Salud & Crawl Space
You really have to admire the way that Gustavo Fring can fold his jacket.
Look at his style: sleek, professional, obtaining minimal folds and wrinkles. He calmly leaves it on the counter in Don Eladio’s mansion bathroom, before promptly putting a towel on the floor in front of the toilet so he can proceed to purge the contents of his own stomach, having willingly ingested poison-tainted tequila not long before. Why do this? Simple: because Gustavo Fring has just completed one of the most brutal acts of revenge ever seen, slowly plotting his moves years after his other half of “Los Pollos Hermanos” died at Eladio’s hands, in front of this very swimming pool, no less.
Yet as elaborate as Gus’ epic plot for revenge is, this episode reveals a lot of personal moments, and nothing is more private that Walt trying to conceal his pain, both physical and emotional, following the friendship-ending fight he had with Jesse one episode prior in “Bug”. His glasses having popped a lens, the blood from his headwound spreading through his bedsheets, Walt can barely fathom what just happened outside of the fact that it was the biggest mistake he has ever made in his life. All the while, Skyler has to deal with unveiling Walt Jr.‘s big birthday present all by herself: a P.T. Cruiser. Few things sting worse than her big plan to go out riding with him afterwards only to have Walt Jr. indicate that he’s “really starving” and could go for those pancakes she started making right about now. Although Walt Jr. has been the subject of a long-standing emotional back-and-forth between Walt and Skyler, there really is nothing that would make Walt Jr. happier than to just see them back together again.
Hence, that’s why his first journey with the P.T. Cruiser is over to Walt’s apartment, refusing to accept his lack of response to door rings and phone calls as a reason to ignore him. Walt reluctantly lets his son in to see him half-naked, brutally bruised and injured. Although Walt chalks it up a fight that happened after he fell back into gambling, his emotional scars are something he just can’t hide, soon breaking down and crying in front of Walt Jr., as vulnerable a moment as we’ve ever seen from Walt, who immediately tries to course-correct it the next day, saying that he knows what it’s like, his own father having been died when he was six years old. Walt describes how he was actually terrified of his aging, ill dad, but people over the years have painted a picture of him that is very vivid, an ideal memory. When he asks Walt Jr. to not remember him like that, Walt Jr. counters immediately, saying that this was actually the most “real” he had ever seen his dad act in some time.
Everything we need to know, however, comes after Walt’s emotional breakdown when Walt Jr. gets his dad back into bed, and while drifting off to sleep, Walt asks his son what he thought of his birthday gift, to which Walt Jr. lies in response, leading a half-asleep Walt to accidentally call him Jesse. Walt Jr. seems unsure of how to process the comment, but it only goes to show that even now, even with his family as the chief motivator for his initial journey down this dark road, there’s only one relationship that Walt truly, truly cares about, and that’s with his prodigal son, Jesse.
Speaking of, Jesse is at first uneasy when he’s brought across the border to show the cartel’s labs how to cook his patented blue meth. The amount of blowback he gets from their on-hand chemist (played with zeal by Carlo Rota), scoffing at Jesse’s appearance and lack of knowledge about basic chemical mixing, creates a real moment for Jesse to step up, tossing every word back at the doctor’s face, demanding a clean facility (all those years with Walt have taught him well), and finally giving Jesse a chance to prove he could do this all by himself, even as dozens of on-lookers with gas masks stare from the warehouse walkways above. Jesse achieves an astonishing purity (96.2%), but had he not been completely abandoned by Walt when he needed advice most in “Bug”, Jesse may not have been forced to step up in the way that he did here. His solo outing now completely justified, the emotional gap between Jesse and Walt will only be that much harder to bridge.
There’s another moment in this episode that is worth noting as well: after the violent bloodshed and pool deck filled with corpses following Gus’ gift of poisoned tequila, Mike tells Jesse to “make yourself useful” and grab a gun, Jesse helping Mike awkwardly carry Gus’ poisoned-but-alive body to any car to get away. Mike gets shot by one of the few men that are still alive under Don Eladio’s command, but what we should note is just how quick and impulsive Jesse swings around, emptying his clip at the faceless muscle without flinching. While Jesse’s moral compass will prevent him from ever killing without regret, it’s obvious now that following his dispatching of Gale, Jesse is not entirely unaccustomed to the art now. That look of pain in his eyes as he fires (bless you, Aaron Paul) tells us all we need to know, and just as when he kept seeing flashes of Gale’s face while playing the video game Rage, he will forever be haunted by that painful regret he holds inside, miles removed from the remorseless dispatching of life that has become Gus, Mike, and now Walt’s near-daily trade.
Gus has done some coldly calculated things in his day, but “Salud” goes to show that he will always get his revenge, even if he has to play it cool for years on end to achieve it. Despite being near death, the stage is now set for a final confrontation between Walt & Gus, and even with the two being a whole country apart at this moment, first-time viewers of the series can only expect the bolts to tighten from here. Drink up, everybody: sometimes the poison remains at the bottom of the glass. Evan Sawdey
Photo: Ursula Coyote/AMC
S4E11 Crawl Space
When that final image of Walter White finally presents itself to a first-time viewer, there’s little-change that it will be anywhere near as indelible than that of the howling, hysterical maniac desperately scraping the dirt beneath his house for his hidden rainy day fund. “Crawl Space” is absolutely not the end of Walter White; it’s not the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning or the end of the end or any other Churchillian construction. As the camera slowly peels away from Walt, lying prone and no longer crazily laughing at God-knows-what, it’s hard to shake the feeling that something has indeed ended.
By any reasonable metric, Walt’s foray into drug dealing has been an unmitigated success. Despite his recurring dalliances with mayhem and death, Walt is very much alive, having paid off his astronomical medical bills by manufacturing methamphetamine by the ton. He innovated the New Mexican meth game and the surrounding region with a speedy blue sensation that has created a windfall for him and his associates that would make even the creators of Beanie Babies blush.
For the better part of the last two seasons however, the walls have been closing in. Once a valued member of the Los Pollos Hermanos: “Makers of Meth and Death” Team, Walt has long since fallen out of favor with drug overlord/fried chicken mastermind Gus Fring. Walt has tried to outfox and outwit Gus to no end and despite Jesse’s protestations that seem to be all that stands in the way of Walt and a bullet to the head, it really is only a matter of time before Gus gets his way. As Jesse learned, the value add proposition as it related to Walt has diminished proportionally. Now it’s a mere sentiment that Jesse holds that keeps Gus from leaving Walt in a ditch in the desert.
Walter has simply screwed up too many times. He is blamed for tipping off Hank about the laundry where Gus and Walt teamed up to transform meth cookery into an industrial art. In reality, he only tagged along to gather intel regarding Hank’s knowledge about their operation and his spur-of-the-moment decision to veer into oncoming traffic, rather than pull into the laundry, did at least temporarily throw his brother-in-law off the scent and allow Walt to keep his cover. But the fried chicken cum meth gang is a demanding bunch. Too many betrayals, too many screw-ups to forgive. Walt is a dead man, it’s only a matter of time.
Now Walt is left with only one viable option: escape.
A more sensible man would have deployed his parachute long ago. The bloodshed already visited upon Hank and the potential for even worse violence that may be coming for Skyler and his children would have scared most men in Walt’s position into running for safety. But Walt is very far from normal.
What started as an uncanny penchant for stomaching threats of bodily harm, long-term incarceration, or worse, became a pathological obsession with testing his limits. Walt has never backed down, always overpromised, and somehow always managed to over-perform. So it comes as something of a surprise to see him frantically interrupt Saul in his strip-mall-chic law office to get the phone number of the “cleaner” who will find the Whites new identities and lives far away from the danger rapidly enveloping them in Albuquerque.
Unfortunately for Walt, Skyler has handled L’affaire de Ted Beneke with considerably less precision than the other nefarious dealings he’s become accustomed to. Skyler can cook a mean book, so conversely she can uncover the machinations of the bush league accounting scam that Beneke is running with relative ease. Her disaffection from Walt might have driven her into Ted’s arms, but now she finds herself in league with another, more thoughtless kind of criminal who is all too happy to go down with the sinking ship, iron-clad lease to his new Mercedes in hand. Ted doesn’t want to merely pay off the IRS, he wants to keep the whole train rolling, fraudulent business practices and all. He smells the desperation on Skyler and attempts to fatten the purse she kindly extends to save him. Convincing of a more primal sort is in order.
Better call Saul!
Whether Skyler acts out of self-preservation or spite, Saul’s henchmen Kuby and Huell all too efficiently carry out their task. Ted signs the check and accepts the $617,000 that will keep him and Skyler out of the IRS’ crosshairs. The ignominious header that Ted suffers notwithstanding, things go according to plan, shooting Walter’s plan B to smithereens in the process. Now, the body of Ted Beneke is clogging the escape hatch and there’s no way out.
Escape has always been discussed as an option for Walter. Sure he and the family would have to leave Hank and Marie behind, but aside from that relationship, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot binding the Whites to Albuquerque. It was always a conceivable option and, on this day, the only one that will ensure their survival.
But Skyler is Walt’s blind spot. He has consistently eschewed any concern for the health of his marriage at every turn, lying, cajoling, and aw-shucksing his way to that toxic place where Walt and Skyler find themselves, sharing a roof and sometimes a bed, but almost nothing else. Walt knew she was getting the milkman treatment from Ted behind his back and he even feigned outrage (remember that weak hammer-style potted plant throw at Ted’s office window?). However, he never bore the scars of a man wounded by his wife’s infidelity. While she was off getting carnal knowledge of Ted, Walt could go play “cops and robbers” (or “meth dealers and DEA agents” if you like). He always thought that trading Skyler’s affection for the time required to run his meth business was what allowed him to continue his criminal dealings. Instead it’s the thing that, in this moment, appears to sow the very seeds of his demise.
The conclusion of “Crawl Space” spells the end of any chance of escape. Walt won’t be able to run from Gus. He’ll be forced to either accept his fate or to fight back. It’s a no-brainer what Walt’s course of action will be, he’s the nerdy fighter with balls as big as the Sonoran desert; but as always, there was another way. Robert Downs Schultz