I could respond with that single-word description to pretty much every episode of Breaking Bad, but after watching "Salud" and then not being able to fall asleep afterward, just... wow.
Think about all the show accomplished in just one hour: Jesse concluded the installment as a hero, Gus as a strong-willed leader beyond anything we'd ever seen before and Walt as, dare I write it, a sympathetic figure with father issues.
And these evolutions took place without bashing the viewer over the head with monumental developments or out-of-nowhere twists. The series can do so much by placing its characters into various situations and having them simply talk.On this episode, we were treated to a fascinating monologue by Walt, an inspired speech by Jesse (my proud smile was even broader than that of Gus and Mike) and a subtitled exchange between Don Eladio and Gus that - due to the history between these two, the performances by the actors, and the build-up of the season - was more suspenseful than any action sequence on any other show could ever be.
But we need to return to Walt for a moment and his stunning admission: "It's all my fault." Yes, this was uttered under heavy medication, but does anyone doubt its honesty? I truly never expected to hear such words from Walt, the guy who believes he's the one who knocks. Has the fight with Jesse, his surrogate son (sorry, Walt Jr.), caused Walt to do a 180?
I doubt it. I can't imagine Heisenberg is a persona of the past this quickly. Still, the brawl and the subsequent, overt anger/pain expressed by Jesse, has clearly had an effect. When was the last time we saw Walt this vulnerable, or as Walt Jr. so aptly put it, this "real?" He's no lovable protagonist now, but Walt has undergone a transformation of some kind at least.
When Gus' employee pulled up and reminded Walt about the job that, for the last year, has turned him into someone who his son does not want to remember, I almost felt bad for Walt. Mere days ago, I couldn't fathom feeling such a way.
And that's what Breaking Bad does so well. It takes you in directions you never imagined you'd go, places you never even realized you were heading until you found yourself watching Jesse and Mike carry a poisoned Gus to a car and actively hoping they'd make it. How did we get here? Earlier this season, Gus was nothing more than the even-keeled boss behind a multi-million dollar meth operation.
He's still that person, but he's also morphed into a man with a past. Did he kill the cartel members purely for business reasons? Or because he's developed a relationship with Jesse akin to the mentor/protege one that Don Elario destroyed many years ago? Probably a little bit of both.
Like Walt, Gus created his own Heisenberg a long time ago. He's just a lot better at it, and the drug boss hat he puts on isn't that of a foolish narcissist. It's of a businessman. That meticulous bathroom scene? With Gus folding each towel and taking precious care to clean up after himself? I doubt that side existed in Mexico. It's been cultivated over the years. It's the habit Gus has perfected in order to succeed in his world of fast food and high stakes drugs. The "real" Gus, however?
Business is not business for him. There was no way he was gonna allow Don Elario to crush his dreams again, especially not with a young, loyal cook by his side.
Just tremendous stuff all around, without me even getting to Skyler and her boneheaded decision to first help Ted, and then let him in on her wealth. No way we've heard the last of that.
This was an example of television at its best, of character evolution and interaction that shocks and fascinates. And it all went down without the show's main character leaving his property or, heck, even putting on pants. Amazing.