4
Sep
2011
Breaking Bad: Season 4, Episode 8
Hermanos
Jordan
Breaking Bad ostensibly focuses on the moral decay of Walter White. Yet season four seems to have strayed a bit from this examination, leaving Walter in stasis, in a position of agonized, desperate impotence against forces greater than himself as the characters around him make real, important movements. To my eye, this is hardly accidental. From the start, Walter White has not been a man in control of his destiny; he has been a man wrestling fiercely and hopelessly against the random and chaotic universe around him. Walter's entire journey into immorality began because of his cancer diagnosis, which was completely out of his control. From then on, he has tried time and time again to gain control of his own fate, to gain mastery over his own life, and yet at each turn he is shown a universe indifferent to his striving. As he awaits results on his most recent checkup, the patient sitting next to him tries to lament, "It's like they say, man plans and God laughs." If Walter White believed in God (or acknowledged the randomness of the universe), he might agree, but in his arrogance, he charges, "That is such bullshit. Never give up control. Live life on your own terms." Walter tries to do that, yet we cut directly from that powerful, fallacious declaration to Walter begrudgingly going to work in the lab he is basically chained to by powers greater than his own. The lab owned by the real focus of tonight's episode, Gustavo Fring.


It is clear the walls are closing in on Gus this week, as we see early in the magnificent interrogation scene. As he waits to go in for his "interview," Gus sees a drawing of Victor's face looking at him from the wall, as if taunting him with how much the police already know. Gus is not a man to show his weakness easily though, and he nails the investigation beat for beat. he explains that Gale was the recipient of a chemistry scholarship he set up in the name of an old friend, Maximilio Arseniega, that the two had dinner recently, and that he was at a fundraiser on the night of Gale's murder. Gus is ready to walk out with a smile on his face until Hank pulls out his ace: it seems Gus is a Chilean national with no records who appeared in Mexico in 1986 and immigrated legally to the United States three years later. Gus blames the spotty record keeping under Pinochet, but he is clearly rattled, enough so to keep Hank convinced that the man is hiding something. The look on Gus' face in the elevator on the way down is another pitch-perfect moment by Giancarlo Esposito, the perfect mixture of fear, regret for past mistakes, and cold, steely resolve to triumph over this new adversary. Gus Fring is cool, but his is cracking. He may be smooth, but he is scared.



We learn slightly more about Gus' past (though nothing but another hint about what he was up to in Chile) through the flashback that ends the episode. We meet Maximilio, the other brother in Los Pollos Hermanos and Gus' first meth chef, as he and Gus pitch Don Eladio of the cartel on their plan to produce methamphetamine to increase his profits by decreasing his reliance on Colombian cocaine. Gus is clearly smart here, but he doesn't have the preternatural air of cool that we are used to (its another great scene for Esposito, who should be in line for an Emmy next year), trying to play his advantages in a way that echoes the Walter White we see right now. Fring manipulated the cartel into a meeting by giving out samples of his product, but when push comes to shove, he is unable to give a reason why he is vital to the organization. He doesn't get desperate like we see Walter get (even in this very episode, as he plots with Jesse), but his partner does, and loses his life for it. Why was Maximilio killed and Gus spared? The Don has a simple answer for him: "I know who you are." I don't know who Gus is by the end of tonight's episode, but I imagine we will know soon.



We see less of Hank this week, but each of his scenes gives him huge forward momentum, something Walter hasn't had all season. Hank gets under Gus' skin at the interrogation (he might have hoped for more, but he couldn't have expected it) and he gets the tracker placed on Gus' car (though we all know how useful that will be to him). And in Jesse's little screen time, we see him on the move too, funding Andrea and Brock's residence in a new, very nice house, and lying to Walter about his access to Gus, which Walter now discovers.



For Walter White, everything is about survival. As he tells the cancer patient early in the episode, "Every life comes with a death sentence...but until then, who's in charge? Me. That's how I live my life." While Walter struggles to practice what he so arrogantly preaches, all of the men around him are playing much longer games, angling realistically at important goals for themselves, even if some are more desperate than others. For Hank, this game is bringing down Gustavo Fring. For Jesse, it is finding a reason to live in an organization where he may be valued more than harangued. And for Gus, well, it looks like he is looking to mix a little revenge in with his vast success. In the episode's cold open, he lets Hector know that he killed his nephews but erased the trail to him by ensuring Juan Bolsa was killed as well. "This is what comes of blood for blood, Hector" he tells the old man. He wants Hector to know that any day might be the time he requires Hector's blood as payment for Maximilio's. But this time, once again, he leaves the old man hanging, letting him sit there drooling with fury as he stands and says coldly, "Maybe next time."

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Grade: A



Notes:



-There were a lot of close-ups on finger's tonight, with a shot of Gus twitching in the elevator, Walter tapping on the steering wheel, Walter frantically ringing Jesse's doorbell and Hector's hand dangling over his bell. The true meaning of these eludes me, but I guess that it has something to do with the potential for agency inherent in a finger (which can move to cause action), and each of these men's feelings that they are trapped in a position with no means of improving it, regardless of their actions.



-Also great repeated shot of Walter pausing before donning uniforms that symbolize his lack of control over his life: first, as he puts on the medical gown and later as he puts on his lab outfit, both of which serve as reminders of his powerlessness and of the death sentences hanging over his head.



-Don Eladio used the word piquant when discussing Gus' chicken. Good for him.
Tags: Breaking Bad
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