TROUBLE CITY

SCHWARTZBLOG: BREAKING BAD, "MADRIGAL"

BlogsAl SchwartzComment

Schwartzblog archives One of the strangest cold opens we’ve ever had this week, with a long prelude to an unknown executive, presumably played by Bill Nighy’s non-union German equivalent, committing some form of electric hara-kiri as the police close in on Los Pollos Hermanos international connections.  I don’t know what exactly we’re supposed to take away from this, and in fact I have a suspicion that it was written solely to get a guy to say “Cajun Kick-Ass” in a heavy Teutonic accent.

From there we have one more bit of clean up, as Walt has to help Jesse find the ricin cigarette (even though it’s not actually the real one).  While it was overshadowed by the flash-forward opening, last week’s premiere was essentially a clean-up episode, dealing with the loose ends from Gus’s murder.  This one is the opposite, something we don’t normally get with this show, an episode that is devoted almost exclusively to setting up the major storyline of the season involving Madrigal Electromotive.  This results in a clunkier experience than we are accustomed to with BB, which is usually so great at spinning one crises organically out of the solution to the previous one.  But with last season ending with the decapitations of the biggest meth operations north and south of the border means that we need to drop in some major new characters basically out of the blue, so we get an odd episode that feels more like a backdoor pilot for a BB spin-off, or in today’s vernacular, a collection of webisodes with a couple scenes of our main characters grafted on.

Those main players are typically great in their short scenes, particularly Aaron Paul in his Roomba-induced breakdown.  But Colonel Saltstache actually gets more dramatic material than Sklyer, Saul, Walter Jr. and Marie (who doesn’t appear at all) together.  It’s not a terrible hour of television or anything, it’s just odd that with the end firmly in sight, things have never felt less urgent.  Walt and Jesse are on the inevitable path back to cooking, but there’s a leisurely feel to the proceedings.  They make an important step of getting Mike on board and acquiring their methylamine, but not through any really zealous pursuit of those ends; by the end of the episode they have just sort of fallen into their laps, which is where we knew they had to end up when the episode started.

Rather, most of the episode is the Mike Show, which is great for Jonathan Banks fans (and I know many of you get super hard for the old bulldog), but as I said, feels a little off-task when taking into account that we have a time gap the size of the first 4 seasons to fill in with only a single season to to do it.  Contributing to this feeling is that although he meets with Walt and Jesse and Hank, the conclusions of those meetings are foregone.  We know from the non-stop promo spots featuring the time bomb comment that Mike is going to turn down their offer, just as we know that he won’t be able to avoid their orbit once they get to cooking again.  And as much fun as it is to watch Hank in his element and Banks mine new depths of deadpan in his responses, did anyone really think that former-cop Mike was going to crack under the pressure of a single interrogation?  Not really, which makes his biggest scenes the ones focusing on newcomer Lydia.

Lydia has potential as a character, but it’s mostly tied to her as a reflection of Walt, to whom she is completely disconnected throughout this episode.  Her frayed nerves are reminiscent of Walt’s early criminal stages; when Mike explains to her that “in the real world, we don’t kill 11 people as some sort of prophylactic measure,” it’s exactly the type  of impatient corrective he might have directed at our hero a few seasons ago, while her plea to have her body found so that her daughter doesn’t grow up thinking she was abandoned is the type of thing Walt would have done in earlier days, when he was more concerned about the family “missing you after you’re gone” than that they respect/fear him while he’s still there.

Which is fine for a certain type of reflection, but it’s hard to get too wrapped up in this character who didn’t exist last week fretting over a list of names of people we don’t know (I know we’ve met Chau and Dennis the laundry manager before, but come on) who might pose a hypothetical threat to her.  It is in some ways necessary to get through this stuff quickly, as these Madrigal folks have to fill the enormous shoes of Gus Fring and we don’t have a ton of time to do it, but it’s makes for an episode that is a long way from the shocking, white-knuckle, emotionally devastating ride that BB is at its best.

Get back to cooking, boys.  This episode was mostly just ketchup, and I know you are capable of much more inspired, Franch-y concoctions.

 

Estimated Profits: -$40,000

Murders - Emilio, Krazy 8, Jane, two of Gus’s dealers, Gale, Gus, Tyrus, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, two other Fring goons

Collateral Damage - One innocent janitor loses his job and goes to jail on a bullshit marijuana charge.  Hank had to kill a guy, even if he was an insane, degenerate piece of filth who deserved to die, giving him fairly severe PTSD.  Combo was killed dealing for Walt.  Jane’s father’s life is utterly ruined.  167 passengers on two planes are dead.  Skyler is forced to become an accessory after the fact (or take down her son, sister and brother-in-law with Walt).  3 broken Pontiac Aztek windshields.  Jesse’s RV is destroyed. On their mission to kill Heisenberg, the Cousins kill 9 illegal immigrants and their coyote, an old woman with a handicap-accessible van, a grocery-shopping bystander, an Indian woman and the Reservation sheriff that investigates.  Also they shoot Hank multiple times, forcing him through a long, painful physical therapy process.  Andrea’s kid brother is murdered by Gus’s dealers due to trouble Jesse and Walt stirred up.  Jesse murders Gale, crushing him with guilt and destroying his hard-fought sobriety.  Gus murders Victor to send a message to Walt and Jesse.  Three Honduran workers get deported (or maybe worse).  Walt purposefully wrecks a car, straining an already-injured Hank’s neck in an unspecified fashion.  Ted Beneke breaks his neck fleeing from Heisenpire goons.  Brock is poisoned and nearly dies.  Tio blows himself up, but no one’s weeping for that vicious old fucker.  The staff of an industrial laundry is out of their jobs.  Dozens (hundreds?) of criminal prosecutions are compromised when the guys wreck the APD evidence locker.  Hank’s boss gets pushed out of his job for his failure to apprehend Fring or Heisenberg.  Herr Schuler, Chau and a low rent hitman get offed as Lydia scrambles to cover up Madrigal’s connection to Fring’s drug empire in the wake of his death.

Sequences To Make Hitchcock Proud - Mike approaches a door with a gun pressed against the peephole, then gets the drop on his ambusher and quietly interrogates him with Chau’s demapped head separating them in the frame.

Best Lie - Gotta admire Walt’s commitment when he helps Jesse search his house for the cigarette for hours before gently pointing him toward the Roomba.

Official Walter Jr. Breakfast Count: 14

We Are Done, Professionally - Mike rejects Walt and Jesse’s offer of partnership, astutely noting that Walt is time bomb waiting to go off.

It’s The Little Things -  Mike deadpanning that Hank’s accusations have him “very stirred up”.  The more realistic cracking sound of Mike’s silenced pistol as opposed to the traditional high-pitched squeak.  Jesse named the RV “The Crystal Ship”. Mike asking the hitman if he’s ready, but not waiting to hear his final plea.