By: Paul Andreacchi and Daniel Reynolds
As the final moments of this season’s first two episodes have confirmed, Walter White is no longer the moral center of Breaking Bad. Until Walt has an epiphany of some sorts, he remains a lost cause; a drug kingpin washing dishes in his sink with protective gloves. Many have argued that Jesse Pinkman has always been the moral center because he continues to actually ‘feel’. He feels guilt, remorse, shame and retains an emotional attachment to those around him, even those that have done him so wrong.
The first moments of ‘Madrigal’ gives the viewer the all too familiar scenario where Walt manipulates Jesse. Jesse’s instinct to accuse Walt of poisoning a child was indeed correct but he will never feel validation. Truthfully, the character of Jesse Pinkman as always sought validation. Whether from his parents, the ABQ drug scene, his ‘friends’, his surrogate father Walt, or even himself. Once again, it is his perceived closest ally and friend who denies him any sense of validation and emotional stability.
The actions of Walt, although similar to many moments in the previous seasons, have a much different outcome for Walt himself. For example, when Walt watched the death of Jane, he struggled with the guilt into the wonderful “Fly” episode of Season 3. However, after watching the breakdown of Jesse upon finding the poisonous cigarette, Walt feels no remorse for the distress caused to Jesse. Jesse has become yet another pawn in the life of Walter White and the reemergence of the mighty Heisenberg.
While Jesse is certainly not the focus of ‘Madrigal’, these early scenes are pivotal in adding emotional weight to another of Walt’s future pawns: Mike. Unlike Jesse, Mike is someone who has lived, he has experienced. Mike understands people like Walt, and rightfully does not trust him. Jesse’s mistake is just that, he lives in a world where he desperately wants trust to be possible.
Mike’s anger from Episode 1 comes from the fact that he has avoided dangerous people like Walt, with much more foresight and much less emotion than Jesse, his entire career. However, he has ended up just as damaged as Jesse (and apparently with even less wealth). Equally frustrating for Mike is the fact that his motivations are linked to Walt more than ever. Both carry out criminal and violent actions for the sake of providing for their family.
Mike is right that Mr. White is a bomb, affecting all those around him with reckless disregard and with damaging consequences. Last week we saw immediate proof of this through the severely altered lives of Skylar, Saul, and even Ted Beneke. However, Mike was wrong about one thing, the impending ‘boom’ has already happened and he is bound to be a casualty.
As disquieting as it can be to consider sometimes, people have multiple (sometimes unseemly) facets to their personality. We are capable of carrying ourselves a certain way with some, and acting in a different manner with others. It speaks to our humanity that we can understand the context of a situation and adapt. Breaking Bad’s second episode highlighted this notion in dramatic fashion last night while unveiling a whole new wing to the power structure of its drug underworld.
To start, in a hilariously bizarre scene, we meet Mr. Schuler, German businessman. Turns out he is not all he appears to be and his hidden world as a financier for Gus has apparently caught up with him (courtesy, mind you, of Walt’s adventures with magnetism). As with last week, the episode’s uncomfortably unconnected opening scene sets the audience immediately on edge, racked with confusion (and dread, of course).
Ah, but as it turns out, despite some new faces, the old faces are still attempting to act as they always have. Walt wants to cook again, Jesse wants to help and they want Mike to assist them. These days it appears that Walt has convinced himself fully of this double life. He can take care of his family, show concern for his wife, and then spend the day negotiating a return into the narcotics business. Mike, on the other hand, knows far more than Walt about what is happening behind the scenes. He, too, has his front to maintain as a loving grandfather and man in control. I must admit that it is great to have Mike back (at almost full strength). Johnathan Banks’ beautifully ugly face acts as the perfect surface for Mike to conceal his complex, conscientious heart.
As the episode progresses, we see example after example of people attempting to act one way while desperately hiding something else. They show surfaces that prove deceiving and cover stories that only go so far. We meet a new character, Lydia, who anxiously appears on the scene to fill Mike (and the audience) in on the new danger. She tries her hardest to maintain control over herself and the situation while trying (and gloriously failing) to blend in. Despite her best efforts, she can’t mask her own inner nervous nature.
Meanwhile, the investigation continues unabated with Hank and Gomez talking things out with their boss, George. I’d be remiss to not comment on George’s on-the-nose comments regarding Gus. They all see now that he was man who appeared as one thing while concealing a whole dark world right under the noses of the law. Of course, Hank has done much in the past to maintain his own tough guy exterior. It almost feels like he, more than anyone, can see the cracks in a too-smooth false identity.
Finally, we return to Walt. He cheerfully chats with his son, but his wife won’t get out of bed. He is getting back in the meth business, ready to resume his mantle as the best cook in region. Sure, on the surface he can play the family man, he can cozy up to Skyler and coo in her ear about how easy it is to move on. But while you can try to change the surface, and keep up with the duality, the core rot is still there.
We know that all of these characters are trying to hide something; their cover must be maintained. Now, just try to remember that ricin pill.