Madrigal gets a whiff of impending disaster, while Walt can only smell success

By Melissa Maerz
July 23, 2012 at 06:00 AM EDT
Ursula Coyote/AMC
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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!

Obviously, there aren’t many people left who can trust Walt. It’s telling that when Walt and Jesse approach Mike about forming a three-way partnership, Mike is watching The Caine Mutiny—specifically, the scene where the first officer relieves the US Navy captain of his duties, because he’s not mentally fit to lead the rest of the ship. Could this be a little foreshadowing? Mike can certainly relate. Walt is crazier than ever, and Mike would turn Jesse against him if he could. ” You are a time bomb, tick tick ticking,” Mike tells Walt. “And I have no intention of being around for the boom.”

Watching Mike, you can just feel his exhaustion. If it wasn’t for Walt, he could retire somewhere across the border, and let his granddaughter’s wind-up pig roll around in the money he’s saved up. But right now, he needs to be careful. Hank knows that the offshore account in Mike’s granddaughter’s name had more money in it than anyone else’s. But Mike remains an absolute professional, with a deadpan response to every one of Hank’s question. “Drug empire? First I’m hearing about that.” “I don’t know anything about any money. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

No wonder he’s taken to calming his nerves with a beer and an Ensure chaser. In addition to the DEA, Mike has to handle Lydia, a Madrigal exec who’s also linked to Gus, and she isn’t the sharpest tool in that box-cutter set. She calls too much attention to herself, ordering bergamot tea with soy milk and Stevia at a diner, and insisting that Mike is really “Dwayne” when the waitress clearly knows his real name. But maybe she’s not as dumb as she looks. She knows it will be hard to convince Mike to kill the eleven names on her list of potential informers. (We can probably assume that Walt’s and Jesse’s names aren’t on the list because they were paid in cash, and Lydia says, “I never met your chemist.”) And after Mike turns her down, she convinces another one of her henchman to kill Mike. But thanks to his granddaughter’s toy pig, Mike survives—and heads back to Lydia’s house to get revenge.

I practically held my breath during the scene where Mike holds a gun to her head, not far from her daughter and the nanny. It says a lot about this woman that she’d rather let her daughter find her dead than think that she abandoned her. She’s very lucky that Mike lets her go. I know he loves his own granddaughter, so it would be hard for him to hurt another little girl. And I know Lydia can provide the methylamine that Jesse and Walt need. But why would Mike be so eager to go back into business with a guy he detests, especially now that the DEA will be trailing his every move?

Up until now, Mike has always had good instincts. But this is the first time I’ve wondered if they’re failing him. When he calls to tell Walt he’s reconsidered, Walt is washing the dishes. He’s back to playing the family man, cooking lasagna for his kids, snuggling up to his wife in bed. “We do what we do for good reasons,” he insists. “You’ve got nothing to worry about. There’s no better reason than family.” But her face looks terrified, and for good reason. Walt isn’t doing this for his family anymore at all.

Which leads me to one last thing: Hank is still part of his family. That’s something Walt seems to forget. And while Walt’s ascending to the top of his game, so is Hank. When Hank’s former boss, George Merkert, gives one last speech about Gus visiting his 4th of July party, let’s hope that Hank is listening. “Fring bought sea bass,” says George. “Every time I grill it now, I make a little foiled pouch, just like he showed me. The whole night we were laughing, telling stories drinking wine, he was somebody else completely. Right in front of me. Right under my nose.”

You know who else has been grilling with the enemy? Hank. And if he doesn’t look right under his nose soon, someone’s gonna be cooking his last meal with Cajun kick-ass sauce.

NEXT: A few final questions for you readers

Until next week, a few random observations:

—When Mike first arrives for questioning, Hank says, “Have a seat, Mr. Erhmantraut. Am I saying that right?” It’s not the first time we’ve heard Mike’s last name, but it seems that Hank is emphasizing it. Should we make anything of the fact that his surname is German? Is he more deeply connected with Madrigal than we thought? Or is Hank just giving the guy a hard time?

—Walt Jr. is eating breakfast again? When I saw that close-up of the Raisin Bran Crunch, I knew it was official: Vince Gilligan is messing with us.

—Walt and Jesse are looking for a place to cook. You know what would be convenient? The car wash.

—It looks like Walt and Jesse’s little magnet stunt could’ve been more trouble than it was worth. Hank admits of the laptop, “I sneaked a peak before APD took it out of Fring’s office. The whole thing was encrypted. I don’t think we would’ve got anything anyway.”

—Great lines from Hank (“Corporate security? What’s that, like guarding the special sauce?”), Mike (“There you go: breathe in, breathe out, drink your whatever”) and Saul (“You’re alive. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the Irish sweepstakes.”)

—The music that’s playing while Walt and Jesse look for the ricin cigarette is Whitey’s “Stay on the Outside.” Such a good song.

Okay, your turn. Favorite parts of the episode? Themes you noticed? Predictions for future episodes?

Episode Recaps

Walter White descends into the criminal underworld.
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