Breaking Bad: Fring Brought Sea Bass

Let’s settle in for our first legit in-depth episode discussion of the new season, as last week’s piece was more of a commentary on the state of Breaking Bad overall. My apologies for the late-in-the-week appearance of this review, but I was out of town, AND JUST GET OFF MY FUCKING BACK GODDAMNIT.

Anyway, sit back, relax, pour yourself a glass of Whistlepig, and discuss “Madrigal” with me.

No show has ever done the disconcerting, displacing cold open better than Breaking Bad. From Gale singing karaoke to Walter enjoying his Denny’s breakfast to the cousins crawling across the desert, Breaking Bad’s writers consistently display unparalleled expertise at opening scenes that make viewers wonder what the fuck is going on. Their best cold opens work as self-contained short stories, while also adding to the larger narrative of the episode or the season thematically or from a plot perspective.

And the first few minutes of “Madrigal” were tremendous fun, as we pieced together where we were, who we were with, and what was happening.

For a moment, I thought we were being introduced to a new supervillain for season five — a Breaking Bad version of Hans Gruber, an icy German version of Gus, but even more cunning, corporate and diabolical. Alas, it was not to be, as Faux Gruber was too depressed and distracted to even appreciate Franch dipping sauce before offing himself in a very modern European bathroom.

This vignette existed mostly for entertainment, as it didn’t do much to advance the story, other than to let us know that there are more threads for Hank and the DEA to follow, and that Gus’s drug cabal went much deeper than just Gus himself. I’m sure that the disgusting dipping sauces are also some sort of commentary on the American culture that allows Gus and Walter White to thrive while creating a drug for the besotted masses, but I don’t want to delve too deeply into that because mostly I just want to try some Franch.

Other than the cold open, though, the rest of of “Madrigal” felt a little perfunctory. It wasn’t a bad hour of television by any means, but this was the least impressed I’ve been by a Breaking Bad episode probably since season two. The stakes for the episode seemed particularly low, and most of the story seemed like the writers forcing themselves to show us to how the band gets back together, leading Walter to restart his cooking and dealing operation. There are probably interesting stories to be told about why Mike would come back to the fold, but this wasn’t one of them. “Madrigal” felt like an episode that had to be done before we get to the good stuff.

Now, part of that is probably necessary given the stunning, prolonged tension that drove seasons three and four. Following Gus’s death and the execution of Walter’s master plan, the show couldn’t keep building and building to infinity. There needs to be a time of lower stakes, of regrouping, of letting the viewers and characters catch their breath. I understand that, and I’m certainly willing to give Vince Gilligan a little rope at the beginning of this (kind of) final season. He’s earned it.

Plus, Jonathan Banks helped save this episode that otherwise might have felt dull. He infuses Mike with so much world-weariness, intelligence and even likability that his character’s increased involvement this season is a welcome change. It’s a credit to the writers that the series has expanded and populated its universe to the point that an episode can be this light on Walter and Jesse and still mostly work. (See also: Gus’s flashback episode last season.)

Still, this was a classic moving-the-pieces episode (of the kind that Lost bestowed upon us so often) in which little actually happened. And unfortunately, there wasn’t much character development either, aside from Mike. The moment in which Jesse broke down in tears was the most (and only) poignant beat in the episode.

The season premiere also had little to accomplish, story-wise, but hid that fact in an entertaining caper. “Madrigal” was not as successful in telling a self-contained story in an interesting way.

Metaphor Watch:

Early this season, Breaking Bad seems to be headed in the same direction as Mad Men did in their most recent season, making their metaphors, allusions and themes more obvious. (See, for example, the closeup on Hank’s face while his boss monologued about Gus being right under his nose the whole time, and he never even knew it.) Since we’re only two episodes in, that could be a fluke, but “Madrigal” gave us…

  • Hungry Hungry Hippos — certainly a nod to the savage, dog-eat-dog life Mike is trying to avoid being pulled back into.
  • Walter and the scales of justice — a couple camera shots in Saul’s office showed a cocky Walter backgrounded and the out-of-focus scales in front of him.

Who is the Cooler Roomba, DJ Roomba or Ricin Roomba?

DJ Roomba still holds the belt, but it’s close.

What’s Up With Hank’s Mineral Collection?

TBD.

Is Skyler Still the Worst?

Yes, Skyler is still the worst.

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Filed under Television Has AIDS, The Dilemma

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