go and conveniently ignores how many other people are necessary in order for him to continue cooking meth. I love that Mike reminds him of this when Walt asks him how much Gus paid his mules. “Gustavo Fring didn’t use mules. He didn’t need them. He spent 20 years building his own distribution network.”

Walt is very quickly starting to see Mike as a nuisance. They are already butting heads. Most of their money is going towards paying off other people he doesn’t know. To Walt, it is becoming increasingly clear that Mike really isn’t worth all this. The catch is that, yes, Mike is indeed worth all this but Walt cannot see it.

In these Walt/Mike scenes, the editors do a consistently great job in strategically cutting to Jesse, the awkward middle man in all of this. The cuts of just Walt, just Mike, just Jesse and of Walt and Mike with Jesse lingering in the background are always immaculately juggled. Jesse tries to alleviate the situation by emphatically offering up his money. Walt declines and tells Mike to take the share. By the end of the episode Walt is already to the point of rethinking his partnership with Mike and I would assume that Mike knows Walt will likely pull something in the future because he is not stupid.

The last scene is a particularly complex one (in a show chockfull of complex scenes) and features a new interpretation of a major event by Walt that I do not quite buy. Whether I am supposed to buy it or not does not really matter, because this is delusional Walt we are talking about. We learn that Jesse broke it off with Andrea, which is too depressing for me to entirely process right now. “Instant family” indeed. And then we get the sucker punch of Walt not giving a shit and interrupting Jesse mid-sentence. “I meant this—how are you feeling about the money”. Jesse is looking at it the smart way. It may look like less money, but in reality they are clearing a bigger piece of the pie in addition to being owners and not employees.

Not good enough for Walt though. He’s been thinking about Victor and now thinks that perhaps Gus killed Victor not only to teach them a lesson but because he cooked the batch on his own; taking liberties he was not supposed to take. “Maybe he flew too close to the sun; got his throat cut”. We then cut to Jesse, whose face pretty much mirrored my own at that point, a face of immense confusion, concern and fear. The eyebrow crunching was in full effect from both  Jesse and myself and likely many other fellow viewers.

Walt walks away and we are left with Jesse looking on with astonishment. With each passing episode even though he continues to not realize that Walt manipulates him constantly, he is beginning to see that being this inextricably tied to Walt may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Jesse’s loyalty to Mike will be a problem if Walt wants to do try and remove Mike from the partnership. It will be very interesting to see how that plays out.

I have written way more than I planned on. Next week is “Fifty-One”, an episode that not only marks the one year point from where the show started in its pilot, but marks the halfway point between the pilot and the cold open in the season premiere. Rian Johnson, director of Brick, the upcoming Looper and “Fly”, arguably this show’s best episode, directs next week. It looks like Heisenberg is back. I cannot wait.

Please feel free to comment on your thoughts of “Hazard Pay”. I would love to hear what fellow fans thought of the episode!