Evil is scariest when it’s totally mundane. At least, that’s true on Breaking Bad. This is, after all, a drama about a dangerous criminal mastermind who’s also a family man; who packs his brown bag lunch on the same countertop where he lines up his bullets; who used a common house plant to poison a little kid; whose sidekick wields his granddaughter’s wind-up toy as violently as a machine gun. As Skyler knows, there’s a real darkness in ordinary, everyday life, and it’s circling around everyone like Jesse’s Roomba.
If there’s a message here, it’s this: the drug trade isn’t just for Chilean kingpins and Mexican cartels. It gets us where we live. As Hank’s boss, George Merkert, would say, it’s right under our noses.
So it’s fitting that the biggest evil empire on this show, Madrigal Electromotive, runs the type of family-oriented fast food restaurants you see in every suburb. (Evil—it’s in your honey mustard! Your “Franch” dressing! Your Cajun kick-ass sauce!) Condiments are always a bad omen on Breaking Bad. Last season, Victor’s bloody death was followed by a shot of a ketchup-drenched plate at Denny’s. So when Madrigal’s own Herr Schuler samples the special sauce, assured that what he’s eating is “essentially just ketchup,” it’s already obvious that something is wrong, long before he kills himself. Poor guy. I don’t know what’s more humiliating: eating tater tots as your last meal, or having the toilet flush the moment you die.
It’s still unclear if Schuler was working alone, or if his crimes go all the way up the chain of command. But as his boss says, “An innocent man does not kill himself,” and either way, there’s potential for wide-ranging consequences here. When Schuler walks down the hall at Madrigal, the signs above his head show restaurants from around the world: Mexico (Los Pollos Hermanos), China (Haau Chuen Wok), Italy (Polmieii Pizzeria), and others. (Did anyone else catch the sign for Burger Matic, which is the name of the restaurant in Vince Gilligan’s 1998 movie Home Fries?) True, these signs might just be the hallmarks of an international company. But if the meth ring’s reach really does extend around the world, as these signs suggest, Walt might have more than just the Germans coming after him.
Some day, he knows, that leftover ricin might come in handy. So after taking the real ricin cigarette back from Saul in last week’s episode, Walt makes a fake one with a salt shaker and plants it in Jesse’s Roomba. This is an especially cruel move, even for Walt, who knows how hard Jesse will take this. Indeed, when Jesse finds the fake cigarette, he breaks down completely, feeling directly responsible for Gus Fring’s death, and giving us yet another heartbreaking performance from Aaron Paul. (Update: a few of you have mentioned in the comments that Jesse’s more upset that he almost killed Walt over the missing cigarette. Fair enough. I think he’s probably generally upset that he thinks he made a stupid mistake that had dire consequences.)
“What happened, happened for the best,” Walt assures him. “You and I working together, having each other’s back, is what saved our lives.” But that’s only true for Walt. And Jesse’s life might not be safe for long. Walt has hidden the real vial of ricin behind an electrical outlet, just in case. And if Jesse ever finds out that Walt poisoned Brock, he will need to use it.
Then again, Walt could easily get that ricin back into Skyler’s hands: as I mentioned in my recaps last season, she smokes when she’s stressed out, and that’s true now more than ever. She’s already starting to turn on Walt. We know that Walt’s not wearing a wedding ring in that flash-forward scene. Skyler could be in witness protection by then, or she could end up dead.
NEXT: Tick, tick, tick… BOOM!