Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Breaking Bad" - "Salud"

Spoilers for the latest "Breaking Bad" after the jump:


You knew it was coming. As I said in last week's review, there was no way Gus would ever agree to work for the cartel after what they did to him. And when Don Eladio and his crew arrived poolside, it was clear (to me, anyway) that Gus's hour of revenge was nearing. And so it did. But the way it happened was nonetheless completely stunning: from Gus calmly throwing up in the toilet after drinking the poisoned alcohol to Mike strangling the one man in Eladio's crew who didn't drink. This was a climax to rival that of "Half Measures" or "One Minute" in impact if not surprise. But as usual with the best episodes of "Breaking Bad", there's a whole lot more brilliance in "Salud" than just that one scene. 

For starters, there was Walt's monologue about his father. One of the big aspects of Walter White is the way he wants to be remembered. It drove some of the best dialogue in last year's "Fly", and it's pretty much the whole reason for this lengthy speech. Walt wants to be remembered as a good person, a strong man... a provider. But really, he's not. He may have been at one point, but not anymore. Over the course of this season, we've seen Walt reduced to little more than a cog in Gus's machinery who still deludes himself into thinking he has power. Now his partner has beaten him up and left for Mexico. It's in that state that his son finds him.   

And yet what Walter Jr. says after listening to Walt's speech is that he prefers the vulnerable, real side of his father to the facade of power and control that Walt has put up. I think this is true of most of the people in Walt's life, but Walt either can't or won't believe it. Both the writing and Bryan Cranston's performance during this scene are remarkable in the way they're able to convey all of  this information.  And for Cranston, it serves as a reminder of just how good he is in this role: just in case anyone's forgotten (which is possible given the fact that he hasn't been on screen nearly as much as usual this season). Great stuff.

Okay, with that out of the way, how about everything that went down in Mexico? And I'm not just talking about the concluding scenes. No, first we had Jesse giving a major verbal beatdown to the cartel chemist: delivered with relish by Aaron Paul. The physical beating he gave to Walt seems to have made him more assertive, and he did a great job with the meth as well. That coupled with (apparently) saving Gus and Mike's lives has seemingly established his worth to both himself and his employers. (A curious twist of fate, since had Walt not done what he did in "Bug" it's entirely possible that Jesse would have left them both to die. Choices, choices.)

And now let's give a bit more attention to that perfectly constructed final scene. It's one of the more darkly thrilling sequences the show's ever done: mainly because of how inevitable it felt. There's also a dark sense of satisfaction to be had from Gus finally getting his revenge for his partner/possible lover's murder after so many years. The events of "Hermanos" are key here in that regard, because without the background knowledge that episode gave us this scene would be much less effective from a storytelling perspective (even if it would still be intense). Sure, it's a business move as well, but you don't drink poison yourself just for that. This was personal.

So where do we go from here? Gus may have avoided the worst effects of the poison, but he's still weak. Mike is shot. I'm assuming they'll all make it back to New Mexico, but then what? Who takes over the cartel after Eladio's death? And what does Jesse's newfound confidence and meth-cooking ability mean for Walt? (Probably nothing good.) It's typical of "Breaking Bad" to offer up series-changing events such as the ones in "Salud" without giving us any hint as to what's going to happen next. But one thing's virtually certain... it's going to be spectacular. See you next week.

Other Thoughts

- The Ted-Skyler stuff stuff draws the short straw this week, but I'm quite intrigued by the slow way the noose seems to be tightening around Skyler. Plus, it gave us the first Saul appearance in ages. "Even celebrities need to get their cars washed."

- Other reviewers have speculated that Walt's cancer is back, and that he's hiding it from his family. I wasn't so sure, but a lot of his comments in the previous two episodes certainly seem to be hinting in that direction. 

- Almost forgot to praise R.J. Mitte's acting in that scene with Walt. Mostly he just listens, but his subtle changes of expression as Walt's story progresses are just superb.

Grade: A

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