Breaking Bad season 5 episode 2: Madrigal

Review Paul Martinovic 24 Jul 2012 - 06:41

Breaking Bad continues the winning streak established in last week's season five opener. Here's Paul's review...

This review contains spoilers.

5.2 Madrigal

A humming laptop struggles to life on a scotch-bonnet hot day. While the media player chugs in to life a glance at a window provides an instant snapshot of over-exposed bright blues, oranges and greens, one nice enough to be filed away in the self-pitying folder of the weary reviewer for the foreseeable future. He knows, though: tired, disheveled and disoriented by the tail-end of a ten-minute coffee comedown, there’s nothing for him out there. All the same, he can’t help but allow a fleeting look of longing to flash across his fuzzy, squinting face, even if the sunny scene makes it feel like it’s on the receiving end of a metaphorical slap: here, finally, is a grant of meteorological clemency after being sentenced to unrelenting sogginess without trial for two months, and he has an episode of Breaking Bad to review.

This is what happens when I try and open my reviews as stylishly as Breaking Bad does. I sound like a pompous idiot. How do they do it?

Seriously, how do they do it? How are these ‘cold opens’ always so incredibly satisfying? Time and again, and as recently as last week, Breaking Bad will show a pre-credits so playfully weird and obtuse that the eventual credits splash comes as a relief, so you can finally turn to your BB companion and breathily say What. The. Hell.

Lots of other shows have done this. Lost used to do it all the time, but they grew so overtly “dun-dun-DERRRRRRR!” in their execution that the effect was numbed a little as the show went on – also, there was never any guarantee that it would lead anywhere.  With Breaking Bad, they just seem to be getting better and better. Messing with our heads and keeping us on our toes is certainly a good way of keeping the show fresh. Then again, it might be a trust thing - Vince Gilligan and co. have proven so adept at manoeuvring their way out of seemingly narrative dead ends and paying off their promises that by this point, most of us viewers would follow them anywhere.

Even to Germany, which is where we find ourselves at the beginning of Madrigal. Deep in the bowels of the titular corporation, a dead-eyed suit dips anonymous nuggets into and assortment of condiments, while a lab technician enthusiastically relays all of the kooky names they have come up with for the American market. Said suit is told the police are paying him a visit – when he sees that the ‘Los Pollos Hermanos’ logo is being disposed of and that the Polizei are poring over photos of him cosying up to Gus and he walks to the bathroom and commits suicide via defibrillator.

It’s an engrossing little self-contained movie, with the trademark Breaking Bad contrast between the mundane and the grotesque mined expertly for none-more-black humour, while the scene’s languorous pace serves to wring the maximum amount of suspense and tension out of its peculiar scenario.

Kudos must go to director Michelle McLaren, who regularly makes television episodes that look better that most movies – her episodes of Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead count as some of the most visually striking examples of the medium.

After this brilliant opening, the rest of the episode largely centers around the hard-bitten hero with a heart of gold: Mike. Confirming what I suggested in last week’s recap, Mike has no interest in dealing with a volatile element like Walt, so Madrigal is all about how Mike will be forced into coming back into the fold – he’s too good a character to just cast aside.

One of the brilliant things about Madrigal’s plotting is that Mike’s re-introduction isn’t a result of one of Walt’s increasingly complex and Machiavellian schemes – when Mike refuses Walt, Walt stand up, shakes his hand, and leaves. While it’s obvious that Walt isn’t going to give up on the World’s Greatest Drug Enforcer that easy, it seems that Walt knows either consciously or sub-consciously he doesn’t have to do anything to force him: for one thing, Walt is on a ridiculous roll right now, and his self-belief is such that he believes things will just gravitate towards him – hence his assertion that the missing ingredient of the meth puzzle, methylene, will show up if they just have faith, which of course it eventually does.

Also, Walt knows that in this game you don’t just ‘get out’ when you’ve had enough – the loose ends have a way of entangling themselves into a web that prevents anyone from ever truly getting out.

And so it proves, in this wonderful showcase for Jonathan Banks’ Mike, a truly great anti-heroic gun-for-hire in the mold of Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson. Mike is the definition of old-school – while a horrifyingly violent man by any standard he’s also got a strict code of ethics and a no-nonsense attitude.

It’s why we love him as a character, and it allows for some cracking noir set-pieces here, including his wonderful interrogation duel with Hank, another student of the old school, where they exchange probing grimly sardonic barbs (we also got a delicious tease of a potential Mike backstory episode here – please make this happen); and Mike’s weary, resigned execution of a fellow soldier that has betrayed him.

There’s also some wonderfully hard-boiled dialogue from Mike throughout, worthy of a Dashiell Hammett or James M Cain novel (“You are a time bomb, and I have no intention of being around for the boom” “I don’t know what movies you’ve been watching but in the real world we don’t kill 11 people as some kind of prophylactic measure”).

However, Mike’s commitment to the old school may prove to be his undoing. His decision to spare irritating go-between Lydia could be construed as a ‘half-measure’ – by not killing her and getting back into bed with Walt he is certainly going against his principles and instincts. Probably not as much as if he had killed her, though – we’ve seen throughout the series that Mike has a potential blind spot when it comes to young women (his own grand-daughter, and the woman in the memorable monologue he delivers in Half Measures), and it seems like he doesn’t have it in him to effectively destroy two women’s lives with one bullet.

Alternatively, maybe he realized that the faith he had in his men - the ones he personally selected for their fortitude - isn’t as strong as he thought it was, and they ultimately aren’t as invested in the same values of loyalty and stoicism that he is.

Or perhaps he just really wants to claw some of that $2 million back. There are enough notes of ambiguity in Banks’s brilliant performance to suggest it could be a combination of all three – either way, what isn’t in doubt is that Mike knows he’s just made a decision which will result in a whole heap of trouble for him personally, and he may have to become more ruthless than ever: certainly, his old-school values will count for absolutely nothing in Walt’s world, where poisoning a child is something that is eminently justifiable.

Walt is disgustingly creepy in this episode, and perhaps at his least sympathetic yet. His scene with poor Jesse early on illustrated beautifully how dysfunctional and predatory their dynamic has become- Jesse’s horrified reaction at discovering the ricin cigarette, and subsequent bout of self-loathing and recrimination was a good reminder of why he’s on a different moral plane to Walt (as well as being a reminder of what a great actor Aaron Paul is).

Meanwhile Walt literally stands behind his shoulders and whispers sweet nothings into his ear about loyalty and friendship without batting an eyelid. While by this point Walt’s heart has inarguably decayed to a bloodless husk, his balls are now big enough to see from space, which I’m pretty sure is a result of consecutive successful master-plans rather than being a side effect of the chemo drugs.

The final scene was also skin-crawling, even if it ended on essentially the exact same beat as last week’s episode. The sight of Walt trying to assuage Skylar’s guilt while also clearly also attempting to initiate sex is one I won’t scrub from my mind for a long time, and Skylar’s look of paralysed terror was well-earned (she’s seen his balls remember).

Walt’s downfall, if and when, it comes, will be so thoroughly earned that I am starting to wish it will involve all of the principle characters queuing up to stick the boot in, like in that scene from Airplane! But one character seems to be getting closer to bringing down Walt than any other – when Hank’s now ex-superior tells him a pointed story about how Gus acted as his friend yet was clearly in reality ‘a different person’, the camera stayed on Hank’s face, and he finished the scene with an enigmatic, thoughtful look. So many questions…will this information sink in? Will Hank put the final piece of the puzzle together? And will Walt Jr ever get to eat a meal other than breakfast?

 Read Paul's review of last week's episode, here.

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Great Episode, Great review

Another great episode. Another great review. A joy to read as always.

Agreed, another great ep and another sweet review. One small point, and i may be wrong, but didnt the Cartels chemists say that they synthesised their own methylamine last season, and seemed somewhat amused that (Poor) Jesse couldnt do it yet was claimed to be a master cook?, or am i misremembering that and it was a different substance they were talking about?. Probably im misremembering it.

Hank will discover Walt's and Skyler's secret, and he will propose to them that they "flip" on Madrigal in exchange for immunity for Skyler and Jesse and a lighter sentence for Walt. Walt will then succumb to the cancer which initiated his actions. Poetic, indeed.

it was another substance what you refer to in S04. Methlamine if you remember was the drum that walt and jesse steal in S01, by doing a James Bond Thermite thing and then naively lifting it instead of rolling :)

Great review as per usual; Paul easily one of the best writers on this site. Fantastic ep again as per usual.

i thik it was phenylacetic acid

I was wondering the same thing, but after a quick look at ep 4.10 It was phenylacetic acid.

Good review and great episode! One minor correction to your review: the "missing ingredient of the meth puzzle" is methylamine, not methylene.

I read so many different website reviews for breaking bad episodes, and Den of Geek is the one I look forward to most. Quality insight.

Ah okay, i was wrong as i suspected. Cheers all.

This is a fantastic review, and the quiet contemplation writ large on Hank's face over that comment was superb...

brilliant review, btw any idea what role Lydia played in the business?

Speaking of 'Airplane', IMDB has revealed to me that Jonathan Banks was in said movie, I must give it another viewing to try & spot him.

Walt Jr. did eat a grilled cheese sandwich once, so there's that.

Fabulous review. One question, not touched upon here. Walt mentioned he was $40k in debt. Is that a plot hole or a tactic by Walt to convince everyone to carry on with his Meth games?

The carrying of the drum was funny, but it's possible they were trying to do things as quietly as possible, too. I'm sure that rolling drum would have made quite a lot of noise, and who really knew how many security guys were there that night?

No, Jesse shouted him for the (YEAH BITCH!) magnet in ep 1. Plus Skyler spent $600k his money on Ted and the rest went on the car wash. Jesse is much better of financially than Walt - he really is broke! That's why Mike can't fathom Jesse sticking around.

I agree, terrific scene with Hank and the look on his face...has he realised? I think he knows subconsciously but he can't acknowledge it. Just thinking back to the both of them looking through Gale's note book: Oh please, I hope Hank goes back and revisits that dedication and thinks a bit more about who WW might be.... but once Hank knows... would Walt off his own brother in law? Note that he held on to the ricin!

Oh, and he bought Walt Jr a hugely expensive car then wrote it off in a toy/pram situation. He's basically terrible with money. Feel free to add to the list; I'm sure there's more.

Hi Paul, Love your reviews. We're just catching these episodes over here in Australia so I will keep up as they come along. We've just got s5ep2, here are my thoughts:

Walt's final words in the episode- that family is the most important reason to do things is so important - family is the motive driving everyone and everything in this episode. Jessie crying because he threatened his father figure Walt, Walt's fatherly comforting to Jessie, the Police Captain talking about Gus visiting his house and spending time with his family, Lydia pleading for her life for the sake of her daughter, and of course Mike and his granddaughter.

The key question: what are Mike's real motives for joining Walt?

He saved Lydia I believe because he didn't want to leave her daughter without her mother. His number one priority is his own granddaughter and everything he has done has been to provide for her. You said by not killing her and getting back into bed with Walt he is certainly going against his principles and instincts. But I don't agree. His primary principle and primary value is protecting and providing for his family. He couldn't bring himself to take away a young girls mother. He's badass but he's not a cold blooded killer. He showed that by dismissing Lydia's suggestion to kill 'his guys'. He's a practical man and only killed one of his guys when he had no other option. When it came to Lydia, he saw the alternative was to use her to his advantage.

And that advantage is to turn the tables on Walt. Because Walt killed Gus, Mike has lost his money that he planned on giving to his granddaughter. You saw the anger in Mike's face when he was leaving Hank's interrogation room. He was angry at the situation Walt has created and the heat Walt has brought down on him. So is Mike plotting his revenge on Walt, while at the same time getting back the money for his granddaughter?

Mike could develop into the final man standing. He is so badass and
impossible to kill- that goon that killed chow got owned so easily.

As for Hank I wouldn't like the little speech by the Captain to provide the light bulb moment to uncovering Walt- if there's one thing that Breaking Bad avoids it's the light bulb moments that happen in so many movies and TV shows that are just so unrealistic. That's not how real life works and it's not how Hank's mind works- he is a methodical detective and it will take a lot of jigsaw pieces to fall into place until he discovers Walt second life. But the comparison did make me laugh it was very clever writing.

As for Walt well I think we have to grow to hate him enough that has eventual downfall is satisfying. I predict Jesse will discover all the things Walt has done- killing the heroin girlfriend, poisoning the child..and that will tip him over the edge and he will take out Walt.

The magnet stunt was $120k split 3 ways and Jessie fronted for Walt.

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