If last week's season premiere of Breaking Bad showed us Walter White at his most egotistical (We're done when I say we're done...), then "Madrigal" depicted the new king at his calmest and his most confident.
His most Gus Fring-like.
There was no panic in Walt as he manipulated Jesse with the Ricin cigarette placement, no concern when Mike initially turned down his business offer, no celebration when Mike later changed his mind. Walt even received that news and took it in expected stride while washing the dishes, the same kind of setting and reaction we so often saw out of a certain dead chicken man.
Yes, Walt has learned from his past and has grown into a scary, intimidating drug lord as a result.
Mike, conversely, spent the episode attempting to learn from his, but in the opposite direction. As he told Jesse in the above scene, he can see the danger in Walt, he's dealt with men like that before, and he wanted no part of such a life on the edge.
Until circumstances gave Mike little choice.
The DEA knows about the laundered money in his granddaughter's name, a business associate is sloppily trying to take out those around him and there's no Happily Ever After option available to this former cop. He can't even win at Hungry Hungry Hippos.
So Mike makes the decision to team up with Walt and Jesse after all. Did he let Lydia live because he realized she could be the source of the missing meth ingredient? Did her unabated, desperate love for her daughter make it impossible for Mike to pull the trigger? I lean closer to the latter than the former. He wasn't killing Lydia, not when she was facing death and cared solely about how her fate would affect her child.
The gun-drawn staredown between these two was as tense as Breaking Bad - as television, really - can get. We know Mike can be a cold-blooded killer (he referred to the friend he just gunned down as a "good man," yet didn't waste a thought before taking him out) and we truly had no idea whether Lydia would live or die. Her cries for her daughter were heartbreaking, and this is someone we had only just met.
Through its attention to detail, direction and dialogue, Breaking Bad possesses an uncanny ability to enrapture and enthrall. You can't help but be invested in every moment.
Overall, just a terrific showcase this week for Jonathan Banks. His portrayal of Mike paints the picture of an exasperated career criminal who excels at the game - in a diner talking business, in an interrogation room under pressure, in a house as the target of an assassination attempt - and is resigned to his fate. He's funny (Drink your hot water), and he somehow manages to be the moral center of this operation, despite his willingness to kill and kill and kill.
As Mike angled to get out this week, Walt relished just how fully in he has become. It's hard to determine which scene was more chilling:
Walt's comforting of an hysterical Jesse, someone who worships him as a father figure and someone he continues to toy with in the most unimaginably emotional ways possible... or Walt's attempted seduction of a petrified (also crying) Skyler, who is now fully aware of just who she shares a bed with.
Rewind to the series premiere, when Walt's manhood, or lackthereof, was laid bare for all to see and a pregnant Skyler nonchalantly used her hand to get her husband off. It was a jarring, revealing scene in the same way as this conclusion, but for entirely contrasting reasons.
Walt is simply a monster now to Skyler, as brilliantly captured from her point of view on this episode, where we only hear his voice and we only see his face in the final, chilling moment.
Of course, "Madrigal" also took us inside Madrigal. More than just a character study of Walt and Mike, the installment moved the actual story along significantly. Who at the conglomerate that owned Los Pollos Hermanos was in on Gus' actions? Clearly the executive who committed suicide. And Lydia.
What about the guy who claimed to the police that his company was open to investigation and he wanted to get to the bottom of the corruption as badly as they do? Do we believe him?
It's way too early to say, but the seeds are planted for this summer's main storyline. Walt and Jesse and Mike are building a new business, powerful forces at Madrigal are circling above them, Hank is inching closer to the truth. The walls will soon be in around The One Who Knocks.
But he's anything but concerned. He's cleaning the kitchen and cuddling his daughter and getting into bed with his wife like it's just another day in his controlled world. And he's doing it all for family. Of course.
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