BREAKING BAD RECAP 2: MADRIGAL

BREAKING BAD RECAP 2: MADRIGAL

The most striking aspect of tonight’s episode was our introduction to German mega-company Madrigal Elektromoteren (and, of course, the short-order introduction and elimination of suit Herr Schuler, who was clearly complicit in the late Mr. Fring’s meth empire, though we don’t quite know yet to what degree). The episode’s opening scene (below), with Herr Schuler absently munching chicken fingers as a scientist explains the money-saving formulas in their dipping sauces, seems absurd at first, until you think of the number of times Herr Schuler had to taste the “authentic” blend of spices for the meth-concealing Pollos Hermanos chicken recipe. Schuler is distracted, and we find out very quickly why: apparently, there are police here to see him, and more of them than last time, according to his assistant. Uh oh.

As Schuler makes his way toward his self-inflicted demise, we’re shown just how far-reaching the Madrigal empire is as he passes the backlit logos of fast-food chains such as Whiskerstay’s, Haau Chuen Wok, Burger Matic (hilariously abbreviated to “BM”), and Pollos Hermanos. (It’s also worth noting that these fast food chains are most likely just a fraction of Madrigal’s overall business; I would imagine a majority of what they produce relates to auto parts, judging from the “Elektromoteren” part of their name.) Schuler pauses to watch two workmen take down the Pollos sign, clearly wondering how such an innocuous-sounding fast food joint could have possibly led to his undoing. For us, one thing’s for sure: Hank’s excellent police work has traced a few of the superlab’s equipment pieces back to Madrigal, and Schuler is on borrowed time. As Schuler passes by his office, he watches one of the Polizei eyeballing a picture of himself and Gus Fring golfing in happier times, and decides this can’t be worth it. Gus must have seemed like such a sure thing. Well, until Walt came along.

Another large chunk of tonight’s show was dedicated to Jesse and Walt’s “search” for the ricin cigarette (below), the loss of which triggered their rift last season when Brock fell ill from an apparent poisoning. Jesse is obviously made distraught by its absence, but Walt can’t really explain to him why one of Saul’s goons lifted it from him without coming clean about the Lily of the Valley, so he gets to work not only hiding the actual ricin vial (it may come in handy again sometime, so he hides it in an electrical outlet; I’m sure that’s going to be important again soon), but also creating a dummy cigarette and helping Jesse discover it in his Roomba to give him some peace of mind (and I have to give it to the sound department here; every sound of Walt and Jesse rifling through the apartment during the montage has a rhythmic quality that syncs with the musical cue, adding to the scene’s urgency while also increasing the fun factor of watching). Executed with perfect Walter White-style conniving trickery, he even gets Jesse to cry from the guilt he feels for even thinking about shooting him last season, allowing Walt to slip right back into father figure mode, further bonding Jesse to him.  Of course, this also gives Walt the perfect opportunity: “What happened, happened for the best, you hear me?…Having each other’s back?  It’s what saved our lives. And I want you to think about that as we go forward.”  “Go forward where?”

It was also interesting to see Mike essentially forced into a position where he had to take Walt’s offer of partnership. Between Lydia’s high-strung desire to eliminate everyone even remotely connected to the Pollos empire and Hank’s discovery of the account in his granddaughter’s name, Mike doesn’t seem to have much choice. Of course, it’s helpful that Lydia still has some methlamine connections, otherwise there’d be no precursor, but her character (played by Laura Fraser) is far too high-strung and nervous (her “you’re really running me through my paces” line when she finds out that the roadside diner doesn’t have any tea other than Lipton’s was perfect) to be good news for the Heisenberg empire in the long run. She’s already sold Mike out to his own guys, and she’ll be sure to do whatever she can to protect herself and her little girl (and her amazing house, too). I suspect that that Mike’s decision to not kill her had something to do with her having a little girl. However, her ability to get methlamine, thus getting Walt’s operation back up and running, will allow Mike to keep earning money for his favorite little girl, as his old Fring account has, for all intents and purposes, gone bye-bye.  Still, though, she may have been able to hide behind the financial machinations of Madrigal’s support of Pollos’ not-so-little secret when Gus was still around, but without him, she’s an exposed nerve, and a very jumpy one at that. Not good for anyone, least of all Ol’ Mike.

Mike’s interaction with Hank and Gomez was fantastic, as well. At this point, most viewers have affinities with both characters (Hank and Mike, at least), so watching them interact with each other is always fun because it’s so hard to pick a side.  Hank is natural police, and he knows how to get under even Mike’s skin. But Mike, being the road-worn soldier that he is, has seen it all, even, apparently, from the law enforcement perspective, and it’s always a pleasure to watch Jonathan Banks play Mike’s eye-rolling resignation, even while realizing the money for which he’s taken a lot of crap is essentially gone. Of course, he saves his pissed face for when he’s walking out the door; as far as Hank and Gomey are concerned (at least, on the record), he’s cool as a cucumber, and only tangentially connected to Fring’s quickly-unraveling drug web.

And, as in Live Free or Die, this episode features yet another cringe-inducing scene with Walt and Skyler (below), in which Walt willfully ignores Skyler’s paralyzed fear in order to feign intimacy with her. She doesn’t say a single word as he prattles on about dinner and how “it gets easier,” and then proceeds to kiss and grope her as she clutches her pillow so tightly it looks like it might disintegrate. “When we do what we do for good reasons, then we’ve got nothing to worry about,” Walt waxes, kissing Skyler’s neck. “And there’s no better reason than family.”  This is no longer Walter White trying to get himself out of the dog house. This is Heisenberg. This is Heisenberg’s house, and he has just found out that Mike is back in, and that the Southwestern meth trade is his for the running, and he doesn’t need to justify anything to anyone. This is Heisenberg telling his wife how it is, and how it’s going to be from now on; that there’s nothing to worry about, there’s no monster under the bed . . . at least no monster that could compare to the one that roams this house.

But, we all know things are going to change, and Walt’s overconfidence will surely play a large part in his eventual undoing. If the M60 he receives on his 52nd birthday is any indication, his current attitude is going to result in Walt finally digging a hole for himself that he can’t undig, and there will be lots of needless bloodshed. 

Dave Bunting is the co-owner (with his sister and fellow Press Play contributor, Sarah D. Bunting) of King Killer Studios, a popular music rehearsal and performance space in Gowanus, Brooklyn. He plays guitar and sings in his band, The Stink, and dabbles in photography, video editing, french press coffee, and real estate. Dave lives in Brooklyn with his wife, son, and sister.

BREAKING BAD RECAP 1: LIVE FREE OR DIE

BREAKING BAD RECAP 1: LIVE FREE OR DIE

In the months since Breaking Bad's explosive season 4 finale, and Walt's certainly premature declaration of victory, we've had a long time to ponder what exactly he meant by saying, "I won."  Sure, he had won the most obvious victory in outsmarting Gus Fring, who, at least with Mike as his right hand, had mostly been able to stay a few steps ahead of the erratic and unpredictable Heisenberg (well, except for the whole Gale thing). But really, what Walt thinks he has won is his own freedom: freedom from the inconveniences that having a boss like Gus Fring brought; freedom to do things his own way; freedom to be the Southwest's real meth kingpin. We've been passing through the looking glass of Walt's need to cook meth to support his family after his presupposed demise from cancer for a few seasons now; it's obvious this guy has found something he's not only good at, but truly enjoys, except for (or more likely because of) all of the inevitable drama, chaos, and destruction he leaves in his wake as a result. And all of this havoc is completely worth it to him as long as he finally gets to be "the man" at something.

nullBut in the drug game, being "the man" is like having a target on your back, and Walt will realize soon enough that his problems have most likely been more augmented by Fring's murder than solved by it. In fact, below, in a callback to Season Two's predictive pre-credit scenes, we see a Walt with a full head of hair distractedly chit-chatting with a Denny's waitress, while nervously checking over his shoulder every few seconds. Breaking Bad’s signature sense of dread is almost overbearing (just watching the scene made me feel like I was about to have a panic attack), and as soon as we see that Walt is actually there to meet Lawson (his black market dealer for all things sidearm-related, played perfectly with cautious resignation ["Good luck, I guess."] by Deadwood's Jim Beaver), we know things can't be going as swimmingly as Walt thought they would when he said, "I won." When Walt uncovers the M60 machine gun Lawson has dropped off for him, it's obvious that something has gone severely pear-shaped.

There could be a few causes of such nastiness, knowing what we know now. Perhaps Hank has finally uncovered his brother-in-law's secret life as Heisenberg, and Walt is preparing for an all-out battle with the DEA. Perhaps the German conglomerate that was funding Fring's operation through the back door is more than a little annoyed that Gus has died, and has come to collect on their lost revenues. There is really no way to predict what Walt will have to defend himself against in the future, given writer Vince Gilligan's propensity for throwing viewers for a loop with left field plot twists. But, whatever has Walt packing such heavy heat is definitely formidable, and watching Walt dig himself deeper into whatever hole he's in will no doubt be equal parts terrifying, hilarious, and beautiful.  

For now, Walt is on top of the world. The drug trade in town has been decentralized, and is just waiting for someone to step into power ("There is gold in the streets, just waiting for someone to come and scoop it up.") His cancer's been in remission for some time, Gus can't kill him, and as much as Mike might want to put a bullet squarely between Mr. White's eyes, he can't until one last issue remaining from Fring's empire (the laptop containing all of the super lab video surveillance) is taken care of. In dealing with the issue, Walt buys himself enough time for Mike to consider joining Walt and Jesse in their proposed partnership. Mike clearly wants nothing to do with Walt; he hasn't ever, really. But the way he sees it, if he doesn't help clear up the hard drive issue, he's equally as "boned" as Jesse and Walt; naturally, in taking part, he inadvertently will be screwing himself somehow. Mike even tries to tell Jesse to take the money he's made and "skip town, today," knowing full well this White guy is rotten. But Mike's already in too deep, and it is not going to end well for him, especially if Gus's broken picture frame has anything to do with it, and I'm sure it will.

Walt's proclivity for self-destruction is exemplified perfectly in the electromagnet scene (posted below), when he (of course) decides to crank the amperage to maximize the likelihood that the hard drive will get wiped, making the box truck topple into the evidence building and putting Jesse and himself directly in danger. Of course, with Mike around, they're able to get away unscathed (for now), and Walt's new level of hubris makes itself painfully apparent when Mike asks how they can be sure the plan worked: "Because I say so." This isn't Walt saying something like this to pump himself up and convince himself it's true (a la "I am the one who knocks."); Cranston's delivery is almost flippant, making it clear that when Walter White is truly comfortable with the level of power he now has, he doesn't need gravelly-voiced machismo to sell it. He seems amused, which is far more terrifying than he ever was before Gus's death. Walt doesn't have to fake it 'til he makes it: he has arrived.

And of course, there's Ted Beneke to consider. I suppose I should have known that without seeing a body in a coffin that then closes and goes into the ground in one shot, there's no guarantee of a character's death on any television show, but I was quite sure that Ted had gone the way of Lindus from Terriers. It seems as though I was incorrect, and Gilligan and Co. aren't quite done with Ted. I'm certainly curious about this decision; perhaps Beneke, despite claiming that he's going to keep his mouth shut, could be the guy to unravel Walt's meth business, intentionally or not, directly or not. It's more likely that Walt, now knowing what he does about the situation, is going to give Ted the dirt nap I suspected he was taking all along, and in doing so yet again leaving more problems to be solved.

Finally, Anna Gunn's portrayal of Skyler has made a subtle but significant shift. We have grown accustomed to seeing Skyler act by turns distant, skeptical, spiteful and angry with Walt, at times unrelentingly (and perhaps cruelly) so. But Walt's new freedom seems to have come at the cost of Skyler's. In Gunn’s spot-on portrayal, Skyler now acts like an abused animal, trapped in a cage partially of her own making, with no escape possible. She slinks around, defeated, and speaks to Walt only when spoken to. Her knowledge of Walt's hand in Gus's death has shaken her to her core, but not as much as the knowledge that she essentially drove Walt to it by giving all of their potential escape money to Ted. Skyler hasn't always been the most sympathetic character, and her involvement with Beneke's cooked books has essentially brought the White family back to square one, financially. But now it seems she has broken under the combination of her psychic guilt at her own complicity and her fear of the husband she thought she knew until recently. Gunn’s performance stands out painfully against Cranston's portrayal of Walt’s overconfidence and obliviousness to Skyler's fragile mental state. In the scene below, Walt tells Skyler he forgives her for the Ted situation, replaying a familiar trope: Walt needs to use Skyler as an emotional punching bag, because if he has nobody to demonize, he's forced to look inward and come to grips with the monster he's created in himself. The hug at the end is so unnatural, I could barely watch. Barely.

Dave Bunting is the co-owner (with his sister and fellow Press Play contributor, Sarah D. Bunting) of King Killer Studios, a popular music rehearsal and performance space in Gowanus, Brooklyn. He plays guitar and sings in his band, The Stink, and dabbles in photography, video editing, french press coffee, and real estate. Dave lives in Brooklyn with his wife, son, and sister.

VIDEO ESSAY: From Mr. Chips to Scarface: The Evolution of Walter White

VIDEO ESSAY: From Mr. Chips to Scarface: The Evolution of Walter White

"Walter's a shithead!"

I had just walked in the door to the family home in Forestville, California. My dad had just finished the second season of Breaking Bad, specifically the episode "Phoenix," in which Walter (Bryan Cranston) passively allows Jesse's heroin-addicted blackmailing girlfriend Jane (Krysten Ritter) to choke to death on her own vomit. "I mean, he just stood there and let her die. He cried at the end, but still," my dad recounted, disgusted and amazed at the same time. Now, understand that my father is a pacifist hippie who would rather laugh than cry and much prefers Californication over Mad Men (which I give him slack for every minute I can—including while I’m writing this), but I'm sure other viewers have had a similar reaction to Walt's progression from a bumbling schoolteacher who doesn’t know where the safety tab on a gun is located to a meth kingpin, and the collateral damage in between.

Personally, I had an opposite reaction to my father’s: I feel that the show is at its strongest when it exposes the moral gray matter of Walt's decisions. Like AMC's other headliner show Mad Men, Breaking Bad doesn't excuse its protagonist's behavior like so many other shows do ad nauseum, as it reinforces and even underlines his vulnerabilities, and it boldly forgoes the safety net of having a sex symbol as a leading man. Gone are the excuses that he needs money for chemotherapy and his family. Walt has worked his way up, from Mr. Chips to Scarface, as Vince Gilligan likes to say, but now more than ever, there's nowhere to go but down. All we can do is look at him with some amount of disgust at his actions—and with amazement at how far the show has come.

Serena Bramble is a rookie film editor whose montage skills are an end result of accumulated years of movie-watching and loving. Serena is currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Teledramatic Arts and Technology from Cal State Monterey Bay. In addition to editing, she also writes on her blog Brief Encounters of the Cinematic Kind.