In “Madrigal,” Skyler has gone down the rabbit hole and can’t see a way out, Jesse and Walt are back in business, we meet Lydia, and my suspicions are confirmed: Mike is indeed a curmudgeonly but lovable grandfather who likes classic war movies. But first, the episode’s namesake: the German company that was bankrolling Gus’ empire.
We get a look inside Madrigal and an introduction to a new term, “franch.” Thank you, fictional German food scientists, for mixing together French dressing and ranch. Madrigal executive Mr. Shuler offs himself after robotically consuming a bag of popcorn chicken with various dipping sauces, and before the authorities can question him about his involvement with Gus’ drug business. The Madrigal suits later tell the DEA that they had no idea Mr. Shuler was involved in such dirty, dirty business. Uh-huh.
Aside from catchy new food terminology, this episode belongs to Mike. Raise your hand if you had any idea that Mike’s last name is Ehrmantraut. I’ve always seen Mike as the gruff, grandfatherly type. And it turns out he is not only a grandfather, but he’s the kind of grandfather whose refrigerator is decorated with nursery-school drawings, and who enthusiastically plays Hungry Hungry Hippos with his granddaughter.
But he’s still also the kind of guy who takes no crap. Not from the DEA agents who question him about the $2 million of drug money tucked away in his granddaughter’s name in a secret offshore account, and certainly not from Lydia (who may or may not be Gus’ wife or daughter — anyone care to place a bet on this?). Mike’s handling of Lydia’s ridiculous spy-movie antics in the diner scene was typical of this worn-out heavy: no-nonsense exasperation, but not without humor.
Mike’s unwillingness to accept Lydia’s kill list shows he isn’t about to murder good men for the sake of erasing a problem. Unfortunately, it turns out one of Mike’s “good men” is willing to do so, for a little extra money, and Mike is first on the list. In typical Mike fashion, though, he outwits his would-be assassin.
Walt and Jesse get a glimpse at Mike’s world, too, when they sit down in his kitchen to ask if he’ll be part of their meth-manufacturing team. I can’t quite work out how Walt and Jesse would know where Mike lives, but I’m willing to overlook this small flaw in otherwise nearly perfect writing. Mike makes it clear he’s not interested in joining their business, telling Walt, “You’re a time bomb … and I don’t want to be there for the ‘boom.’”
Mike is right: Walt is just ticking away, louder and louder. While every other character is displaying his or her a capacity for emotion, reason and compassion, Walt shows no remorse for his actions. He not only deceived Jesse in Season 4, but now he methodically concocts a decoy cigarette to replace the ricin-laced one, plants it in Jesse’s house, and then patiently helps Jesse “find” it. Jesse, who’s all heart, breaks down when he realizes he almost killed Walt over that missing cigarette. And Walt uses this opportunity to get Jesse to cook with him. Once again, Walt only cares about Walt.
Walt’s total lack of conscience is most evident in his interactions with Skyler, who’s sinking into a depression now that she realizes what she’s stuck with. When she initially agreed to help Walt launder drug money, she had no idea what she was getting into. As Walt gently kisses her shoulder and neck in bed, he tells her that she’ll “get used to it,” certainly referring to her situation with Ted, but maybe also assuming that Skyler is made from the same fabric he is: hardened, self-involved and power-hungry. Sorry, Walt, that’s just you.
Mike, on the other hand, does have a conscience, as evidenced by his inability to kill Lydia, even as he has a gun on her. Maybe it’s because she has a daughter who is about the same age as his granddaughter? While he had no choice but to kill his would-be assassin, he pauses when it comes time to kill Lydia.
Instead of pulling the trigger, he asks if she can still get methylamine, the hard-to-procure ingredient that Walt and Jesse need to start cooking again, thereby making his choice: He would rather go into business with Walt and Jesse than kill this woman. Mike may be tough on the outside, but he has an ooey-gooey center, and he stands solidly on his own moral ground.