TV Recap: Breaking Bad’s “Madrigal”

Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul in a scene from "Madrigal."
Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul in a scene from “Madrigal.”

Season 5, Episode 2: “Madrigal”

Purity level: 90%

To quote a line from last week’s episode, “Aww, Jesse.” Even after all the crimes he’s committed, how does your heart not break for this kid? (It helps that Aaron Paul might be the best crier on TV.) After an opener set in Germany’s Madrigal headquarters (our first peek at Los Pollos Hermanos’ parent company, which bankrolled Gus’ drug ring), the episode begins with Jesse in hysterics over the lost ricin-filled cigarette. In a frantic call to Walter, he admits he’s terrified the poison has somehow fallen into the hands of “some innocent person, some kid” (of course it’s kids he’s worried about; nothing triggers Jesse’s decency like children in jeopardy). Walter immediately launches into cover-up mode, planting a fake vial in Jesse’s house for them to find. “I almost killed you. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, Mr. White,” Jesse sobs, wracked with guilt as Walter comforts him, pretends to “forgive” him, and ultimately strengthens his hold over him. The scene not only serves to tug at our heartstrings, it also widens the gap between Jesse and his increasingly psychotic mentor. The weight of their crimes continues to eat away at Jesse’s soul; he lies awake in fear that he might somehow, inadvertently claim another victim. On the other hand, you get the sense that Walter, who has much more blood on his hands, sleeps like a baby.

But this episode isn’t about Jesse. Instead, its spotlight shines on the show’s other moral centre dressed as a bad guy: grizzled hitman Mike. He bluntly turns down Walter’s offer to join forces (“You are trouble. I’m sorry the kid here doesn’t see it, but I sure the hell do. You are a time bomb. Tick-tick-ticking. And I have no intention of being around for the boom”). He also shrewdly dismisses Madrigal exec Lydia’s frantic plan to assassinate all of Gus’ surviving employees. His actions are trademark Mike: practical, unemotional, calculated.

But his best-laid plans go out the window after his interrogation with the DEA. He owns the interview — right up until the part where Hank drops the bombshell that Gus’ offshore accounts have been frozen, including the $2 million earmarked for Mike’s granddaughter. Suddenly, Mike has no choice but to join forces with Walter and Jesse. He also stops Lydia’s attempts to kill his henchmen and nearly murders her in retribution, but ultimately decides to spare her life, partly because she can get them the methylamine Walter requires to resume cooking, and partly because Lydia’s fear for her daughter taps into his own paternal feelings for his grandkid. He may be a hitman/professional thug, but Mike demonstrates a lot more vulnerability and compassion than the show’s supposed “hero.”

“Who’s Bad?” Index:

Mike: Walter breaks bad these days because he’s a power-hungry madman. He thinks he’s in control, but his growing empire is a house of cards. Mike, in contrast, remains in complete control, whether he’s being interrogated by authorities, hunted by assassins, or dispatching his own henchmen. That’s not to say he’s simply a robotic killing machine, though. Actor Jonathan Banks excels at showing hints of unexpected humanity under Mike’s icy demeanor. TV hasn’t seen such a complex killer living by his own strict moral code since The Wire’s Omar Little. 9 blue crystals out of 10.

Walter: Remember when Walter was a scientist who annotated every action with a textbook-worthy explanation? That Walter is gone, replaced by a man whose arrogance has overtaken his critical mind. His response when told there’s no methylamine on the market isn’t to brainstorm solutions; it’s simply to “have faith.” Hubris now trumps rational thought. 7 blue crystals out of 10.

Jesse: Walter might be $40k in the hole, but Jesse still has money left. He could take Saul’s advice and “sail off into the sunset.” But no, he’s right there alongside his beloved Mr. White, trying to figure out how to get the “Crystal Ship” up and running again, partly because he feels more bonded to Walter than ever, and partly because cooking meth is the only thing that makes him feel less like a stupid screwup. 6 blue crystals out of 10.

Hank: Is Hank finally catching onto his brother-in-law’s criminal alter-ego? When DEA boss Merkert – who was fired for the Gus Fring fiasco – recalls his BBQs with the druglord (“He was right in front of me, right under my nose”), a light bulb seems to go off in Hank’s head. He might not have all the pieces in place just yet, but the puzzle is beginning to take shape. 3 blue crystals out of 10.

Skylar: Last season she started breaking bad, now she’s just breaking sad. Skylar could barely make it out of bed this episode, paralyzed by the knowledge that she’s married to a monster. Her fear was validated in the creepy closing scene, with Walter slinking under the covers and trying to console/seduce her (“We do what we do for good reasons, and there’s no better reason than family.”) We can only imagine what happened after that; thank goodness for the fade to black.1 blue crystals out of 10.

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Jen McDonnell is an entertainment freelancer and social media specialist. She put her celeb stalking skills to good use as managing editor of Likes: pop culture, celebrity dirt, guilty pleasure TV, George Clooney, cheese. Dislikes: people who use 'begs the question' incorrectly. Follow Jen on Twitter @jen_mcdonnell. Follow Jen

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