Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
“Just ‘cause you shot Jesse James, don’t make you Jesse James.”
With that, Mike knocks Walter down a notch. It’s pretty clear that Mike is the one in charge, even if Walt thinks otherwise. The episode opens with Mike making the rounds at detention facilities to ensure that the guys paid by Gus to stay quiet continue to stay quiet (the “hazard pay” in the title of the episode). Walt may be able to cook, but he needs Mike to handle the rest of the business.
And back in business they are: Walt and Jesse, with the help of Mike and Saul Goodman, are cooking again. There are some great Saul moments in this episode (on Mike: “He gave me the dead mackerel eye”), including a last-ditch attempt to push that laser tag front business again.
Walt’s solution to the where-to-cook problem is ingenious: They’ll go mobile, cooking in houses that are being tented and bug-bombed by exterminators. The pest-control business is legit; it just happens to be run by crooks who can be bought for the right price. I can’t help but wonder if that price might go up at some point. But for now, it looks like it might be the perfect plan.
The only thing that seems to be in the way, once again, is Walt’s ego. And that ego is what will eventually be his downfall. In a nod to Walt’s own Tony Montano-esque character arc, Skyler stumbles out of the bedroom to find Walt watching Scarface with Walt Jr. and the baby. Speaking of Skyler: Finally, she cracked. It took some incessant concern-mongering from her sister Marie, but finally Skyler broke, yelling, “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” at her. Atta girl, Sky, let it out. It’s gotta go somewhere.
When Walt returns home to find Marie sitting alone in his living room (it’s his once again, now that he announced to Skyler he’s moving back in), he’s forced to give a reason for Skyler’s breakdown. He could have gone with “I’m gambling again,” but no. He tells Marie that Skyler is emotional because her secret lover Ted Beneke is an invalid. A shocked and embarrassed Marie leaves, and Walt, instead of checking in on his emotionally wrecked wife, calmly selects an apple and takes a hubris-filled bite.
And can we talk about the look Walt gives Brock when they’re formally introduced at Jesse’s and then left alone? What was that? Also, I’m unsure what Walt’s motivation was for steering Jesse toward breaking up with Andrea. Is it because he wants Jesse all to himself in some sort of dysfunctional father-son kind of way?
After the first successful cook under the new business model, it’s time for Walt and Mike to divide the cash. Walt watches, enraged, while Mike removes more and more money from their respective cuts (a little for Saul, some for the drivers, some for the pest-ontrol business, etc.), but when Mike takes a stack of cash for “legacy costs” — that hazard pay we heard about earlier — Walt loses it. He just doesn’t see why he should have to maintain Gus Fring’s payroll now that the man is dead. This is where Mike brilliantly delivers that Jesse James line.
Meanwhile, Jesse, like a kid caught in the middle of his parents’ divorce, attempts to smooth things over by volunteering his entire cut to offset the legacy costs. Walt, perhaps realizing how ridiculous he’s being, finally concedes that they will each pay a share. But any show of compassion on Walt’s part ends there.
After the money’s been counted, Walt asks Jesse how he’s feeling about the comparatively small amount of money they’re now making. Jesse’s attitude is that before, they were Gus’ employees, producing hundreds of pounds of methamphetamine weekly. Now, they’re producing less and making less, but hey, they’re business owners.
Walt takes this opportunity to put Jesse in his place. He expounds a theory that Gus slit Vincent’s throat (in the excellent Season 4 premiere “Box Cutter”), not to send a message to Walt, but because Vincent had overstepped his bounds. Jesse may be a sensitive soul, but he’s not dumb. He knows what Walt’s getting at. And so do we.
Also of note in this episode:
• Walt unpacks a copy of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” perhaps a nod to the Whitman quote in Gayle Bedecker’s lab notes.
• Walt to Saul: “Mike threatened me, he threatened Jesse. He probably threatened someone before breakfast this morning. It’s what he does. Grow a pair.”
• Saul asks Walt if he’s OK with Mike being in control of the business side. “Yes,” Walt says, “He handles the business. And I handle him.”
• The return of Badger and Skinny Pete!