The second episode of Breaking Bad marked a distinctive shift from the heisty shenanigans of the season premiere. “Madrigal” set a leisurely pace right from the cold open, which suddenly sent the viewer to a sauce-flavoring taste-test in Germany. From there, “Madrigal” focused mainly on Mike, the brutal badass-with-a-heart-of-gold (at least with regards to his granddaughter). We talked to Breaking Bad showrunner Vince Gilligan about the evolution of Mike, why Walt still wants more money, and last night’s cameo by Humphrey Bogart. (Read Ken Tucker’s review of “Madrigal” here.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The show has had some pretty unexpected opening sequences in the past, but I’m having trouble remembering anything as out there this week’s taste-test in Germany.
VINCE GILLIGAN: We always like to surprise our viewers, and the idea of suddenly opening in Germany seemed like fun. We also wanted to start showing you the business of Madrigal, the company that financed Gus Fring. Is Madrigal all corrupt? Or was it just a couple of executives?
The way that Schuler kills himself, with all the precise movements inside of the bathroom, reminds me of that moment last season when Gus went into the toilet to vomit out the poisoned tequila.
Interesting! I had not heard that before. I suppose the two men are similar in that they are both very economical: They do not waste any movements. But that was not intentional, that resonance.
I want to talk a little bit about Mike, who we saw a lot of in this episode. He’s evolved so much from when he just seemed like a Gus Fring heavy back in season 2.
It’s a testament to the great actors on this show — Aaron Paul, Dean Norris who plays Hank — that those characters became more important over time. Jonathan Banks is just fantastic in the role.
When Jonathan Banks looks at you in real life, do you get the sense that he’s staring directly into your soul?
Jonathan Banks in real life is, like Giancarlo Esposito, nothing like his character. He’s a very nice man. I will say, though, that there’s this thing he always says to me: “I’m gonna punch you right in the heart.”
I believe that Mike was watching The Caine Mutiny on television. Is that a bit of foreshadowing? Certainly, the image of Humphrey Bogart’s Captain Queeg insisting that nothing is wrong while the ship is tossed around in a hurricane seems like it could apply to Walt.
That is The Caine Mutiny, one of my very favorite movies. I was very lucky with that, actually, because it can be very expensive to use clips of movies, which is why you don’t see too many clips on the show. But Caine Mutiny is owned by Sony/Columbia, our parent company. And yes, it may have some connection to where Walt is at this point.
Are you a big Humphrey Bogart fan?
Oh, yes. Wish I could have met him.
What are your favorite Bogart movies?
The Big Sleep and Casablanca, and The Maltese Falcon. High Sierra. Oh, and Treasure of the Sierra Madre!
I always enjoy how Walter approaches the drug trade in strict business sense, using terms like “distribution.” Even his pitch to Mike is very business-y — “We’ll be owners, not employees.” Can Breaking Bad be read as a portrait of an American businessman?
Absolutely. One of the main ways we view the show is as a portrait of decay. Walt in particular right now thinks that his business is expanding, but he’s also decaying before our eyes — certainly morally.
There is that great part of the episode when he notes that he’s 40 thousand dollars in the hole, after four seasons and every bad thing he’s done.
I think that Walt actually likes being 40 thousand dollars in the hole, because it gives him an excuse to keep cooking. The irony is that his family is now set up with a car wash business that is very lucrative and could be paying for everything. They could have a very good life with the car wash. But Walt wants the “fat stacks,” as Jesse describes it. That’s how he measures his success.
This is getting a bit grand-scheme, but in your view, was Walt always someone who wanted the fat stacks? Or was he a normal guy who got a taste of the good life and then wanted more?
It’s a little bit like what they say about Hollywood success. It doesn’t make you a bad person; it just accentuates the bad parts of your personality, the parts that maybe you had to keep hidden before you were famous.
Based on Jesse’s reference to “The Crystal Ship,” can I assume that someone in the writers’ room is a Doors fan?
Well, I don’t think anybody is at the point of putting up posters. But who isn’t a Doors fan?
Because Hank stressed Mike’s last name so much, I looked up the etymology of “Ehrmantraut.” It apparently means something along the lines of “all-encompassing strength.” Thoughts?
Really! Well, I have to admit that, despite all the German in this episode, I don’t speak a word of it. We have very talented translators who took what I wrote and translated it into German for the opening sequence. That name is actually the last name of a friend of my girlfriend Holly. I like to put in the names of people I know into the show, sometimes.
How many times have you put in names of acquaintances into your show?
Well, the neighbor in last season’s finale — who Walter sends in to “check on his stove,” who he’s basically willing to sacrifice — was named Becky Simmons, after a friend of my girlfriend. And she was played by my mom.
So in a sense you were willing to send your mom into an exploding house. What’s going on with that?
You know, I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me about that!
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