“You are trouble. You are a time bomb tick-tick-ticking, and I have no intention of being around for the boom.”
So says Mike to Walt during an early scene tonight, as Walt and Jesse try to convince him that their revived meth-making operation would function better as a three-man partnership. Mike’s not interested … not right then anyway. But he finds himself in a much different place by episode’s end. The intervening interrogation-room showdown between Mike and Hank — where each man oh-so-entertainingly forces his will upon the other — is one reason why. But the bigger push to get Mike considering all of his options comes from a brand new character, Lydia (played by Laura Fraser), an employee of Madrigal Electromotive. If you’ve been paying close attention to the show, you know Madrigal is the mysterious German-based corporation that owns Los Pollos Hermanos. Their ties to Gus Fring were instrumental in Hank putting together his case against Fring last year, though the actual company was so nebulous that likely no one would have complained had it no further part to play the Breaking Bad universe.
But instead, tonight’s episode — written, like last week’s, by series creator Vince Gilligan — establishes Madrigal as a major endgame player. The introduction of Lydia, and a host of other Madrigal associates, isn’t what you’d call terribly smooth. There’s a quick, awkward aside where Lydia tells Mike, “I’ve never met your chemist,” which seems like Gilligan’s way of saying to the viewer, “Yeah, I know you’ve never seen this person before. But just go with it — it’ll be good.”
And good it ends up being. Madrigal is in town to placate the DEA and tie up any and all loose ends after Fring’s murder. Walt is mostly off their radar for the moment, but Mike finds himself thrown into the thick of it. First he’s offered the job of assassin, but after turning it down, he quickly takes on the role of target. Mike’s not so easy to eliminate, though, and by the end of the hour, he’s got Lydia at gun point, ready to pull the trigger … until another thought occurs to him. Thus is born an sure-to-be-uneasy alliance that has Mike accepting Walt’s offer and points to Walt getting into business with Madrigal.
Speaking of Walt, he spends most of this episode thinking that everything’s fine and dandy. He’s oblivious to the Madrigal stuff. He helps ease Jesse’s mind by tricking him into believing he found the missing ricin cigarette from season four inside his Roomba. (It’s actually a salt-filled fake assembled by Walt, who now has the actual vial of ricin hidden behind a light-switch fixture in his house. The mere fact that Walt didn’t just toss the thing almost certainly means that the poison is still going to be very bad news for someone somewhere down the road. I already feel sick to stomach wondering if Walt’s going to someday ask Jesse if he wants a smoke.) Walt also goes about his business at home: Eating breakfast with Junior and trying to calm the nerves of a depressed and anxiety-laden Skyler. In Walt’s mind, he’s on top of the world right now and can fix anything he puts his mind to.
But the viewer knows otherwise. Take Skyler for example. Walt thinks he’s saying all of the right things, but it’s clear through Anna Gunn’s performance and specifically the way this episode was shot that this is no longer a relationship that can be repaired. There’s a scene where Skyler’s in bed and Walt comes in to check on her, and the whole thing is shot without ever showing either character’s face. Walt is standing, his upper body off screen to the top, while Skyler lays with her back to the camera. The odd framing suggests an almost unbearable level of marital distress. And it gets worse in a later scene when Walt slides up next to Skyler in bed and gives her a little pep talk while gently kissing the back of her shoulders. I’m not sure whose guts recoiled at each kiss more — Skyler’s or mine.
We’re really at a place now where it’s becoming impossible to root for Walt in any capacity. I don’t think I’ve ever despised him more than near the beginning of this episode, when Jesse’s having a breakdown after finding the cigarette (Aaron Paul’s one big scene this ep) and Walt just sits there manipulating the hell of him while tears pour down Jesse’s face. The more Jesse loses it, the more Walt searches for just right words that will tilt the situation in his favor. Walt wants to cook again. He wants to build a new empire, and he needs Jesse’s help. So he takes a moment of emotional vulnerability — one based on a lie, at that — and exploits it for his own gain. I suppose there’s still a slim chance that Walt’s soul could be saved by the end of Breaking Bad‘s run, but at this point, would any of us honestly want it to be?
Some other observations on “Madrigal”: This is a dark, dark episode, what with two murders, the ominous foreshadowing with the ricin and Skyler’s deteriorating state of mind. The only real humor comes during the cold open, when we see a top Madrigal employee testing out a series of potential new chicken-nugget sauces. Of course, five minutes later that guy’s dead via self-electrocution. So, yeah … it gets heavy awfully quick.
How great was the Hank vs. Mike showdown (with an assist from Hank’s partner, Gomez)? I seriously could watch an hour of these two sitting in a small room, trying to out-smug one another. It’s also nice to see Hank being fairly mobile and jumping full bore back into the case.
No Marie again this week, but it looks like she’ll be back next Sunday.