“Madrigal” (05.02, 2012)
Written by Vince Gilligan (Previous Episodes: “Pilot,” “Cat’s in the Bag,” “…And the Bag’s in the River,” “Cancer Man,” “Peekaboo,” “ABQ,” “No Más,” “Full Measure,” “Box Cutter,” “Face Off,” and “Live Free or Die”)
Directed by Michelle MacLaren (Previous Episodes: “4 Days Out,” “I.F.T.,” “One Minute,” “Abiquiu,” “Thirty-Eight Snub,” “Shotgun,” and “Salud”)
Breaking Bad continues to clean up the last season, explaining that Hule indeed took the cigarette from Jesse in Saul’s office and having Heisenberg assuage Jesse’s worried mind about the cigarette by “finding” it in Jesse’s Roomba. It’s an explanation we didn’t really need and the resolution is a bit difficult to swallow, but it does emphasize what these characters have become. While Jesse would definitely have questioned Heisenberg finding the cigarette someplace he had already looked near the end of last season, he now accepts it. Where Walter White in the past would not have known what to do about Jesse’s breakdown after finding the cigarette, Heisenberg now knows to let Jesse feel that self-loathing while half-heartedly trying to calm him down, ensuring that Jesse will not again become as self-assured as he once was while working for Gus Fring. Aaron Paul also gets a great showcase for his talents, as he responds to the discovery of the cigarette not with relief or elation but a complete breakdown, thinking that he lost the cigarette and could have killed someone out of simple carelessness.
Meanwhile, the show again contrives a way to force Mike into working with Heisenberg. Heisenberg, having spent every dime of his money, wants back into the meth business and it’s sensible enough that he would turn to Mike, a seasoned distribution operative, for aid. However, Mike rightly turns his offer of partnership down, stating to Heisenberg that he is a “time bomb” and that he’s sorry that Jesse doesn’t see it. So, Vince Gilligan gives us a group of guys who could spill the beans on the whole operation unless Mike either silences them or pays them off and then has the DEA take away all of the money Gus had stashed away for Mike. It’s rather contrived, but it enforces one of the show’s themes: that crime never really does pay, since there are always new expenses popping up. It’s a bit inelegant by this show’s standards, but it still works.
The other interesting development in this episode is the introduction of Lydia, the nervous Madrigal executive and methylamine provider who asks Mike to silence his operatives and when he refuses contracts someone else to kill them as well as Mike himself. She appears to be a loose cannon similar to Heisenberg, but Mike’s need for money forces him into business with both her and Heisenberg. Mike is clearly uncomfortable with this arrangement, but sees it as necessary, so he makes the arrangements, giving himself as much control as possible and keeping the two radical elements at arm’s length. It seems that Mike is signing his death warrant, and he knows it.
Visually, Michelle MacLaren has long been one of the show’s stronger directors, and this one didn’t disappoint. It’s a beautiful episode, with rich, strong colors and the typical, bordering-on-overused Breaking Bad musical montages. I don’t know how much of the improved visuals is because of MacLaren and how much is because of having Michael Slovis back to cinematography, but it looks better than when he directed the first episode.