Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Breaking Bad: “Madrigal”

Illustration for article titled Breaking Bad: “Madrigal”

Only 14 episodes of Breaking Bad remain, a number that has to be a relief to Vince Gilligan and his writers. They couldn’t possibly keep up the string of jaw-dropping cold opens much longer. Tonight’s hilarious visit to the gleaming laboratories of Madrigal Electromotive GmbH for a subtitled dipping-sauce taste test (“We refer to it as simply ‘Franch’… Designed to alleviate the potential for gastric distress brought on by the original… That last one is essentially just ketchup”) performs the impossible feat of topping the première’s flash-forward for sheer style and deadpan non sequiturs.

But it’s also a glimpse into the incomprehensibly vast spiderweb in which Walter White has gotten himself entangled—of whose existence he remains disturbingly unaware. Madrigal runs a whole stable of fast-food concerns: Whiskerstays (which, from the logo, appears to be a catfish place), Haau Chuen Wok, Burger Matic, Palmieri Pizza. But no more Los Pollos Hermanos, and no more Herr Schuler after he runs out of ways to avoid the polizei waiting in his conference room, examining snapshots of the Madrigal executive golfing with Gustavo Fring. Not only is Herr Schuler’s last meal liberally coated with Cajun Kick-Ass sauce, but in a final indignity, his bathroom suicide by emergency defibrillator triggers a flush from the automatic toilet.

“Madrigal” continues picking up and working in loose ends from the cataclysm that ended season four, but the episode is far from a pedestrian clean-up operation. Walter needs to close the mystery of the ricin cigarette with Jesse, so he engineers a temporary conclusion to that plotline that is not only stunning in its thoroughness, but also devastating in his continued campaign of manipulation. After removing the ricin vial from the cigarette Saul returned to him and secreting it behind an electrical-outlet plate, Walt creates a duplicate with salt and goes to Jesse’s house to “find” it. In a lengthy montage set to Whitey’s “Stay On The Outside,” the two turn the house inside out and then collapse on the couch before Walt suggests that Jesse check the Roomba’s collection bin even though he looked through it “weeks ago.” The long close-up of Jesse after he finds the fake vial, with Walter taking it carefully from his hands while his face crumples into sobs, is an epic piece of acting from Aaron Paul. “I almost shot you—I almost killed you because of this thing. I don’t know what’s wrong with me Mr. White, I don’t know how I could be so stupid,” Jesse beats himself up, and Walt, never failing to seize an opportunity to reinforce that bond, counsels him to never forget that “You and I working together, having each other’s back, it’s what saved our lives. I want you to think about that as we go forward.”

Turns out that “going forward” is Waltese for “becoming Gus Fring.” He and Jesse meet with Mike to invite him into the partnership, an offer Mike bluntly refuses with another frank appeal to Jesse’s better judgment. “You are trouble,” he tells Walt. “I’m sorry the kid here doesn’t see it, but I sure do… you are a time bomb, tick tick tick, and I have no intention of being around for the boom.” Later Walt grants Saul an audience and mocks his tentative suggestion that Walt, rather than diving back into the meth business, should enjoy winning the “Irish Sweepstakes” of making it out of Fring’s organization alive. Walt points out that he’s $40,000 in the red, but who really thinks that he’s just looking to make it back to even? No, “there is gold in the streets, just waiting for someone to come and scoop it up,” he rhapsodizes. The real crime, after all, would be to let someone with half Walt’s brains take that sweet meth money by peddling an inferior product.

Maybe the scariest thing about Walt in palace coup mode is that he’s replaced the foundation of two of his most intimate relationships with ugliness—and he doesn’t care anymore. No qualms about tying Jesse closer to himself by manufacturing some deep guilt over an imagined near-betrayal. No qualms about cementing Skyler’s fear with slimy sexual overtures as she lays rigid and silent in their bed. “It gets easier,” he murmurs. “If what we do, we do for good reasons, then we’ve got nothing to worry about. And what better reason than family?” He’s not trying to convince himself anymore. He’s giving her the mantra she can repeat to convince herself, if she wants to climb out of abject terror. But he’s also reminding her that she’s closer to the killer than anyone. Family is what you have no chance of escaping.

Power should entail knowing more than other people—and especially, most urgently, knowing what you don’t know. But Walt begins his climb up the power ladder by believing he knows everything he needs, and failing to suspect that some of what he thinks he knows might be incomplete or backward. So far he hasn’t paused to wonder whether Hank knows anything about Gus that might be useful to him; certain that the magnet caper has removed the last set of his tracks in the Fring organization, Walter has no time for anything but “moving forward.” But Hank has a lot of investigating still to do, and some additional personal motivation of his own for doing it, after his boss George Merkert takes the fall for the Fring debacle. “The whole time he was someone else completely, right in front of me, right under my nose,” he muses—words Hank would do well to ponder.


The laptop that Walt went to such lengths to neutralize was encrypted anyway, Hank mentions, but Gus’ offshore bank accounts turn out to be a gold mine of information. Specifically, the names under which they were opened correspond to a dozen of Fring’s close associates, and the DEA brings ’em in for interrogation one by one. Eleven of those names are on another list, this one made by a nervous woman named Lydia who meets Mike for a cloak-and-dagger rendezvous at a local diner (“Face forward; we’ll talk like this,” she insists from the next booth, and Mike resignedly comments as he switches booths, “I guess I’m coming to you”). She wants Mike to take charge of neutralizing the threat posed by these people’s existence, but he regards this as media-fueled delusions of overkill: “Here in the real world, we don’t kill 11 people as some kind of prophylactic measure.”

Turns out that the 12th name on the DEA’s list of bank accounts belongs to Mike—not his, but his granddaughter’s, Kaylee Ehrmantraut. Hank and Gomie suggest she might still see some of the $2 million Gus has stashed there if he cooperates, but what their questions tell Mike is that he’s on Lydia’s list, too. And sure enough, in a chilling sequence, one of the guys Mike told Lydia was “solid” tries to lure him to his death before Mike turns the tables. Lydia has hedged her bets by making the same pitch to at least one other person, and now Mike has to eliminate her to stop the all-hands-on-deck cleansing operation. But Mike has a weakness; he has a granddaughter. Lydia doesn’t beg for life when he corners her in her lavish home, mere feet away from her daughter and nanny, but she does beg that he not make her body disappear because the daughter would believe herself abandoned; better that the daughter finds her bullet-riddled body. Now Mike can’t bring himself to subject the daughter to either fate, so he tries to find a third way—letting Lydia live but bringing her inside the new Heisenberg operation as a source of the methylamine that Walt insists upon as a precursor.


This means backtracking on his earlier refusal to join Walt and Jesse. “I’m in,” he tells Walt on the phone. And Walt no doubt thinks that the power of his reasoning (appealing to Mike’s greed by pointing out that profits will be smaller but split fewer ways—“owners, not employees”) and the force of his personality did the trick. Walt doesn’t know that he doesn’t know Mike’s motivation. He doesn’t know that he doesn’t know about Hank’s continued investigation or what it’s uncovering. At the moment, he’s not even curious. We’re all braced for the overreach that will threaten Walt’s ambitions. What he isn’t bothering to reach for, though, can also hurt him.

Stray observations:

  • When Mike gets the call from Walt, he’s just settled down with a beer to watch The Caine Mutiny.
  • The Madrigal contingent flew into ABQ on a “G5” or Gulfstream V, Gomie tells Hank. “Is that the one where the wings go up like that?” Hank asks, miming the upturned wingtips with his hands. “They all do that,” Gomie opines.
  • More words Mike would do well to ponder: The Madgrigal CEO (grandson of the company’s founder) tells the DEA, “I continue to believe that Peter Schuler was a lone anomaly. But if that is not the case, I want to know it, just as you would.”
  • After that diner scene, I really could go for some funnel-cake fries.
  • Hank’s patented interrogation put-downs don’t work on Mike, but they’re still amusing as hell. I like the one where he pretends to ask permission to call the interrogee by his first name: “Here’s the thing, Mike—Mike?” “Mr. Ehrmantraut.” “Here’s the thing, Mike.”
  • The toy that Mike borrows from Kaylee to provide a distraction at Chou’s house is an LOL Rollover Bacon the Pig. Why it has such an unpiglike tail is beyond me, but it’s handy for hanging from doors.
  • We’re going to find out more about Mike’s background soon, as teased by Hank who mentions that our Mike departed the Philly police force “somewhat… dramatically.”
  • “The Crystal Ship’s been pretty good to us,” Jesse muses when Walt rules out RVs for their new lab. Jesse named the RV. We love you, Jesse. Get out now! Run!