By John Keegan and Henry Tran
Walt said it himself in an earlier episode: The profits from cooking meth were going to be smaller than when he was working for the Fring organization. The cut of the pie was going to be bigger, though. The cost of "hazard pay" seems to not be of Walt's liking. He thought that since he was the proverbial big man on campus now, he should get to reap the benefits without the hassle of paying employees. While he is king of the operation, there are the little details that Walt completely overlooks.
That will be Mike's job, and given Mike's distaste for Walt, what we saw at the end of this episode will the first in a long line of disagreements between the two of them. The plan Walt has for cooking may not have holes in it now, but it's likely to fall apart at any moment. There is a sense of inevitability to it. We just don't know when it's coming. For now, it's just such a real pleasure to see how methodical and detail-oriented this show is.
The plan for cooking comes slowly into place. I love how the writers think this out thoroughly, exactly like how Walt and Mike think. Saul shows all of them potential places to cook, and it's an amusing montage to see the places they reject. This includes a tortilla production factory (I love the little detail at the end where Jesse steals and eats one of the freshly-made tortillas; It's just something Jesse would totally do) and the laser tag place that Jesse used as a hideout at the end of the third season. The last place they look in sparks something in Walt. It's a brilliant cover, to cook right under people's noses as their houses are being fumigated. They cook, the house gets cleared of critters by the poison, and everyone looks the other way.
So far, I'm not seeing anything that's wrong with the plan, but then again, there wasn't much wrong about the setup with Gus Fring either. Look how that turned out in the end. Like the scene where Saul told Walt that he should be happy to have survived the war against Gus, Walt should be glad that he doesn't have the authorities right on his tail. Walt and Jesse are under so little threat that they can kick back, have a beer, and watch The Three Stooges in someone else's house after cooking a batch of meth. They had better appreciate these times because it's going to end some time. How this final season is structured, with the year-long split five episodes away, we just don't know when the end is coming.
There is an unspoken tension that runs throughout the episode due to that fact. Everything goes along swimmingly until Mike handles the business end of things with divvying up the profits. There, all the underlings that are below Walt and Jesse come to light. Walt knew about the dealers and could accept the "mules" as cogs in the machinery of his nascent operation. But even while Gus is no longer present, his shadow remains. Mike puts it eloquently when he refers to the hazard pay for his "guys" as "legacy cost." It's Gus' legacy that cuts into Walt's profit margin.
I love that Mike accepts this as the cost of business. It's so his guys won't rat him or Jesse or Walt out to the police. Walt takes it as a slap to the face at first. His ego is so large right now (and arguably still growing) that he can't see the benefits of what they're doing right now. Not to mention that the feds will continue to investigate what they can get their hands on. He seems unable to see that what he's doing is illegal and that it might hurt the people around him. Maybe he just doesn't care.
On the personal side of things for the characters, cracks are forming. Since Walt does the bold thing and moves back into the house without even consulting Skyler, she feels like the walls are now closing in around her. Skyler is worried that Walt's proximity to so much violence and death will directly affect her now that he's in her home. She fears Walt so much that she represses the combination of anger and abject terror that is just bubbling at the surface. It explodes with the repeated yells of "Shut up" to Marie, and that prompts Marie to confront Walt about everything.
Walt is ever so careful and calculated with the lies behind what is bothering Skyler. He brilliantly uses Skyler's affair with Ted against her -- almost as if he'd been saving that up just for Marie -- and the most galling thing about it is that there is a grain of truth to what he tells Marie. Skyler could tell Marie the real reason behind her outburst at the car wash, but that would be more outlandish than her feeling guilty about an illicit sexual affair. So it all works in Walt's favor. He is in control of every situation he is in. His skillful manipulation extends to Jesse, as he gets his protege to think about the possible consequences of continuing in a relationship with Andrea and Brock.
I read it as "advice" that was completely self-serving for Walt because maybe he thinks that Brock might one day put things together and figure out that Walt was responsible for his poisoning. Did Walt maybe feel a tinge of guilt for using a kid as a pawn in his master plan? We may never know the answer to that question. Walt continues to masterfully play Jesse like a puppet, though. He subtly reminds Jesse that whatever secrets Andrea is told will affect him and that he is the only person who accepts Jesse, because of everything they've been through together. Regardless, the complication is now eliminated when Jesse abruptly breaks up with Andrea. I don't know for sure if Andrea and Brock will reappear later, but they could come back into play at the most unexpected of times. What will Walt do then?
I find myself wondering whether it was a good or bad thing to show the flash-forward teaser from the season premiere as I watch each episode. I should be looking for clues into why Walt ends up in the diner alone and having to purchase his own "little friend" (the appearance of "Scarface" in this episode could be a hint as to how this show ends), but there are times when I don't do that. The plot of the series is so secretive and so unknown right now that we don't know what is coming in future episodes. I get so engrossed in each episode that it matters little how each will connect to the endgame.
I would expect more tense confrontations between Mike and Walt, with Jesse always caught in the middle. Mike and Walt are supposed to be equal partners, but Walt doesn't see it that way. He thinks he can "handle" Mike. I would also expect those confrontations to escalate, especially if Mike's network of "guys" surprisingly leaks information to the authorities. Chaos could ensue at that point. It's a drug operation that isn't quite as secure as the Fring organization was. It can break down just as quickly as it did when Walt arranged to blow Gus up. Things are slowly building to what could be a tragic conclusion. The mystery is in how all of it plays out. Remember that everyone dies in "Scarface", and that Walt mentions that fact during his viewing of the movie. He, and everyone else in the show's universe, could meet the same fate.John Keegan is Editor-in-Chief for Critical Myth, a partner site of SciFi Vision. Henry Tran is Critical Myth's reviewer for Breaking Bad.