Episode Title: "Salud"
Writers: Peter Gould & Gennifer Hutchison
Director: Michelle MacLaren
Previously on "Breaking Bad":
After getting Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) sober and elevating his status among his employees, Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) summoned Jesse to his home and asked him if he could cook Walt's blue meth formula in order to avoid an all out war between Gus' drug empire and the Mexican cartel. At the same time, Jesse's partner, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) was unwillingly chauffeuring his DEA Agent brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) as he got ever closer to exposing Gus for who he really is. In desperation, Walt pressured Jesse once again to kill Gus as soon as possible.
Walt's wife, Skyler White (Anna Gunn) had problems of her own, as her former lover and boss, Ted Beneke (Christopher Cousins) revealed that he was being audited by the IRS and faced possible jail time for tax fraud. And because Skyler's name was on the books, it would draw unwanted scrutiny from the government. Skyler successfully convinced the IRS that the fraud was simply ignorance, but Ted simply couldn't pay them what he owed. Later, Jesse came to Walt and explained that Gus wanted to send him to Mexico to teach the cartel's chemists how to make Walt's formula.
Feeling betrayed, Walt revealed that he had bugged Jesse's car and knew about his meeting with Gus. This enraged Jesse and both men fiercely attacked each other, with Jesse gaining the upper hand and mercilessness beating Walt. Jesse then threw Walt out of his house and told him never to return.
In a deserted field, Mike (Jonathan Banks), Jesse and Gus await an illegal chartered plane which lands briefly and begins transporting them to Mexico. Jesse is noticeably nervous, but Gus assures him that he can reproduce Walt's formula. Meanwhile, Skyler becomes worried after leaving Walt numerous messages on his phone about Walter Jr.'s (RJ Mitte) birthday. With no word from her estranged husband, Skyler gives Walt Jr. a used PT Cruiser; which elicits only a muted reaction from her son. At his office, Saul (Bob Odenkirk) reluctantly welcomes Ted to his office and informs him of his distant aunt's passing, leaving him over $600,000.
In Mexico, Jesse and his employers are escorted to the Mexican Cartel's Superlab. At first, Jesse is daunted by the task of replicating Walt's formula under such intense scrutiny, but when the head chemist insults Jesse's lack of knowledge, he pushes back and begins ordering the workers to clean the lab before they can cook… much to the amusement of Gus and Mike. Back in the states, Walt Jr. uses his new car to check on his dad and threatens to call 911 if Walt doesn't let him inside. Walt finally relents and he tells Walt Jr. that he was beaten while gambling and he asks his son not to tell Skyler.
When his son persists, Walt emotionally breaks down and seems to suggest that the rift with Jesse was his fault. Walt Jr. consoles his father and puts him back to bed before Walt mistakenly calls him "Jesse." He also notes Walt's badly broken glasses. Back at the Mexican Superlab, Jesse successfully recreates Walt's formula. However, he and Gus are shocked when Gaff (Maurice Compte) informs Jesse that he belongs to the cartel now. Back to Skyler, as she soon learns from Saul that Ted is squandering the money she gave him on a new Mercedes while trying to weasel his way out of paying the IRS. Furious, she asks Saul where she can find him.
At his apartment, Walt wakes up and he is surprised to find that his glasses have been repaired and that his son spent the night on his couch. Walt then sits down with his son and has a long conversation about how his only memories of his father are from the last days of his life. He asks Walt Jr. not to remember him as he was the previous night, but Walt Jr. preferred Walt's seeming honesty to the double life he has led over the past year. When Walt Jr. finally leaves, Tyrus Kitt (Ray Campbell) approaches Walt and "reminds" him to get back to the Superlab for the next cook. Elsewhere, Skyler confronts Ted, who blows her off until she reveals that she gave him the money.
In Mexico, Jesse, Mike and Gus are brought to the hacienda of Don Eladio (Steven Bauer), the same place that the Don had Gus' partner killed years before. Mike also tells the increasingly desperate Jesse that either all of them will go home or none of them will. Don Eladio comes out, flanked by his top lieutenants to greet Gus. As a gift, Gus presents an extremely expensive bottle of tequila; which impresses Don Eladio to share it with everyone except Jesse, whom Gus warns can only work if sober. The Don also makes sure that Gus takes the first drink before he and his lieutenants drink as well. Then the Don calls for beautiful girls to join them at the party.
As Don Eladio attempts to assure Gus that his prior sins were just business, Gus excuses himself to the bathroom and forces himself to vomit up the Tequila. At the poolside, Don Eladio is stunned as his men begin dropping like flies from the poisoned tequila. Mike chokes out one of the few unaffected henchmen and gives Jesse a gun. Gus emerges severely weakened from his own exposure to the poison, but he witnesses Don Eladio drown in the pool. As they attempt to find a vehicle to escape in, Mike is shot by Gaff, who is in turn killed by Jesse. Now with both of his employers incapacitated, Jesse drives them away from the hacienda.
Now that the point of Gus' flashback to his first meeting with Don Eladio has been revealed, I appreciate that background information even more. Gus' revenge against the cartel was also impressive, even if it had the flaw of exposing him to the poison as well. It made perfect sense. Gus couldn't match the cartel for firepower or manpower, but taking out the Don and all of his major lieutenants was a masterstroke.
"Breaking Bad" routinely has some of the best directed episodes on television, but this episode in particular was a showcase for Michelle MacLaren. The hacienda sequences were exciting and taut while the more emotional scenes between Walt and Walt Jr. managed to keep a very long conversation from getting boring.
Credit has to be given to RJ Mitte for one of his stronger performances as Walt Jr. in the series. His second conversation with Walt seems like one of the few times that Walt Jr. has been spoken to as an adult and with respect. Although Walt was addled in his earlier conversation, he still had the presence of mind to maintain the gambling cover story. Walt's emotional outpouring seemed to genuinely come from his regret about pushing Jesse away. But it's possible that some of that was a performance to keep his son from calling his wife about what he had found. I can't recall if Walt Jr. has ever met Jesse, but Walt's slip of the tongue is bound to come back to haunt him.
Even the early part of Jesse's storyline in Mexico was compelling, as he asserted himself against the Mexican cartel's chemist. The amused smirks from Gus and Mike were hilarious and Aaron Paul's swagger was fun to watch. I can almost believe that Gus and Mike have started to like Jesse, and they'll owe him big time after the end of this episode. It's funny how many of Walt's problems would have been solved if Jesse had left Mike and Gus behind to die, but because of last week's episode they may be the only ones that Jesse has any loyalty towards.
Skyler's story initially didn't interest me as much, but it was very fitting that her attempt to give Ted the money blew up in her face. Ted behaved just like anyone else would after receiving an unexpected windfall: he bought an expensive car and tried to keep most of it for himself. Ted is kind of a tool, but his mess is one that Skyler made for herself and she doesn't seem to have much leverage on Ted to make him pay off his IRS debt.
Getting back to the cartel storyline, I'd have a hard time believing that the organization wouldn't strike back at Gus once it regroups. But it would be a little unbelievable if Gus got away without paying a price. Although he could be permanently injured from the poison in this episode. That would be an intriguing penance for his actions and it may even level the playing field between himself and Walt. At some point, Gus and Walt are either going to come to terms or have an all out war against each other. And if Walt wasn't the main character, I wouldn't bet on him coming out on top.
But on this show, even that might not be enough for Walt to win.
Crave Online Rating: 8.5 out of 10.