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Breaking Bad – Salud

We are ten episodes in and this season of Breaking Bad is rising in intensity with each one. As violence south of the border threatens the organization, back in the states a much less intimidating enemy is looming every bit as ominously.  At first glance “Salud” may have seemed like a lot of waiting for a little action, but with Breaking Bad, the buildup can be as good as the payoff – sometimes anyway.  But neither Skyler's scheming to avoid unwanted attention from the IRS or Walt's time spent with his newly sixteen-year-old son could compare with the adrenaline-fueled final minutes of "Salud."  Though the latter came close.

As Jesse jets off for Mexico with Mike and Gus, he leaves behind the bruised and battered partner responsible for his own scuffed-up face. Walt, as it turns out, is hurting from more than just the blows he took, and the pain seems to have him turning the corner on his self-centered path. Though booze was responsible for his ego rearing it's ugly head in the past, this time when Walt was under the influence, it brought out the vulnerability he's been working so hard to keep hidden. Just as with the wine back in “Shotgun,” the painkillers were only partially responsible for his breakdown in front of Walt Jr. In this case, it is Walter realizing the full weight of his actions, the consequences of his aforementioned ego, that bring on his emotional outpouring. As with any scene where true pain and regret is being expressed, it isn't pretty. Cranston doesn't hold back in portraying the grief Walt feels at losing the one ally he had left, and knowing it's his fault that it happened. Mitte does an equally impressive job as Jr., when he is taken aback by his father finally showing him something he can believe, something “real.”

In Walt's vivid memory of his father -the only one he has- he was even more open than he had been in his tear-filled scene just prior. For a man who never speaks of his family, or his past in any regard, to suddenly share such a personal story was an incredibly moving moment. With the exception of his panicked call to Skyler earlier in the season, Walt hasn't thought much about the impact his death would have on his family. So after a year of watching Walt become less and less of the father he once knew, the greatest gift Jr. could have received for his birthday was an opportunity to look beyond Heisenberg.

After being a reason why last week's episode was one of the season's best, Skyler failed to keep that momentum going into “Salud.” Mainly due to a storyline that didn't need half the time it received, Skyler's subplot also didn't have the underlying character development of her initial reunion with Ted. Though there was some sympathy for her because of Jr.'s ho-hum reaction to his new car, she could have avoided that herself by not making such a big deal about it. Going from a sports car to one of those mini-hearses would have any sixteen year-old less than thrilled. So as opposed to feeling for Skyler as she miscalculates Ted's reaction to receiving a windfall of cash, her scenes dragged along with no added emotional investment. Even worse, by the end of the episode Skyler is forced to tell Ted that she is his benefactor, making the “Great Aunt Birgit” storyline as pointless for the viewer as it was for Skyler. The situation with the IRS is definitely building to something, and anticipation is high for what that will entail, but the writing needs to keep things a little spicier until it happens.

In addition to their storyline giving the episode its title, it was the three amigos that really made “Salud” shine. Turning the potential for embarrassment over his lack of knowledge into a respect earning moment gave Jesse the “win” he so richly deserves. Gus almost beamed with pride as he watched Jesse take control of the lab with the self-assurance that the ex-junkie has rarely been able to muster. Of course if you talk the talk, you better not be expecting someone to carry you. But there was no fear of that for Jesse, as he proved that even without Walt's guidance, without his partner at all, he can cook the pure. And with that last reliance on his former chemistry teacher gone, the two are now farther apart than that plane could have ever taken Jesse.

As he has had a tendency to do this season, Gus was the one to steal the show. Though neither take kindly to finding out Jesse isn't going to be returning to ABQ, Gus hides it better. He hasn't gone to Mexico for a war; he's there for an extermination, and he isn't about to give the bugs a reason to scatter. Watching Gus stare at the pool, where just two episodes ago we witnessed the lifeblood drain from his best friend(two decades for the character), it's hard not to feel he is entitled to his revenge. Don Eladio might claim that business is business, but he knows as well as Gus that “blood-for-blood” was the only way their story could end. Gus methodically removing his coat(an act that after only one occurrence has become synonymous with death), may have been a bit of artistic indulgence, but it was worth it. And as said, Gus deserves to look as cool as a cucumber while Eladio's stomach dissolves under the Mexican sun.

With henchmen dropping like flies around him, Jesse is a little slower reacting to the unexpected turn than Mike; whom it was very gratifying to see garrote his cartel counterpart, Gaff. Once Jesse has his bearings though, he would add another head to his own body count. There isn't anytime for Jesse to debate if he is able to take another life, he simply does so. And with Mike taking a bullet, Jesse is now the only one who can walk, let alone get them out of Mexico, so it will still be awhile before he has any time for guilt. Now the lowest man on the totem pole, who at one point would have been more than happy to leave Gus and Mike to die, is responsible for their survival.

“Salud” didn't match the highs of it's predecessor, “Bug,” but it did provide such an explosive ending that it's hard to knock it for its flaws. Though Skyler failed to entertain, the stirring drama of Walt's scenes with Jr. and Jesse's thrilling moments down in Mexico were worth watching for.



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