Jeremy Likes TV

I like TV. Probably more than any human should.

Episode Review: Breaking Bad – “Hermanos”

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(Disclaimer: Breaking Bad is such a richly developed show that there is much more to discuss than there is in your average television drama. As such, this review is going to be formatted a little differently than normal and will be a little longer than usual, but I feel that’s necessary for a show like this. It will also be a discussion of major plot points in the episode so here’s your giant SPOILER ALERT. Don’t read this until you’ve seen the episode. It also assumes that you are a viewer of the show and have a basic familiarity with characters and plots. Onto the review.)

You’d be hard pressed to find a more mysterious character to this point on Breaking Bad than Gustavo “Gus” Fring but “Hermanos” pulls the curtain back and reveals more of the man than we’ve seen yet, while also offering tantalizing glimpses into bombshells that will surely be dropping by the end of this fourth season. With that, let’s find out how the chicken is made, so to speak, in “Hermanos.”

Teaser
“Sangre por sangre.”
In a bit of a departure from how many of season four’s episodes have opened, “Hermanos” begins with a look back to last season’s “I See You,” which depicted the aftermath of Hank’s shooting. We’re again shown the conversation between Walt and Gus at the hospital which is notable for its striking contrast between Walt’s demeanor then and his bravado now. He’s not nearly as hardened and there’s much more humanity in his interaction with Gus. In the background of the shot, Mike is shown leaving implying that he was the one who carried out Gus’s kill order on the surviving gunman. I honestly can’t remember if this was shown last season or not, but it makes perfect sense. We’ve been given this perspective to set up the fact that Gus later went to a retirement home to meet with Hector “Tio” Salamanca to inform him of the details of his nephews’ deaths [1]. Gus fills in the blanks for Tio and seems to take a perverse pleasure in doing so. Why he does is not apparent now but will clearly be by the end of “Hermanos.” Gus also seems to imply that he was the one who made the last-minute warning call to Hank, telling Tio, “This is what comes of blood for blood, Hector. Sangre por sangre.” The final image is haunting and ominous – what appears to be blood floating in some kind of body of water. And the title card hits…

[1] Tio actually receives the news of their murders via a news report on the home’s television. That’s cold.

Act One
”Ah… Gale Boetticher.”
We open with Walter at a medical treatment facility about to undergo, presumably, cancer testing in one of the few mentions or implications of Walter’s disease all season. Walter is not alone, however, as he’s joined by a man who seems to be dealing with his own recent cancer diagnosis. He seems to be seeking some guidance from Walter, a veteran of the process, and while Walter is cordial at first it’s not long until he’s coldly shushing the man in order to answer his phone. The contrast between what Walter once was (the other man) and what Walter is now (cold and inhuman) is striking. When the other man nervously offers, “You know what they say – make a plan and God laughs,” Walter’s response is, “That is… such… bullshit. Never give up control. Live life on your own terms.” It’s clear that the hubris of Walter White extends even to cancer diagnoses. He thinks he’s above it because, up to this point, he’s beaten it. Almost leaves you wondering whether it’s going to come back to get him before the series ends. Meanwhile, Gus is summoned for questioning by the DEA based on Hank’s suspicions on his involvement in Gale’s shooting. While waiting in the lobby of the DEA office, he notices a “Wanted” poster depicting an individual who fits the late Victor’s description. Nice touch and attention to detail/continuity there. As the formalities of the meeting begin, it’s coming into focus that “Hermanos” could end up being a Gus-heavy episode, which is very welcomed. Learning more about this man is a very intriguing and interesting prospect. After pleasantries are exchanged, Gus is informed that his fingerprints were found at the scene of a murder and he immediately acknowledges that they must be discussing Gale Boetticher. He spins a nice tale about how Gale was the recipient of a chemistry scholarship that he’d endowed 15 years prior at the University Of New Mexico in the name of a deceased friend and that that’s how they were originally introduced. He says that Gale had recently contacted him after years of being out of touch with one another when pressed on why they’d be associating in the present day. He explains their recent contact away by saying that Gale was looking for money for what he deemed “an investment opportunity” and is able to provide Hank and the other agents with an alibi for the night in question, satisfying everyone except for Hank who has questions about Gus’s past. He questions his background, saying that despite Gus’s status as a Chilean national there were no records of a Gustavo Fring in Chile. Gus somehow manages to worm his way out of this revelation but it’s obvious that we’re going to be returning to this little plot strand sooner rather than later. In this scene, Giancarlo Esposito proves yet again what a powerful addition to the cast he’s been. The way he portrays Gus’s ability to manipulate his way out of situations is masterful. In the elevator after the meeting, Gus’s hand begins to twitch. Is it because of fear, or because of anger? Either way, it’s one of the most overt emotions we’ve seen yet from Gus.

Act Two
“Do it. DO. IT. May I help you with your order?”
Following their meeting with Gus, Hank and company are debriefing and Hank questions the other three agents present on whether or not they buy Gus’s explanation. While everyone else seems inclined to believe Gus, Hank instead responds, “I agree. It was a good story. But why are we hearing it now?” He questions why it took Gus so long to reach out with an explanation, particularly given his supposedly strong relationship with the police. Hank seems somewhat dejected in being the lone dissenter and it’s strongly implied that none of the other three feel that Hank should be pursuing the matter any further. Obviously, we know that Hank won’t be able to help himself. After a short detour that sees Saul delivering a stipend to Andrea and her son Brock at Jesse’s behest [2], things move to the White household, where Skyler is now using vacuum packs of clothing as a means of disguising Walter’s cash, leading to a funny scene where a closet hanger rod collapses suddenly under the weight of the money-laden bags. Later that night, there’s another White/Schrader family dinner where Walter confirms to the rest of the family that he’s still in remission following the results of his scan. Later, Hank asks Walter for a ride to an upcoming mineral show the next day. This proves to be a ruse since Hank, as expected, is doing some detective work on his own time by having Walter drive him to a Los Pollos Hermanos in order to plant a GPS tracker on Gus’s car in the hopes of providing some more insight into Gus’s dealings. Hank lays out his belief to Walter that Gus was involved in Gale’s murder, while Walter looks like he’s about to soil himself in fear of what Gus’s reprisal to this type of subterfuge might be. Bryan Cranston plays it perfectly and somehow manages to contort his face into a deathly shade of white in conveying Walter’s terror at his worlds yet again colliding. Hank lays out that, although he feels that Gus was behind Gale’s murder he also feels that he most likely got a “dunce” to pull the trigger for him. The conversation is very tense with Walt doing everything he can to steer Hank away from Gus and, therefore, himself. To make matters worse, in the middle of their conversation Mike pulls up beside them and begins reading a newspaper even though it’s clear that he’s listening. The question here – is it a mere convenient coincidence that Mike arrives at this exact time, or is Gus’s Big Brother-esque reach so great that he’s aware of what’s happening already? Regardless, Walter is being put into an incredibly tense and untenable situation as Hank asks Walter to plant the GPS tracker for him, what with mobility issues and everything. “Come on. You gonna make me beg you? Just stick it in there [3],” Hank pleads. Reluctantly, Walt exits his car, approaches Gus’s Volvo [4], bends down to ostensibly tie his shoe and… walks into the restaurant. Gus, playing it cool, approaches a desperate Walter at the counter as Walter pleads his case that he didn’t want any of this to happen and that he didn’t, in fact, plant the tracker. “Do it. DO. IT. May I help you with your order?” is Gus’s calculated response. Walter leaves, plants the tracker, and leaves with Hank as Gus stands watching from the window, disgusted at what’s just happened.

[2] I still continue to believe that Jesse’s ongoing interest in Andrea and Brock’s lives represents one of the last threads of humanity that he feels he still possesses and that he may ultimately see their well-being as his salvation, of sorts. It’s also interesting that this scene is one of the first instances that paints Saul as something other than a humorous asshole.
[3] That’s what she said.
[4] Hank makes a point to mention how brilliant it is that a ruthless drug lord drives a 10-year-old Volvo.

Act Three
“What if this is like math, or algebra? You add a plus douchebag to a minus douchebag and you get, like, zero douchebags.”
Terrified of the repercussions of planting the GPS tracker, Walt frantically rushes to the lab to tell the cameras (read: Gus) that he had nothing to do with Hank’s plan, while also desperately pleading for the life of his brother-in-law [5] by saying that anything happening to Hank would be mutually damaging to the both of them. He gives Gus his assurance that Hank will not discover anything else. He next goes to Jesse’s house to implore Jesse [6] to finally execute their plan to… well… execute Gus with the ricin compound. While Walter is nervous and anxious, Jesse is almost nonchalant upon finding out that Hank’s has cast suspicion upon Gus. Jesse believes that Hank doesn’t have anything on Gus because of the sheer fact that he’s still drawing breath because if he was in possession of anything damning, Gus would “break out his box cutter on his sorry gimp ass.” When Jesse leaves to use the bathroom, Walter intercepts a text that confirms his suspicions that Jesse’s loyalty may not lay entirely with him. The slow fuse has been lit and it’s only a matter of time before it blows. The brief third act ends here so it looks like we’re in for an extra-long final act. This could be very, very good.

[5] While showing that Walter may have at least a shred of humanity left… somewhere.
[6] Who’s wearing a shirt that can best be described as a family of sequins throwing up all over him.

Act Four
“No. Guy’s gone totally maverick. He’s Miss Daisy with binoculars.”
Gus is watching a live feed from the lab when he receives a call from Mike, who informs him that after some digging he’s determined that the authorities do not consider Gus a suspect in Gale’s murder and that Hank has been warned about investigating the matter any further. Gus isn’t entirely convinced that Hank has given up, mentioning specifically his knowledge of the Chilean connection. Mike responds that if he couldn’t find anything about Gus’s past in Chile, he doubts that Hank would be able to find anything. He dismisses Hank as a problem but mentions that their simultaneous conflict with the Mexican cartel could be problematic. “If he happens to be watching when they make a move, it could be the perfect storm.” After affixing Hank’s GPS tracker to a nearby garbage can, Gus leaves to visit Tio Salamanca again, informing him of what has been happening while asking, “Is today the day, Hector?[7]” The story then flashes back years prior to a younger Gus along with a partner [8] meeting with the head of the Mexican cartel, Don Eladio, who’s played by Scarface’s Steven Bauer [9]. It raises the question of whether Eladio is still alive in the present day as I doubt you cast someone as recognizable as Bauer for a one-off role like this. A much younger Hector Salamanca appears, taking a piss into Eladio’s pool and implying that Gus and his partner are gay, showing that he was an asshole even then. After some pleasantries about Gus’s and his partner’s chicken cooking abilities, we learn that the meeting was called because Gus has been moving in on Eladio and the cartel’s drug territory, using Los Pollos Hermanos as a front to push meth. Eladio questions their drug of choice, dismisses it as “poor man’s cocaine” and saying that “only bikers and hillbillies use it. [10]” Gus’s partner tells Eladio that it doesn’t have anything in common with “biker crank” in that it’s crystallized and is much more potent and addictive. Gus then calls it the future of drugs while telling Eladio that it’ll triple or possibly quadruple his profits. He talks about the impracticalities of selling cocaine in Mexico due to the inability of the coca plant to grow there and the Mexicans’ role as middlemen to the Colombian bosses. Their offer is to teach Eladio’s men how to cook their meth recipe, to which Eladio asks why he needs Gus if the partner is the cook. “Why should I negotiate with someone who disrespects me?” he asks. The parallels with Walter and Jesse become apparent as the partner pleads for Gus’s life by using the “he’s my partner and I need him” line that Walter himself has used on many occasions. Out of nowhere, a gunshot is heard and Gus is suddenly covered in blood that’s spurting out of his partner’s head, gruesomely. Gus madly goes after Hector, the gunman, thus shedding light on their interactions from earlier in the episode. Gus is eventually subdued and forced to look at his dead friend’s slumped over body, blood draining from his head into the pool [11] while being told that his friend’s death was his doing. As he watches his partner’s lifeless body, Eladio warns him, “The only reason you’re alive and he’s not is because I know who you are. But understand – you’re not in Chile anymore.” Gus sobs as the blood continues to drip into the pool. What a scene. Wow. This opens a whole host of possibilities and adds yet another to the brutally beautiful sequences in the series’ history. I mean, we knew that Hector was a dick but this gives even more background into his past and makes his current powerless condition all the more ironic. “Hermanos” finishes back in the present day as Gus intones to Hector, “Look at me. Look. At. Me. Maybe next time.” He’s just taunting him and now we know why. Again… wow.

[7] While I’d originally thought that Gus was attempting to get a rise out of Hector in the thought that he was faking his condition, others have mentioned that Gus is referring to the day that he’ll extract revenge on Hector for something as yet unknown. Thus, the “blood for blood” statement at the beginning of the episode.
[8] A partner who’s a chemist, so this is likely the friend in whose name the scholarship was created.
[9] Love the casting and it’s a great nod to history as well.
[10] I neglected to mention that this entire sequence is done entirely in subtitled Spanish, adding to the authenticity of the scene.
[11] The source of the opening image.

Overall Thoughts: I’ve likely gone on long enough here so suffice to say, this was yet another top-shelf episode in a season filled with them. We were treated to more backstory on Gus than we’ve seen to date and that backstory was incredible. Surely the slow burn to Walter and Jesse’s inevitable showdown is going to continue in the next episode, while the new thread about Gus’s past in Chile will surely be coming to the fore sooner rather than later. We’re now 2/3 of the way into the season so all everything should likely be coming to a boil soon. I can’t wait.

Rating: 95/100

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Written by jeremylikestv

September 20, 2011 at 12:18 am

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