The story of two men going in two different directions.
Two orders of business before we get started. First, sorry about missing last week. Sometimes, real life just gets in the damn way. Second, a big thanks to Eli Katz, aka "The Smartest Man in the Outhouse," and not for no reason, for covering this column and doing a great job of it for two weeks.
That's quite a fake-out.
Walt White and Jesse Pinkman are following two different trajectories; that much has been true all season. The rub is that they're not going in the same directions they were previously.
At the outset, Walt was the man of action. Trying to take his destiny back into his own hands, Walt was actively working to formulate his plan to kill Gus and trying to shake Jesse from his numbness. As soon as that paradigm was established, Vince Gilligan and company started to subvert things and caused the two players on the board switch emotional places. That all came to a head in last week's episode, "Bug." In "Bug," Walt and Jesse finally come to blows as their partnership dissolves. This comes about due to Gus and Mike the Cleaner making Jesse feel like a more important piece of their organization, so as to drive a wedge in between him and Walt (the fact that he's been stepping up and looks like he's up to the job is a pleasantly-arrived at bonus). Jesse becomes king shit of fuck mountain (who answers to Gus) while Walt pretty much becomes a put-upon wage slave.
The fight with Jesse has Walt acting like a teenage girl who just went through a break-up. He stays in bed all day and doesn't want to talk to anyone because it just hurts so much! It's comical, until you look at the big picture. Walt knows his fate is sealed. Walt isn't needed anymore once Jesse and he are no longer on the same page. He knows that Gus is now free to do to him what he did to Victor in the season premíere. He's going to be killed, so he can't exactly think about celebrating Walt Jr's birthday party. When Jr. goes to check up on him, Walt completely breaks down before having a genuine heart-to-heart with him. In a very touching scene, Walt tells his son about the strongest memories of his own father, particularly the time surrounding his death. Walt talks how potent the smell of the hospital his father died in is in his memory, before transitioning into how he doesn't want Jr. to think of him as that crying mess on the floor. It's a great monologue, delivered so well by Bryan Cranston, but what comes next is truly devastating. Walt Jr. says that remembering his father that way wouldn't be the worst thing, since compared to the rest of the year he states that "at least last night you were real." Walt Jr. has known that things are not right in his family the whole time, but he's been suffering through it in silence. With two sentences, Walt Jr. completely overturns his father's lengthy expression of deep-seated emotionalism in a way that cuts through much of what we've seen in almost four seasons of this show. Walt's actions reverberate in ways even he can't imagine.
That includes the ascent of Jesse Pinkman. When trouble comes to Gus' doorstep in the form of Don Eladio's Mexican cartel, Gus seems to play along for a while. Of course, Gus always has a plan, and the one seen here in "Salud" is a pretty ingenious, if not risky. The cartel wants Walt's meth formula, and Gus decides that they'll bring Jesse down to Mexico to provide it. Watching Jesse take charge of the lab in Mexico and getting in the face of the cartel leaders for running such a shoddy operation really pleases Gus, but it also sounds to viewers like Jesse has learned his lessons well from Walt. Jesse rails about scrubbing cooking surfaces and the possibility of contamination in a way that sounds exactly like Walt. While in earlier seasons he seemed to be little more than an impulsive, trouble-making meth head, Jesse is now the new Walt White, one who's firmly on the side of Gus. He even shows a little bit of Mike in him when Gus' plan goes into effect. A poisoned bottle of "Zafiro Añjero" (Google doesn't seem to know too much about it either) eliminates Don Eladio (who dies and lands, appropriately enough, in his pool) and his gang, but even Gus is affected due to Eladio invoking the "you drink first so I know this isn't a poisoned bottle of liquor you just handed me" rule of bad guy meet-ups. Just as Gus, Mike, and Jesse are about to make their escape, they get shot at by Gaff, Mike the Cleaner's Mexican non-union equivalent working for Don Eladio. He survives a strangulation attempt by, and puts a bullet into the guts of, our Mike. Jesse steps up and guns down Gaff before driving his two wounded bosses away.
Jesse Pinkman becomes a lieutenant in the Gus Fring operation while Walter White cries into his pillow. It's amazing how much things have changed for these two men.
Elsewhere in the episode, Skyler runs into trouble when her former boss/lover finds out he is being audited due to back taxes. Being that she was Smarmy Ted's bookkeeper, she'd be implicated in any financial wrongdoings Ted might be charged with, so she needs to think quickly. That's right, Skyler just calls Saul, and uses him to funnel some of Walt's ill-gotten gains to Ted (in the guise of a distant relative supposedly dying) so that he can pay off the IRS. Smarmy Ted blows a bunch of his money on a new luxury car and tries to re-open his business instead, so Skyler has to tell him (part of) the truth about where the money really came from. This side-story isn't so compelling, but it is necessary so it's hard to really be frustrated by it. You can't really have Skyler simply raking in the dough at the car wash with no danger of something going wrong for her, or adding some element of danger.
Written or Contributed by: Royal Nonesuch