I’d like to start this review with an analogy of what Walt believed would happen last season when he went up against Gus Fring and what has actually started to happen in this latest episode, ‘Madrigal’. Anyone who has ever played Jenga knows that what you want to be able to do is to slide out one bar and move it without causing the growing tower to scatter. Admit it, we all cheered openly for Walt to beat Gus last year in their deadly battle of wits. I mean hey, Gus was threatening infant children and that just cannot be allowed to happen. Well, Walt thought he won when he blew Gus up in the nursing home and I’m sure many of us felt the same way at that time. But as the camera pulls back it’s been revealed that when Walt removed Gus Fring from the equation the entire tower has started to crumble.
It’s such a great representation of the man’s out of control ego that Walt purely believed that taking out Gus, taking out just one man, would solve all his problems. Instead it’s created one hell of a power vacuum despite the fact that Walt is eager to start cooking again, and the criminal syndicate that Gus Fring was part of is losing everything because of the grand spectacle of Fring’s death and the torching of his lab by Jesse and Walt last season—a pair of acts that have brought law enforcement right to their front door. Anyone who’s ever watched a film or TV show to do with the mob or other criminal organizations should know that when you mess with their money that’s when things start getting truly ugly and now that the accounts in the Cayman Islands are frozen and inaccessible, there will be blood.
This storyline brought us the most Mike Ehrmentraut-centric episode yet as he navigated dealing with both the DEA and his own former associates out for blood in the wake of Walt’s hostile takeover. I can’t speak to how wonderful it is that Mike survived the events in Mexico last year and that he seems to be getting a more featured role this season. Jonathan Banks has the gruff and wary act down, and seeing him in the interrogation room with Hank and Gomez was a treat. Not only because he didn’t break despite their attempts to make things personal for him by mentioning his own frozen account with money earmarked for his granddaughter, but it also nudged Hank that much closer toward Walt now that the degrees of separation between Mike and Walter are so limited. Theirs is a showdown that seems like it’s actually going to happen soon after all this time if last week’s incredibly tantalizing cold open flash-forward was any indication of events to happen this season. But by the end of the episode a few more possibilities are thrown into the ‘who is Walter White on the run from?’ pool.
It would be shocking if Banks didn’t get onto the supporting actor Emmy ballot next year for his performance throughout ‘Madrigal’ as we were given the best chance yet to see the many layers of a character who in less capable hands would be just another hired gun. Mike is allowed to be steely when it comes to his business dealings—I mean he knew the guy who he gunned down in this episode on a personal level, but at the same time he is not the degree of monster that Walt’s become—it all comes down to having a code which a guy like Mike clearly does. He saved Jesse’s life back in Mexico and that’s very important to keep in mind as he truly didn’t have to.
Much will be made about the ‘half-measure’ that Mike took by choosing not to kill Lydia after she made her level of threat known—she was the one with the list of names that could bring down the entirety of Madrigal Electromotive if they talked, and apparently was happily ready to start having everyone on it taken out to protect Madrigal’s interests. Some may claim that it was just empathy that kept Mike from pulling the trigger on Lydia. While it is true that the man does have the capacity for mercy, and both are seen to be caring for young children right around the same age—that’s not what kept Lydia alive ultimately.
As things currently stand, Mike is a main target for the fallout from all of this as he was directly associated with Gus and had people working under him all of whom Madrigal kept tabs on, but the man who actually took Gus down is quite separate from the Madrigal mess right now. By asking Lydia if she could still get her hands on a component that’s needed for cooking (methylamine), Mike is turning the supposed triumvirate of himself, Jesse, and Walt into more of a replacement cog for Madrigal which will come with the angry financially cut-off people being made aware of Mr. White. He’s drawing Walt into the real danger by agreeing to let Lydia live in exchange for methylamine connections and by joining up with Walt and Jesse…Mike has shown he’s getting back into the game. I would never underestimate Mike, but I’m positive that’s all Walt will continue to do even though the man makes his distaste for Walt and the way he handles his affairs very clear.
As for Walter White it’s hard to discern which of those closest to him has suffered the most emotional abuse from his machinations. Jesse got his own experience with this version of Walt when he was fooled into thinking that the ricin-filled cigarette actually fell out at his house leaving it as accessible to Brock as the poison berries he wound up ingesting. But it was watching Walt ‘comfort’ his protegé and partner that made the scene so sinister. Walt’s reassuring gestures are a display of pure sadism for those of us at home who know the truth of that situation. Moments before, we watched Walt concoct a fake ricin cigarette and stow the real one away in his house. Much like the hidden-away Lily of the Valley plant that if it was ever found by Jesse would be the single most damning piece of evidence of the monster Walter White has turned into that the show has ever allowed another character to come upon.
There’s something to be said for a man who didn’t simply let Jesse wonder in vain what happened to the missing cigarette but instead he created a scenario for it to be found–for Jesse to live with the guilt that another person he cared about could have died from his own carelessness. There was no balm in what Walt did, no intention of alleviating the bad thoughts from Jesse’s mind of what would have happened if… Walter thrives on the emotionally-charged responses of others now, he feeds off of them and uses it to keep people under his thumb whether it’s Jesse’s immense guilt toward how he behaved with Walt when he thought he was responsible for Brock, or Skylar’s numbness that’s kept her from fighting against him like she once did at least for now.
Things are gearing up for drug kingpin Walter White to take the stage, but as always on Breaking Bad, that stage is littered with a number of landmines of information just waiting to be stepped on and for evidence to come to light that will take him down for good. Walt thinks that the game is his, but soon I’m sure we’ll see the cost of being king especially when he’s caused great harm (though some don’t quite realize it yet) to every one of his subjects to take the throne. There’s only one place to go when you’re on top and that’s down and as much as this season was billed as the rise of Heisenberg–of Walter as the king of all, it really seems like it’s the beginning of the end for Walter White’s meth enterprise.
What did you think about Mike’s decision to let Lydia live?
Who will strike back at Walt’s new reign first? Skylar? Mike? Jesse?
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Tags: Breaking Bad