Breaking Bad – Madrigal
Walter White wraps this episode up with a line that only a year ago would have won a bunch of viewers back to his side; “[there’s] No better reason than family”. Only now he says it during perhaps one of the squickiest scenes of the series to date, one that’s filled with a simple, subtle and understated sense of disgust, one that makes you feel sick when you watch it and one that shows just what it is that Walt is really doing to his family. It’s ingrained in us to side with the most familiar face in an argument, you always stick with a friend over a stranger, and so a transformation like Walt’s takes us a while to fully swallow, we still want to believe that he is good at heart, that he can be redeemed but it’s obvious from this episode that the flip is full, that the Walt we once knew has been turned inside out (and upside down?) by his experiences.
In case it wasn’t obvious enough from that final scene the episode also goes to great lengths to start us off on the opposite side to it’s old hero and it does this by again bringing up the ricin cigarette. The constant mentions of that McGuffin could just be due to Gilligan and co. going too far with their late game switcheroo last season (Bryan Cranston didn’t know Walt was responsible until he read the script for the season finale) and have had to set this time aside to struggle to contrive a clean and canonical explanation for it all as a result; or it could be a clever use of the shows concrete continuity.
Nothing is ever forgotten by the writers of Breaking Bad, they bring back each and every minor detail to dramatic effect; unfortunately though we watchers on the other-side of the television are not so invested and our memories not so incredible, so by stretching this story out the show can continue to shove our nose in what Walt did; lest we forget and ever try to forgive.
While that sounds like it might be a little too harsh and dark a thing for a show to do to it’s main character, we have to remember that Walt has undergone another transformation alongside his move from hero to villain and that is from protagonist to antagonist. As soon as he set his poisonous plan in motion without involving us he severed the link to the viewer; he’s no longer the lead in any traditional sense and this episode is a strong example of that. While Walt does still get a decent amount of screen-time he is shot in a genius way: every scene that he is in features at least one shot of him in the shadows, obscured by an object or partially cropped out of the center. The camera doesn’t focus on him, he’s alienated himself from us, and we are left to simply drift astray.
This though is something that I am somewhat thankful for because Walt’s mind is not a place that I really want to be right now. His crazed behavior has been alloyed by confidence and what has resulted is as far from righteous as you can get. He’s gone full Caine but thankfully we are provided someone strong enough to stand up to his Queeg-ish behavior, the once minor character Mike. There’s no better sign of a show’s quality than when a member of its extended family, its supporting cast is able to hold up episodes on their own and Mike does that this week with nary more than a furrowed brow to show the strain.
When Michelle McLaren makes a stop behind the camera of a Breaking Bad episode you can be sure that some magically smart action will ensue – how she hasn’t made a big budget feature yet is beyond me – and Mike’s action is some of the smoothest that this show delivers; they are a match made in heaven. The calm, clever beats of his bloody scenes are refreshing when compared to the chaos that the show would throw at us when Walt was at the helm but the best part of Mike’s main character role this week was the way that he won us over to his side without a single winge or beg.
Mike actually is a man making choices for his family and as such he makes them in private; a direct contrast to Walt’s constant wording of intent, his attempts to convince everyone, including himself, that he has made the right choice. Mike then is a much better hero despite having killed a number of people in cold blood, a tally he cooly adds to this week, though I fear this is exactly what will bring him down. Then again I guess that there is no better reason to finally be beaten, to die, than family. Whatever the case there is no better reason for watching television today than this show, so do so.