Another note: I think this episode, "Madrigal," plays well to David Simon's recent argument that episode-by-episode recaps of series aren't always productive since you're not really seeing the larger picture being crafted by showrunners. With a series like Breaking Bad or even Simon's own The Wire, each episode is a piece of a greater whole, and while you're going to get a a great hour of television here and there, the recap is informed by myopia--last week's middling episode might be informed by next week's masterful episode, requiring a reconsideration of the former (which might then build on the latter and beyond).
I say this because while I was intrigued by last week's "Live Free or Die," it didn't have the sort of electric current of solo episodes like "Box Cutter" or "End of Times." But then, that's not really what Gilligan and co. are playing with (it would seem) with the first two episodes of season five, which are all about clean-up in the aftermath of Walt's dismantling of Gus--well, I was going to say Gus' organization, but Walt just went and dismantled his nemesis physically, as it were. Now Walt's in debt to Jesse and looking to rebuild and get back to work, while insulating himself from potential criminal (or in Jesse's case, personal) incrimination.
The whole episode begins with an employ of the titular German fast food conglomerate (of which Los Pollos Hermanos was a subsidiary) doing himself in with the local Polizei waiting for him in his office. Who Gus was paying and who was paying Gus will likely be one of the most dangerous threads to the season four survivors as they try to evade the DEA and Hank, who's not at all satisfied that they've know the real extent of Gus's organization.
And we also meet Lydia (Laura Fraser), who likewise is worried about being implicated in Gus' criminal enterprise and wants Mike to rub out a list of 11 Gus' former employees.* Here's what I love about Mike, the consummate professional and the focus of most of this episode: he's not worried because he knows he's done his job and he knows that when he's done his job, no one else should be worried. We start to get a better picture of Mike, his past, even his last name as the DEA puts their focus on him and where his money's been coming from.
Whereas Gus had this kind of mystical, primal menace about him, Gus simply knows people and he trusts his gut. That makes a bit later in the episode where Walt and Jesse reach out about partnering up all the more instructive (and likely prescient): Mike, never a fan of Walt, calls him a ticking tomb bomb, saying he doesn't want to be next to Walt when he goes off. Whether this is an intentional reference to how Walt took out Gus is irrelevant: Mike knows and we know that it's only a matter of time before New Mexico's best meth cook either implodes or explodes.
Mike tries to keep volatile people out of his life, which makes a decision later in the episode a bit more curious. Does he make the choice that he does out of his usual pragmatism or out of pity?
And let's talk a bit about Mr. White in this episode: he's cold, controlled, and has the level of self-possession of a sociopath. He literally can't see anything beyond his victory over Gus last season. He's one, and to conjure the specter of noxious, fallen TV idols, he's going to keep on winning, as it were. Or let's put it in terms that relate best to the former science teacher: he's proven that he's the smartest and the strongest, and like any good scientific proof, it's as good as an immutable fact.
And let's not forget how completely he has Jesse under his thrall: the junior cook is absolutely loyal to him know after the sustained rift their relationship suffered last season. To Jesse, Walt's not only his savior, but his savior he was almost manipulated into killing. That mix of guilt ant naivete is working for Walt now, but how long until Jesse unearths one of the several lies Mr. White's been keeping from him? Letting Jane die? Poisoning Brock? One of these things will come out somehow, no matter how well Walt has insulated himself.
In fact, that's kind of the game I've been playing with this season: who's going to be the one to end Walt? Maybe Jesse won't necessarily put a bullet in him, but he might turn state's evidence, as could Skyler. Or maybe Hank will find just the right piece of evidence. Or hell, Walt, massive walking ego that he is, might do himself in to deny his enemies the satisfaction.
"Madrigal" sees Walt building something of his own this time around (and whatever it's going to be, it's likely that it'll be the thing that destroys him). What did you guys think of this week's episode? Jason, are you ready to take back what you said about season one or am I taking you off my Christmas list?
*Did the episode ever identify Lydia as Gus' wife? She doesn't have a last name in the IMDB credits, but the first thing she asks in the diner is if Mike knows who killed Gustavo.
Breaking Bad is on its fifth and final season consisting of 16 episodes that will be split into two parts. The first part premiered July 15, 2012 and the second half will launch sometime in 2013