Vince Gilligan and the gang that makes Breaking Bad have put together, recently and throughout the series, quite a few fantastic cold openings. Last week’s episode had the flash-forward, a spine-tingling affair. This week’s episode opens up with a lighter bit, taking us inside the food division of Madrigal Electromotor. There a despondent German suit is testing a variety of new dipping sauces, notable ‘franch’—it’s a “half-French dressing, half Ranch.” (Aside: I attempted this myself. Messy, but not terribly bad.) As he skirts past three investigators, he travels to the bathroom to commit a nasty suicide involving a defibrillator. (Have yet to, and do not recommend, attempting this.)
This episode, then, continues tying up the loose ends, just like the last. In the wake of the earth-shattering fourth season finale, Breaking Bad’s dedication to closing the plot holes is admirable, however tedious and time-consuming. With the death of the Herr Schuler of Madrigal, the question of role of the massive multinational that backs Gustavo Fring, and that Hank actually uncovers as doing so, is closed. This is confirmed by a Madrigal representative, stating to the DEA that he is absolutely confident that Schuler was acting alone in his support of the meth trade. Sad that there won’t be a large corporation with a vendetta against Walt, but the story goes on. There are more loose ends to attend to.
Mainly, how is Walter going to explain to the still-frantic Jesse about the disappearance of the ricin cigarette? As we know, it did not end up with Brock as we were led to believe, but instead was lifted from Jesse by Walt. So Walt engineers a new one, a decoy that he plants in Jesse’s unchecked Roomba. He also keeps the ricin.
The main focus of the episode—for a change—is Mike Ehrmantraut, the ex-Fring loyalist and now begrudging member of the trio that will comprise New Mexico’s next meth kingpin. The APD has discovered the bank accounts of all Gus’s associates, and now the DEA is interrogating the names. Mike’s payments, we learn, were funneled into an account for his granddaughter Kaylee—nearly $2 million now out of his hands. He’s safe, and after a tension-filled meeting with Hank, Mike walks away without giving away any information. Hank remains suspicious, though, noting Mike’s “tenure as a police officer ended somewhat…dramatically.”
Mike handles the moment with nonchalance; one of his former associates is not so calm. In fact, she tracks him down at a diner with a list of the 11 people she wants him to kill to keep from talking. Mike turns down the idea: “We don’t kill 11 people for some prophylactic measure.” But it’s clear that this former associate, Lydia, is truly evil, for even in the 100 shade of grey universe of Breaking Bad, anyone who nervously insists on fine Earl Grey tea from a diner (before pulling out her own) is the incarnation of a bad person.
This evilness in turn leads her to put a hit on Mike, one that he evades, but not before two former Fring cohorts are killed. Recognizing the threat Lydia poses, he travels to her house to murder her. Moments before pulling the trigger, he hesitates at Lydia’s calls to not be shot in the face for the sake of her young daughter when the girl finds her body. Pulling the gun down, and once more revealing his weak spot for protecting the young and innocent, Mike asks her if she can still get a hold of any methylamine.
Methylamine is needed for “moving forward,” as Walt refers to it. It is the precursor necessary for Walt and Jesse to start cooking their product again, and it is hard to come by. Walt wants to move forward, Jesse seems to be going along, Saul is skeptical:
“You’re alive. As far as I’m concerned that’s the Irish sweepstakes.”
“I’m alive and I’m broke…There is gold in the streets just waiting for someone to come and scoop it up.”
And Mike is entirely disinterested. He’s still committed to the idea that Walt is a “timebomb.” That is, until he hears his granddaughter Kaylee’s money will be confiscated. Backed in to a corner, he agrees to join Walt’s new cooking venture. The episode ends with a turn back towards Walt, who engages in an act that very much resembles rape with his bed-ridden, forlorn wife, Skylar.
The major development across the episode for the series “moving forward” is that Walt is oblivious to what is going on in Mike’s story line. His hubris is now beginning to get the best of him. This hubris was on display even in the last episode: when Mike asked if they were sure the evidence was destroyed, Walter responded yes, because he says it was. And while Walter is plotting the steps going forward, Hank—still hot on investigating the remnants of Gus’s fallen empire—hears a comment from a Madrigal employee about the whole business taking place “right under [their] nose,” sparking his attention. This, altogether, could be the downfall of Walter in the making.
In the interrogation room, Hank refers to Mike’s abrupt exit from the police force as “somewhat dramatic.” While the exact details aren’t known, and may be yet revealed, the below quote from S3/E12 “Half Measures” is telling:
Mike: “I used to be a beat cop a long time ago. And I’d get called out on domestic disputes all the time. Hundreds, probably, over the years. But there was this one guy — this one piece of shit — that I will never forget. Gordy. He looked like Bo Svenson. You remember him? Walking Tall? You don’t remember? No. Anyway. Big boy — 270, 280. But his wife … or whatever she was, his lady … was real small. Like a bird. Wrists like branches. Anyway, my partner and I got called out there every weekend, and one of us would pull her aside and say ‘come on, tonight’s the night we press charges.’ And this wasn’t one of those deep-down he-loves-me set-ups — we get a lot of those — but not this. This girl was scared. She wasn’t going to cross him, no way, no how. Nothing we could do but pass her off to the EMT’s, put him in a car and drive him downtown, throw him in the drunk tank. He sleeps it off, next morning out he goes. Back home.
“But one night, my partner’s out sick, and it’s just me. And the call comes in and it’s the usual crap. Broke her nose in the shower kind of thing. So I cuff him, put him in the car and away we go. Only that night, we’re driving into town, and this sideways asshole is in my back seat humming ‘Danny Boy.’ And it just rubbed me wrong. So instead of left, I go right, out into nowhere. And I kneel him down, and I put my revolver in his mouth, and I told him, ‘This is it. This is how it ends.’ And he’s crying, going to the bathroom all over himself, swearing to God he’s going to leave her alone. Screaming … as much as you can with a gun in your mouth. And I told him to be quiet. I needed to think about what I was going to do here. And of course he got quiet. Goes still. And real quiet. Like a dog waiting for dinner scraps. And we just stood there for a while, me acting like I’m thinking things over, and Prince Charming kneeling in the dirt with shit in his pants.
“And after a few minutes I took the gun out of his mouth, and I say, ‘So help me if you touch her again I will such-and-such and such-and-such and blah blah blah blah blah.’”
Walt: “So, just a warning?”
Mike: “Of course. Just trying to do the right thing. But two weeks later he killed her. Of course. Caved her head in with the base of a Waring blender. We got there, there was so much blood you could taste the metal.
“The moral of the story is: I chose a half measure, when I should have gone all the way. I’ll never make that mistake again.”
That recounted event parallels his inability to kill Lydia, for the sake of his granddaughter and to protect her own daughter. If Mike has a downfall, it could come from this.
On the other hand, during the episode, Mike also sits down to watch the The Caine Mutiny. That, right before joining a meth dealing business with a manipulated Jesse and a hesitant Saul, who also knows the secret behind Brock’s poisoning. Also in the episode, Jesse retcons the RV’s name to “The Crystal Ship,” which is both funny, clever, and a potential reference to the very film Mike was watching.
Walt Jr. doesn’t finish his breakfast, which is an uncanny break in character for him. Perhaps he’s feeling the depression of his mother.
More on Franch
Showrunner Vince Gilligan on Franch:
Twenty years ago, I wrote a comedy in which a scientist accidentally kills God and feels really terrible about it. Meanwhile, his former lab assistant goes on to fame and fortune by inventing something called “Franch” — a salad dressing that’s half-French, half-ranch. I confess, I was cannibalizing an idea from an old script… but since it’s clearly never going to be made into a movie, I figured “what the hell?”
And a re-edited scene explaining the true cause behind Schuler’s suicide:
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