The Glorious Piece of Television that is Breaking Bad’s “Salud”

I wrote this the week of the Breaking Bad series finale in 2013 as part of a Breaking Bad Week celebration we did on our now defunct website, Tricycle Offense.

It’s rather fitting that Breaking Bad Week starts, well, late. After the train wreck (in a good way) glory that was “Granite State”, one could understand why I wasn’t eager to tackle my favorite episode quite yet. Despite some real debating, I didn’t choose “Granite State” as my favorite episode… yet. Maybe after multiple viewings, especially once I sit down and watch season 5 as a whole, it’ll come out at the outright winner.

I go back to the starting late, because I started watching Breaking Bad late. It wasn’t long after season 4 completed that I pressed play on the first episode on Netflix. While some viewers call the show’s pilot boring, I couldn’t help but keep watching after seeing Walt’s taped confession in the first 5 minutes.

The moment I knew I was hooked? “Cancer Man” when Walter blew up the car with the KEN WINS license plates. It was something we’ve all fantasied about doing to that oblivious douchebag that annoys us and is an underrated plot point in Walt’s journey to “breaking bad”.

Sure, he killed Krazy 8 the episode before but he didn’t want to. Hell, he was so naive that he was going to free him before he uncannily discovered the missing plate shard.

Now, we’re 5 days away from the series finale of what some are calling the best television show of all-time and it’s hard to argue against. I’ll have to take another complete viewing of The Wire for me to settle that dispute. But to pick just one episode as my favorite out of 5 seasons? It took some doing, but I decided on season 4′s “Salud”. But first, the honorable mentions:

    • Season 2, “Four Days Out”: Walt, Jesse, and a broken down RV in the desert. We also learn Walt’s cancer, his reason for cooking, is in remission.
    • Season 3, “Sunset”: Walt and Jesse get trapped in the RV again, this time in the junkyard with Hank right outside. Gus also sics the Cousins (Hector Salamanca’s nephews) on Hank in an attempt to divert them away from killing Walt.
    • Season 3, “Fly”: Walt and Jesse take on a fly that has infiltrated the superlab. A serious candidate for my favorite episode.
    • Season 4, “Face Off”: An episode where the series could’ve possibly ended on a high note. Gus meets his end and Walt declares victory.
    • Season 5, “Dead Freight”: The ultimate heist episode, as Walt, Jesse, and Todd rob a train for its methylamine.
    • Season 5, Part 2: I’m probably too close to this since it’s the most recent episodes but any one of these could be considered a favorite.

Of all 61 episodes that I’ve watched, why “Salud”? Because it eliminates our main character from the equation, if only for one episode. While Walt is busy recovering from the can of whoop ass Jesse opened up on him the previous episode (“Bug”) and spending “time” with Jr. on his 16th birthday, Gus, Mike, and Jesse all head to Mexico to meet with Cartel that Gus has been feuding with all season. After Jesse proves to the Cartel (and Gus) that he can cook almost as well as Walt, Gus tricks the Cartel into thinking that Jesse is theirs to keep, but ends up poisoning and killing every last one of them. At episode’s end, Jesse is driving a dying Gus and a wounded Mike the hell out of dodge.

This was the episode where I knew Jesse was my favorite character. I had been a Walt guy the entire series (and I still was rooting for Walt until he made off with Holly 2 episodes ago) and I found Jesse only fouled things up. But in this episode, not only did he cook well, he also defended his bosses by taking out Joaquin (and the last Salamanca remaining besides Hector), then drove them to safety.

This is the episode where Jesse could have been set for life. He wanted to cook and be in the meth business, he had a father figure in Mike, he was learning the hitman trade…this was his true chance to start over. All he had to do was get rid of the pesky allegiance to Walt and shoot him in “End Times”…but we all know how that turned out.

This episode really showcased just how much Walt was holding Jesse back at this point in time. Yes, Walt had pulled him into a lucrative partnership, got him clean of drugs, and saved his life (multiple times), but Walt never (and he still doesn’t seem to) respected Jesse. To his face. It’s a shame that he had to call out Jesse’s name as he passed out in front of Jr. this episode.

And that’s another thing, this episode is all about father/son relationships. Walt/Walt Jr., Walt/Jesse, Walt/his father, and Jesse/Mike. While Walt always says he started cooking meth for his family, we eventually learned that wasn’t true. But the main thing we’ve learned: Walter White is a terrible father/father figure. It’s pretty sad that the only time your real son thinks you’re honest is when you’re drugged out of your mind. And your former student/partner (who has a pretty shitty dad who seemingly gave up on him), just wants a pat on the back sometimes and you refuse to give it to him. Think of the Dr. Cox/J.D. relationship taken to the utmost extreme.

And one thing we know now that season 4 showed signs of: Walt’s egomania. As soon as Mike starts taking Jesse away from the cooks, Walt starts saying how it must be a ploy to get at him (“Cornered”). While he was ultimately right, he failed to mention how jealous he was of the fact that his partner was needed for something bigger than just cooking meth. He spent the rest of the season attempting to convince Jesse to turn on Gus and he couldn’t do it until he poisoned Brock.

And need I mention how cool it is how Gus took down the whole Cartel in one fell swoop? Despite his being the villain of Season 4, I always loved how the cool and calm Gus always had a plan. What seemingly looked like a trade in Mexico to get the Cartel off his back, turned into a decisive victory for Gus and company. There’s nothing better than a villain who can’t be bested at every turn and Gus was that right up until the end.

Of course, we now have the throwaway storyline with Skyler secretly giving Ted money to pay his taxes and then when he doesn’t she tells him the money was from her. I say throwaway because it’s pretty irrelevant to the final end game of the series, but really, she cooked Ted’s books and feared them both doing time. But by the time she gives him the money, the IRS already cut him a break due to her supposed “ignorance”.

To sum up, this episode had action, drama, storyline development, the total package. This would definitely be the episode I would use if I wanted to get someone hooked on Breaking Bad.

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