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'Breaking Bad' recap: Way down in the hole

July 23, 2012|By Todd VanDerWerff
  • Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is forced to make a fake ricin capsule with salt.
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is forced to make a fake ricin capsule with… (AMC )

Two seasons ago on “Breaking Bad,” Mike gave Walter a test, and Walter failed that test. The test was this: Jesse had gone off-course and had to be dealt with. It was up to Walter to deal with his partner and protégé, or at least get out of the way so Mike and Gus could handle the situation. As we now know, Walter didn’t do it, couldn’t bring himself to do it. Jesse was too important to him for reasons he perhaps didn’t precisely understand. And now, even with Jesse’s raw anger at Walter from last season, the bond between the two seems stronger than ever. Yet Mike seems to be the only person who sees Walter clearly. (Well, the only person who sees him clearly who isn’t confined to a bed from her own sheer horror.) And Mike doesn’t want to be anywhere near Walter or his new “organization.”

The problem is that Mike’s backed into a corner. The DEA is closing in fast, and they’ve already discovered the assorted bank accounts Gus set up for his most important employees, the ones in the Caymans that were meant to pay off those men notto talk. Now that they’ve been discovered, those men are panicking, as is a woman named Lydia, who’s affiliated with a company named Madrigal, which turns out to be the German owner of Los Pollos Hermanos. By removing Gus, Walter has opened cans of worms all over the place, cans that Gus kept neatly sealed up. There’s nowhere else for Mike to turn but to Walter. It’s the only way he might find a way out of this mess, even if he knows he’s just as likely to die or land in prison with Walter as he is without the man. If there’s an escape route, it goes straight through the man Mike described as a “time bomb.”

One of the best things about “Breaking Bad” in its later seasons is also one of the things that has slowly tugged it further and further away from the smaller, more domestic series it was in the beginning. The longer the show runs, the further it pulls away from the laser-sharp focus it had in those days, and the more it shows just how deep the pit Walter chose to dive into goes. When he made his decision to start cooking meth, it was one thing, but the more he decided to rise up through the power structure of the local drug trade, the bigger and bigger the people he came into contact with became.

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Madrigal protests its innocence in the case of Peter Schuler, the man who was apparently funding Gus’ operation, but it’s hard to believe nobody at the company knew what Schuler was up to. Look at how Lydia has her freak-out in the little diner where she meets Mike. These people could bring Madrigal down, and Madrigal would do just about anything to avoid that fate, as we can see from the way Lydia hires someone to kill the names on a list she’s compiled of people who know too much. (Those names turn out to be attached to Gus’ Cayman accounts, so the DEA knows about them already.) Mike passes on the job and tries to dissuade her, but she’s certain enough of this course to continue along it with a hit man who’s less capable than Mike. Mike, of course, takes that hit man out, then seemingly takes the battle to Lydia, before asking if she can still get hold of the chemical Walter needs to get back to cooking, thus consigning the both of them to having to work with Walter White, time bomb in training.

This is perhaps the series’ first truly Mike-centric episode, and it’s a great showcase for Jonathan Banks, who’s been turning in terrific work as the grizzled old “cleaner,” a role that started as a tiny guest spot, then expanded outward for obvious reason. What’s great about “Madrigal” is that Mike’s actions require a little parsing and leave plenty of room for ambiguity. It’s clear that the primary thing driving him is his love for his granddaughter Kaylee, and he spares Lydia’s life only after she brings up her own daughter. Yet at the same time, if Kaylee really were his primary concern, why wouldn’t he immediately flip to the DEA? He almost wouldn’t even have to turn on the other guys in the organization. He could turn over Walter—someone he has no love for—and that would go a long way. (Remember: The DEA is looking specifically for Gus’ “chemist.”) Yet his devotion to the organization and his hatred of the law enforcement agencies trying to shut it down outweigh his concerns for Kaylee. Maybe she’ll never get the money Gus set aside in her name, but maybe he can make even more with Walter. It’s a tricky transition—and one that could have been hard to pull off over the course of a single episode—but Banks and the show’s writers find a way to make it work.

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