Breaking Bad : “Madrigal” is Mike-centric
This week’s episode begins, seemingly randomly, at a food tasting in a German lab. But those of us who’ve been paying attention (which, as this episode indicates, you kind of have to) figured out pretty quickly that the investigation into Gus Fring’s fallen empire was spreading out to the multinational conglomerate (the Madrigal of the title) that Los Pollos Hermanos was part of. In a pre-credit sequence that manages to be darkly funny, suspenseful and revealing all at once, we realize that this season is going to cast its net wider.
Indeed, in this episode Walt and Jesse are almost bit players. It’s a Mike-centric storyline, which for your average Breaking Bad fanatic is just fine. I talked in this space last week about how Mike and Hank had emerged as unexpectedly strong characters, and this episode gave us the pleasure of seeing them go head to head. Since the cop-show formula has been worked to death and beyond, there’s considerable risk of an investigation-room scene falling into clichés. But Hank’s smarmy self-confidence (which has somehow become an endearing quality) and Mike’s implacable deadpan sidestepped that pitfall quite nicely.
As TV shows advance in seasons, there’s always a danger in adding new characters and plotlines—it can sometimes seem as though they’re running out of things to do with the core concept. And when Madrigal exec Lydia (Laura Fraser) shows up to meet Mike at a diner (if you were paying close attention, she’d previously been briefly glimpsed at the corporate meeting with police), her exaggeratedly harried manner and snobbish affectations (ordering fancy tea at a greasy spoon?) seem to signal her as a comic-relief character. But that changes fast, and her arrival both indicates that the corporation had more than an arm’s-length relationship with Gus, and draws Mike deeper into the relationship with Walt and Jesse that he’s been so determined to avoid.
Director Michelle MacLaren, a series vet, occasionally distracts with showy camera angles, but that slight complaint aside, the episode (written by creator Vince Gilligan himself) is a tight piece of supreme craftsmanship all around.
- Hank, after his Columbo-esque “just one more question” makes Mike realize he’s in trouble: “Impressive, huh? Level of insight?”
- As Walt is consoling Jesse early in the episode, he lets out possibly one of his most chilling statements: “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
- Can’t take credit for this one, but my wife brought up an intriguing point: does Hank know, or has he started to suspect something, about Walt’s involvement in the meth trade? When the police chief (who had to fall on his sword for the department’s failure to heed Hank’s warnings) talked about having had Gus over to the family home, never suspecting a thing, there was a subtle flash across Hank’s face. ■