Posted Monday, Sept. 19, 2011, at 8:10 AM
[Caution: There are spoilers ahead! So if you haven't yet watched "Salud," come back when you have and share your thoughts and theories.]
Remember when I said last week that Breaking Bad was starting to drag for me? Slap me for typing that. The action in this week's episode left me so gobsmacked that my mouth was hanging open by the time the closing credits rolled. But let's back up to the cold open: Another beautiful shot of the southwest, one that juxtaposed an earth-toned landscape with the sight of Jesse, Gus, and Mike boarding a shiny, bright red
helicopter single-engine plane. The (wonderful) Peter Dinklage is lucky that Breaking Bad was ineligible for the Emmys this year, because Aaron Paul would have given him a serious run for his money in last night's best supporting actor category. In the first three minutes of "Salud," the look of dread mixed with the slightest glimmer of hope as Jesse got on that plane was perfectly played.
Let's leave the three men bound for Mexico for a minute. I'm going to quickly dispatch what went on with Walter and the rest of the Whites before I get to the meat of the episode, which was all south of the border. Walter is still recovering from getting his face mangled by Jesse. He ends up missing Walter Jr.'s 16th birthday, and the kid, who is really a good egg, goes by his father's place to make sure he's ok. Walt stumbles out into the daylight in his tighty-whities and an undershirt, his forehead still raw and his face bruised. This blinking, pantsless Walter in the strong sun is a reminder of the clueless first season: Back when Walt was just a chemistry teacher who didn't really know about cooking meth and took his pants off before he tinkered in an airless trailer in the desert. When Walter Jr. confronts his dad, Walt makes up a story about getting beat up because of his fake gambling addiction, and completely breaks down in front of his son. Question for the readers: Though he was lying to his son, I was pretty sure Walt's tears were genuine. They were for the normal life he's left behind. But a small part of me wondered if those tears were of the crocodile variety. What do you think?
The next morning, Walt and his son have a heart to heart, and you get a glimmer of explanation for why he decided to cook meth in the first place. Walt's dad died when he was six, and his only memory of his father is of a gnarled man suffering in bed. Walt begs Walt Jr. not to think of him as the tearful, half-naked man he encountered last night, but in a heartbreaker, Walt Jr. tells him that he'd rather remember him that way than the way he's been behaving all year. "At least last night you were real," Walt Jr. tells him.
Meanwhile, Skyler is trying to help her old, crooked boss and lover Beneke out, and he's acting like a royal moron. She made up a Luxembourgian aunt and had Saul give Beneke a fake inheritance so that he could pay off the IRS and keep the feds off her back. Beneke decides to lease a luxury car instead. As always, sensible Skyler goes to try and knock some sense into Beneke, but he doesn't want to hear it. She ends up having to blow her cover about that preposterous dead aunt and put herself at risk.
Ok, so onto Jesse, Gus and Mike's Mexican sojourn. We discover that they're heading down to the cartel's cook shop so that Jesse can teach their chemists how to cook the pure meth that Walter taught him to make. The head chemist in Mexico is snotty and derisive about Jesse's abilities, and for a minute, you're afraid that Gus's finely wrought plan to appease the cartel is going to fall apart. But then Jesse reaches down and pulls out his inner boss. He's hasn't just learned how to cook from Walt, he's also learned how to be a perfectionist and take pride in his work. He tells the cartel's chemists that the meth will be cooked "My way, the right way," and starts lecturing them about the cleanliness of the lab. He orders them to scour every surface, every possible source of contamination. When the meth is finished, Jesse's methods clearly worked. His meth--while not 99 percent pure, like Ivory Soap or Walter's stuff--is 96 percent pure, and the cartel is pleased. So pleased, in fact, that they tell Jesse he can't leave. He's the cartel's property now. Here again, Aaron Paul's face displays a thousand wordless emotions.
Jesse, Gus and Mike go to celebrate their meth victory at the mansion of vicious cartel kingpin Don Eladio. They are poolside in the same spot where Gus's "brother" was killed so many years ago. We see Gus take some sort of pill, and shortly after we see why. He's given Don Eladio a present of extremely expensive Zofro Anejo tequila, and Eladio insists that everyone drink to Jesse's fantastic product. Gus says the gift is "a token of respect and our renewed friendship." At first I wasn't positive that the tequila was tainted, but then Eladio pours everyone a shot, and Gus prevents Jesse from getting one. He's an addict, Gus tells Don Eladio, and Don Eladio accepts this because he doesn't want anything to get in the way of the meth production. The entire pool party watches as Gus takes the first shot--after he downs the clear liquid, Don Eladio and his thugs follow suit.
A pool party with bikini-clad hookers shortly commences, and it's deliciously tense waiting for the poison to kick in. Gus and Don Eladio have one last conversation, in which Eladio needles him about the killing his brother and, more recently, so many of his workers. Gus shouldn't hold it against him, because there are no emotions in this--after all, business is business. Gus excuses himself to go to the bathroom and very tidily vomit, and that's when Don Eladio and his men start dropping. Their cigars and glasses clatter to the tile floor, and Mike immediately starts strangling Gaff, the one guy who didn't drink the tequila. Mike screams at Jesse to pick up a gun, and Gus--who clearly did not get all the poison out when he had that two-finger dessert--is barking orders even as he crumples to the ground. The three of them hobble outside to a car, but not before one of the cartel cronies who didn't drink the tequila shoots Mike in the torso. Though Gus is the de facto kingpin now that Don Eladio is dead, it's unclear whether he or Mike will survive this. If they don't, that leaves the only marginally competent Jesse and Walt in charge of an international drug cartel.
There's only one relevant question here: Is that what's going to happen? Are Mike and Gus not long for this world?