Season 4, Episode 8- Hermanos
“Well, guess what? *Every* life comes with a death sentence.”- Walter White
While Walter is undoubtedly the main character, there are certain episodes of Breaking Bad that focus on other characters. Season 2′s “Peekaboo” is primarily a Jesse episode, while Season 3′s “One Minute” is mainly with Hank. “Hermanos” is another of those episodes, but this one is about Gus. It starts with a cold open that is taken directly from “I See You” in Season 3, where Gus visits the hospital and brings food to the DEA there, while also meeting Walt and giving Mike an opportunity to sneak in and poison Leonel before the surviving Cousin can inform Juan Bolsa of Gus’ treachery. This serves to establish the setting, as the second scene of the teaser takes place at a local nursing home, where Gus visits Tio (Hector) Salamanca, Tuco’s invalid uncle. While there, Gus taunts him over not only the death of his nephews (sons? this is never fully established), but the recent death of Juan Bolsa. As he tells him that “this is what comes from blood for blood,” we hear the rippling of water in a pool, and see blood seeping through water.
Early in the episode, Gus is called into the APD for a meeting with Tim, Gomez, Merkert and Hank (where he sees a wanted poster for Victor). In this meeting, they question him about his relationship with Gale. He tells them that Gale was a recipient of a scholarship he made to honor a dear friend (a Max Arciniega, whom we will meet later). He then says that after having not seen Gale for many years, he reappeared at Los Pollos Hermanos a few weeks before, and invited Gus to dinner, where he offered Gus an “investment opportunity.” After this, Hank asks him if Gustavo Fring is his real name, since there seems to be no record of him in his native home of Chile. Gus brushes it off, stating that the Pinochet regime was “notoriously unreliable at keeping records.” It’s interesting to note that Merkert, Tim and Gomez are all seated opposite Hank. Sort of a contrast in threat to Gus. And a threat it undoubtedly is. As he rides the elevator back down, there is a noticeable twitch in his fingers and an emptiness in his eyes. For someone like Gus Fring, this might as well be an explosion of rage. Hank is on to him.
Walt’s first scene is a meeting with a younger man at the cancer center, a man whose fears he quashes by telling him that until the day the cancer kills him, he is in control. He comes off as an asshole (which, really, he is), but it’s a pretty good character spot for him. It shows that Walt believes that no matter how much Gus threatens him, there’s nothing he can do to that is worse than what’s already happening. He doesn’t want to die, but I could argue that he’s no longer afraid to. That night, Hank asks him to drive him to a mineral show the next day. Only, it isn’t a mineral show. It’s a side trek to Los Pollos Hermanos, where Hank relays his theory about Gus and asks him to plant a bug on Gus’ car. As Hank’s explaining what he needs to do, Mike pulls up next to them and casually reads a newspaper (you can almost hear Walt’s soul screaming). Instead of planting the bug, Walt goes inside and surreptitiously shows it to Gus, who implores him to do it. He goes back out, plants the bug, and leaves. So begins the horrendously awkward buddy cop relationship between Hank and Walt, one of the most surprising and bleakly comical storylines the show has ever done. After Walt delivers a hasty explanation to the camera in the superlab, he heads over to Jesse’s to tell him that their timetable has been drastically advanced. After he explains to Jesse exactly how he should go about getting close to Gus, Jesse goes to the bathroom. His phone goes off, and Walt looks at it. It’s a text from Mike, telling him that their impending meeting with Gus is off. Walt puts the phone back and tells him he got a message, asking if it’s “anything important.” Jesse shakes his head no.
The episode’s focus heads back to Gus for its final act, beginning with a report from Mike that Hank is indeed acting on his own, and that if they watch their backs, he shouldn’t be a problem. The cartel, however, is a problem, and after Gus removes the tracking device and leaves it at LPH, he returns to Tio at the retirement home, and we find out why. He tells Hector that he has said no to the Cartel’s mysterious ultimatum, and that Hank is “looking into my past.” He asks Hector if today is the day, and we are suddenly flashed back to an indeterminate period in the 80s, in Mexico, where a young Gus and his friend Max (the same Max from the scholarship) are meeting with the leaders of the Juarez Cartel. Don Eladio, played with an effervescent menace by Steven Bauer (who I think is Tuco’s father. I don’t know why), Juan Bolsa, and a young(er) Hector, before whatever malady afflicts him now (most likely some form of “Locked-In Syndrome).
They begin discussing the quality of Max and Gus’ chicken restaurant, and the role Gus plays in the business. Quickly, however, they begin talking about how some of Don Eladio’s men have been getting methamphetamine samples from The Chicken Brothers, and it becomes clear that Max is not only a chicken chef. In many ways, Max is a prototype for someone like Gale, which explains why the scholarship in his name is a chemistry one. And why is there a scholarship in Max’s name? Well, because, after they attempt to pitch their new product to Don Eladio, he asks what use Gus is to this him. As Max frantically tries to bargain for Gus’ life (sounding not unlike Walt bargaining for Jesse’s life with Tuco) Hector shoots him in the head, and Don Eladio tells the restrained Gus that the only reason he isn’t dead as well is because they know who he is. As Don Eladio tells him that he’s “not in Chile anymore,” Gus watches Max’s blood trickle into the pool before we’re pulled back to the present, where the Gus of the present sits, taunting the man who killed his friend. There is the interpretation that Gus and Max were lovers, which, while interesting, doesn’t exactly change the stakes. Gus is out for blood either way. Sangre por sangre.
Season 4, Episode 9- Bug
“A guy this clean’s gotta be dirty.”- Hank Schrader
“Bug” is an episode that, in many ways, is the weakest of the second half of season 4. The teaser is exactly that, a teaser that portends something bad happening to Walt, who opens the episode proper by driving Hank over to Los Pollos Hermanos, where they retrieve the tracking device under the watchful eye of Tyrus. Back home, they discover that the tracker has only recorded Gus going two places: his work and his home. We know that this is because he removed it before going anywhere else, but Hank doesn’t (though he might have his suspicions). Walt seems particularly defeated by this entire scenario and, as he’s leaving Hank’s for the laundromat, he pulls up to Tyrus’ car and calls the police to report a “suspicious man.” As he arrives at work, he asks Jesse for a cigarette, and has a strangely detached conversation with him, about cigarettes and “Ice Road Truckers” (“Dudes drive on ice.”) When Jesse, confused, reiterates that he will kill Gus when he gets a chance, Walt responds that “they’re both dead men anyway.” This malaise continues for him until later, when Skyler calls him and tells him that the car wash might actually be able to turn a profit, and that he should start “thinking of an exit strategy.”
After Walt warns Mike that a certain DEA agent is going to be taking a ride to visit a certain distribution plant, Skyler gets a visit at the car wash from good old Ted Beneke, he of the cooked books and the broken heart. While at first it seems he’s trying to reignite whatever they had together, he reveals that he’s being audited by the IRS. As he blunders his way through trying to get her to fix the damage, she realizes that there’s no way the IRS will think that Ted acted alone, and that they’ll come after whoever else they can find in the records, which of course, is her. This kicks off her storyline for the rest of the season, where she tries to fix, or at least contain, the disaster that is Ted Beneke. She gets the heat off temporarily by showing up to Ted’s audit, playing the role of a ditzy, floozy sort of woman, playing off the idea that Ted only hired her to have sex with her. As she tells Ted afterwards, “ignorance of the law doesn’t equate to criminality, it equates to ignorance.” It’s a fun side plot, and it’s interesting to see her going through her own version of the sort of growing pains Walt went through in Season 1. Ted is her Krazy-8.
Jesse storyline picks up in the second half of the episode where, after a discussion with Mike about the logistics of killing Hank, he’s present at the chicken farm when Gaff begins killing Gus’ men from afar with a sniper rifle. Mike pulls him out of the line of fire and before they can even formulate an escape plan, Gus walks directly into the line of fire, daring Gaff to kill him. The shots stop. That night, Gus tells Gaff on the phone that his answer is yes. The Cartel is pushing, harder and harder, and Gus needs an exit strategy of his own.
Later in the episode, Jesse visits Gus’ home for dinner, in a scene that obviously parallels Walt’s earlier meeting in Season 3. But where Walt was content to deal in inference, Jesse speaks openly. Gus tells him that he will answer all of his questions, provided Jesse answer one of his own: can he cook Walter’s formula on his own? When Jesse refuses, saying that he won’t sign off on Walt’s murder, Gus tells him that he asks this because “circumstances with the Cartel are untenable,” and that he needs Jesse’s help. We aren’t privvy to exactly what Gus needs his help with, but when Jesse calls Walt the next night and tells him that he needs to talk to him, we learn that Gus needs him to go down to Mexico and cook Walter’s formula in his stead, since Gus has finally given into their demand for access to the blue meth. Jesse is nervous, and asks Walt for pointers in advance of the trip, but Walt ignores him, asking him why he didn’t kill Gus when he had the chance. When Jesse reiterates that he never saw the man, Walt reveals that he knows Jesse was at Gus’ house. When Walt mentions that he knows Jesse was there for “2 hours and 18 minutes,” Walt has another revelation: that he bugged Jesse’s car. They have words, words that culminate in Jesse throwing the tracking device in Walter’s face, breaking his glasses. Then they have a little more than words, and, even though Walt does surprisingly well for someone in his condition, Jesse ultimately beats him. “Can you walk?” he asks, as Walter stumbles around while bleeding profusely, now having achieved what we saw in the cold open. “Then get the fuck out of here, and never come back.” The White/Pinkman partnership has had its fair share of setbacks in the past, but this is the first time that they have come to blows like this. For all intents and purposes, it’s over. Jesse has chosen his side.
Season 4, Episode 10- Salud
“I promise you this: either we’re all going home, or none of us are.”- Mike Ehrmentraut
We start this episode with Jesse, Mike and Gus getting on a plane to Mexico, where they go to meet the Cartel and give them Jesse’s formula. But before that, we catch up on Walter, whose involvement this hour is limited to two big scenes. After Walter Jr. gets his birthday present (a P.T. Cruiser, which ups their terrible car collection to 2, after Walt’s Aztek), he heads over to his dad’s apartment to see why he hasn’t been returning anyone’s calls. There, he finds Walter, still recovering from his fight with Jesse. Walt tells him not to tell Skyler, because he was gambling. When Junior asks him how, he breaks down in tears and tells him that he made a mistake, and that he “had it coming.”
Later, after he calls his son “Jesse” while in a haze, they have a frank conversation, one in which Walter tells his son that the only memories he has of his father are of him withering away on a hospital bed from Parkinson’s. He doesn’t want that, or how he was before, to be the only thing his son remembers of him, but Junior disagrees, saying that to remember him like that would be better than how he has been since his diagnosis, since at least that would be “real.” Walter is afraid of appearing weak to his family. It’s why he tells this to Junior. It’s why he showed baby Holly the walls packed with money in Season 2. It’s his pride, rearing up again. These are easily the most important scenes Walter Jr has had in the entire show’s run (you may notice that he only uses one of his crutches while doing this, which is supposed to signify that he’s growing up. Good job, Vince Gilligan. Matthew Weiner would be proud.).
Meanwhile, Saul meets with Ted Beneke, where he informs him that the death of an obscure relative has left him with just enough money to pay of his debt to the IRS! Hooray Ted! Of course, Ted immediately uses this money to lease a Mercedes, prompting Skyler to pay him another visit, in which she implores him to pay his debts. After he brushes her off, she asks him who exactly he thinks he got that money from, setting up the major side plot of the next episode masterfully.
The bulk of the action this episode takes place in Mexico, however, and it begins with Jesse, Mike and Gus arriving at the Cartel’s giant warehouse lab in the Mexican wilderness (a place not unlike what poor Max was suggesting to Don Eladio before he was killed). The head cook, obviously a trained chemist, scoffs at the idea of someone like Jesse teaching him anything, but Jesse doesn’t back down, telling the chemist that since he is the man brought in by the Cartel to show them how it’s done, he’d better do as he says. It works, and the resultant product from the Jesse-directed cook comes to be over 96% purity, well above Cartel standards and right on par with Gale’s “hard-earned” number. Gaff congratulates him on the “first of many,” after which he reveals that due to their agreement with Gus, he belongs to the Cartel now.
Later, our three adventurers are at Don Eladio’s resort house, standing over the pool that Max’s blood spilled into so many years ago. While it’s just the three of them, Gus ingests a mysterious pill while Mike assures Jesse that they’re all going home together. Don Eladio arrives soon after, flanked by his capos. He is pleased to see Gus, and is happy that he “finally came to his senses.” After Don Eladio introduces himself to Jesse, his new employee, he notices the gift Gus brought with him, which is revealed to be a bottle of rare tequila. Don Eladio opens it and pours a glass for everyone in attendance, aside from Gaff, Mike and Jesse (whom Gus tells him to be a recovering addict). After seeing Gus take a drink, Don Eladio offers up a toast to their renewed friendship, and begins the party in earnest. Later, Don Eladio tells Gus that he isn’t angry, he just had to keep Gus in line, and that there’s no room for emotion in this. “Business is business,” he says, and Gus responds by asking if he can use the restroom. While in the restroom, Gus fastidiously, almost mechanically, removes his glasses, folds a towel to kneel on and forces himself to vomit. He has poisoned the tequila. This entire trip has been a cover, one that has allowed him to get close enough to Don Eladio to kill him, both enacting his vengeance upon the Don and eliminating a massive swathe of the Cartel. As Gus walks back into the party, where most of the guests are dead and Mike is garroting Gaff, we realize that this is his masterstroke, and even though the poison has severely weakened him, the three of them make their escape, but not before Mike is shot by one of the lesser members, whom Jesse kills. The episode ends with Mike telling Jesse to “get us out of here, kid.”