Breaking Bad recap: Pay What You Owe

Gus gets revenge, Jesse gets respect, and Walt gets what's coming to him.
Ep. 10 | Aired Sep 18, 2011

MAKING A RUN FOR THE BORDER: Jesse (Aaron Paul) faces the cartel

Ursula Coyote/AMC

"Who do you think you are?"

That's the question that the Mexican cartel's chemist asks Jesse in this week's episode, "Salud." It's easy to see what he's thinking: This guy? With the black eye and the freshman-level chemistry? He's the genius who's going to tell me how to cook? But his question isn't just a rhetorical one. This is a show about secret identities, alter egos, and paper trails that get "disappeared" everywhere from Albuquerque to Chile. It's not who you are that matters. It's who you think you are that determines what you become. (And if what you think you are is invincible, you may find yourself floating facedown in your own swimming pool. But more on that later.)

Take Jesse, who's able to convince himself that he's Walt, and puts on a good impression of his teacher for the cartel. At first, on the flight down to Mexico, he's so chicken, Gus could deep-fry him and serve him with that zesty, piquant sauce that Don Eladio loves so much. But after Gus assures him "You can do this," he gets all Heisenberg Jr. on the cartel, using his Spanish-to-Supervillain translation dictionary with aplomb. "I speak English," says the cartel's chemist. "So you understand what a--hole means?" Jesse replies.

Turning Mr. White into Mr. Black and Blue should do wonders for Jesse's confidence. His big declaration to the cartel—"I'm the guy your boss brought here to show you how it's done"—is the closest he's ever gotten to saying "I am the one who knocks." And it's also a good recall of Mike's "You're not the guy!" speech. Judging by the proud, that's-our-boy! looks that Jesse gets from Mike and Gus, "the guy" is exactly what Jesse has become. Still, Jesse understands that he's still not meeting his teacher's standards. When he scores just above 96%, it seems the cartel is happy, but Jesse knows he's still three percent below Walt.

While Jesse's turning into the man he always feared, Walt's starting to realize that he's not the man he thought he was. It's telling that his eyeglasses are cracked: he can't see himself in the same way anymore. Glasses are a big theme this week. Walt breaks his. Saul accuses Skyler of wearing rose-colored ones. And after the whole Mexican cartel has been poisoned, Gus puts his glasses back on, very slowly and deliberately. Gus's vision for Los Pollos is getting more acute, while Walt's losing his focus.

No longer feeling like the almighty Heisenberg, Walt's the most vulnerable we've seen him yet, with his nose bloody, his glasses broken, his tattered tightie-whities sagging, his own son tucking him into bed. (The very moving scene where he cries on the couch should earn him an Emmy.) "I made a mistake," he says. "It's my own fault. I had it coming. It's all my fault. I’m sorry." Is he talking to Walt Jr., or is he really talking to Jesse? Maybe he thinks that by apologizing to his real son, he can somehow make amends with his surrogate one. When Walt Jr. helps his disoriented dad back to bed, Walt asks if he likes his car, then murmurs, "That’s good, Jesse."

NEXT: What do Walt's daddy issues say about his health?

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