Tuesdays with Walt: “Salud”

There are loads of great critics writing Breaking Bad reviews every Sunday night/Monday morning. Because of skill and scheduling, I’m not going to be able to stand alongside those reviews. Instead, I hope to write something about Breaking Bad each Tuesday when I have more time and perhaps you are ready for a new day’s worth of material on the best series on television. These pieces won’t necessarily follow my traditional review format, but I’ll obviously be discussing relevant plot details and the like.

Oddly, I don’t really have a whole lot to say about Sunday’s fantastic episode, “Salud.” Jesse, Gus and Mike’s journey south of the boarder played out exactly how I would have guessed that it would and that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. We value unpredictability in our quality television, but sometimes predictability is just as satisfying. There was no way that Gus was going to let Don Eladio stay in control and keep Jesse in Mexico and there certainly was no way in hell that Gus was going to return to the scene of his friend/lover’s death and not do anything about it. The Chicken Man always has a plan and I’m guessing that nearly everyone in the audience knew what kind of plan that was, especially as soon as they saw the shot with Gus taking a pill. And yet, the Breaking Bad team knows how to extend the intensity and tension out as far as possible, making that whole final sequence a real delight to watch. Gus’ methodological trip to the bathroom was one of my favorite scenes of the entire season.

This is yet another situation where Gus has been forced to step outside of his rational, logical cool businessman facade this season. Gus has worked hard to cultivate a certain image and a certain kind of business decorum, and this season it’s been consistently chipped away by the likes of Walt, Jesse, the Cartel and even Hank. Everyone is trying to ruin Gus Fring’s perfect system and as they should all know by now, you don’t want to mess with The Chicken Man. However, I’m wondering if having to constantly put out these fires and embrace a darker side is eventually going to have a lasting impact on him. Gus knows how to control himself, but once you start letting a certain side of yourself out more often, doesn’t that version of you become more prevalent? I’m not particularly worried about Gus’ well-being since he’s clearly still in a quasi-antagonistic role, but it sure feels like he’s embracing his more insane, egomaniacal side and that probably means bad things for Jesse and Walt.

This feels especially relevant in light of this episode’s events. Gus’ issues with Don Eladio were both personal- and business-related and perhaps he really did need to kill all these people to regain some power within the Cartel infrastructure. However, Gus also has to be smart enough to know that killing Don Eladio doesn’t solve his problems. Don Eladio might be the Cartel boss, but it’s not Gus, Mike and Jesse wiped out everyone in the Cartel with their little poison-shootout escapade. If anything, Gus has created both a power vacuum and made more enemies within the lower rungs of the Cartel, making it theoretically probable that more people will be coming after him.

So yeah, Gus is a bad-ass and he made one hell of a risky decision that paid off. But…this kind of feels like something Walt would try to pull as well, especially with his sizable ego. I think Gus is way more prepared and knowledgeable about how to concoct a Cartel destruction and similarly smart enough to follow that move up with other smart decisions (you know, unlike Walt), but I am very interested to see if perhaps Gus has gotten a bit too big for his britches in recent days, particularly because of his personal issues with Eladio and the current state of mind he’s been in ever since Jesse and Walt started screwing up. Vince Gilligan is smart enough to realize that Gus can’t always be completely unflappable and it is starting to feel like that once this season is over, we will realize that all of these events were leading to a really big moment for Gus that completely reshapes the series in the final 16 episodes. I could be entirely wrong, but it is definitely something to think about moving forward.

As Gus gained even more power this week, “Salud” brought us the most sympathetic look at Walt all season and really in two seasons. Making him all drunk, high and apologetic when his son is there will do that. Bryan Cranston did some fantastic work with Walt speech to Walter Junior about how he perceived his father and this might have been RJ Mitte’s best work on the series as well. Here we are in episode 10 of the season and Walt is still on the outside of the most exciting and dangerous part of the narrative. He’s the lead character! As I’ve said a few times in these pieces, it’s obvious that Walt’s outside-looking-in placement in the narrative is for a reason and it still feels like that reason is going to mean horrible things for someone.*

*I guess I just automatically assume that everything means something negative for someone on Breaking Bad, but that’s basically true, right? This isn’t a series where things get better for anyone in any regard. 

I can just imagine that once Walt learns about all the powerplays and the shootouts down Mexico way, he’s not going to be too happy about being left out and he’ll react similarly to how he did a few weeks ago when he learned about Jesse’s relationship with Gus and Mike. Is it possible that a somewhat remorseful Walt, who seems like he’s generally disenfranchised by this whole thing, decides to dive head-first into helping Hank take down Gus and the drug operation? Of course, he’d then have to flip the switch back to Evil Walt and somehow grab hold of the drug business in Gus’ absence, but still.

Other thoughts on “Salud”:

  • Skyler continuing to get wrapped up in Ted’s business is a bit random, but interesting. I really love how nothing ever goes away on this series.
  • For a long time (like before I could actually drive), I actually wanted a PT Cruiser. I don’t know why and I imagine that if I actually had one, I would share Walter Junior’s malaise.
  • This season’s pacing is less like the suffocating season three and more comparable to season two and with that in mind, I’m assuming that the last three episodes are going to be insane, bloody and sad. Yay!

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