Breaking Bad Recap: Tequila!

Photo: Ursula Coyote/Copyright: AMC 2011
Three wise men head to Mexico, bearing gifts. Photo: Ursula Coyote/Copyright: AMC 2011

When will Jesse kill Gus, Walt keeps asking. Is it done? The thing we talked about? Did you do it? Well, Walt’s in for a big surprise when Jesse returns from Mexico.

Jesse didn’t kill Gus. Jesse didn’t even let Gus die (at least not yet). Jesse loyally saved the lives of both Gus and Mike, when it would have been so easy to cut his losses and run away. Had Gus and Mike been left to die in that parking lot, along with Don Eladio and all his capos, Jesse and Walt would have their freedom now. It would all be over. They could cash out, buy a condo in the Maldives, a Dodge Challenger for Walt Jr. Maybe sail around the world, or go into business for themselves. A happy ending was so close.

Instead, Jesse chooses to save the men who have locked him up in a basement and forced him to cook meth for the rest of his life — and who put him in this dangerous Mexican situation without explaining a bit of it to him beforehand. When the next episode begins, will Jesse be in the car, deciding whether or not to dump them in a ditch? Will he attempt to extract some promise from Gus before taking him to a doctor? Or will he just loyally escort them home? My guess is that they’ll be back in Albuquerque, undercurrents of the show rejiggered, yet again, with Walt, clueless and threatened.

At one point, it seemed like this season was going to chronicle Walt’s rise to power and Gus’s fall, but that appears to have been a massive act of misdirection. Jesse, who put all that first-person-shooter expertise to good use, is on the rise. How do we know Jesse’s got his mojo back? After taking a break from his favorite catchphrase, while wrestling with demons, he finally returns, calling the scientist a “whining little bitch!” (Though the better line was probably, “Oh, so you know what asshole means.”) When he slaps down the rival scientist, it’s a reminder that, unlike Walt, Jesse’s the one who’s grown up a criminal: He’s the one who understands what it’s like to be a meth-head or some powerful crook’s underling. That experience matters.

The ominous open and poolside scenes were white-knuckle tense. By the same pool where Gus watched Max bleed to death, Gus finally gets his revenge, poisoning Don Eladio and all his men. It complete’s Gus emergence as one of TV’s baddest bad guys: a stone-cold, fastidious killer who’s not afraid to take enormous risks. If Gus survives, will he knock off Tio when he returns? He barely makes it out of there and when he does, it’s only thanks to Jesse, who guns down an assailant who was slick enough to put a bullet in the formerly invincible Mike.

The episode was a microcosm of the show: Moving monologues, spare two-hander scenes, and rapid plot developments that would have been stretched out over half a season on some other show. There’s always tension between the characters, but there’s a fascinating tension to the show itself, too, in the way these headlong plot twists are cross-cut with raw moments like Walt’s bruised confessional with Walt Junior.

“It’s my own fault. I had it coming. It’s all my fault. I’m sorry,” he tells Walt Jr. “I don’t want that to be the memory you have of me when I’m gone.” Walt might be referring to the fact that Gus could kill him at any moment — or that the cancer may be back, since we never got the results from that test. Junior tells him that the bad way to remember him “would be the way you’ve been this whole last year. At least last night, you were real.” It’s a brilliant little piece of double-edged writing: On one hand, you have to agree with Junior: Yes, your Dad should be honest with you. But if Junior really knew his dad was a meth-cooking murderer, would those memories really be better? Honesty’s great, in theory. In practice, it’s trickier. And what if he knew that Walt felt closer to Jesse, and had a more authentic relationship with Jesse, than he does with his own son, whom he still treats like a helpless child? “That’s good, Jesse,” Walt says, after Walt Jr. puts him down. When Walt wakes up, Junior has repaired Walt’s glasses. Is it a sign that he’ll be seeing things more clearly in the last three episodes?

I thoroughly enjoyed this episode — the raw quiet of Walt’s monologue, the whiplash-fast mayhem at the hacienda, the typically excellent score and framing — but, again, I was tripped up by the Skyler subplot. It’s just not working for me. In the past, I’ve been skeptical of her character because of her rapid transformation into a money-laundering, tough-minded mob moll. In this case, it makes sense that she bungles her idiotic plan and then proceeded to make it worse. But the far larger problem is the Evil Knievel–style logical leap it takes to pull it off. Do you really think that Saul, who’s paid an enormous amount by Walt, would really go behind Walt’s back to help Skyler take over 600,000 bucks and give it to another man? Sorry, no way. Saul would speak to Walt. Period. I don’t think her character was ever defined firmly enough to evolve in any believable way.

The series has to be careful: In this episode, Gilligan stages an elaborate mass-murder sequence that requires you to believe that Gus can vomit out much of his poison at the exact same time as men are keeling over dead — and that all those men with guns would keel over dead before taking out either Walt or Gus. That’s a lot to ask an audience to buy. I went along for that part of the story, but the Skyler story line just pushed me over the edge.

So, what’s next for Skyler? Now that Ted knows Skyler gave him the money, she’s even more vulnerable. Of course, there’s an easy way out. Skyler could just have Ted killed. That would take care of her tax problem — and complete her corruption, too.

Breaking Bad Recap: Tequila!