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Breaking Bad Watch: Special Sauce

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SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, fix yourself some hot water with a slice of lemon and watch last night’s Breaking Bad.

“Corporate security.” “What’s that? Guarding the special sauce?”

In a manner of speaking, yes.

We begin “Madrigal” in the company of a man who is about to die, whom we presumably will never see again. But let’s talk for a minute about Herr Schuler anyway. We meet our German friend, at the conglomerate that lately owned Pollos Hermanos, glumly sampling chicken nuggets with new lab-designed sauces. “Kick-ass Cajun.” “Franch.” “Honey mustard… our sweeter formulation for the American Midwest.” In a few moments, he hears that the authorities want to speak with him, and he repairs to the bathroom to electrocute himself to death.

There’s something essentially Breaking Bad about that cold open. This is a show darkly and geekily fascinated with science: magnets that destroy police evidence, electrodes as suicide devices. But also, it’s love with the artificial, from Jesse’s Roomba to a child’s acrylic toy to crystal meth, described in loving chemical detail.

(MORE: Breaking Bad and the Downfall of the White ‘Anyman’)

And it’s the kind of irony Breaking Bad loves that Schuler’s legitimate job is another one that—as Walter White does on a more extreme level—profits by isolating chemical combinations that stimulate the pleasure centers of our brains. It may not be criminal—and I’m not saying that the show is giving a Michael Bloombergian indictment of the fast-food industry—but there’s more than a little parallel between the tense, pristine setting of the Madrigal lab and Gus Fring’s late superlab. Just as “Cap’n Cook” Jesse once laced his meth with chile pepper, so do Schuler’s cooks pride themselves on creating a purer, more intensely stimulative product. There’s money in them thar neural receptors.

This seems to be way season five is expanding its world, showing the level upon levels of the drug trade, beyond Albuquerque, beyond Gus’ old empire, beyond the cartels. It builds up to this multinational conglomerate, whose labs may be cleaner and its menace more abstracted, but which is not immune from violence. Walter White may think he’s king, having defeated Gus, but there’s always a king beyond the king, and as Walt gets back into the business, we now have to wonder whose attention he’s going to draw to himself.

The way “Madrigal” gets Walt back into the business is with a classically taut, suspenseful episode, focused on Mike Ehrmantraut. Whenever Jonathan Banks takes the screen, Breaking Bad shifts into noir-Western mode, and he’s magnificent here: in his ice-cold staredown with Hank in the interrogation room, his hilarious (but also tense) meeting with Lydia, in his badass escape from assassination, and in the resigned way he decides to let the untrustworthy Lydia live, and to bring her on as a partner.

(MORE: Breaking Bad Watch: Mag-neato)

Mike is one bad mother. Mike is a wit: “Now I don’t know what kind of movies you’ve been watching, but here in the real world, we don’t kill 11 people as some kind of prophylactic measure.” But Mike is also a grandpa—a grandpa who, perhaps leaving himself open to the law, has been stashing away drug money for the future of his beloved granddaughter. (Or, at least, stashing it in her name.)

This, in a roundabout way, is what gets him back in business with Walter White, a prospect that every part of his gut and every moment of his professional instinct tells him is a bad idea. (“No. You are trouble. You are a time bomb. Tick, tick, tick. And I have no intention of being around for ‘boom.’”) He doesn’t trust Walt, he doesn’t have faith in Walt, and he doesn’t much like Walt.

On that score, it’s hard to blame him, since “Madrigal” makes clear that Walt is by now an unmitigated asshole, and one now unchecked by any superior authority or self-doubt. Not only that, but he seems to have acquired the belief that he’s bulletproof; Saul likens him to the guy who wins the lottery and buys another ticket, but he’s more like the guy who just won at Russian Roulette and asks for another spin.

Moreover, he’s become morally arrogant. We’ve seen Walt do a lot of terrible things and seen him in a lot of questionable positions, but I think his last scene with Skyler is the most rawly, stomach-churningly reprehensible he’s ever been. Lying in bed next to Skyler—depressed, worried, guilt-ridden—he snuggles up and starts kissing her, seeing her trauma as something to smugly kiss away while he tries to get some action: “When we do what we do for good reasons, we have nothing to worry about. And there’s no better reason than family.”

(LIST: Breaking Bad: 5 Questions We Want Answered This Season)

Ugh. Yet maybe it’s family, at some level, that drives Mike to realize that he can’t kill Lydia and disappear her, even after she tried to do the same to him—if not for her sake, for the sake of her daughter (in whom, maybe, he sees his own granddaughter). He sighs, wearily—no one on TV, maybe on this Earth, does weary like Mike Ehrmantraut—and asks her if she knows where to get methylene. They’re back in business.

Lydia will get to live. Walt will get what he wants. And Mike, good fast-food employee that he is, has procured the special ingredient.

Now for the hail of bullets:

* Breaking Bad Visual of the week: More of a sequence than a single visual, but:the fantastic segment in which Mike’s assassin looks out the peephole—something flits in front of it, which turns out to be a toy on a string—we hear Mike’s voice (“Chris?”), and see that Mike’s gotten the drop on him as Chris’ eye, in tight shot, closes in frustration. (In general, this was just a fabulously directed episode, a shining example of how this show constructs stories through sequences that gradually reveal information with each subsequent shot.)

* “We don’t have soy milk or any sort of bergamot. … We have Lipton.” Very amusing scene, introducing a very different sort of character for Breaking Bad.

* I’m hoping that in its final season of eligibility, we might finally see a Best Guest Actor nomination for the Roomba. (Does it get angry when it shows up for auditions and find itself up against DJ Roomba from Parks and Rec, yet again?)

* “How many Krauts we got?” “Enough to invade Poland.” WWII humor! Never gets old!

* Finally, I’m traveling today (Monday) to the Television Critics’ Association press tour in Los Angeles, so I probably won’t be active in comments for a while—but have at it below.

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16 comments
BillyMozart
BillyMozart

I think that, although this episode was Mike centric, it was using Mike to help further define Walt.  What's the difference between the two?  They've both (throughout their lives) moved into worlds of evil for the ultimate of Machiavellian purposes - their families.  I liked how the show reminded us that Mike's a killer - we're not supposed to be liking him as a capable protagonist in opposition to Walt's increasingly Gus-like behavior.  Mike tried to kill both Walt and Jesse in the past - he's no better a friend of Jesse than Walt is.

BUT, there is a definite difference.  Walt's a time bomb, he's unstable, and it's because he can't find a balance.  He's brilliant, moreso than Mike and Hank are street smart.  And that's the heart of it all.  Perhaps making Walt over-the-top evil in this episode, in small dosesjuxtaposed to Mike's seemingly reasonable ends-justify-the-means existence, was the point.  Mike's not destined for greatness.  Walt is, whether it's for good (his failed opportunity at being a chemical applications magnate), or evil - like Gus.

Shoot the Critic
Shoot the Critic

Another great episode! As you stated, we get yet another great cold open -again of food. There's such a strong focus on the precision with which these  people handle their food (and later Lydia's extreme pickiness with her tea; she clearly doesn't fit into the fast-food environment). You pose an interesting notion of expansion - that we get to see the global of the criminal world Walt and Jesse are in. Although we got little Jesse, Aaron Paul did a great job with the performance this week. - Shoot the Critic

Scandalbob
Scandalbob

My vote for Best Scene- Lydia tries to call Mike by the name Duane in the diner and the waitress gives her a look and says "What'll you have Mike?" It just showed that everybody saw thru Lydia. Her "Cloak and Dagger" bit only showed how much of an amateur she is...

HatterasGirl
HatterasGirl

Good review. I love this show. Small point: I think you meant Michael "Moore-ian" and not Michael Bloomberg, isn't he some kind of economist?

CraigInPhoenix
CraigInPhoenix

 Mike Bloomberg is the mayor of NYC who was recently trying to pass a law that would have limited the size of soft drinks in NYC.

HatterasGirl
HatterasGirl

Gotcha, that's right. I guess I thought it was a "fast food nation" reference, my bad.

Nif_McFly
Nif_McFly

Great epsiode, real Mike heavy which I liked because there was so little Mike after he got shot up in Mexico last season. Anyone else notice that as Walt put the ricin cigarette in the wall, one of the books on his nightstand is titled, "The Bastard," pretty fitting for Walt's character as he has progressed through out the show.

katie1421
katie1421

Man, Walt is just flying to whole new heights of megalomaniacal awfulness this year, isn't he? The last scene with Skyler was the worst, but I thought the scene in Saul's office was pretty telling too - even though Jesse is insisting that there's no methylamine to be found, Walt just insists that there will be, as if it's just going to manifest itself according to his will or something (and, thanks to Mike's sparing of Lydia, it now probably will).

So the ricin is still in play, right? I read that scene as Walt saving the real cigarette in the electrical outlet and stashing the fake salt one in the Roomba for Jesse to find. No way this ends well. 

PS:  I think I've finally reached the point that whenever Jesse starts to cry I just spontaneously well up too. Aaron Paul is like some kind of empathy machine.

joemax60613
joemax60613

I believe the crew is in search of methylamine, not methylene.  Not a big point, I realize...

NeedACleverName
NeedACleverName

The final scene with Skyler was absolutely terrifying and sickening.  I can't be the only one who worried that at this point, raping his own wife is certainly not below Walt.  If that scene had gone on another second, I might have vomited. 

Although not specific to this episode, I do wonder about another lurking danger to Walt, Jesse and Mike that no one has mentioned in a long time--the Chileans.  The Mexican cartel was afraid to kill Gus because of "who he was" in Chile.  What kind of hell  is lurking if even the cartel feared it?

 

ImtheSpacePope
ImtheSpacePope

Did I miss something? When did any rape take place?

katie1421
katie1421

He was making sexual overtones towards her when she was pretty clearly not welcoming of them, and he was doing in a way to demonstrate his power over her. He hadn't actually raped her when the scene ended, but he was being abusive in a way that often leads to things like that.  And Walt's been up to gross stuff like that since he assaulted Skyler in the kitchen back in season two or so. 

Watcher222
Watcher222

I agree.  If you watch the last scene carefully, he touches her somewhere offscreen and she flinches, he moves away and takes off his tighty whities, then starts groping her.  It's subtle, but clear that he is going to have sex with her.  Which she doesn't want.  Which is rape.  I'm surprised more people aren't picking up on it.  It was a really disturbing scene. 

Chris Bean
Chris Bean

Read the comment.

ImtheSpacePope
ImtheSpacePope

I did, to which I say, I only saw Walt laying next to Skylar...Maybe I;m missing something?

Billy Robinson
Billy Robinson

Best show on TV. Not even close. 

Will it be a movie next? 

Here's An Exclusive First Look: Rumored Posters For “Breaking Bad: The Movie” 

http://wp.me/p1VsTV-2i5