Madrigal Electromotive and Breaking Bad's expanding universe

Ride, Captain, Ride Upon Your Crystal Ship
A one-act play inspired by Breaing Bad's "Madrigal"

  • My buddy: So, any guesses on this week's cold open?
  • Me: No clue, bro.
  • My buddy: Come on, gun to you head, take a guess. What's the cold open gonna be?
  • Me: [Chuckling dismissively] Fine, it's gonna be an extended scene of some German dude taste-testing various flavors of condiments, one of which will be called "Cajun Kick-Ass."
  • My buddy: [Laughing and coughing up a lungful of smoke] You're a weird f**kin' dude. Hit this.
  • Me: [Inhaling while trying to talk] I wonder what it would taste like if you mix French dressing with ranch dressing... [Thought trails off
  • Fin

    One of Breaking Bad's iconic scenes (of which there are dozens) gives last season's episode, "Crawl Space," its title. Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) had just survived their Mexican vacation and Walt (Bryan Cranston) rudely declined an invitation to walk away from all of the drugs, the violence, the death. In typical Walt fashion, he decided if he was going out, he was doing it on his own terms. In preparation for a quick departure out of Dodge, he went to his crawl space, where his substantial stash of illicit earnings were stashed. The money was gone; Skyler (Anna Gunn) gave it clumsy ole' Ted (Christopher Cousins).

    The scene (and the episode) ends with Walt on his back in the dusty crawl space, laughing maniacally and staring up through the hole in the floor as the camera slowly pans out. No doubt it's an image that conjures to mind an array of thoughts and emotions. Coffins. Jail cells. Quicksand. There is the feeling that the walls are closing in on Walt. Walt's universe, our universe, is shrinking.

    And rightly so; the universe should be shrinking. "Crawl Space" was late in the season, the noose was tightening. The focus was squarely on Walt and Gus. And we all know what happened next. Walt eliminated Gus, before which Gus eliminated the cartel, and Breaking Bad eliminated a sizable chunk of its universe. 

    Now that we're in the final season, it would be reasonable to expect the show to continue narrowing the focus while the noose inevitably tightens around Walt's neck yet again.

    But this is Breaking Bad and Vince Gilligan doesn't give a shit about what I think is reasonable to expect. In "Madrigal," Gilligan shows us that the universe isn't shrinking. No sir, this is a universe expanding like a luftballon. Breaking Bad isn't a story trapped in a crawl space. Gilligan has given us an incredibly complex narrative with tentacles the stretch in a thousand directions. And he's proven time and time again that he's willing to follow the trail of those tentacles as far as he can go.

    This week we go to Germany for a condiment taste test. I wrote "Ride, Captain, Ride Upon Your Crystal Ship" as a joke (although I will be performing it at the Hyattsville Community Theater on Friday and Saturday nights), but its premise is real. If you had told me a month ago that the final season of Breaking Bad would devote precious screen-time to a German dude sampling "Franch dressing," I would have kicked you in the nuts. And yet, it's a brilliant scene, one of my favorites of the series. I'm kind of bummed Herr Schuler chewed on the business end of that defibrillator so quickly. I could have watched him dip chicken nuggets (tater-tots? what the hell were those things?) into stuff for another half-dozen episodes.

    Not only is the cold open a brilliant scene, but it opens up a whole world of possibilities and at least partially fills the hole in the story left after Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) blew up half of Casa Tranquila. I'm fascinated to learn more about Madrigal Electromotive GmbH. How awesome would it be if Madrigal manufactured all sorts of drugs, not just meth, and distributed them separately through their various restaurant chains? Haau Chuen Wok sells opium, Burger Matic sells coke, and Palmieri Pizza sells Rogan-grade DMT

    German fast-food/high-tech machinery/crank/mineral/chemical/vegetable conglomerate executives aside, "Madrigal" expands the universe to include another new character. To be honest, I'm a little less excited about Lydia (Laura Fraser). To me, the whole "I'm at a greasy-spoon diner so I think I'll order an organic, free-range, soylattechino" bit was way over the top. While I'm willing to give Gilligan the benefit of the doubt, the female characters on Breaking Bad (Skyler, Marie, Jane) tend to be his most problematic.

    By Lucas High

    About the author

    Lucas High is a man on a mission. That mission: to watch television for a living. Drop him a line at lhigh2@gmail.com, on Facebook and on Twitter at twitter.com/LucasHigh.

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