Breaking Bad: A Madrigal to Mike Ehrmantraut
Over the week we learned Breaking Bad received a measly 13 Emmy nominations, including Best Drama, Lead Actor and Supporting Actress, and Best Supporting Actor nods for both Aaron Paul and Giancarlo Esposito. Altogether, AMC is the most nominated basic cable network for the 5th year in a row. I say “measly” because come on, we all know after that INSANE 4th season BB deserved to just be nominated in EVERYTHING. Most notably – where was the Emmy nod for Jonathan Banks? Perhaps he didn’t have as much screen time as his counterpart Gus Fring, but damn if Mike didn’t make it up by sheer force of badassery.
Sorry. Moving on – we open with the very creepy Peter Schuler taste testing sauces with what kind of looks like Popplers but are probably chicken nuggets. I don’t know if a man has ever made nuggets look more unappetizing than they already are, though I’m hard at work at my own special recipe for “Franch” dressing. This disgusting display of mastication—I personally engage in a mostly liquid diet consisting of Scottish Diva and the occasional Naked Juice (you know, for vitamins and shit) due to my refusal of all solid foods unless they’re first chewed up by the illustrious Sid Pink and fed to me baby-bird style— thankfully gets interrupted when three officers show up to question him. A sign above Schuler shows us he’s at Madrigal Elektromoteren, the shady umbrella corporation behind Pollos Hermanos (which is having their sign removed from Madrigal’s hallway as Schuler walks underneath it).
He approaches his office and sees them waiting – one of the officers notices a photo on the wall of Schuler with his arm around Gus, playing golf and smiling. He bypasses the office and heads for the restroom, grabbing an AED case on the way. Locking the door against a frantic secretary, he attaches one pad of the defibrillator to his chest, pulls the pad off the other and puts the naked wire in his mouth, then electrocutes himself to death. That part was kind of awesome.
After the title credits, Jesse is still worried about where the Risin is – scared it could fall into the hands of a child. Walt tries to placate him by telling him it must’ve fallen out of his pocket somewhere, trying to make him believe it’s not a big deal. But Jesse won’t be convinced. As this conversation is heard by us at home in voice-over, we see Walt empty some salt into another vial identical to the one the Risin was in and duplicate the fake cigarette that hid original vial. He then hides the real vial behind an outlet at his house.
He goes to Jesse’s and slips the hot cigarette into the Roomba when Jesse’s not looking then encourages him to check it again. When it topples out Walt grabs it and flushes it down the toilet, “What luck!” Jesse begins to sob (Aaron Paul’s working hard for that Emmy), ripping himself up for thinking Walt had poisoned Brock and almost shooting him. Walt masterfully continues manipulating him, telling him it’s okay – working together saved each other’s lives. He wants him to think of that as they go forward. “Go forward where?” And THAT’s the cue for Walter’s new plan for world domination!
I titled the incredible example of literary prowess you’re currently reading a “Madrigal to Mike” because despite the creepy opening and weird father-son dynamic we see in Walt and Jesse, this week belonged to my favorite hitman, Mike Ehrmantraut. We learn a lot about one of my favorite TV characters this week – what motivates him, what makes him tick, and how far he’s willing to go (or not go) to save his own ass. Walt and Jesse show up at his place to propose a three-way split to begin business again. He turns them down and Walter asks him to try and leave emotions out of his decision. “I am,” he says, “You. Are. Trouble. I’m sorry the kid here doesn’t see it, but I sure as hell do. You are a time bomb, tick, tick, ticking. And I have no intention of being around for the boom.” Walt asks him to sleep on it and reconsider but admits they’ll press on without him if they have to.
Hank arrives at the DEA and meets Gomez, there are two US attorneys and a legal team from Madrigal waiting to speak to him – suddenly Hank’s having trouble walking again, despite being so nimble last week going up and down a ladder. Maybe it’s because he’s trying to go without the cane, maybe I’m just a picky bitch that notices too much when I watch TV.
The owner of Madrigal tells them how shocked he is to learn that Schuler was helping Gus make drugs, it appears he’s going to throw as much of the blame on Schuler as possible but he’s not only got a creepy accent, he’s also dressed in black, and if that’s not a “bad guy” equation I don’t know what is. Back in his office, Merkert packs up after being unceremoniously “retired” and apologizes to Hank for not believing him when he first presented him with a link between Gus, Heisenberg and Madrigal. He asks about the laptop which was ruined in the magnet attempt, but Hank says he snuck a peek when they found it and saw it was highly encrypted, doubting if they’d have gotten much from it anyway.
They’re still not sure who exactly killed Fring – they know it was Hector, but can’t figure out who gave him the bomb. Merkert remembers a time he had Gus over for the 4th of July – he still makes sea bass the way Gus showed him to. They laughed, drank, played with his kids, but he was “someone else completely, right in front of me. Right under my nose.” I mention this conversation because as he’s saying it, there’s a pointed focus on Hank’s face – it’s only a matter of time before Hank’s dogged persistence is going to lead him to the real Heisenberg, and when it does he’s going to wrestle with conflicting emotions similar to Merkert’s.
Mike’s sipping coffee at his fave diner when a mysterious and high-strung woman hurries in and sits in the booth behind him. For a second I thought Mumsy had fucked her way into a cameo, but it’s the same lawyer that was sitting in on the Madrigal meeting. After a hilariously awkward exchange with both the waitress and Mike, Lydia (Laura Fraser – Lip Service, A Knight’s Tale) hands him a list of 11 names, men on Gus’ payroll who she believes can ruin them both. He asks where she’s going with this, and she tells him that all it takes is for one of them to get picked up and talk to the police. He asks if she wants him to kill every man on that list, not liking her train of thought – she deflects, but yeah, that’s what she wants.
Back at Walt’s he’s playing doting dad, getting the kids breakfast. Walt Jr. leaves for school, and he goes to see Skyler who’s still in bed. He coaxes her out, trying to help her, or lead her around like some kind of doll, but she pulls away from his touch – that moment between them is incredibly telling. Walt seems to be trying to control her now like a doll – a shell of the woman he still wants to prop up as his wife. I wonder if he feels guilty for the impact his actions have had on her life? How long before Skyler’s fear turns into disgust and she bolts?
Mike arrives at the DEA for questioning and bumps into Chow, owner of the Laundromat, who looks scared and eyes Mike warily as he leaves. Gomez and Hank question him about his role at Pollos Hermanos. Mike has an answer for everything but Hank still gets the upper hand in the end. It’s like you don’t know who to root for – well I do, I root for Mike because Hank annoys me – but still, these two squaring off is pretty awesome to behold. Mike makes to leave as he’s not under arrest and Hank stops him by revealing what I suspected last week when we saw the corner of that envelope with the Cayman return address – Gus had several offshore accounts, in 12 people’s names, all the others were in the name of the individual and will be confiscated but there’s no account under Mike’s name, there is one under the name of his granddaughter, Kaylee. If he agrees to testify they might let Kaylee keep some of it. Mike never loses his cool – telling them he has no idea what they’re talking about. But when he turns to leave you can see on his face how furious he is. Here’s where I’m in love with Jonathan Banks: that man does more with his eyes and his face than almost anyone else on the show, save for Cranston. With just a look – be it a grimace or a cool, unwavering gaze – he speaks volumes without having to actually say anything at all.
At Saul’s, Walt and Jesse are discussing how to get back in the game. They toss around ideas of finding a suitable cook site and where to get their hands on methylamine when Saul tries to interject that it may be time for them to move on with their lives. They got out of this situation alive; they may want to give it up. Walt tells him he’s broke – he’s $40k in the hole counting what he owes Jesse. How is he supposed to give up now?
Mike is playing “Hungry Hungry Hippos” with his granddaughter Kaylee (best game ever because you can play it in any state of inebriation) when his phone rings. It’s Chow, he’s worried because the DEA wants him back in their office. He’s upset because they took all of his money. He asks Mike to come over to speak with him and Mike says he’ll be there in two hours.
Chow hangs up and the shot widens to reveal a man standing over him with a gun. When he pulls up to Chow’s and looks around he’s instantly suspicious. The man on the other side of the door puts the silencer up to the peephole but hears odd noises so he looks outside to see one of Kaylee’s toys strung up at eye level. Just then Mike appears behind him, trains a gun on him (also with a silencer) and tells “Chris” to drop his gun and turn around slowly. Chris drops the gun and Mike tells him to go sit next to Chow, who’s now got a nice hole in his head. Mike asks him how much she’s paying him and how far down the list he’s gotten. Chris tells him it was $10k per name, and that Chow was the first – but for Mike she was willing to pay $30k. Chris apologizes, saying he just really needed the money as the DEA took all of his. Mike replies that he knows, and asks if he’s ready. Chris attempts to explain, but Mike shoots him several times before he finishes.
Mike makes his way to Lydia’s to kill her, but after she pleads successfully for her life, he spares her in exchange for making her get methylamine for them. When he leaves he calls Walt and tells him he’s changed his mind and wants in. Now that the DEA took away his money he’s going to have to get back in the game if he wants to recoup any of his savings for Kaylee’s future.
Walt looks mighty pleased with himself when he hangs up and gets into bed with a scared shitless Skyler. It doesn’t look like she’s gotten out of bed since that morning, other than to change her shirt. He tells her that it gets easier: “What you’re feeling right now, about Ted, everything – it’ll pass.” He kisses her and she flinches. He starts to roll over, but then turns towards her again, kissing and stroking her as she lays frozen and wide-eyed. He begins to grope her breast while assuring her that they have nothing to worry about, because they’re doing this for good reasons – for family. “There’s no better reason than family.” If the Godfather theme had started playing right then I wouldn’t have been surprised at all.