“You and I working together, having each other’s back, it’s what saved our lives. I want you to think about that as we go forward.”
One of the hallmarks of Breaking Bad is the cold open, which acts as a framing device for either the episode ahead or, in the case of the second season flash-forward or last week’s disheveled Denny’s Walt, an enigmatic clue to the future arc of the larger narrative. This episode begins with one of the strongest cold opens the show has ever done. We open on an expressionless man in a business suit at a taste testing where his options include a combination of french dressing and ranch dressing (Franch!) and ketchup, which is essentially just ketchup. A worried secretary hurries in to the testing to warn the businessman that there are men waiting him in his office—very insistent men.
We follow the businessman out of the testing lab into a long corridor filled with colorful fast-food type signs, including one that is being taken down—Los Pollos Hermanos, former front of drug kingpin Gustavo “Terminator” Fring. So this is Madrigal, the German company that underwrites Fring’s operation, paying for batter mix and meth superlab components without hesitation. But back in ABQ the DEA has found the account through which Madrigal funnelled its funds to Fring’s illegal operation, bringing the Polizei to the Madrigal offices, forcing this businessman—poor Mr. Schuler, to do the only sensible thing—kill himself with an emergency defibrillator. It’s a calm and creepy cold open, and sets the tone for a well framed, slow paced episode that movies away from Walt and Jesse’s story (for the most part) to focus on other parties left scrambling in the wake of Fring’s death.
What we do see of Walt’s story involves his continuing manipulation of Jesse. Now that he’s convinced the kid that he was responsible for Brock’s poisoning—having Saul steal the ricin-loaded cigarette from his pack to make him panic—he must now create and plant a new poison stick in Jesse’s house (while keeping the original tucked away behind the cover of an electrical outlet in his own bedroom—Walt certainly keeps the genius in evil genius). Once they find the cigarette (In the Roomba! Welcome, back, Roomba!) Jesse wells up (an astonishing bit of acting from Aaron Paul, per usual, as his entire face boats and cracks with guilt) and breaks down, horrified that he almost killed Walt when he thought he had poisoned Brock. “I’m sorry,” Jesse cries, “you should have done it!”, the viewers scream, and Walt merely offers a beer and continues to drag Jesse wherever it is he needs him to be.
Where Walt would like that to be is in a three-way partnership with Mike the cleaner. Walt is in debt now, and anxious to cook and needs muscle and connections to movie product. But Mike doesn’t trust Walt as far as he could throw him, calling Walt a time bomb and saying he has “no intention of being around for the boom.” But things aren’t that simple for Mike—Mike Ehrmantraut, as it turns out. The Cayman Islands account not only led to poor, fried Mr. Schuler, but to little Kaylee Ehrmantraut—Mike’s beloved granddaughter. There was an account, filled with $2 million (so that’s the going rate for Mike’s services) from Madrigal to Fring, in her name. An account that Mike was smart enough not to touch—but there are others, 11 others apparently, that weren’t so smart.
That leads us to Lydia, played by Laura Fraser with a tense, corporate energy. She’s Mike’s contact at Madrigal and she has a list of those 11 names—names of people that might talk, that might compromise their situation. She’s not telling Mike to kill the people on the list, she just, you know, would like his “input” on what to do. Everything about her is no-nonsense, from her persnickety tea order to her straightforward conversation with Mike. She’s used to a professional environment, but she’s in way over her head here. She may be used to the abstract of her business relationship with Fring, but she bumbles the specifics—hiring one of the 11 to start taking out the others, leading Mike to her bedroom, with a gun to her face and her five-year-old daughter calling to her from the kitchen.
Only when she begs for him not to “disappear” her (so that her daughter won’t grow up thinking she abandoned her) does he soften, in typical Mike fashion. He asks if she can still get her hands on Methylene—the one ingredient for Walt’s cook that he and Jesse can’t get by themselves (or at least can’t get without leaving behind wacky security camera footage). She says she can. her life is spared (for the moment), and Mike calls Walt to tell him they’re partners after all.
Walt gets Mike’s call, sneers at his reflection, and heads into the bedroom next to the silent Skyler. He takes her silence as guilt or fear about her role in Ted’s injury. “It gets easier,” he coos to her. “If what we do, we do for good reasons, then we’ve got nothing to worry about. And what better reason than family.” Then Walt proceeds to take his pants off, Skyler stares ahead in terror, and we mercifully, horribly, cut to black. Again, for the second time in two episodes, we are being show direct references to the pilot episode—which ended with Walt surprising Skyler in bed, after returning from his initial ordeal with Jesse, Emilio, and Krazy-8 out in the desert. That time around Walt’s advances were accepted by a Skyler anxious for a familiar touch. In both scenarios Walt doesn’t give Skyler a choice, but this time around Skyler knows that “no” is not an option. As with Jesse, as with Mike, as with Fring, Walt gets what Walt wants.
Season Five, Episode Two