Written by Frazier Tharpe (@The_SummerMan)
Whereas most serialized dramas crumble under the weight of the best-laid plans, Breaking Bad has succeeded thus far in large part because creator Vince Gilligan and his team have skillfully been able to combine the pieces that are already on the board into a plot more entertaining than they could have planned at the outset.
Raymond Cruz's The Closer commitment conflicts with the shooting schedule? R.I.P. Tuco, enter Gus Fring. The Cousins aren't a strong enough villain to fill an entire season? Well then, make Gus an antagonist. Every problem has resulted in a beautiful consolation.
So now, with the story calling for Gus's demise, it seems like the final season will see our main man Mike (Jonathan Banks) gain an even more prominent role, and if tonight's "Madrigal" is an indication of what's in store, then we just got even more excited for the series' final run.
Let that boy cook
There was a time when Walter White (Bryan Cranston) was able to rationalize his drug operation as a necessary, even noble, evil to secure his family in the event of his imminent death. Fast forward four seasons, and a mere year in series time, and his cancer is in remission, he owns a moderately successful car business, and he's no longer a glorified employee facing the threat of death lest he cook. He's finally a free man, with a brighter future than he's had in months. And when Saul (Bob Odenkirk) asks him why he still wants to cook, he proclaims "There's gold in the streets."
The rot has set and the chem teacher is on indefinite sabbatical: Heisenberg is in the house. Similar to soon-to-be retired DEA ASAC Merkert's horrified reflection on how close he was to Gus Fring versus how little he really knew him, the closest Walt is to his old self is the veneer he puts on for the public. Underneath he has become a cold monster, one who doesn't understand that Skyler (Anna Gunn) isn't simply feeling guilty because of Ted, or why Jesse (Aaron Paul) so desperately needs to find the ricin cigarette.
The Fring Fallout
Skyler and Saul are starting to see Walt for what he truly is, but much to Mike's paternal disappointment, Jesse Pinkman remains blinded, even as he falls victim to one of "Mr. White's" manipulations yet again. He's down to keep cooking, but Mike has had enough of the drama that comes from working with Walter White.
At least, until the next day changes his situation. This week, the scope widens to show us Madrigal, the conglomerate responsible for funding Los Pollos Hermanos. The suicide of the head of the restaurant division only confirms DEA suspicion that key members of the board were equally complicit in Gus' meth operation. Sure enough, after a meeting at DEA HQ, one of the women, Lydia (Laura Fraser), schedules a clandestine meeting with Mike to discuss the fallout from Gus' death.
It only takes a couple of minutes for Lydia to establish herself as a nervous, twitchy, self-possessed nutjob, the absolute worst personality you'd want your cohort in an illegal operation to possess. She doesn't know of Walt or Jesse, nor does she even know why Gus died, but Herr Schuler's suicide has motivated her to cover her own ass before the other shoe has a chance to drop.
She's got a list of the 11 (to start with) people who could do devastating damage should they roll over, and she wants Mike to Collateral them all before Hank (Dean Norris) gets to them. But Gus, ever the master planner, had an iron-clad contingency in place: In the event of his death, each person is to be handsomely compensated to the point that they'd tell the DEA and anyone else asking questions to go fuck themselves.
"It's Mr. Ehrmantraut"
It was a sound prevention method, but as Mike learns during a fantastic verbal cage match with Hank, last week's Great Magnet Wipe had consequences. Hank has leads to all of Gus' Cayman accounts and other money trails, and is promptly seizing all of the retirement funds and the unrest is settling in amongst Team Fring, Mike included.
As expected, Lydia goes forward with her hit-list with Mike now on it, but of course there's no way he's going to let his own guys get the better of him. (We're pretty sure Mike is just an older Vic Mackey with a new name.) After he masterfully takes control of an attempted setup at the house of Chow, the chemical supplier, he goes after Lydia.
Before he completes the hit, Lydia's fearful concern for her daughter's future dovetails with his own desire to ensure his loving granddaughter's, and Mike experiences a lapse in judgment he will surely regret in the near future. After all, as Walter eerily tells Skyler in the episode's final scene, "Family is the best reason." Lydia can supply the precursor Walt so desperately needs to resume cooking, which in turn can start refilling the hole left by the DEA's money seizures. Walt already attracts enough trouble, and now paranoid Lydia is in the mix? This won't end well.
Things to Consider
-Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte) Breakfast Report: Raisin Bran Crunch with a cup of coffee.
-Thank God Mike didn't die. The Chow setup was touch-and-go at first, and a less realistic series might've had Lydia somehow gain the upper hand later at her house.
-This week in the Walter White Ripple Effect and Oblique Teaser departments: Herr Schuler, a key Madrigal component in the Fring operation, commits suicide. After silently taste-testing "Franch" dressing and other new sauce inventions, much to the unease of his employees. Speaking of Madrigal, did the conspiracy stop with Pollos, Schuler, and Lydia or is the whole company up to no good? Does Whiskerstays conceal a regional coke operation?
-We get it, Walt is eeeeeevil now. But two creepy closers in a row is laying it on a bit thicker than this show usually operates. Skyler is having her "So I married a meth kingpin" moment but surely there's a way to show her growing terror and discomfort in a subtler manner than that highly uncomfortable final scene.
-By Roger Ebert's law of Chekov's Gun, the continued existence of the ricin cigarette dictates that it will come into play sooner or later.
-Lydia's introduction scene at the diner and Mike's refusal to entertain her ridiculous attempts at being covert, was hilarious.
-Jesse refers to the RV and original meth lab as the "Crystal Ship."
-Future Theory: Did Walter obtain a Nebraska ID from Saul's last-resort, WitPro contact?
Written by Frazier Tharpe (@The_SummerMan)