Breaking Bad: Season 5, Episode 2: “Madrigal”


“Madrigal” is all about seeing that the repercussions of Walt’s actions have a critical outlying impact to people outside of his own immediate world. This includes Madrigal, a conglomerate based in Germany that owns a number of fast-food joints, including Los Pollos Hermanos. This week’s cold open encapsulates the way this show incorporates out-of-context intrigue and delectably dark humor. Mr. Schuler, a slightly hair-raising German man who also happens to be a Brian Wilson/Bruce Davison doppelganger, unknowingly has his last meal in the form of a sauce tasting presentation. Upon being notified that the police have arrived to question him (assumedly about his connection with Gus Fring), he decides to commit a very matter-of-fact suicide that recalls Gus’ pill-swallowing the season before. Walt really has no idea how far up this thing goes, and if he does, he clearly does not care.

Walt’s behavior here says a lot about the way he will conduct things going forward. He is too proud, too full of himself to spend time worrying about the consequential possibilities. Instead, he spends his time further tethering Jesse at his side through gross manipulation. The beginning of the episode has Walt recreating the ricin cigarette, going to Jesse’s house on the pretext of looking for it, and planting it so it can be found inside Jesse’s Roomba. The idea here is for Jesse to be able to cut the obsessive loose thread of a deadly lone floating ricin cigarette. So worry no longer Jesse. No random death will take place because of you (not that this was an actual possibility to begin with). Walt’s bigger play here is not only to cut off sources of distraction for Jesse, but to manipulate him into absolute loyalty over the guilt of what he thinks was a mistaken betrayal.

Jesse’s reaction to finding the cigarette was heartbreaking. Ladies and gentlemen, I present Aaron Paul in yet another Jesse-Pinkman-breaks-my-heart moment. It is a physical manifestation of his guilt, which is only present because Walt put it there. This moment represents the enormity of Walt’s manipulations. Jesse’s reaction is used to hammer down the seriousness of Walt’s subtle mind control. The torment it causes Jesse, the newfound loyalty he has for him, all of this is exactly what Walt wants, and it makes Jesse just a tool as opposed to someone who is in control of his own situation. Walt is a true master; the moment when he drops the plan to continue cooking on him is precisely placed and of course Jesse falls for it. It is all rather depressing to think about.

When Mike curtly turns down Walt’s offer to become a partner, Walt seems extremely okay with this. Why? Because Walt has his head so far up his own ass that he expects Mike will naturally gravitate towards him. Why? Because he’s Walter White after all. In his mind everything is primed in his favor.  He is so confident that when Mike calls to acquiesce, there is no sigh of relief, no outward display of emotion. In his head, he already knew this would happen. Things are merely going as planned. Little moments like this, a simple reaction or non-reaction, are used to show Walt’s new level of unrecognizability. This is not the same person we were dealing with last season.

What is so funny about all of this is that Mike consenting to Walt’s offer has nothing to do with Walt’s pitch, his demeanor or his ‘power’. Mike consents to Walt because he spent the entire episode dealing with the ramifications that Walt is too quick to ignore. These consequences are a direct result of the routing number found in the evidence room, ironically thanks to Walt’s magnet scheme. With 12 people on Gus’ payroll, the possibility of any one of them talking to the DEA is a source of worry for Lydia, the newest character introduced to Breaking Bad’s universe. She is fidgety, desperate and willing to do pretty much anything to protect herself. This almost gets her killed at the end of the episode.

The scene where Mike is about to kill her effectively calls back to his connection to his granddaughter as Lydia pleads to not be shot in the face or to have her body taken away. She cannot cope with the idea that she would simply disappear from her daughter and would rather have her child find her body. Mike’s humanist side comes out as he becomes incapable of following through on either of these options. Instead, he looks to her for methylamine, the missing compound that Walt and company needs, which similarly tripped the duo up back in Season 1. She believes she can get some. So now we’ve got Mike and Lydia in on Walt’s master plan, with Lydia sure to be a very unstable alliance.

Jonathan Banks dominated this episode and we are the more grateful for it. Mike has always been the coolest supporting character imaginable and to see him front-and-center for so much of “Madrigal” is a well-earned treat.

The show has begun to go out of its way to present Walt’s interactions with his family as cold and mechanical. The very short scene between Walt, Walt Jr. and Holly feels purposely empty. His family-man persona has become a false one. There is no longer any worth or meaning attached to simple gestures like sitting down to breakfast. The camera is placed at a distance, the writers and directors will no longer allow him to be presented as someone who can successfully convince anybody but himself of his familial devotion.

Skyler has fallen into an understandably paralyzing depression. She has gotten herself stuck in an impossibly shitty and frightening scenario. She cannot see Walt as anything but a source of fear. Her two scenes make a point not to focus in on Walt’s face unless he comes into frame. The camera is always pointed at Skyler’s front or back. It makes palpable her state of mind, her inability to face him and what feels like a holding of one’s breath whenever he is in the room. The audience needs to really feel what Skyler feels and this episode takes the premiere a step further in actually allowing us to see Walt from her perspective. Her depression allows her to hide in plain sight.

Walt’s faux-reasons for doing all of this is, as he constantly says, family. He claims to be $40,000 in the hole, yet another excuse he uses to continue cooking. Yet as Saul rightly advises, the fact that they are alive is equivalent to winning the lottery. Also, last time I checked, the money-laundering car wash had begun to turn a profit, but sure Walt. You’re broke. You keep telling yourself that. This second episode sets a lot of alliances into place moving forward. It also continues to show clear signs that Walt is going to fuck himself over in the end. I personally cannot wait to see what devastation he wreaks on himself and everyone around him.

5 comments

    1. That’s one of the reasons I love show so much (indeed, more than any other). We always knew that this was going to end badly for Walt. We kind of know that this will be the final rise-and-fall for him. But the character work and the constant surprise and impact of the specifics never fail to amaze me. It takes a familiar track and turns it into something singular. It also loves pulling out the rug from under us which as a viewer I admire a lot, especially because it never feels forced.

      1. I’m all for the rug-pulling because it’s not done in a manner that we would have no way of knowing (much like some of the twists and turns of say, Harry Potter) but are still just as surprising as if we didn’t have a clue.

        I can’t believe I just used Harry Potter as a comparison for Breaking Bad…

  1. I am legitimately impressed that you managed to use Harry Potter for a Breaking Bad comparison. As much as I adore HP, I know exactly what you are getting at.

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