Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Episode Review: Breaking Bad – “Salud”

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(Disclaimer: Breaking Bad is such a richly developed show that there is much more to discuss than there is in your average television drama. As such, this review is going to be formatted a little differently than normal and will be a little longer than usual, but I feel that’s necessary for a show like this. It will also be a discussion of major plot points in the episode so here’s your giant SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read this until you’ve seen the episode. It also assumes that you are a viewer of the show and have a basic familiarity with characters and plots. Onto the review.)

Next episode. NOW. “Salud” featured one of the most insane, bonkers endings in the history of Breaking Bad and I want the next episode right now. If you’ll excuse the language, I believe my exact words as the episode concluded were something like, “Holy shit. Holy fucking shit.” If a show can elicit that kind of a response from its viewers, it must be doing something right. With that in mind, let’s drink up and take a closer look at “Salud.”

“You can do this.”
We open out in the desert where Gus, Mike, and a terrified looking Jesse are waiting for someone or something to arrive. Suddenly, a plane approaches, presumably to take the trio to Mexico as part of the deal that Gus completed in “Bug.” All three men board the plane but Jesse hesitates the most, taking one (last?) look at the New Mexican landscape. While they’re in the air, Gus senses Jesse’s fear and tells him in a calm, reassuring tone, “You can do this.” Whether Jesse actually believes him is yet to be determined. And the title card hits…

Act One
“Now go get me my phenylacetic acid. ASSHOLE.”
Walter’s apartment sits seemingly empty as the phone rings, unanswered. The answering machine picks up and it’s Skyler telling him (for the third time, she notes) that she’s going to go ahead with giving Walter Jr. the new car whether Walter’s there to see it or not. Apparently the fight with Jesse has hit Walter so hard that he’s skipping out on his own son’s birthday because of it. Skyler eventually has Jr. go outside to get the paper as a ruse to allow him to see the new car, but his reaction to is something less than what Skyler was hoping for [1]. She makes her pitch but Jr. is more interested in heading back inside for some pancakes. Meanwhile, Saul is preparing himself for a meeting with someone that he terms “a bad idea.” That someone turns out to be Ted who, as it turns out, has a “long lost relative” who’s leaving him a sizable sum of money ($600K give or take). Hey! He needed money to pay the IRS to avoid jail time. And now he’s got a bunch of money. That’s very fortuitous. Or not. Probably not. From Albuquerque to Mexico, we next move to Jesse, Gus, and Mike being transported [2] to meet with the cartel [3]. The three men arrive at a lab headed by Chloe’s dickhole husband Milo from 24 who in all actuality turned out to be not a dickhole. But here he’s a dickhole again, belittling Jesse’s appearance and not believing that someone Jesse is in any position to tell him how to run his lab. As Jesse familiarizes himself with his Mexican settings, his stomach drops when it’s revealed that the Mexican chemists synthesize their own phenylacetic acid [4], which is not how things are done back in Walter’s operation. Jesse has a very rudimentary knowledge of the chemistry aspect of the operation (“I get my phenylacetic acid from the barrel with a “B” on it. That’s how I know how to do it.”), causing Milo to deride him as an amateur. Jesse does not take kindly to the disrespect, telling Milo [5], “Tell this asshole if he wants to learn how to make my product he has to learn how to do it my way. The RIGHT way.” When Milo confirms that he does in fact speak English, Jesse retorts, “So you understand what ‘asshole’ means. Now go get me my phenylacetic acid. ASSHOLE.” It would appear that our little Jesse is all growns up. He then goes even further, criticizing the lab’s overall appearance and cleanliness [6] which Milo takes offense to. Jesse goes right back at him: “I’m the guy your boss brought here to show you how it’s done. And if this is how you run your lab, no wonder. You’re lucky he hasn’t fired your ass. Now if you don’t want that to happen, I suggest you stop whining like a little bitch and do what I say.” There are many, many moments from this season that Aaron Paul could conceivably submit for Emmy consideration. This is definitely one of them. And Gus and Mike look on like proud parents at Jesse’s performance.

[1] And, really… can you blame him? She bought him a PT Loser that she describes as “pretty slick” that comes with a “CD player so you can listen to your tunes.” Parenting fail.
[2] While blindfolded, naturally.
[3] And it’s right about now that the credits scroll across the bottom, showing that Michelle McLaren directed this episode. Very, very good sign.
[4] Key meth ingredient.
[5] At some point I’m going to need to stop calling him Milo, I realize.
[6] Sounding not just a little bit like Walter.

Act Two
“I made a mistake. It’s my own fault and I had it coming.”
After not having his father show up for his birthday, Walter Jr. takes a ride to Walter’s condo to check in on him. Walter is still in bed, nursing his very literal wounds [7] from his dust-up with Jesse in “Bug.” When Walter doesn’t answer the door, Jr. calls and gets the answering machine, telling Walter that he might have to call 911 if Walter doesn’t answer because he doesn’t know what else to do. Finally, the garage door opens and Walter greets him in his underwear and tells him, “Come in if you’re coming in.” Seeing the state that Walter is in, Jr. feels compelled to call Skyler to fill her in but Walter is having none of that. He tells Jr. that he was gambling again and got into a fight over it. Jr. presses for more info and Walter eventually breaks down in front of him, sobbing and saying, “I made a mistake. It’s my own fault. I had it coming,” and it’s clear he’s not just playing up the gambling lie. The fractured relationship with Jesse and the stress of working for Gus is taking its toll in a big way. Bryan Cranston is reliably brilliant in this scene, but RJ Mitte deserves special mention as well. The combination of horror, fear, and compassion on his face while reacting in this scene is very, very impressive. Walter continues his breakdown, just repeating, “I’m sorry,” over and over through sobs while Jr. tells him it’s OK. This might be the most powerful scene we’ve seen yet between father and son and it’s definitely the best work that Mitte has done to date. Jr. later helps Walter get back to bed and, in a painkiller-induced haze while asking him about his birthday, mistakenly calls him “Jesse.” Jr. returns to the kitchen area and sees Walter’s broken glasses and the blood soaked rags from the aftermath of the fight and the implication is that Jr. may begin to do some investigating of his own. Having watched this on demand instead of watching it live, I was privy to some Twitter chatter about something big going down. After this emotional scene and having it look like Jr. may be getting himself into something… I really hope that it’s not what I’m thinking. Because that one would hurt. Back in Mexico, the cook has been completed and Jesse is anxiously awaiting the results of the purity test. When it comes through at 96.2%, everyone is impressed and Jesse lets out a satisfied yell. His joy is short-lived, though, when the cartel negotiator is so impressed that he terms it “the first of many.” When Jesse asks for clarification on this, he’s told that he’s now the property of the cartel. He quickly looks to Gus for reassurance, and Gus’s tough exterior makes it difficult to tell if he’s either in on this development or if it has surprised him as well.

[7] Seriously… his sheets stick to a bloody spot on his face in very gruesome fashion.

Act Three
“At least last night you were real, you know?”
Saul surprises Skyler by dropping by the car wash to debrief her on his meeting with Ted and she’s none too pleased to be seen with him in public. The conversation confirms that the “dead relative” plan was indeed Skyler’s, although Saul expresses again his reservations with the idea when he informs her that Ted has taken the money she gave him and spent it on a new Mercedes. “I just thought you should know, loathe as I am to say I told you so.” Upon learning this, Skyler wants to know where Ted is so that she can confront him. Back at Walter’s condo, he wakes up and sees that his glasses have been repaired and are waiting for him by his nightstand and that Jr. has stayed the night. Walter expresses his concern over what Skyler might think but Jr. assures him that he had it covered – he called Skyler and told her he was staying the night with a friend. Walter then expresses his embarrassment with his mood from the previous night, trying to explain it away by blaming a mixture of painkillers and alcohol. His ego is coming back to the surface as he tells Jr. that it worried him having his son seeing him like that. It’s an interesting play because, speaking as a father, it’s the one time this season where I can identify with his self-image. No father wants their son to have to see him in a weak moment, and Walter sheds some light on his relationship with his own father as a way of explanation. He tells Jr. that his father suffered from Huntington’s disease and his most stark memory of his father was of seeing him in a very frail physical and mental state. It scarred him and he doesn’t believe that any son should have to see their father that way, not wanting Jr. to see him that way himself. It’s a great monologue for Cranston who delivers the hell out of it, punctuating it with, “I don’t want THAT to be the memory you have of me when I’m gone.” Jr.’s response is just as powerful when he tells Walter that he doesn’t want to remember him the way he’s been the past year [8]. “At least last night you were real, you know?” he says. This is one of the most human moments we’ve seen out of Walter this season and it suggests that maybe there’s still a sliver of the old Walter White inside the monster Heisenberg that’s been created. After leaving things on a nice note, Jr. departs for home and as Walter is seeing him off almost immediately Tyrus pulls into his driveway and mutters, “Isn’t there somewhere you should be?” Meanwhile, Skyler has found Ted at his office to check in on him. He tells her that he’s decided to get his business back together instead of using the money to pay off his IRS fine like she’d hoped he would. He explains away the Mercedes as a necessary evil of his job (portraying a successful image to potential clients), much to Skyler’s chagrin. When pressed on whether he’s paid the IRS, he only tells her that it’s “in progress” and that he wants to hire a lawyer to try to get him a better deal. Skyler begins to insist that he pay and he starts getting indignant and tries to kick her out, but not before getting a little dig in about how she was the one who called off their relationship. I’m starting to realize what a moron Ted really is and that he’s probably not long for this world. She leaves and – small victory – at least manages to not spill the beans about where his money came from. But, no… wait – she comes back in and asks him, “From whom exactly did you think you got that $600K, Ted? Great Aunt Bergit?” Oh, that was a stupid, stupid move.

[8] Remember: while we’re in the fourth season of the series the timeline of the story has only been around a year or so.

Act Four
“Get us out of here, kid.”
The episode’s final section opens in Mexico with Gus staring regretfully into the pool on Don Eladio’s estate, no doubt remembering what happened there twenty years prior. He takes a small pill-case out of his pocket and swallows its contents. Is this little detail going to be significant later? Fifty feet away, Jesse and Mike are sitting at a table where Jesse inquires, “What is this shit?” Mike’s response: “I promise you this – either we’re all going home or none of us are.” That’s… ominous. Flanked by a cadre of henchmen, Don Eladio emerges from the mansion [9] and a standoff between he and Gus occurs until he motions Gus forward and Gus relents, the two men hugging and Don Eladio figuratively gloating about his victory. Gus introduces Jesse to Don Eladio, with the drug kingpin belittling Milo saying that Jesse cooks meth better than he does. Gus then presents Don Eladio with a gift, terming it a symbol of respect in light of their “renewed” relationship. Eladio moves to open the box [10], which as it turns out contains a bottle of alcohol and OHMYGODGUSPOISONEDITDIDNTHE? Don Eladio calls for glasses for everyone while telling his attendant that he’ll cut off his hands if he spills a drop. He gives the first glass to Gus and the second one to Jesse, but Gus takes Jesse’s away by explaining to Don Eladio that he’s an addict and that he needs to be sober in order to work [11]. Don Eladio waits until Gus takes a drink from his glass – which he does [12] – and the tension can be cut with a boning knife. The scene has been masterfully constructed, as the rest of the party follows Gus’s lead and it’s bottoms up. An almost Boogie Nights-ish pool party begins, with Gus sitting somberly as a throng of bikini-clad women are soon parceled out [13]. Don Eladio tells Gus to cheer up even though he had to be spanked: “Look, once every 20 years you forget your place. There’s no place for emotion in this. You of all people should understand. Business is business.” This prompts Gus to excuse himself in order to use the bathroom and, while there, he carefully turns on the sink, removes his jacket, carefully folds it and places it on the sink [14], folds a towel in front of the toilet, and proceeds to force himself to vomit and HOLYSHITHEDIDIT. All of a sudden, back outside Don Eladio drops his cigar and spins around to see all of his men begin dropping to the ground before he collapses himself. When the cartel negotiator tries to make his way through the carnage to get to Don Eladio, Mike creeps up behind him and garrotes him [15]. We then get a point-of-view shot of Gus returning to the outside to survey and admire his damage. Don Eladio expires, but not before seeing Gus and giving Gus the satisfaction of seeing that Don Eladio knows that HE did this. As Mike yells to Jesse to make himself useful, he rips away a necklace from the lifeless body of Don Eladio and presents it to Gus. Gus himself collapses, bearing the cost of taking the poisoned alcohol, but pulls himself together enough to yell to Don Eladio’s remaining henchmen that Eladio and his capos are dead and that anyone who’s still loyal to him will be allowed to pace peacefully in order to give Gus, Mike, and Jesse safe passage out of the kill zone. As they beat a hasty retreat to their car, one of the henchmen takes a shot at Mike [16], causing Jesse to spin and instinctively empty his gun into the man and remove any kind of life-taking trepidation he may have been carrying. As Alan Sepinwall points out, this shows that his loyalties are indeed with Gus/Mike as he could have easily solved his and Walter’s problems by leaving them for dead. Jesse, as the only one in any condition to drive, peels out and we’re stuck waiting a week for the resolution.

[9] I KNEW casting Steven Bauer in this role couldn’t have been a one-off job.
[10] What’s in the box?!
[11] So poisoned.
[12] Maybe not poisoned, then?
[13] More possible proof of the “Gus is gay” theory.
[14] Shades of his methodical sequence in “Box Cutter.”
[16] Causing me to yell audibly.

Overall Thoughts: HOLYSHITHOLYSHITHOLYSHIT. This is one of the most bonkers endings in the series’ history and immediately goes in the pantheon with the endings to the brilliant “One Minute,” “Half Measures,” and “Full Measures.” Not to mention some very, very strong character work by Cranston and Mitte, and a stupid move by Skyler that could invite even more danger into the Whites’ lives. In all, possibly the best episode of the season and it gets the road to the season finale started in riotous fashion. I don’t know how Vince Gilligan and co. top this, but I trust them so implicitly that I almost expect them to.

Rating: 98/100 


Written by jeremylikestv

October 4, 2011 at 11:44 pm

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