I have mentioned a handful of times in my previous recaps that Breaking Bad, a show that merits it faithful viewers, is a slow burn. This season, like past seasons, was extremely deliberate and methodical in its pacing. There were times the season dragged, to be sure, but I was never bored by it. A lot happened in last night’s episode, and I’m happy to announce that it features the first, jaw-dropping moment of the season.
While Season 4 may have taken its sweet time to finely manicure its substantial narrative, the point it’s reached nearly tore through me. We are talking check-your-pulse-at-the-door excitement here.
Let’s start at the beginning. The episode begins with an invariably radiant shot of a stark landscape, its pristine grandeur dotted only by Jesse, Gus, Mike, and a shanty of a propeller plane. Jesse, left cold and bruised from last week’s brawl with Walt, exudes shades of hope and despair on the plane. Will he prove himself worthy to the Mexican Cartel? Is Jesse prepared to cook alone?
Jesse approaches the Cartel’s lab with an air of trepidation, but quickly switches gears. Whatever bout with confidence he had prior to his arrival he has now won. Nimbly, but with the tact only Jesse could deliver, he commands the attention of everyone in the room (including Gus and Mike, who smirk nonchalantly).
He makes sure to demean the lead chemist, calling him his bitch, and belittles the state of the lab. He instantly establishes himself as an independent and powerful force, and the Cartel show signs of subservience, if even only in subtle form. When he cooks a product that is near perfect, the Cartel demand that Jesse stay and become their lead cook. It’s not as if Jesse has a choice in this matter.
Meanwhile, Walt is still in the physical throes of his boxing match with Jesse. You can nearly see his head throbbing with agonizing pain. When he sleeps through his son’s birthday in what can only be described as a drunken stupor, Walt Jr. rushes to his dad’s to make sure everything is ok. There he finds his father, bloodied and hopeless, standing in nothing but his underwear and a T-shirt.
I felt its imagery was intentional, harking back to get up that was extremely characteristic of first season. It was a time where Walt was still new, human, and extremely vulnerable. A time where he was uncertain the impact his actions would have, and how things would play out in the future.
In an emotional scene, he apologizes to his son for his drunken stupor and subsequent emotional release (in which he blames himself for everything, a sure nod to the fight that occurred last week). In a heartbreaking moment, Walt Jr. states that it is the most real his dad has been all year, and even though he was broken down and lacked lucidity, he expressed himself honestly. Walt has come a long way from where he used to be. In an even more bittersweet (yet, in another sense, devastating) moment, Walt accidentally calls his son “Jesse”.
The episode ends with an outrageously tense, incredibly crafted sequence that easily stands among the series’ best. Gus, along with Mike and Jesse, stand at the very spot where Gus’ hermano Max was murdered: Poolside at the home of Don Eladio. They are here to present Don Eladio with a gift: A bottle of tequila, curiously the same brand they drank the day of Max’s murder.
It’s a professional, businesslike gesture to promise a fruitful and pacifistic future with the Cartel. Don Eladio doesn’t entirely trust Gus, and waits for him to drink first when they toast. When he does, Don Eladio drinks too, as does the entirety of his Cartel. Gus excuses himself, and the Don goes about enjoying the party.
Jesse and Mike, who both chose not to drink due to personal reasons, stand by quietly. Mike plays stoic in general, and Jesse is too concerned with his new life in Mexico to muster a care. We cut to Gus, on his knees in the bathroom, in front of the toilet. He purges himself. Things become instantly clear.
Shot in a fashion that can only be described as brilliant, the entire Cartel die off, one by one. Gus returns from the bathroom, writhing in pain. He hasn’t gotten all the poison out of his system, but he still manages to scream out commands to the remaining members. He watches as Don Eladio dies before him, falling into the pool the very same spot his hermano passed away. Oh, the exacting of sweet justice!
When all but Gus, Mike, and Jesse have perished, they make their way out of the compound. A cartel member who must have skipped on the booze fires off a few shots before Jesse guns him down, and one of the bullets connects with Mike’s chest. Bloody yet composed, Mike asks Jesse to get them out. And then the episode ends. I still have a lump in my throat.
My recap cannot do this episode of Breaking Bad justice. I even failed to go into Skyler’s subplot, in which she donated six hundred thousand of her own funds to bail out Ted from his IRS fiasco. All the subplots in this episode pale in comparison to Gus’, who is now our new hero. He may be the bad guy, but by god, he is such a good bad guy. This season is on fire right now!