Stars: Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn
Writer: Vince Gilligan
Director: Michelle MacLaran
Network: AMC, airs Sunday Nights
Original Telecast: July 22, 2012
The bomb that killed drug kingpin Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) in last season’s BREAKING BAD finale had, for better or for worse, a liberating effect on Walter White (Bryan Cranston). The success of Walt’s plot to kill Gus not only removed the sword of Damocles from above Walt, and his family’s, heads, but also validated the image he’d been nurturing of himself as a cunning, ruthless drug lord. But for Gus’s former “Head of Security,” the world-weary ex-cop Mike Ehrmantraut, (Jonathan Banks), the fallout from Gus’s assassination has been an unmitigated disaster that threatens to take away everything he’d spent his post-Philly P.D. career building.
“Madrigal” begins with the DEA closing in on Gus’s former financial backers, and with an executive of the German Industrial Concern known as “Madrigal Elektromotoren” half-heartedly sampling some chicken nuggets, then electrocuting himself to avoid questioning by the Agents who have shown up at Corporate Headquarters to talk to him about his involvement with Gus. We also get visual clues that Madrigal was behind many other fast food franchises, and the feeling that it’s unlikely Los Pollos Hermanos was the only one that was a front for a drug operation.
Mostly this is Mike’s episode, but we see a little bit of Walt tying up loose ends from last season. Walt creates a counterfeit version of the deadly ricin-laced cigarette that Jesse (Aaron Paul) thought he had lost, but that Walt actually arranged to have stolen from him. Walt manages to find the fake cigarette in Jesse’s apartment during a search he’s contrived to satisfy Jesse’s growing paranoia that the thing isn’t lying around somewhere where it could kill an innocent person. Jesse’s teary-eyed breakdown after finding the cigarette, and subsequent unburdening over all the guilt he feels from almost shooting Walt, shows how complete Walt’s manipulation of Jesse has been up until now.
Unfortunately, Walt has not come close to winning Mike over in a similar fashion. When Walt and Jesse show up at Mike’s place to pitch Walt’s plan to get back into the meth business as a three-man team, he’s having none of it. He tells Walt, memorably, that he’s “a time bomb – tick-tick-ticking” and he’s sorry Jesse doesn’t realize it yet.
We also see how Hank (Dean Norris) is progressing with his investigation into the wreckage of Gus’s meth-empire. Hank’s boss at the DEA, ASAC Merkert, (Michael Shamus Wiles), has gotten the axe in the wake of Gus’s death, and the subsequent reveal that the Albuquerque DEA had allowed Gus to roam its halls freely, posing as a friend and benefactor of local law enforcement. Merkert is haunted by the fact that Gus had been to his house, met his family, drank his wine, and taught him how to barbecue sea bass, and all the while “he was someone else completely. Right in front of me. Right under my nose.” The camera lingers on Hank as Merkert says this, and based on Hank’s reaction it’s hard not to wonder whether Hank doesn’t already have some awareness that his brother-in-law leads a double life that rivals Gus’s.
At a diner, Mike meets with Lydia, a new character who’s a nervous wreck and is apparently a board member of Madrigal. She’s intimately involved in the criminal side of Madrigal, (if, in fact, it isn’t just all criminals), and she wants Mike to kill eleven of Gus’s former associates before any one of them can go to the DEA and implicate the two of them. Mike tells her those eleven are “his guys” and they were “vetted with great care.” They won’t talk to the DEA and he’s not killing them.
But in a truly gripping scene where Hank and his partner Steve Gomez (Steven Michael Quezada) bring Mike in for questioning, Mike’s view of their situation relative to law enforcement proves to have been overly rosy. Hank has done his homework on Mike’s past, and knows exactly what someone with his skill-set has been doing for Gus Fring all these years. Mike knows the DEA doesn’t have a witness that can place him in Gus’s drug lab, so he’ll walk out of that interrogation a free man, but to Mike’s obvious disappointment, Hank does have the goods on him in another area. With access to Gus’s finances, Hank knows that Gus stashed $2 million in a secret offshore account under Mike’s granddaughter’s name, and did the same with similar accounts for the other eleven guys who were Gus’s drug associates. With that money now gone, how long before one of those guys decides to cut a deal with the DEA?
Walt, Jesse and Saul (Bob Odenkirk) meet to discuss the future of their drug enterprise. Saul implies that Walt’s success, and survival thus far is the equivalent of him winning the lottery, and not a referendum on his natural talents as a crime lord. But that’s not a message Walt’s ego will let him hear. Walt’s broke. He wants to make money again.
Mike plays Hungry Hungry Hippos with his granddaughter. It’s a more touching scene than anything we’ve seen involving Walt and his family in a long time. But he’s called away to deal with business. Chow, one of Gus’s former associates, wants to meet with Mike immediately. It’s an obvious trap, set by a second man who wants to assassinate both Chow and Mike. Mike is prepared for this, he survives the trap, and kills his would-be assassin after learning he was sent by Lydia. Chow was dead before he got there.
In the episode’s climactic scene, Mike goes to kill Lydia. We learn she has a daughter about Mike’s granddaughter’s age. In her apartment, Mike holds Lydia at gunpoint behind a partition and he allows her to send her unsuspecting nanny home for the night and tell her daughter to get into bed. Neither one ever knows Mike is there. Lydia seems resigned to her fate, but doesn’t want Mike to shoot her in the face, so that her daughter won’t have to find her body in that state. Mike tells her she won’t be found by anyone. She panics after hearing this, and pleads with him not to sentence her daughter to a life tormented by that uncertainty. Mike contemplates this and can’t bring himself to pull the trigger.
Having failed to complete his mission, Mike reluctantly decides on a Plan B. Lydia will find a way to procure the chemical ingredients for him, and he will go back into business cooking meth with Walt and Jesse.
The episode ends with Walt, in bed with Skyler, (Anna Gunn), who’s now terrified to the point of catatonia of what her husband has become, and won’t return any of his attempts at affection. Walt sees her distress, knows that her anxiety is the result of their new life of open criminality, and offers the following rationalization: “When we do what we do for good reasons, then we’ve got nothing to worry about. And there’s no better reason than family.”
Though he’s the more hardened criminal and the more competent professional killer, Mike now comes across as more humane than Walt. Despite Walt’s lip service, it’s not clear he cares about his family at all anymore, and it is increasingly clear that his criminality is the thing that gives his life meaning. With Mike, one gets the sense that his granddaughter is the only reason he continues down the path he’s been on for years. Given how little pleasure or comfort he appears to get from his work or his life, it’s even conceivable that she’s the only thing keeping him alive.
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