If this episode is a sign of things to come, Breaking Bad is going to be knocking out of the park this season. It’s an episode built around one basic plot point, but in leading to that logical end the show examines the true depths of what Walt is now going to be responsible for.
‘Madrigal’ is essentially a Mike-centric episode, which is great because Mike has very quickly become one of the best characters on TV. His quiet seriousness and clear contempt for what he does and a lot of the people around him make him fascinating. It’s alluded to that Mike was once a cop who went off the deep end somehow and landed a place beside Gus. Now that Gus is gone, Mike is forced to take responsibility for his future and the lives of others.
The episode begins in typical Breaking Bad fashion with a mysteriously weird sequence. In this case we’ve been flown all the way to Germany to see the operations of Madrigal, the company that owned Los Pollos Hermanos and supplied Gus’ operations. We see a man, clearly a higher-up, tasting some new dipping sauce concoctions—Franch!—but clearly distressed. He’s about to be questioned by the police about his involvement with Fring. Instead of putting himself through that, he grabs a defibrillator, locks himself in a bathroom, puts one cable to his heart and one in his mouth and triggers it, killing himself instantly. It’s a shocking scene with a bizarre sense of humour—the toilet he’s sitting on automatically flushes after he collapses to the ground—but a great way to start the episode and set up the high-level stakes that Walt’s now involved in.
From there we switch gears to focus back on Walt, Jesse and Mike. I’m guess this really will be the trio for the season, and I strongly suspect we’ll end up seeing a Jesse and Mike vs. Walt dynamic as we head into the home-stretch. For now, though, Walt has so cleanly manipulated Jesse that not only is Jesse just broken up over almost killing him, he’s actively trying to help Walt in his new mission to cook more meth.
Of course, to properly cook more meth they need a distribution and security service. They need Mike. And so, very wisely, Walt offers Mike a partnership in the new business. Mike turns him down, but Walt seems sure he’ll crawl back. The rest of the episode is like an exercise in seeing Walt’s prescience come to fruition.
This episode introduces us to a new character who I assume will be coming back. Lydia seems to have worked for Fring through Madrigal and she’s scared. She wants Mike to kill eleven of his men who might get tied back to her. Mike refuses this offer as well, but she goes to someone else, who Mike then has to kill. He’s clearly not happy about this and goes to kill her in her home while her child sleeps in another room. It’s a chilling scene in which Lydia doesn’t beg for her life, but pleads for Mike to leave her body so that her daughter won’t think she’s been abandoned. Mike is about to pull the trigger but then decides that the cycle will only continue so long as the money has dried up. The answer is to use Lydia as a supplier and team up with Walt. This cannot end well.
The last scene of the episode encapsulates the season’s direction, which is to make Walt the villain. As he kisses a disturbed Skyler and talk about how he does what he does for family I could help shivering. He’s gone from hapless to completely scary. Delusional, but totally in control of those around him. He’s the new Gus, only he seems so much more unhinged, which makes him all the more frightening. I’m very scared for what might happen to those people around him, his family, Jesse and Mike included.
Either way, ‘Madrigal’ was a masterclass in TV writing, acting and direction. It was serious and resonant. It was suspenseful and scary. It also embodies a lot of what makes the series so great. The fun montages. The moral dilemmas. The sideways approach to serialized storytelling. It’s go so much wit and style that this episode will probably go down as one of best in a series that’s been consistently great. I can only hope that this early in the season, there will be even more episodes this good or better.