Monday, July 23, 2012
Breaking Bad - "Madrigal"
Right from the beginning, Vince Gilligan made it clear that his intention with Breaking Bad was to transform—as he said it—Mr. Chips into Scarface. He wanted to turn the hero into the villain. And I will admit, I was slightly skeptical, at first, that he could pull it off. No matter how evil Walt became, we would still identify with him for two reasons: He's the main character (after all, we still, in an odd way, rooted for Tony Soprano to avoid capture by the Feds every week); and we began the show identifying with the soft, mild-mannered, underdog version of Walter—we wouldn't forget that.
At this point, however, not only am I convinced that Gilligan is pulling off this feat, I am also starting to root against Walt. I am scared of him. He's gained too much power; he's performed too many evil deeds; most importantly, he believes his own myth, his own bullshit.
And, interestingly, last night's episode was an illustration of the extent to which Walter, regardless of his own megalomaniacal self-myth-making, is so often at the mercy of chance and the choices of others. It just so happens that these outside forces are working in Walt's favor, further inflating his ego.
Take for instance, the business with the Germans. When Gus' connection to the German company Madrigal kills himself, Madrigal decides to cooperate with the DEA, so as to clean house. This terrifies the other corrupt German in the company. She asks Mike to to take out any connections to her; and he reassures her that they are stand-up guys. He chose them because they wouldn't fold. She doesn't believe him, and hires Chris, another employee to do the job. Mike has to take him out, after Chris has taken out Chou (poor Chou).
Now he has to take out the German woman, because she's too much of a liability. But he doesn't do it; he doesn't disappear her. You see, Mike, despite his other flaws, has a soft spot for children: He takes to heart the German woman's plea that her daughter not think she abandoned her. So he makes use of her. He uses her methylamene connection as an excuse to keep her alive. Shit, this means that he has to agree to Walt's request to partner up. He's back in the game, at Walt's side this time.
In Walt's mind, of course, not knowing the events that led to this, Mike is under his control; Mike has bent to Walt's will. Triumphant, Walt returns to bed with his wife, in one of the creepiest scenes to date. I am continually terrified for Skyler. Watching Walt caress his terrified wife was almost too much to bear: it was more harsh than any scene of physical violence this show has offered. Note the way, that in this episode, Walt's head is almost never in frame during his scenes with Skyler. He's a stranger now, bereft of familiarity or even identity; he's a terrifying force invading her home.
Of course, not everything is left to chance. In another of Breaking Bad's many tragedies, Walt continues his abusive, emotionally manipulative relationship with Jesse. "I don't know what's wrong with me, Mr. White. I don't know how I could be so stupid," Jesse cries to Walt when he realizes (he thinks) that he almost killed Walt over a misunderstanding. Note Jesse's position: crouched on the floor, crying; as Walter towers above. He is an evil father figure bending the pliable Jesse to his will. He has pulled the kid back in the game.
None of this can end well.
I love the continued use of great movie clips in this show. Fittingly, Mike is watching The Caine Mutiny, a movie in which a group of shipmates mutiny against Humphrey Bogart's insane, tyrannical command. Someone's gonna be rebelling against Walt for sure. I am reminded of last season's use of The Bridge on the River Kwai's "What have I done" scene. Actually, in a way, Tio's killing of Gus could be a corollary to Alec Guiness' bridge building in Kwai. Not that Tio would say "what have I done" over his inadvertent power boost to Walt. Because Tio is dead. But still.
I love how Mike is initially in charge of the police interrogation. Check out this quote: "Forget your handcuffs? I'm confused: am I under arrest or am I not? You wanna state that for the camera?" Wow, three questions in one statement; who's interrogating who?
Also, check out Mike's quote to Walt: "You are a time bomb." I've noticed a bit of bomb imagery, in regards to Walt, this season. When Walt placed the bacon on his plate to form a 52 in the opening scene of last week's episode, I initially thought he was making a mushroom cloud. When I realized that it was a 52, I felt stupid for my mistake. Now I'm not so sure the mushroom cloud imagery wasn't deliberate.
"If Gus can manage it, then so can we."
"You're alive. As far as I'm concerned, that's the Irish sweepstakes."
"You know, it gets easier. I promise you that—what you're feeling right now. About Ted. Everything."