Who is going to be the Big Bad?
That’s the question that’s foremost on my mind after “Hazard Pay,” and after the frightening revelation that there are only five episodes of Breaking Bad left in 2012.
So far in its run, Breaking Bad has given Walter and Jesse an escalating series of antagonists, from Crazy Eight to Tuco to the Cousins to Gustavo Fring — each more menacing and powerful than the one that came before.
So who’s next?
As “Hazard Pay” started to make clear, that might not be a next. For several reasons.
First, it would be difficult to find a more engaging, charismatic and complex figure than Gus. He was all-powerful, at least as far as the southwestern meth trade is concerned, and made for a barely surmountable challenge for Walt to overcome.
As the series is doing with its pace — taking a step back to breathe and regroup after the heart-stopping climax of season four — so it may be doing with its series of villains. We’ll watch Walter and Jesse restart their business, and then see what develops out of that, and out of the continued fallout from Gus’s death with the DEA, the money, Madrigal, Mike’s “guys,” etc.
With only 13 episodes left in total, theres probably not enough time to introduce and develop a new character who’s going to be an archenemy for Walter. If someone came from outside to stir up major trouble — from the cartel, or from Germany, or a competing U.S dealer — we would need to meet that person right about now. Which leaves us the characters currently on the canvas.
“Hazard Pay” also hinted that Mike himself might be Walter’s chief antagonist going forward, a development which makes me a little nervous. Walter and Mike have always hated each other — Mike thinks Walter’s a careless, arrogant fool, and Walter is jealous of Mike’s wherewithal and insider position in Gus’s organization. Last night’s episode ended with Walter coyly letting Jesse know that Mike is next on his hit list, that he’s dissatisfied of the current business structure.
A Walter/Mike battle, though, would feel like too much of a retread of Walter v. Gus. And while Mike is a wonderful character, he fits much better in the role of henchman than CEO. Both of which are reasons why I think Vince Gilligan won’t go that route.
The series doesn’t necessarily need a Big Bad at this point, largely because Walter has completed his transformation into a villain himself. He is the bad guy, at this point, as the show argued with little subtlety by having him and Walt Jr. watching Scarface and giggling along.
Walt still needs antagonists to drive the action, but the conflicts seem like they’re going to be more internal (within the show’s developed universe) going forward. Walt vs. Mike. Walt vs. Jesse. Walt vs. Hank. Walt vs. himself.
Walt’s gone full evil, as emphasized in this episode by his manipulation of Jesse into breaking up with
Epyck Andrea, and his casual encounter with Brock. Walter’s the Gus at this point, more than anyone else. Still, he’s going to need someone to use that machine gun on.
Of course, there is one other choice for a new enemy for Walt and a new villain in the ABQ — a noted cold-blooded killer with murder in his bones and vengeance in his DNA:
I’m pretty excited for the mid-season finale, in which Walt poses as a roadie for a Crucifictorious show and plots to electrocute
Landry Todd through his amp.
“Hazard Pay” as an episode improved upon last week’s “Madrigal,” but still suffered from a slow pace and the feel that the writers are just getting Walt and Jesse up and running again as quickly as possible so they can move on to the next thing. In retrospect, and it’s impossible to say without seeing where this season’s going, I wonder if Vince Gilligan wouldn’t have been better off starting season five with the meth operation already rolling. What would we have lost by replacing the scenes about getting the band back together in these last two episodes with a five-minute montage? Other than Mike’s motivation, not much, I don’t think.
Of course, the usual disclaimer that a relatively weak episode of Breaking Bad is still pretty fucking great; this show doesn’t really get any worse than a B+ for any individual episodes. And “Hazard Pay” featured a number of brilliant moments, including the microscopic camera showing us the chemical reactions during the cook, and Aaron Paul’s heartbreaking delivery of “Like, Gale?” when Walt explained that he needed to tell Andrea everything.
Early this season, Breaking Bad seems to be headed in the same direction as Mad Men did in their most recent season, making their metaphors, allusions and themes more obvious. “Hazard Pay” gave us…
- “Leaves of Grass” — The camera lingered lovingly on Walter’s copy of his namesake’s poetry collection, a collection that features “Song of Myself.” Something tells me Mr. White might be apt to misinterpret these opening lines:
I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you
- Scarface— Gilligan has been quoted many times that Breaking Bad is the story of Mr. Chips turning into Scarface.
- The apple — The piece of fruit Walter eats with relish instead of tending to his emotionally distraught wife brings to mind the witch offering the poisoned apple to Snow White, with Jesse surely playing the latter role.
What’s Up With Hank’s Mineral Collection?
Is Skyler Still the Worst?
Let me put it this way…last night I entered into a disagreement with Mrs. Dilemma, and when I thought her argument turned irrational, I asked her to please stop “Skylering me.” I think that could catch on, you guys.