4.06 “Cornered” – Walt acts like a dick to Skyler and causes her to consider just skipping town; Walt acts like a dick and continues to belittle Jesse, who is becoming increasingly closer to Gus & Mike; and finally Walt acts like a dick and buys Walt Jr. a muscle car that he knows Skyler will force him to return. SUPER DICKERY.
4.07 “Problem Dog”- Walt’s earlier dickery to Hank has led to Hank discovering potentially devastating evidence connecting Gus to Gale’s death and the blue meth; to prove he’s still in charge, Walt blows up the car he was supposed to be returning and pushes Jesse to kill Gus for him, which Jesse briefly contemplates doing at a cartel meeting that did not go Gus’ way.
4.08 “Hermanos”- We learn more about Gus’ past with the cartel and why they aren’t exactly BFFs; Hank’s questioning of Gus doesn’t go so well, but he decides to pursue the case any, maverick style; Walt tries to save Hank and prove his worth to Gus by claiming he can keep the DEA at bay.
Breaking Bad airs Sunday nights at 10PM EST on AMC.
Admittedly these bundled reviews of Breaking Bad episodes began because other pressing deadline concerns pushed this coverage. But weirdly, Breaking Bad is proving itself to be a show that may benefit more from reviews covering groups of episodes. Until the most recent episode, Breaking Bad appeared to be very casually putting the pieces in place for the season finale the show is building towards. Some viewers were complaining about that pace, which felt more lackadaisical than last season, but in true Breaking Bad fashion, it was mostly just a distraction from the bombs that were about to go off.
We left off with episode 5, which saw Walt being his usual jackass self at dinner with Hank and Marie and inadvertently reigniting Hank’s quest for the elusive “Heisenberg.” Whether he realizes it or not, Walt is the archetypal epic hero, a figure who is capable of great accomplishments but who inevitably brings about his own downfall because of his immense hubris. As Walt tells Skyler when they butt heads over the safety of Walt’s job, “I am not in danger, I am the danger!” It’s a prideful boast, sure, but it’s also more truthful than Walt acknowledges, as he’s the biggest danger to himself and his family.
How Deep Do You Think It Is?
What has Walt so frustrated is that even as he technically becomes more powerful in status, he’s becoming less powerful in his personal relationships, as both Jesse and Skyler have moved out from under Walt’s subservience to find their own personal power. For Jesse that means palling around with Mike and proving his worth by nonviolently resolving a conflict with some methheads who got ahold of some Hermanos product thanks to the increasingly more aggressive cartel. But for Skyler it’s two fold, as she has taken full ownership of the carwash and is becoming increasingly less willing to tolerate Walt’s lies, especially when he acts out in response to her allegations by buying Walt Jr. a muscle car that he knows will have to be returned.
Walt is at his worse when he knows he’s in the wrong and he’s getting more careless with both Jesse and Skyler, pushing the two of them closer to betrayal, whether it comes in the form of Skyler skipping state boundaries or turning state evidence, or Jesse ultimately having to choose between his new friends Gus and Mike or his whiny surrogate father Walt. Even more recklessly is Walt’s blind refusal to see that his actions have consequences, as is the case when he causes a whole group of cleaning ladies to be deported or worse after he bribes them to clean his meth lab.
I Finally Figured Out Where Springfield Is!
But Walt’s not the only one who’s losing power after making desperate plays. Walt’s parallel this season has been Gus, a boss that has far more in common with Walt than either might suspect. Gus is flanked on all sides by threats, from Walt’s disobedience to the cartel’s vendetta to the increasingly more driven Hank. Episode seven found the cartel more visible than ever thanks to a tense meeting between Gus and their sole representative, a cold figure who brushes aside Gus’ attempts at compromise by telling Gus his only options are “yes or no.”
This season has been building up to an explosive climax where all the power players put all their chips on the table and who will survive is anyone’s guess. Given the way Breaking Bad works, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Gus is taken out and Walt finds himself working for the increasingly violent cartel, or where Gus and Walt are forced into an even uneasier partnership as their enterprise survives the attack only to have the DEA to face, or where Walt and Jesse are the only ones left standing as Gus, the cartel and the DEA all cancel each other out. What is for certain is that Walt is in a tailspin and he knows it, as his stupid decision to act out by hot rodding around in and then blowing up the muscle car he was supposed to be returning left him short $52,000 and potentially on the radar of the cops.
I Think He’ll Know Where To Find Me…
But what’s especially captivating is the fact that Walt is freaking out without even knowing the true stakes of the situation. As far as Walt knows, Gus’ problems are exclusively with Walt and Jesse and the DEA. For once, Jesse actually has a leg up on Walt as he’s at least aware that major trouble is brewing on the Fring Front. Walt may be pushing Jesse to be his personal assassin once more with regards to Gus, but Walt’s plan doesn’t extend past removing Gus from the equation. Jesse’s own plans are veiled at the moment, and though he doesn’t seem too keen on taking Gus out, it also seems like his relationship with Mike is more fruitful and promising to him than whatever may be going on with Gus.
There’s a chance that Jesse already recognizes that any relationship he has with Gus may be far too similar to his existing one with Walt. As episode eight beautifully showed, Gus and Walt are both just sides of the same coin: driven men with a desire to control their own destinies. Walt may have discovered this about himself at a later and less opportune point in his life but he’s been no less ruthless in his attempts to grab control.
I’d Hate to Be the Guy Who Has to Clean That Pool…
Via flashback we discover that Gus once had his own Walt/Jesse style partnership with a young man of questionable background named Maximilio Arseniega. Rather than take the direct tutoring route that Walt has taken with Jesse, Gus paid for Maximilio’s education, taking him out of the slums and putting him in a chemistry program at a Chilean university. Using Los Pollos Hermanos as a front to get themselves on the radar of the Mexican cartels, Gus and Max wound up with a meeting that was less of a smashing success than Walt’s own attempts at getting Gus’ attention. In fact, it ended with Max dead at the hands of none other than our resident evil old man, Tio.
That flashback was a rare glimpse at the origins of Gus that left as many things unanswered as it resolved, the largest mystery being Gus’ pre-Mexico days. That mystery is central to Hank’s investigation of Gus now that the DEA and the local police are unwilling to further pursue Gus’ role in Gale’s death after a questioning only displayed Gus’ ability to have a perfect answer for everything. Hank may have wowe
d both departments with how he was able to connect Gus to the murder scene, but the only real shot Hank was able to get in was the suspicious way that Gus’ identity trail runs cold after his immigration to Mexico in the late ’80s, something Gus was able to pass off as shoddy records keeping in Chile.
The Most Pleasure Anyone Has Ever Gotten Out of Spotty Record Keeping
Whatever Gus did in Chile, it was enough to make the cartel head Don Eladio keep him alive rather than Max and it’s bound to be something that will play a major role in how Hank’s investigation develops and how the conflict with the cartel escalates. That hook is also a large part of what made “Hermanos” one of the best episodes of the season, and doubtless the most exciting. We’ve always know that Gus has a menacing past of some sort and while this episode’s flashback found him at his weakest moment, it still left us with a tantalizing glimpse at just how scary his origins may be.
The ease by which Hank’s peers accepted Gus’ cover story and subterfuge may also be a hint at things to come as there were more than a few reasons to suspect that one or both departments have a mole infestation. For starters there was the bizarre way the questioning kicked off with the DEA putting all their cards on the table and letting Gus know they had found his fingerprints at Gale’s apartment. It immediately allowed Gus to jump clear of being caught in a lie and gave away the only surprise the department had, other than Hank’s inability to find any trace of Gus in Chile. That Mike was able to receive word personally from the department about whether Gus is considered a suspect at all also didn’t bode well.
Would You Like Fries With That?
Still, between a poster at the department requesting information on the late Victor and Hank’s grasping of Gus’ shadowy past, Gus is on shakier ground than he’d like. Walt learns this himself after Hank attempts to use Walt as his mule to plant a tracking device on Gus’ car, only to be caught by Mike and Gus, who casually tells Walt to “just do it” and plant the device. Walt thinks Gus is once again eying Hank for execution but he’s unaware of the real ramifications of Hank’s badgering, a dilemma that Mike puts in perspective for Gus as he tells the boss just how bad it could be if they get a “perfect storm” of conflict with Hank and the cartel moving in at the same time.
Visually and thematically episode eight works overtime to push the Walt/Gus parallels, from mirroring shots of the two fidgeting with their hands while stressed to the two being forced to play their hands earlier than they’d like, in the form of Walt’s now ramped up pestering of Jesse to just kill Gus already and Gus now realizing he’ll have to take care of the cartel immediately. Walt may do best when he’s forced to just act, but Gus is all about patient planning and strategizing, a personality trait that’s emphasized in his scenes with Tio, a figure he appears to have only kept alive in order to taunt him with the promise of death and therefore freedom from his pathetic condition.
Taking Cranky Old Man to a Whole ‘Nother Level
The only times in the episode when Gus appeared to be relaxed and comfortable were with Tio, which conveniently bookended the episode. At the beginning Gus painstakingly recounted for Tio how his nephews met their demise and why and by the end, something he felt proved why blood vendettas come to no good for either party. By the end, Gus teased Tio, telling him that perhaps today was the day when their own blood vendetta would see its conclusion. But it wasn’t to be. And now, like Tio, we’re left torturously waiting for the axe to fall.
When he’s not writing about the cape and spandex set, Nick Hanover is a book, film and music critic for Spectrum Culture and a staff writer for No Tofu Magazine. He also translates for “Partytime” Lukash’s Panel Panopticon.