Sunday, July 29, 2012

BREAKING BAD - "Madrigal"

Welcome to a roundtable discussion of this week's episode of Breaking Bad from your friendly neighborhood LowBrowMedia savants.
This is a spoiler-heavy zone. You have been warned.

Jon: The second week of season 5 is still dealing with the fallout from last season's finale. We're discovering that Gus spun an incredibly intricate web of an operation and his absence is causing catastrophes for just about everyone in his world aside from Walt and Jesse. But this is one of those episodes of a series that pushes its main characters off to the stage and gives the limelight to a sideline player. This time, the honor finally goes to Mike, Gus's blunt, methodically efficient hitman who I've always found impossible not to love.

His hatred from Walt continues to be unwavering, this despite an appeal from Walt and Jesse to become an equal partner in their future dealings. As far as our two main characters are concerned, they need him as much as he needs them. But Mike disagrees. Every time he looks at Walt, the scowl we see is the result of  hearing tick, tick, tick. To Mike, he is a walking timebomb, and it's only a matter of time until he explodes. Aside from Skyler, Mike's the only one who realizes just how dangerous Walt has become.

We've never been given much of a backstory for Mike, and we don't yet get a complete one here, but it's becoming clear he was the closest thing Gus had to a right-hand man. When heat starts raining down on Gus's associates in the wake of Hank's investigation, one top executive at a company called Madrigal commits suicide in imaginative fashion at the company's headquarters in Germany instead of speaking with authorities. Turns out Madrigal is the parent company of Los Pollos Hermanos. Clearly this Mr. Shuler had, at minimum, a deep financial connection with Fring's narcotic ring, and judging by the demands of a very freaked-out Lydia later on in the episode, he wasn't the only one at Madrigal with a finger in the blue-meth pie. Speaking of Lydia, she's a stateside Madrigal exec of some importance and attempts to enlist Mike to clean up the loose ends of Los Pollos Hermanos before those threads are traced back to the two of them. He refuses and hands back her list of 11 names to her.

But this is before Hank and Gomez ask him to come in for a little talk. Overconfident that the DEA duo has nothing substantial on him, he taunts them and appears to have won the battle of one-liners before heading to the interrogation room door. Just then, Hank pulls out his trump card -- a pile of cash to the tune of $2 million in the name of Mike's granddaughter hidden away in one of those Cayman Island bank accounts listed discovered in the picture frame from Gus' office last week. Mike had mentioned a fondness for a granddaughter in a previous season, and we get to meet her in all her Hungry Hippo domination this time around. So it's not completely out of nowhere that he did this and, frankly, it's hard to blame him for allowing little Kaylee to be his lone weak spot. But with Hank and Gomez keying in on it, it tosses him back into the Madrigal shitstorm he was trying to lay low from.

Turns out Lydia didn't shake the idea of offing the 11 people on her list and lured one of the others in the group to take care of them and adding Mike to the list. But somehow this lady isn't aware that good 'ol Mikey is THE MAN and snuffs out the would-be assassin's plan first. Mike pays a visit to Lydia's home next, and I was completely convinced that that was going to be the last we saw of her. But between her pleading, her being a single mom and the realization that she could help him obtain methylamine, a suddenly scare chemical Walt and Jesse are in need of to cook again. So now Mike is reluctantly back in the fold with Walt against his better judgement.

Meanwhile, on the sideline, we learn what Walt did with the ricin shot he concocted -- he still has it, and stashed it behind an electric socket faceplate. Only a matter of time until he has a need for it at this point. Concurrently, he makes a placebo vile of salt so a panicked Jesse will calm down once he knows the poison has been disposed of and can't hurt another innocent like he believed had happened with Brock. The two tear apart Jesse's house looking for it in a very intriguingly shot montage, before Walt plants it in the path of the Roomba roaming the floors.

Jesse had little to do again this week aside from opine for the Crystal Ship's return, although Aaron Paul gave a marvelous performance in the moments after discovering the misplaced "toxic" cigarette as Jesse breaks down and apologizes to Walt for nearly killing him (which obviously he was spot on about) and solidifying his position as the conscious of Breaking Bad. The very existence of this intense friendship is completely due to Walt's manipulations at this point, but it's still hard not to enjoy just how great of a bond the two of them have right now. It won't last since I'm sure Walt will slip up at some point about Brock's poisoning, but that doesn't mean a part of me doesn't like their closeness while it lasts.

Not fooled by Walt's duplicitous sweet-talk, however, is Skyler. She's completely frozen by her fear of Walt and the monster he has become, not even able to muster the energy to get out of bed for days. And, my god, Walt even out-creeped himself past last week as he consoled her with unwanted kisses to her shoulder. It's almost impossible to root for him on any level after watching him engage in this behavior. But that also happens to be the most fascinating aspect of this show -- the steady devolution from mild mannered high school chemistry teacher to master crimelord.

The other moment from "Madrigal" that stuck out was Hank's soon-to-be ex-boss, recalling how Gus had joined his family at his home for meals and wonderful conversations, yet lamented "the whole time he was somebody else completely, right in front of me, right under my nose." Those words are likely going to mirror how Hank feels when he discovers Walt's crimes before the series comes to a close. I have no doubt about that happening, and I expect how he deals with that revelation to be especially riveting when it comes to pass.

Man. This show just doesn't stop even when it slows down, does it, fellas? Hit me up with your reactions.

Mike: Okay, then -- here is what I thought of this week’s “Breaking Bad” in quick, bite-sized format:

- Hilariously bleak cold open.  I’m actually really glad that it wasn’t another flash-forward to whatever Walt is up to in the future, what with the hair, and the guns, and the 52nd birthday.  That will keep.  I’ll just say this, then -- “Breaking Bad” seems to have an endless vocabulary in the way of visiting indignities upon characters, and I love every minute of it.  I could really use some chicken nuggets right now, but I’ll pass on the Franch sauce.

- This was definitely Mike’s episode.  Being that pretty much any scene with Walt churns my stomach these days, it was a welcome focus.  Now, Mike's a paragon of prudence, he’s just as careful as his old boss Gus was, business-wise, and only works with people that he’s “vetted” and who can be trusted.  Not to mention that they have been well-compensated in case of any trouble.  But since Walt’s little magnetic mishap last episode simultaneously ruined a bunch of evidence (that was probably going to be inaccessible anyways) while introducing valuable, game-changing data to the tune of a dozen or so secret Caymans bank accounts, now that compensation is gone.  And the noose slips a little bit tighter.
- Well, every man has his soft spot, even one so guarded as Mike Ehrmantraut.  His is a little girl named Kaylee.  I think we first saw Mike’s granddaughter when he bought the balloons that he used to short-circuit the warehouse way back in the season three finale.  And when Hank “Columbos” Mike in the interrogation room -- you know, the whole, “one more thing…” thing -- thus threatening the monetary insurance policy for his beloved granddaughter, that’s when Mike starts to go against his own rules.  (No half measures, remember, Mike?  Damn it!)  All of the sudden, he’s getting in back in bed with Walt, and not killing Lydia when, let’s face it, it’s pretty much a given that she is going to be trouble.  I hope Mike wises up to his own wisdom sooner or later, or we’re not going to be seeing him in the back half of this season.

- Speaking of the mysterious Lydia, I hope I’m not the only dumbass watching this show who immediately thought that we’re looking at some sort of ex-trophy wife of Gus’.  I mean, I know we’re also supposed to have drawn a few conclusions from the flashback to Don Eladio and Gus’ tenderness towards the missing Pollos Hermano.  But that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have started a family after that.  Anyway, there were some mysterious children’s toys spotted in his house a while back that have always stuck in my mind.  Now, whether or not Lydia has a personal connection with Gus, she definitely has a business one.  The Internet consensus seems to be that some have spotted her in the room with the U.S. drug agents and Madrigal executives during this episode.  I’m not so sure.  One thing I am sure of, though, is that she is bad news, and is only going to add to Walt, Jesse and Mike’s woes before she ends up with that promised bullet in her head.  Or worse.
- And so on to Walt’s continued calculated manipulation of Jesse.  This week, here’s a classic routine for you: the old “plant the ricin cigarette in the Roomba” gambit.  Works every time.  As a result, and completely on purpose, Walt breaks Jesse’s heart yet again.  And maybe mine, too, a little bit.  At first, I thought that Jesse’s emotional outburst was just explosive relief venting, but in actuality Jesse’s reaction is proof positive that even with everything that’s happened over the past year or so, “Breaking Bad” time, Jesse still has a good heart.  And that Walt has a black one.

- When Jesse called Walt “Mr. White” yet again during his pathetic (in the best possible way) monologue, we’re reminded again, but for perhaps the first time this season, exactly where Jesse sees himself in relation to Walt.  Sure, Jesse might respect Mike, and even regard him as a friend, but it pales in comparison to the nigh paternal regard he holds for Walt.  Until something changes.  And dramatically, it makes sense for that to happen.  Knowing Vince Gilligan and staff, it’s probably just going to happen at the worst possible time.

- Man, so gross!  Speaking of Walt’s psychopathy, is every episode in this half of the season going to end with Walt uncomfortably forcing himself on Skylar, to varying degrees of intimacy?  Nah, probably just the first two.  It’s only a matter of time until she starts coming out of her stupor and facing up to the very few choices that she has: either wise up and get the hell out of there, because Walt is radioactive, or take a page from the Carmella Soprano book of selective cognition and make the best of an awful situation that is only going to continue to spiral downwards.

See you next week, a little further down the spiral!

Previous Breaking Bad season 5 roundtables: 
Week 1 - "Live Free Or Die"

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