"Salud," the title of the tenth episode of Breaking Bad's superb fourth season, is also the Spanish equivalent for "Cheers." And in Gus' language it also means "One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor," which just so happens to be my favorite vacation T-shirt ever. "Salud" continued Breaking Bad's recent hot streak by showing us what happened to Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Walt (Bryan Cranston) after their fist-to-face convention, but ultimately ended up belonging to the great scene bandit, Gus (Giancarlo Esposito).
Before we move on to one of the most awesome barfing scenes I've ever seen on television, let's talk about Jesse. Gus sure didn't waste any time whisking him off to Mexico, did he? So here's this junkie kid from Albuquerque teaching one of the most powerful and dangerous criminal organizations in the world how to cook meth. It would be a highlight in the career of any street thug with his eyes on becoming Scarface, but Jesse never had any intention of going this far. No, no, no. He boarded that plane because he had no other choice. He couldn't tell Gus, "No thanks, you two enjoy your time South of the Border. I'm going to hit up Denny's." Jesse was in that weird realm of "Damned if you do, damned if you don't," with his actions being determined by those around him, mainly Gus.
Except when it comes to owning the lab! When Jesse barked at the condescending cartel chemist and informed the group they'd be doing things HIS way, he became a certain two teachers' new favorite pupil. The smirks from both Mike and Gus meant more than just "Go get 'em, Tiger!" They likely also meant, "Okay, we'll save your life."
Gus' intentions with regard Jesse have never been clear. Earlier this season, when Gus and Mike set out to make Jesse feel important, it looked as though Jesse was being used as a game piece to prevent Walter from orchestrating some sort of escape plan. Jesse even got to hold the all-important vegetable plate for the meeting with the cartel rep! That's serious responsibility! But when things got hairy and war proved imminent, Gus appeared to view Jesse as trade bait (at least that's one interpretation), useful to get the cartel off his back, stop the violence, and increase the peace without resorting to gathering up washed-up rappers for a charity rhyme. I'm not convinced that Gus always planned on bringing Jesse back with them, but I there was no question in my mind once Jesse stood up and impressed his bosses in the cartel's lab.
While Jesse was fiestando-ing in Mexico—we'll get to the final ten minutes of the episode shortly—Walt was healing both mentally and physically, neither of which were going too well. He only appeared in two scenes, but both were heavy workloads stacked with brutally emotional monologues (piece of cake for Cranston). They served to pull Walter back a little, back toward his family and his role as a father. He's been disconnected for so long, and to see Walter Jr. come to the rescue (he fixed Walt's glasses! How awesome was that?) just killed me.
"Remembering you that way wouldn't be so bad. The bad way to remember you would be the way you've been this whole last year. At least last night you were... real, you know?" —Junior, yanking tears from the eyes of viewers everywhere.
Jr. has always been there for his dad (he made the web site, he almost always takes his dad's side in Skyler-Walt tiffs, etc.), and he may be Walt's last pure relationship. Every other one Walt has had is now tainted. Could Jr. end up being the wild card that keeps Walt from fully transforming into Heisenberg?
Okay, NOW let's move on to that final scene, which immediately made the ever-growing list of Breaking Bad "Oh Sh*t!" Moments. Whatever Gus used, it was certainly less subtle than Walt's poison of choice, Ricin. I figured the bad guys would be dropping dead a few days from now, but apparently Gus wanted faster results so he could stick around to enjoy seeing Don Eladio stare at the bottom of his pool. Gus had the thing planned all along, of course. He downed a few capsules, which I think were over-the-counter charcoal tablets (great for all your anti-poisoning needs), and proceeded to exploit every Mexican gangster's weakness: tequila!
After saving Jesse's life by not letting him drink (which may have been improvised; still not sure what Gus initially had planned for Jesse), but downing a shot himself so as not to arouse suspicion, Gus excused himself to the little hijo's room and neatly folded his garments before sticking his finger down his throat like a proper gentleman. Only Gus can make such a disgusting act look so noble. Also, the balls on this guy! We're talking Elephantitis here!
With the cartel keeling over and the job done, our Three Amigos hightailed it out of there. But not before a bit of resistance forced Jesse to play Rage for real, and in this instance of primal reaction, he had no problem squeezing several rounds into a live human being. I'm not looking at this as a way to prove that Jesse is getting comfortable with cold-blooded murder, but bustin' caps is much easier when caps are being busted right back at ya. What do you think?
In the end we were left with Jesse hauling ass through the Mexican desert in a Caddy, with a poisoned Gus and a wounded Mike as his cargo. Anything can happen from at this point, and we have three episodes left to see how things play out.
– I loved the way Don Eladio breaking the surface of the water in the pool mirrored "breaking glass" when a new batch of meth is made... so much so that felt compelled to make an artsy-fartsy animated .gif that combined the two scenes. What's it mean? Making meth and killing kingpins are part of the same job.
– How pretty was this episode? One of the best-looking of the season, I thought!
– It was fantastic to see RJ Mitte work with Cranston in their father-son scenes. In fact, Mitte sealed the deal on those scenes. They wouldn't have had nearly the same impact if he hadn't delivered, which he did quite well.
– Am I the only one who was a bit disappointed in the 96.2 percent purity of Jesse's meth? Even Gale could hit 96 percent!
– Is Skyler even worth discussing right now? She's really only doing busywork while Walt and Jesse carry the show. But honestly, if her storyline was as interesting as Walt and Jesse's, I don't think I'd be able to take it.