Spoiler Alert. The review reveals “Madrigal” plot details.
Every man has his weak spot. This is true for all the men in Breaking Bad. Episode 2 “Madrigal” demonstrates why Breaking Bad makes for outstanding television. Simply put it is among the best shows on TV as its 17 Emmy nods suggest. And if next year Jonathan Banks is not nominated for outstanding acting for his amazing portrayal of Mike, the awards show needs to re-evaluate its process. He does such a superb job of conveying the heavy human toll his “profession” and the current situation demands and has demanded from him. Make no bones about it, he’s a cold-blooded killer, but man we feel the mounting emotional costs to him. His weariness and melancholy exudes even as he shoots one of his “guys” latter in the episode.
One of the best things about the show rests with the details. There were lots of loose ends as a result of Walt/Heisenberg killing Gus at the end of last season. The show’s creator Vince Gilligan said in a recent interview in Rolling Stone, that attending to loose ends is important and his writers spend endless hours working through them. This approach pays off as it makes the show more honest and compelling. Several ‘loose ends’ are “battened down” in this episode—but not all.
“Madrigal” begins in Madrigal Electromotive’s test kitchen, the parent company of the Los Pollos Hermanos chicken franchise. The death of Gus has consequences across the pond in Germany. Breaking Bad has always had international intrigue with the Mexico Cartel, but with the German company’s executives featuring prominently in this episode, the show feels like it has expanded significantly.
As an exec joylessly tastes a variety of dipping sauces, (the most interesting was the “Franch” one that combines both “French’ and “ranch” dressing), he is informed that the police are waiting to see him. Impassively he dismisses the taste scientists and walks out of the room. Before heading into the room where he presumably must answer tough questions, he takes an automatic defibrillator and locks himself in the bathroom where he electrocutes himself. This ominous tone underscores colors the meeting Mike has with another of the company’s execs, Lydia. We know that there’s tension mounting and someone needs to pay.
The loose end details are further addressed (I don’t want to say tidied up since that implies resolved and I don’t think that they are) with a ricin cigarette. Jesse frantically tells Walt/Heisenberg that he can’t find it and simply won’t be assuaged until he does. Walt/Heisenberg rigs up a fake cigarette to trick Jesse into thinking that he simply lost it. Walt/Heisenberg continues deceiving his partner with this tactic. It works and Jesse breaks down confiding to Walt/Heisenberg that he almost shot his former chemistry teacher, so convinced it was Walt/Heisenberg who poisoned an innocent child. The scene is chilling because we know that Jesse’s instincts are correct—he should have killed him, frankly. His emotional outpouring is important since it reminds us that Jesse still has a strong emotional center and responds to it. Several other characters ignore their instincts about Walt/Heisenberg and, like Jesse, we sense that it will come back to cause them pain, emotional, physical or both.
I was truly curious to see how or if Mike would join or rather partner with Walt/Heisenberg. The writer’s provide a very clever answer. Mike’s ‘weak spot’ is his adorable granddaughter. Her happiness and financial security factors strongly into why he does what does. And when that’s threatened, even Mike ignores his instincts.
Walt/Heisenberg and Jesse meet with Mike to discuss a partnership at Mike’s apartment. Before the boys arrive, Mike watches TV and drinks a beer. The movie playing is The Caine Mutiny. The symbolism here is quite evident, but is not fully realized until later. Will Mike “mutiny,” as it were, against his former employers?
The three men sit at a table while the increasingly smug and overconfident Walt/Heisenberg offers Mike a partnership in a new “meth” business. Mike declines and says why. “You are a time bomb,” he tells Walt.” I have no intention of being around for the boom.” Until, that is, Mike learns that the money he had been accumulating for his granddaughter has been seized by the Feds.
One problem leads to another. Last week’s magnetic plan only lead to more problems, or maybe not. After all, it is because of the bank account being revealed from the damage that Hank and his team are able to trace the money. This is Mike’s weak spot and compels him to reconsider Walt/Heisenberg’s offer. It also forces Mike to “mutiny” against his own guys.
The episode still manages a small bit of humor. When Mike meets with Lydia, (played by Laura Fraser) one of the Madrigal execs, the situation generates humor. She sits at a booth behind Mike and attempts to have a conversation without facing him. She’s seen too many movies and Mike, already weary from dealing with incompetent “partners,” gets up and sits down with her at the booth. They quickly discuss the “situation.” She knows about the business and is worried about getting caught. Mike reassures her that his “guys are solid. They have been well compensated.” This is before Mike learns that the Feds have found the money and, as a result, his guys are not so solid.
She hands him a list of names and suggests that he take care of them without saying it directly. It is a morbidly funny scene, and Mike says he won’t do that. Later, when he discovers that she hired one of his “guys” to kill the men on the list, we assume her time’s up too. Oh, but without the money for his granddaughter, he suddenly needs her despite the fact that she hired a hit man to kill him.
So the details of getting Mike back in league with Walt/Heisenberg work. It feels ‘natural’ and ‘organic.’ A contrivance with this plot point would undermine the story.
The other fascinating story line being developed relates to Skylar. She has minimal dialogue, but her scenes are riveting. She is lost and likely feels trapped. Both scenes show her in bed while Walt/Heisenberg, the top half of this body cut-off from view, looms over her. In the first one, he advices her get up in time to open the car wash. She does not want to, but he insists. Without a word, she lugs herself from bed in complete acquiescence. This is not the Skylar from previous seasons and without any dialogue, we feel and see her change. She is not going to defy her husband.
The second scene is even more revealing. In this scene, we see Skylar as she lies in bed. Walt/Heisenberg looms on the other side the bed with the top half of his body out of frame. He makes small talk about the lasagna he made for dinner. Somehow his attempt at domesticity makes his subsequent rationalization more terrifying. He is taking off his clothing and explaining to his wife that the concerns she has with Ted and the business will pass. He offers to her that because she made the decisions for the protection of her family, it is okay. When he slips into bed with his wife and “snuggles” up to her, she does not respond in kind, but dare not push him away. Her face conveys her internal conflict quite well. “I am terrified of my husband and have no idea what to do or say” her faces suggests. Walt/Heisenberg continues to kiss her neck and shoulders and we end the episode. Man, this is a terrific episode.