“There’s no place for emotion in this. You of all people should understand. Business is business,” says Don Eladio to Gustavo Fring. This is an important notion, and what has always separated Gus and Walter White from the rest in Vince Gilligan’s criminal world—they get emotional. Up until this season, we didn’t know this of Gus. He was always so elusive and professional that we assumed he operated on a similar level of coldness that blocked out emotion. But as “Hermanos” showed us this season, much of Gus’ decision to cut off ties with the cartel and start a war with them was fueled by his need to avenge his partner Max, who was killed by Eladio’s men years earlier. Similarly, we can look at Walter White and see that one of his glaring flaws is that he’s willing to break the rules when he takes things personally or needs to protect someone he cares about.
All of this needs to be said, because Walter White and Gus aren’t so different after all. And who wins the end game (if there is a winner at all) will largely be determined by the decisions they make and the alliances they keep. Up to Season Three, I would have argued that Walt and Jesse had something that others didn’t—undying loyalty to each other. For all the professionals Gus hires, if someone was willing to pay them more, or offer a better position, they would take it. Conversely, the people that work for Gus really mean nothing to him the minute they screw up (see Victor). But with last week’s explosive falling out between Jesse and Walter, both of them are now in a similar position of not having anyone to really look out for them but themselves.
In many ways “Salud” was a very cathartic episode. Walt, badly beaten and banged up from his fight with Jesse, looked completely broken. When Walt Jr. comes over to visits him at his house on his birthday, he can’t help but be confused as to why his father is in such terrible shape. Walt asks him to not tell anyone about this, especially Skyler, and makes up a story about gambling. Walt Jr. still doesn’t understand why his dad got into a fight and asks him who he got in a fight with. Whether it’s the question of who, or the fact that Walt just can’t keep up with the burden of lying anymore, he just bursts into tears and weeps like a child. “I’ve made a mistake. It’s all my fault. I had it coming,” Walt confesses. Walt isn’t just crying because he’s ruined the only real relationship he had (both business and personal), but he’s crying because he’s realized the mess he’s made of his life, and those around him. For once, he’s taking responsibility for everything he’s done and recognizes himself as the problem. Walt is barely able to stand up, but he clings to his son and cradles him as he breaks down in tears. After Walt Jr. tucks Walt into bed, he starts to doze off. Talking to Walt. Jr about his birthday, he finally says “That’s nice, Jesse” and falls asleep. The allusion to Jesse being his son was heart- breaking and wasn’t the first time Walt has done this. We can recall back in season three when Walt shared a beer with Jane’s father and talked about never giving up on family. Walter didn’t just lose a business partner in last week’s episode, he lost family—and perhaps the only family member he can really be himself around.
Jesse finally lands in Mexico, and upon his arrival at the cartel’s lab, he’s greeted with hostility. Not only does he not look like a chemist, but they can tell he’s not one. Channeling all of Walt’s teachings over the years, Jesse has his “student becomes the master” moment and yells at the chemist about how poor their meth is, scolding them for having such a dirty lab. He then orders them to clean up the lab before they can start the cook. This was an extremely satisfying moment in the episode, as we got to see Jesse finally take charge instead of always taking orders from someone else. It was also nice to see Jesse that took a lot away from his time with Walt. After they finally cook, they test Jesse’s meth, and it comes up to being approximately 96 percent pure. With Gale’s being 97 percent pure and Walt’s being closer to 99 percent, it still shows that Walt knows how to cook the purest meth. But 96 percent is still unheard of, and the cartel celebrates. Jesse then gets a surprise when Don Eladio tells him that he’s staying in Mexico to cook for them full time.
After Walt wakes up, he immediately tries to do damage control. His concerns over his masculinity and being a provider for his son are so important to him that he tries to scramble to explain to his son that it was the painkillers he was taking that made him act funny. Walt, doing what Walt does, starts to make up excuses for why he was crying. He launches into a story about how the only memory he has of his father is his dad dying in a hospital completely empty and devoid of life. He talks about how he always tricked himself into believing that he remembered his father by all the things others told him about him. But the truth is, he only remembers his father in his dying state. In a brilliant scene, Walt says, “I don’t want you to think of me the way I was last night. I don’t want that to be the memory you have of me when I’m gone.” Walt Jr., perplexed by what his father is saying, replies, “Remembering you that way wouldn’t be so bad. The bad way to remember you would be the way you have been this whole last year. At least last night, you were real, you know?” This was easily one of the best dialogue scenes on the show to date, and it really showed how much Walt just doesn’t get it. He’s so preoccupied with trying to be this image for others that he forgets that his own actions are what will he be remembered for, not the image he projects of himself. It’s hard to say whether Walt actually learned something from this exchange or if his breakdown over Jesse will actually translate into him changing his attitude. I hope so. The tragic thing in Walt’s story is that he had to be told what his father was like as he was too young to really remember him. And in a way, he’s doing the same thing to his own family.
The episode ends in Mexico. Slipping a pill into his mouth, Gus stares out at the pool where his partner Max died years earlier. Eladio and his men finally walk out and want to start a celebration. Jesse, still on edge over having to say in Mexico, is reassured by Mike that they will all leave together. Gus presents Eladio with an expensive drink as a sign of respect. After passing it out to all of his men (including Gus), they all take a drink and the party begins. Don Eladio asks Gus why he looks so glum and tells him to not take their recent attacks personally. Gus, excusing himself to the bathroom, begins to vomit out his drink (remember the pill he took). Suddenly, everyone at the party is getting sick. Gus, the mastermind, has not forgiven the cartel. There was never a plan to cave in and make nice; it was a mission to hit them back. In a poetic fashion, Don Eladio dies and falls into the very same pool Max’s blood spilled in, as Gus looks on in rage. Despite taking the pill, there are traces of the poison in Gus, and Mike and Jesse have to help him to a car. After Mike gets shot, Jesse takes his gun and without hesitation kills one of the cartel’s men. Hopping in the car, he speeds off and gets them out of there.
“Salud” was Breaking Bad at its best. It had profound dialogue scenes that really examined the characters and their motivations, breathtaking performances from Cranston and Mitte, and an explosive ending that had your heart racing up until the screen cut to the credits. It’s still hard to say what direction they will go with Walt. It’s clear that he feels like he’s lost everything by losing Jesse. But with Jesse doing extremely well on his own, and Gus having a plan to get Jesse out of there with them, it’s hard to imagine where Walt fits into all of this. As Walt Jr. pointed out to his father, Walt needs to start being “real” with Jesse if he wants to fix this damaged relationship. And if my theory is correct and Walt does in fact have cancer again, he doesn’t have very much time left to make his move and find whatever redemption he is seeking. And with one season left, it’s hard to imagine Walt in such a broken and beaten state. But you know what? He needed it. Walt’s cleansing in this episode will perhaps be the revelation he needed to see more clearly.
• I happened to like the re-introduction of Ted and his tax problems last week. It raised the stakes and could have been a huge game changer. However, I did not like how Skyler handled it at all. Telling Ted outright that it was her money? What was she thinking?
• I wonder if Ted plans on extorting money from Skyler. If Walt finds out, who knows what he will do. Maybe the best solution would be to kill Ted.
• Mike’s relationship with Jesse has really grown this season. It doesn’t seem like a front either. So I think this is a very important relationship to keep an eye out on. I could see Jesse eventually turning on Gus. But I have a hard time seeing him turning on Mike.
• Gus had the opportunity to kill Jesse with the poison, but didn’t.