Tonight's episode of Breaking Bad shows us that sometimes, Germans might be up to no good.
"You're a time bomb, tick-tick-ticking. And I have no intention of being around for the boom."
Mike the Cleaner occupies an odd and specific place in the Breaking Bad universe. When dragged in to the DEA for an interrogation by Hank (yes, we get to see Hank and Mike face off here), he's pegged pretty well. Mike's official job title has him working in "corporate security" for Pollos Hermanos, but Hank knows exactly who he's dealing with: Gus Fring's muscle. More than that, though, Mike is the pragmatist of the group. Everyone else has big ideas of what they can and will do, but Mike is the guy who stays within himself and just goes about his business. He's not going to make the grand gestures or try to do too much.
He's not going to get pushed around either. Walt and Jesse come to him and try to recruit them for their new meth business, but Mike initially rebuffs them. Knowing that Walt is the prideful guy who always wants more, especially now that he's feeling invincible, Mike wants nothing to do with him. He just wants to sit at home and watch The Caine Mutiny, or play Hungry Hungry Hippos with his granddaughter. Of course, that granddaughter just may be a hole in his armor. Apparently, Gus opened offshore accounts in the name of eleven of his employees, and a twelfth in the name of Mike's granddaughter. Hank and the DEA know about these accounts, and they're questioning everyone who has one. Is Mike that close to getting caught? He might be. Thus, Lydia, an executive with Madrigal Electromotors, the international conglomerate that serves as parent company to Pollos Hermanos, and which reminds us that fast food isn't created by chefs in white coats, but scientists in white lab coats who come up with such concoctions for dipping sauce as "Franch," comes to Mike with a list of these names and less-than-explicit-but-also-unambigious orders to kill everyone on it. Mike, ever the pragmatist, assures her that taking such action is unnecessary, since "they're my guys" and they're "paid to take the heat." He's not going to go off and kill eleven people and possible draw somebody's attention. Remember, no big gestures for him ("I don't know what movies you've been watching, but in the real world, we don't kill eleven people as some kind of prophylactic measure"). So when Lydia goes to someone else to carry out the hits, Mike, with a sense of world-weariness permanently glued to his face, has to first turn the tables on the hitman she does hire (Chris, last seen driving Gus' limo) with a trap that would make any ninja proud, and then go ahead and take out Lydia herself. We've seen the big guy can be an old softie, no matter how fearsome he gets, so it makes sense that he changes his mind the more Lydia pleads not for her life, but for Mike not to dispose of her body (that way her young daughter won't grow up with questions about why her mother abandoned her). After securing Lydia as a supplier of methylamene, Mike goes ahead and throws in with Walt anyway. He's a professional, after all. What else is he going to do?
This works perfectly well for Walt, of course, who's at his manipulative best here. He starts off "Madrigal" by dummying up a fake ricin cigarette for Jesse to find in order to put his mind at ease about the real one he thinks he lost, and planting it in his robotic vacuum (the choice to have the conversation between Walt and Jesse as a voiceover as Walt makes the fake ricin cigarette was pretty beautiful). When Jesse does find the fake, he breaks down in an incredibly emotional scene, with Bryan Cranston playing Walt playing the avuncular shoulder to cry on with such jaw-dropping ease and sleaze. Jesse feels horribly guilty about having accused Walt of using the ricin, and the boyish way he says "I don't know what's wrong with me, Mr. White" through his tears is absolutely heartbreaking. Jesse has no idea of the depths Walt has plumbed in order to manipulate him, but the fact that the viewer has a pretty good idea of everything he's done makes for a rich but somewhat excruciating experience.
Mike wants nothing to do with him, Saul's trying to get away from him, Skyler's scared of him, and Jesse has been manipulated into following him, but Walt loves where he is right now. He's the king, right now, after all. He's done everything and anything he's wanted to. His destiny, as far as he knows, is up to him (what he doesn't know, but we do, is that someday he will fall and buy a car and a machine gun under an assumed name). Walt can be anything he wants, right now. He can have breakfast with his kids. He can cook homemade lasagna and do the dishes if he wants to. Skyler, on the other hand, can't do anything. She's completely paralyzed and bedridden with fear now that she knows everything about Walt. She's as certain of Walt's invincibility as Walt is, and that knowledge has ruined her. Walt sees her reaction, but apparently just doesn't care. That's when he just gets completely creepy with her. With the camera fixed on her frightened face while she's lying on her side in bed, Walt sidles up to her in bed, and kisses her aggressively (earlier, she recoils at a gentle touch from him) while pontificating about how we all do things for the right reasons. "And what better reason is there than family." It's the most uncomfortable scene the series has ever shot, and shows that Walt is, without any doubts, the villain of the piece.
Written or Contributed by Royal Nonesuch
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