Prior episodes have insinuated that a larger German conglomerate is actually the primary heavyweight in the Los Pollos Hermanos drug empire. Madrigal Electromotive, finally introduced in the beginning of this episode, had managed to remain elusive for quite sometime. But with Hank and company making some serious progress along the Gus Fring money trail, it seems as if the walls our meth friends have been previously hiding behind are becoming more and more scarce.
The word “Madrigal” is derived from the latin word for womb, and is defined as “a part-song for several voices typically arranged in elaborate counterpoint without instrumental accompaniment.” The title is brilliantly fitting for this particular episode, which essentially features three of the shows biggest guns (Walt, Hank, and Mike) loosely going at each other, themselves, and some sort of larger mission that will likely be masterfully connected later on in the season. "Madrigal" then, wasn’t so much multi-layered as it was multi-competitive. It almost felt like Walt, Mike, and Hank were all competing to be the episode’s main focus. With that in mind, it might be more useful to recap the performances of these three go gettaz indepedently:
Walt: The early stages of the episode featured one of those vintage Walt and Jesse “we’re the dopest odd couple” moments, only the task is compromised by the fact that Walt (being the one that stole Jesse’s death stick in the first place) staged the entire house search. Meaning that what has always developed organically--those random moments that Walt and Jesse have come together by accomplishing a common goal, however arbitrary --was in this instance completely manufactured by the scheming Heisenberg. Upon finding the poison cigarette, Aaron Paul takes a nice moment to show the world why he was nominated for an Emmy, breaking down completely in the face of his own relief. The rare moment of Pinkman vulnerability was a pretty solid contrast to what now seems to be an emotionless Heisenberg. As Jesse gains compassion, Walt appears to lose the majority of his.
We’re then brought to the Vince Gilligan’s version of the Yalta Conference. The increasingly power-hungry Heisenberg, backed by his momentary lapdog in Jesse, proposes a partnership to Mike that would make each of them more ca$h money (and power) than they enjoyed under the Fring Dynasty. Mike, skeptical of Walt's ability to remain a stable human being, tells him that he’s a “time bomb tick, ticking away,” and that he wants no part in being there when the jig inevitably explodes in his face. Walt reacts to Mike’s refusal unflinchingly, which was almost identical his reaction to Saul’s suggestion later in the episode, when the green chile lawyer likens Walt and Jesse's previous success to winning the lottery. Walt, ostensibly insulted, challenges Saul by asking him “what lottery did I win exactly.” Luck plays no part in Heisenberg’s scientific method, leading us to believe that Walt may very well think he’s invincible. Cancer does that to a guy, I guess.
Hank: Hank quietly emerges as the episode’s glue. His persistent pursuit of the Fring money trail leads us to the first face to face encounter between him and Mike, resulting in one of the series’ biggest and best boxing matches thus far. Two giant egos trying to outdo each other punch after punch, with both of them not bothering to hide their Mayweather-esque “I got this” presumed victory gloat. Hank ends up the winner in this particular round, as his $2 million gut-punch seems to rattle the otherwise unshakeable Ehrmantraut.
The pairing of these two egos--both of whom are aspiring to something greater in this f*cked up chain reaction set off by a chemistry teacher who just wanted to not die a complete and utter loser--is likely only the first in a series of head-to-head battles for the ages. All in all, a nice preview to the inevitable mano-e-mano between Hank and his brother-in-law. More on that later.
Mike: If Mike wasn’t such a soulless freakazoid (and likely cousin of the Grim Reaper), he’d be a tremendous spokesperson for some sort of life insurance company. Lack of personality aside, the dude is more solid than the iceberg that hooked up with the Titanic. Yet in an episode where Jonathan Banks' character got to show off some uncharacteristic range, we were also introduced to some layers of Mike previously unknown.
His relationship with Madrigal and the panicky Lydia, although dominated by his consistent tendency to always be one step ahead, also provided us with an unexpected "Mike is human!" moment towards the end of the episode. Holding a gun to Lydia, perhaps he realized that the usual solution--an obligatory killing spree--was more senseless than partnering up with Walt the mad scientist. Mike's world is crumbling around him on all sides, and he knows that sooner or later he's gonna have to shelter in a house he really doesn’t want to hang out in. Walt and his meth partnership, which Mike decides to join at the episode's conlcusion, may just be the lesser of two evils.
In sum: The main focus of the hour--Madrigal and the ensuing collateral--will likely take a few more episodes to fully grasp. In an episode filled with brilliant scenes, perhaps the most brilliant of all was the moment shared between Hank and ASAC Merkert, during which Hank’s boss recounted how he grilled up mad Seabass with Gus Fring, who he had always valued as not just a friend, but a trusted companion who was overall a pretty good guy that probably didn't secretly run a giant meth lab. Merket seemed devastated and betrayed by the fact that Gus had deceived him “right under his nose.”
Hank meanwhile takes this all in, attention completely undivided. Foreshadowing much?
Jesse Pinkman “Bitch” Count: While he certainly let the other guys do the episode’s heavy lifting, is an absence of bitchery for an entire hour really possible?
Random Observation of the Night: Mike and his granddaughter playing Hungry Hungry Hippos. Great childhood game, or greatest childhood game?
Relationship To Watch: Walt vs. Family. One of the many ironies of the show is that after sacrificing so much for the good of his family, he’s actually ended up losing them. Walt Jr.’s brief cameo is riddled with the type of awkwardness that comes when realizing you no longer have anything in common with a once very close friend, and Skylar’s avoidance of Walt has reached some sort of deep-seated, zombie-induced depression. The tragedy of the whole story is that Walt, who has finally found a purpose in life, is unable to share his personal triumph with those who matter most. Meth then--the lab, the rush, and the relationships--are slowly becoming his new family.
Breaking Bad recaps will appear every Sunday, shortly following the week's episode. Catch up on previous recaps here