Given that its potency as a drama series is virtually second to none, it’s fantastic when Vince Gilligan and the writers of Breaking Bad remind everyone just how on top of their game they can be when it comes to seriously dark comedy. Back when he was a writer on The X-Files, Gilligan often wielded his pen in a similar fashion, producing episodes that managed to keep a dry wit about the otherwise shadowy and foreboding elements that made up the series.
‘Madrigal’ is no exception. The second episode opens up at Madrigal Electromotive GmbH – the gigantic corporation responsible for such fine eateries as Burger Stays, Haau Chuen Wok, Palmieri Pizza, Whiskerstays and (formerly) Los Pollos Hermanos – where the audience is treated to a stone-faced Herr Schuler (Norbert Weisser) examining the finer aspects of new dipping sauces (Franch being the clear standout) before running into the bathroom to evade the polizei sniffing around Madrigal’s conference room. Once there, Schuler goes down in television history for his ingenious use of a portable defibrillator as an on-the-fly suicide aid.
The sequence at Madrigal serves to not only enhance the breadth of the situation Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) and his array of Los Pollos Hermanos locations were involved in, but also to illustrate just how in the dark Walter White (Bryan Cranston) remains. With a major company like Madrigal somehow involved in (or facilitating) Fring’s meth dealings, the amount of interest from the legal side of things increases exponentially. That means Walter’s quest to succeed Gus in the Southwestern meth arena is likely going to run headlong into some very intrigued DEA agents.
While Walt rests comfortably in the ignorance of just how much the authorities know – thanks largely to his computer-wiping stunt from the premiere – his next step is to secure his partnership with Jesse (Aaron Paul). That means assuaging Jesse’s guilt over the lost ricin cigarette by searching his house with a fine-toothed comb, and then letting him find a planted, salt-filled duplicate in his Roomba’s collection bin. (The original vile of ricin being hidden away in Walt’s house for later use, no doubt.)
As much as the pieces of Los Pollos Hermanos and the meth ring are still being sifted through by the authorities, Walt also picks through the remnants of Fring, grabbing those elements that will help transition the fallen empire into the one he plans to see rise again. And with Jesse backing him wholeheartedly (being played into an overwhelming guilt for nearly killing Walt last season), the next thing on Walt’s to-do list is to recruit the reluctant Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) to essentially do what he does best, but for the guy who killed his former employer.
Initially, Mike wants nothing to do with Walt’s plan, but the aforementioned knowledge recently gleaned by the authorities puts him in a precarious position, and sees the finances he secured for his granddaughter pretty much fade away. That places Mike at the mercy of someone he seems to detest. More importantly, though, it takes him through a situation similar to Walt’s, but with the advantage of a much quicker illumination. As Walt relaxes, thinking he’s won, so, too, does Mike – at least in the belief that the 11 men who could compromise the entire operation were compensated sufficiently enough to ensure their silence. His only mistakes are not knowing how much the DEA knows and believing his word to be adequate in calming the nerves of Lydia (Laura Fraser) when she insists on executing those weak links.
Lydia has it in her head that the world is crumbling down around her, and the only way out is through a sufficient amount of bloodshed. So she does what any nervous executive would do and lets the plan come to fruition, with the other guy hired to do the same job. After a suspicious call from Chow (James Ning), Mike heads over for what we assume will be a tête-à-tête about the hush money Chow was paid that’s now in the possession of the DEA. The thing about Mike is he’s already worked out that it’s a double-cross and makes his way inside through a clever use of a stuffed animal, elminating the guy who would be $30k richer for getting rid of the ol’ Ehrmantraut. That leads Mike back to Lydia, who – knowing she’s going to die – pleads with her killer not make her body disappear, preferring instead that her daughter find a corpse than believe she has been abandoned. Mike, not really excited about either possibility, offers Lydia a stay of execution, as long as she can still procure some methylamine for Walt’s upcoming shot at the title of meth king.
And with that, a unenthusiastic partnership is born.
One of the key things ‘Madrigal’ sets up is just how blindly Walt is heading into the next phase of his plan, and just how manipulative he’s willing to be to get there. While he’s intent on moving forward and getting his hands on the “gold in the streets,” Hank (Dean Norris) is just steps away from pulling the curtain back on Fring’s world to see the man he only thinks he knows so well. And if Hank were to ever realize his boss’ words (“The whole time he was someone else completely, right in front of me, right under my nose”) had more to do with Walt than he’d like to know, Heisenberg may be in for a rather rude awakening.
Breaking Bad will continue on Sunday with ‘Hazard Pay’ @10pm on AMC. Check out a preview of the episode below: