Breaking Bad Review: One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor
After last week’s game-changing brawl between Walt and Jesse, Breaking Bad’s fourth season has reached a fever pitch to prepare for the aftermath of our dynamic duo’s epic fallout. As the rift between them widens, Jesse is faced with greater responsibility for the fate of the business than Walt ever was, while Walt is forced to examine the patterns of his early childhood that have led him to the state of solitary delusion and remorse in which he’s immersed himself.
Despite his ratcheted attempts to assert authority over the production of his coveted merchandise, Walt’s involvement is fading into the background even more quickly than he’s aware. The season’s tenth episode, “Salud,” opens with our three amigos, Gus, Mike and Jesse, silently waiting in the desolate New Mexican desert for their blindfolded ride to the cartel’s superlab south of the border. After Jesse hesitantly boards the plane, the always-observant Gus offers typically stoic, if not clichéd, encouragement. “You can do this,” he declares, unblinking. Knowing that his fate rests in the ability to cook an entire batch of Big Blue without Walt, Jesse looks understandably concerned nonetheless.
Whether or not Jesse regrets burning the bridge between he and Walt isn’t yet acknowledged; after all, he has more pressing matters ahead. A lone Walt, however, has begun to tumble from atop his pedestal as loose threads threatening his relationships and sanity continue to unravel. The physical brunt of his fight with Jesse has Walt badly bruised in a literal sense, but the emotional ramifications are far greater. After Walt misses Jr.’s 16th birthday party, and the spectacularly disappointing driveway reveal of a lavender PT Cruiser in lieu of the eschewed Dodge Challenger (thanks, Mom!), Jr. drives to Walt’s condo and discovers his father speckled with day-old bloodstains and dribbles of tears, slurring his words in a painkiller-induced haze. Although Jr. is initially touched by the raw vulnerability his father displays, the audience knows better when Walt bursts into a weeping apology for the “mistake” he’s made. As he dives headfirst into his bogus confession of a gambling relapse, it’s clear from the first quiver of Walt’s lip that he’s really making a plea for amends to Jesse, but Jr. isn’t the wiser until Walt later mumbles the name of his surrogate son instead of his real one.
The next morning, Walt awakens to find a pointedly repaired set of eyeglasses on his nightstand, and presumably a new outlook with which to pair them. Jr. has spent the night on the couch to keep an eye on Walt, and the gesture gives Walt reason to step back and view the wreckage of his actions from a different angle. As he launches into a detailed, harrowing description of the only memory he has of his own father, Walt explains to Jr. how he doesn’t want what happened the night before to define his son’s assessment of him. In a boldly direct and honest response, Jr. tells Walt that he’d rather think of his father in that light than based upon how he’s “been this whole past year,” assumedly feigning presence and interest in his household. “Last night, you were…you were, you know. Real.” Jr. admits. Walt’s stunned expression confirms a newfound perspective for him to explore, and the scene’s particular focus on Walt’s concern for the state of his legacy echoes previous references to the possibility Walt’s health may again be a factor in his decision-making. Salud, indeed.
Meanwhile, Jesse’s only thoughts of Walt revolve around his dexterity in the laboratory, as Jesse is introduced to the cartel’s gang of chemistry nerds: a bespectacled and white coat-wearing lot eager to ooze incredulity toward the American ne’er-do-well. At first, Jesse’s inexperience is palpable. When informed he is expected to synthesize his own phenylacetic acid, Jesse nervously whispers to an unflappable Gus that he usually just looks “for the barrel with the B on it.” The scientists initially balk with glee at Jesse’s obvious lack of pedigree and the fact that he, of all people, is expected to teach them to cook the purest meth in the known universe. Instead of shrinking back with intimidation, however, Jesse puffs up with Heisenberg-worthy stature and lets the cartel know exactly who he is. When Jesse boasts, “I’m the guy your boss brought here to show you how it’s done,” and orders a floor-to-ceiling scrubdown of the entire lab before he can begin working, the smirks from both Mike and Gus illustrate a burgeoning pride forming for their unexpected protégé. As an introspective Walt is left in Albuquerque to pick up the pieces of his own shattered existence, down in Mexico, inversely, Jesse has become the one who knocks. After his maiden batch measures 96.2 percent pure, however, Jesse’s relief and fanfare are cut short when he’s informed that cartel head Don Eladio expects him to stay in Mexico to work for him permanently. Stunned with this development and Gus’ lack of protest, Jesse later turns to Mike, who quips, “I promise you this: either we’re all going home, or none of us are.” How reassuring.
When the trio arrives at Don Eladio’s to celebrate the new partnership between Gus’ enterprise and the cartel, the sight of the same pool in which Gus’ former partner Max met his untimely demise some 20 years earlier quickly shifts the episode’s tone to focus on an entirely different interpretation of the title, “Salud.” Gus is shown popping a mysterious pill prior to the fiesta, where he then presents a gift to Don Eladio. Knowing Eladio’s proclivity for tequila, the expensive and rare anejo proves a wise choice on Gus’ part, but something is vaguely amiss. Eladio pours shots for Gus, Jesse and all the henchmen for a toast, but Gus’ quick dismissal of Jesse’s privilege to drink on the job (“This one’s an addict,” he explains) sparks suspicion that there may be more than just one worm at the bottom of this bottle. Eladio carefully waits for Gus to sip first, then, once satisfied with the sincerity of Gus’ generous token, imbibes himself. The party continues on without a hitch, at first, then Eladio takes Gus aside for a brief mano a mano. Eladio acknowledges Gus’ smoldering contempt for what happened to Max, explaining, “Once every 20 years, you’ll forget your place … there’s no room for emotion in this.” Gus excuses himself to the restroom where he proceeds to deliberately remove his suit jacket with the same meticulous care as he did in the season premiere, “Box Cutter,” just prior to slicing open Victor’s throat. As Gus kneels over the toilet to expel whatever poison may have entered his bloodstream despite the antidote he took earlier, Don Eladio and his capos fall like dominoes. Ever vengeful and fastidious, Gus has made sure to find room for his emotional contribution to Don Eladio’s demise, and watching him lifelessly float in the same pool Max did finally brings some closure to a decades-long grudge.
Jesse, a bit quicker on his feet than last time, heeds Mike’s past advice to “run, and so forth,” grabbing a gun and utilizing his first-person-shooter skills to help blast any rogue thugs blocking the exit. Gus begins to succumb to the remnants of the poison and needs medical assistance immediately. Jesse finds an operable vehicle and prepares the getaway just as Mike takes a slug or two in the gut. Faced with the gaping opportunity to ditch both men and ride into the sunset with nary a reason to look back, Jesse instinctively acts on behalf of his colleagues and protects them instead, peeling out of Eladio’s driveway with Walt’s lucky cigarette presumably still in his pocket.
As Breaking Bad’s fourth season draws to a close, the series has eviscerated the core dynamic that pulsates through the heart of the show and separated its two key elements into inverted mutations of their original selves. Jesse is preparing for a role in Gus’ empire that echoes Walt’s initial aspirations of total takeover. Gone is the guilt-ridden second banana. Now, Walt has some regret on his shoulders to carry and as the enterprise evolves without him, his wishes to eliminate Gus are only falling on deaf ears. As Gus shouted to the remaining cronies at Don Eladio’s, “you can either fill your pocket and leave in peace, or fight me and die.” With only three episodes left, Walt has little time to make his ultimate choice.
What did you think of Gus’ revenge on Don Eladio? More or less badass than “Box Cutter?” Is Skyler going to have Ted whacked? Is Walt expendable? Is Mike a goner? What’s Hank up to? Post your thoughts in the comment section below!
Season 4, Episode 10: Salud (originally aired September 18, 2011)
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Photographs courtesy of AMC/Ursula Coyote.