"Tortuga means 'Turtle.' That's me: I take my time, but I always win." -Tortuga"Breaking Bad" is a show that takes its time. We know this. The pacing that seemed (to me, at least) a drawback in the early going of season one has turned out to be one of the series' greatest assets. Because we spend so much time on moments that similar shows and movies would gloss over, because we live with these characters at a much more measured pace than you can find most anywhere else, we feel the impact of them at a deeper level. And now that we're at the halfway point of season 2, all those slow turtle steps are starting to turn into victorious strides.
Much of "Negro Y Azul" deals with Walt talking Jesse into greatly expanding the reach of their operation, largely on the basis of the rep Jesse has developed because the greater Albuquerque meth community believes he's the one who dropped the ATM on Spooge's head. And because we spent most of last week's episode watching how events really unfolded at Skank and Spooge's house, using those events as the misleading foundation of a criminal empire is both sadder and funnier than if Jesse's visit had been just one of many events in a busier episode.
Despite Jesse's newfound reputation as a literal head-crusher, he and Walt have no idea how in over their heads they are. Even if they haven't watched the hilarious pre-credits sequence with the fake Spanish-language music video about how the Mexican cartel is getting mad at this Heisenberg fellow, they have to realize that what they need as much as additional dealers is muscle. Jesse's reputation will only get them so far, particularly if he's ever challenged on that rep. And even though Walt's far more bad-ass than his more feared partner, he's also in danger of collapsing from a coughing fit at any moment. As some commenters have been joking for the last few weeks, these guys desperately need to rent the complete "The Wire" on DVD, learn some lessons about security, counter-surveillance, plausible deniability, etc. Making the likes of Badger and Skinny Pete into the top lieutenants (or "knights") is just asking for trouble.
Will that trouble come from the cartel folks who decapitated Tortuga (well-played, in his one and only scene, by stone-faced character actor Danny Trejo), and then took out the bulk of the DEA's El Paso field office with a booby-trapped, exploding tortoise? Let me repeat that: these people put the decapitated head of a guy nicknamed "Turtle" on the back of an actual turtle that they then wired to blow. These people are relentless and evil on a scale that Walt can't begin to comprehend, let alone prepare to defend himself against. The only thing that may save him would be the thing that was going to save him with Tuco: he's too valuable as a cook to kill.
And in killing or maiming the other El Paso field agents, the cartel inadvertently continued Hank's climb up the ladder -- not that he's going to want to move up those rungs. The only reason he avoided the turtle-bomb is because he was so freaked out by the sight of Tortuga's head that he had to run away to get some air and compose himself. Like Jesse, Hank seems to be someone who was never that prepared for the deadly side of his chosen profession, and who's now forced to confront it because (in his case unwittingly) his relationship to Walt.
And while Hank may have just puked his way from laughingstock into a major promotion, all Skyler had to do to get her old job back was smile a little at former boss Ted Beneke. It's clear that she quit four years ago to get away from him: she keeps giving different explanations to everyone else, she winces when she sees what she thinks is a wine stain on his shirt, and of course Marie is worried about the guy who sexually harassed her there once upon a time. But is she just going back there because the family is so desperate for money, or has Walt made her feel so alienated that she'd welcome this guy's attentions now?
There's a lot still to find out, not least of which is what happened with the charred teddy bear. But I trust the show to get us there. Like Jesse in the final scene with his new flatscreen searching for a satellite signal, we're still waiting for the picture to come in. And just as Jane takes Jesse's hand as they sit there, we know that the wait is going to be at least as fulfilling as when we get to see the picture itself.
Some other thoughts on "Negro Y Azul" (translated as "black and blue"):
• We've all been talking lately about how completely the show has flipped its sympathies away from Walt and towards Jesse. This one finally pulls Walt a bit off the monster ledge, at least in the way he finally begins to understand what he's done to Jesse -- how he's dragged Jesse down into Hell with him. The first scene in Jesse's darkened living room was so amazing in the way that we could see, even in shadow, Walt's mood change as he realized what had happened. He was sympathetic to Jesse, and even after he realized that Jesse had screwed up with Skank -- and even after he shifted into all-business mode -- he's no longer yelling at and talking over his partner at every turn.
• On the other hand, Walt's not such a sweetheart that he can let Barry try to get over on him about the failed science test, but I got a kick out of the pleasure he got in stringing Barry along for a moment before smacking him down.
• The Atomic Museum where Walt, and later Jesse, met with Badger and friends, is now technically known as The National Museum of Nuclear Science & History.
• Note that Walt's still learning on the job as he goes. After the fiasco with Skyler finding out about the second cell phone, he's now keeping his new drug phone hidden in the ceiling of his classroom, only turning it on when he needs to call Jesse.
• What do you suppose Jane's story is? In her first appearance, she seemed pretty no-nonsense and not interested in having any kind of troublemaker living next door, but now she doesn't mind that Jesse lied about his name, or even that it seems he's involved in something criminal. I like having Krysten Ritter around, and it's good to show Jesse having someone to deal with who isn't Walt or one of his meth-head friends.
What did everybody else think?