Breaking Bad recap: Pay What You Owe
“Who do you think you are?”
That’s the question that the Mexican cartel’s chemist asks Jesse in this week’s episode, “Salud.” It’s easy to see what he’s thinking: This guy? With the black eye and the freshman-level chemistry? He’s the genius who’s going to tell me how to cook? But his question isn’t just a rhetorical one. This is a show about secret identities, alter egos, and paper trails that get “disappeared” everywhere from Albuquerque to Chile. It’s not who you are that matters. It’s who you think you are that determines what you become. (And if what you think you are is invincible, you may find yourself floating facedown in your own swimming pool. But more on that later.)
Take Jesse, who’s able to convince himself that he’s Walt, and puts on a good impression of his teacher for the cartel. At first, on the flight down to Mexico, he’s so chicken, Gus could deep-fry him and serve him with that zesty, piquant sauce that Don Eladio loves so much. But after Gus assures him “You can do this,” he gets all Heisenberg Jr. on the cartel, using his Spanish-to-Supervillain translation dictionary with aplomb. “I speak English,” says the cartel’s chemist. “So you understand what a–hole means?” Jesse replies.
Turning Mr. White into Mr. Black and Blue should do wonders for Jesse’s confidence. His big declaration to the cartel—”I’m the guy your boss brought here to show you how it’s done”—is the closest he’s ever gotten to saying “I am the one who knocks.” And it’s also a good recall of Mike’s “You’re not the guy!” speech. Judging by the proud, that’s-our-boy! looks that Jesse gets from Mike and Gus, “the guy” is exactly what Jesse has become. Still, Jesse understands that he’s still not meeting his teacher’s standards. When he scores just above 96%, it seems the cartel is happy, but Jesse knows he’s still three percent below Walt.
While Jesse’s turning into the man he always feared, Walt’s starting to realize that he’s not the man he thought he was. It’s telling that his eyeglasses are cracked: he can’t see himself in the same way anymore. Glasses are a big theme this week. Walt breaks his. Saul accuses Skyler of wearing rose-colored ones. And after the whole Mexican cartel has been poisoned, Gus puts his glasses back on, very slowly and deliberately. Gus’s vision for Los Pollos is getting more acute, while Walt’s losing his focus.
No longer feeling like the almighty Heisenberg, Walt’s the most vulnerable we’ve seen him yet, with his nose bloody, his glasses broken, his tattered tightie-whities sagging, his own son tucking him into bed. (The very moving scene where he cries on the couch should earn him an Emmy.) “I made a mistake,” he says. “It’s my own fault. I had it coming. It’s all my fault. I’m sorry.” Is he talking to Walt Jr., or is he really talking to Jesse? Maybe he thinks that by apologizing to his real son, he can somehow make amends with his surrogate one. When Walt Jr. helps his disoriented dad back to bed, Walt asks if he likes his car, then murmurs, “That’s good, Jesse.”
NEXT: What do Walt’s daddy issues say about his health?
But in the morning, once Walt Jr. has replaced his glasses, Walt seems to see things a little more clearly. His story about his father explains a lot about him: his fears of being seen as weak, his avoidance of hospitals, his belief that one must take care of his family before he takes care of himself. Walt knows that people talked about his father, and as a kid, he pretended like the great stories were true. But in truth, Walt only has one memory of his father: lying on the bed, smelling of Lysol and bleach, breathing like an empty, rattling can of spray paint, looking frighteningly weak—all things that no doubt apply to Walt right now. “I don’t want that to be the memory you have of me when I’m gone,” he tells Walt Jr.
Why is Walt so worried about how he’ll be remembered? Again, we wonder: is Walt’s cancer back? While he talks about how things will be once he’s not around anymore, there’s a desert landscape hanging in the background, the same painting that was in the doctor’s office when Walt first got his cancer diagnosis. It’s like the specter of death hanging over him. You know what they say about the desert: it’s all dust to dust out there.
But Walt Jr. isn’t so concerned with his dad’s legacy. He just wants a normal father right now. “Remembering you that way wouldn’t be so bad,” he tells Walt. “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?”
Does Walt even know who the “real” Walt is anymore? Once, it seemed that he was a buttoned-up suburban dad masquerading as a meth-slinging killer. But now, it seems it’s the other way around.
And Skyler’s following his lead: lately, it’s hard to tell whether she’s the good wife pretending to be the bad girl, or the bad girl pretending to be the good wife. We don’t know what’s worse: funneling money to Ted via his “great Aunt Birgid,” or recklessly telling him that she was the one who did it. (If Walt finds out about this, it won’t just be the IRS that’s coming after Ted.) You know you’re in trouble when Saul Goodman, the same guy who believes he can convince people that he’s Kevin Costner, thinks you’ve got bad ideas.
“Maybe the universe is telling you that you that you should pay what you owe,” Skyler tells Ted, urging him to use his “inheritance” to cover his debts to the government. But maybe Skyler should heed her own advice. We have a feeling that, sooner or later, someone’s going to make her face consequences for what she’s done.
And speaking of payback, Don Eladio finally got his. Funny that “Salud,” the name of the episode, is also his final blessing to the group: Loosely translated, it means, to your health—an ironic toast for a guy who’s about to die. Poisoning his Zafiro Añejo—a tequila that’s named for a blue precious stone, just like the blue crystal they’re cooking—feels almost poetic. After sharing the blue stuff with Don Eladio, Gus makes him choke on it.
How could Gus be sure that this selfish man would share with all of his capos? And why didn’t Don Eladio offer a glass to Mike? And why did everyone—short and tall, fat and thin—die at the exact same time? And how could Gus be certain exactly how long to keep that tainted liquid in his stomach, or how long those antidote pills he took would safeguard him?
There’s still so many questions left unanswered, but we’re willing to forgive a lot just to watch Gus enact the most mannered, elegant vomit scene we’ve ever witnessed. (That folded jacket! The towel-cushion for his knees!) No matter what happens, Gus has his revenge, killing Don Eladio in the same place Max fell more than two decades ago. One good swimming pool murder deserves another.
“Don Eladio is dead,” Gus shouts. “His capos are dead. You have no one left to fight for. Fill your pockets and leave in peace. Or fight me and die!”
And yet, is this really justice for anyone? Yes, Mike and Gus have done such a good job of convincing Jesse that he’s a hero, they finally get him to act like one: Jesse saves them all with a few cool-headed shots of his gun. (All those hours playing Rage have paid off.) But that means Jesse’s killed another man, after avoiding pulling the trigger for so long. And Gus, who’s still doubled over in pain, looks like he might be the next one to die. Meanwhile, the guilt of dragging his family into this is starting to get to Walt. It’s just like Skyler says. Maybe the universe is telling them that they should pay what they owe.
NEXT: A few questions for you readers
A few questions for you readers:
Mike removes the necklace from Don Eladio’s neck. Why does he do that?
What’s with all the poisoning this season? Do you think Gus knew that Walt was making poison in his own lab (and maybe even borrowed the idea for Don Eladio), or is this just a coincidence?
Is Jesse’s loyalty to Gus and Mike official now? With Mike bleeding and Gus severely weakened, he still saved their lives. What does this mean for his future relationship with Walt?
Place your bets on who will die first this season: Gus? Mike? Ted?
Walter White descends into the criminal underworld.