Tuesday, 6 September 2011

BREAKING BAD, 4.8 - "Hermanos"

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

This was an incredible episode, finally shining a spotlight on mysterious druglord Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposita), a purveyor of fried chicken whose own feathers can't be ruffled. After last week's provocative ending, with Hank (Dean Norris) giving his DEA boss compelling evidence that may link Gale's murder to Gus's fast-food chain, the tension was thick in the air as Gus was called in for questioning by the police. But Gus is a practiced and exceptionally composed liar, managing to give the DEA convincing and plausible reasons for knowing Gale (a kindhearted chemistry scholar he befriended) and his lack of documentation before becoming a US citizen in 1989 (Chile's government under Pinochet were notoriously bad record-keepers). Questions neatly deflected under pressure, the only visible sign of Gus's anxiety was a nervous tapping of his finger while in the elevator home, the pinging of each passing level not dissimilar to Hector's infamous wheelchair bell...

Ah yes, Hector, aka Tio (Mark Margolis). The crippled uncle of druglord Tuco and the infamous "Cousins" from Mexico, all now killed during various skirmishes. This episode fleshed-out the relationship between Gus and Tio, which is very much a competitive hatred. In his '80s prime, Tio was the right-hand man of Mexican cartel boss Don Eladio (Scarface's Steven Bauer), present when Gus and his best-friend Max Arciniega pitched their business idea to cook methamphetamine for Don Eladio, convinced it's a highly profitable drug that's going to succeed the trend for cocaine. The business plan of the "chicken brothers" was bold and convincing, but Don Eladio felt Gus and Max have manipulated him into a meeting by giving his men "samples" of their meth to get his attention, prompting Tio to shoot Max in the head and force Gus to watch him bleed out into Don Eladio's swimming pool. (A startling moment, if slightly predictable because the teaser unwisely gave us an unnecessary shot of a blood cloud staining water...)

This meeting was obviously a harsh lesson for Gus, and an event that's informed his every step since. We already know he started a scholarship in Max's name, but his personality also toughened into icy professionalism, together with a determination to outsmart the drug cartel that killed his friend, meth-cook and business partner. It's not known what happened to Don Eladio yet, but Tio perhaps helped Eladio's successor Juan Bolsa until his poor health forced him into a backseat role—and he's spent the past few decades watching as the "chicken man" built a successful drug empire over the border, using the crystal meth business model Eladio ridiculed. Or did Don Eladio act on Gus's persuasive argument, which further infuriated Gus and created a competitor he wanted to beat?

Gus learned to take control of his life for himself, basically, which is also Walt's (Bryan Cranston) outlook in the wake of his cancer, knowing it's only a matter of time before a health check gives him bad news. In some ways Walt is in Gus's position 20 years ago, with Gale's death perhaps a catalyst similar to Max's assassination. Gus has become the Don Eladio figure with Mike (Jonathan Banks) as his Tio, with Walt and Jesse (Aaron Paul) perhaps an amalgam of Gus and Max. But while Walt would like to think he's taking control of his life nowadays, he's still very much in Gus's pocket and knows he's in no position to upset the status quo without the help of Jesse in poisoning him. Speaking of which, after Walt saw Jesse's text-message about an aborted meeting with Gus, it's likely Walt will stop trusting his closest ally. But it's not that Jesse doesn't want Gus dead, it's just that he's scared to take such action—out of fear for what the punishment will be if he's caught, and the fact he doesn't want any more blood on his hands.

One standout scene found Walt and Hank parked outside the Los Pollos Hermanos restaurant, Walt quietly racked with fear that his personal and professional lives are about to collide. Hank's now alone with his theory about Gus and wanted Walt's help to attach a GPS tracker to Gus's car... an act of treachery that Walt decided against, alerting Gus to the situation inside the restaurant, to then be given permission to install the bug with Gus's awareness. Walt knows that his brother-in-law's investigation can only end in disaster for him, as he's involved with Gus's operation, but also knows that it's possible Gus will seek to eliminate Hank now he's onto him. The best he can do is implore Gus (via surveillance camera back at the Superlab) to let him steer Hank away from his business, as killing Hank would only draw attention his way considering Hank's belief that Gus is "Heisenberg". He has a point, and after Mike tells Gus that Hank's operating alone, it seems that Gus can afford to put that problem to one side... or can he? As Mike says, having to deal with the unruly Mexican cartel without arousing suspicion from Hank isn't going to be easy... or perhaps even possible.

There was only one other scene of significance, with Saul (Bob Odenkirk) visiting Jesse's ex-girlfriend Andrea (Emily Rios) and her young son Brock (Ian Posada), who are now living in a spacious home that Jesse's paying for. This suggest their story isn't done, and they offer another escape for Jesse to a normal life, but right now Jesse's in so state-of-mind to even see them in person. I'm not sure I'm pleased to see Andrea back on the show, as she felt too much like a plot-device last season, and I'm not convinced otherwise yet. Maybe her character will surprise me if the writers commit to turning her into something other than a token girlfriend figure.

Overall, "Hermanos" was an excellent episode that deepened and tightened all the storylines in play. Gus is now a slightly sympathetic figure, just as trapped by his decisions as Walt is; Jesse's been proven a liar by Walt, who perhaps now knows he'll have to poison Gus himself; and Hank's once again on the right trail, but forced to go rogue, and could be about to wander into the crossfire between Gus and the cartel. I'm still predicting the death of Gus as this season's big climax, but is it possible the writers will shock us all by killing off Hank? Or, given the return of Tio's "blood for blood" motto (used as reasoning for Gus killing his cousins), will Walt Jr somehow find himself in the firing line if the cartel discover Walt's the master cook behind Gus's business?

Superb episode of a brilliant season; ridiculously excited to see what happens next, as control freak Gus finds himself squeezed in three directions. Will he snap?


  • The White's and Schrader's really do love having dinner together this season! I suppose it's a good way to utilize characters like Marie (Besty Brandt) and Walt Jr (RJ Mitte), who otherwise tend to get forgotten about, and can now deliver some tension because the two families are on opposite sides of the law.
  • Don Eladio spared Gus's life only because he "knows who he is". Does that suggest Gus was an important person in Chile, or comes from an influential or respected family?
  • Gus tells Tio that he's defied the cartel's ultimatum, but we still have no idea what that was. Any suggestions?
  • I was wondering what Gus's words to Hector mean. "Is today the day, Hector? Look at me." A taunt designed to echo how he was forced to look at Max's dead body all those years ago? Or something else?
written by Sam Catlin & George Mastras / directed by Johan Renck / 4 September 2011 / AMC