Breaking Bad Episode 408 “Hermanos”

408imagesI will say this. There is a perfect “That’s what she said!” moment in this episode. Go forth and find it.

So, this is Breaking Bad, and that means that there are no clear villains or heroes, as it should be, as it is in life. Characters are complex and have many layers. Gus is sort of the antagonist to our antiheroes Walt and Jesse, and I want to know what others thought before this episode. Did you hate Gus? Did you think he was evil?

I didn’t. I don’t know what it is because to just think about the bare facts, maybe hating Gus and thinking of him as evil makes logical sense. He slit a guy’s throat in a brutal silent scene in front of Walt and Jesse, and anyone reading these posts knows I had a thing for Victor. Gus has also intended to kill both Walt and Jesse. He’s done a lot of bad things and he’s been a threat to the dynamic duo, but Gus is somehow….so likable anyway.

Maybe it’s the actor, Giancarlo Esposito, lending humanity to the role the way Bryan Cranston does to Walt. Maybe it’s Gus’s fastidiousness, his meticulous nature, his pragmatism as a businessman, his unflappability in some ways, or the way he’s always so soft-spoken. Even if I should, I don’t dislike Gus, and from what I’ve read on boards and in articles, a lot of people love him.

But even, let’s say someone did hate Gus, and there’s plenty of reason to, this episode gives him another dimension. It almost forces us to sympathize with him, at least for now. It does what 206 “Peekaboo” did for Jesse, and that is, if you have any doubts about Gus’s humanity and are thinking of him as a one-dimensional bad guy, this episode challenges that by showing another side. Gus, man,, how can you not feel for him here? Max, who’s just bargained for Gus’s life, gets shot by a young Hector (Tio) Salamanca, and Gus is forced to watch him bleed out into the pool. It’s one of the cruelest things done to anyone on this show.

And as always, the filming is top notch. Notice the way the sound resembles ringing ears after Tio fires the shot, and then sound slowly fades back in. Plus the choice of the blood in the pool leaves such a lasting image, somehow horrible and visually intriguing at once. And the sounds Gus makes, and staying on that, so well done. At the end, after Tio’s done with his little speech, we just see Max dying, not Gus at all. I think that’s purposeful, because the camera is giving us what Gus sees, putting us in his point of view.

Even Walt temporarily feels more on Gus’s side in this episode, for completely different reasons. That may be an overstatement, but what I mean is when Hank talks about bugging Gus’s car, Walt realizes that in this, he and Gus are on the same side of not wanting to be caught by the DEA. That exchange at Los Pollos Hermanos is maybe the least antagonistic we’ve seen these two men in like, forever. Gus almost seems to be hiding a secret smile when he tells Walt to do it. Not that he’s happy about a DEA agent watching him, but that he’s a little psyched to fuck with the guy.

408indexStill, Walt surmises immediately what this could mean for Hank, that his life is in danger. So he pleads to the superlab camera, and then visits Jesse and asks him to move up the killing Gus time frame. Jesse lies and says he hasn’t seen Gus and won’t anytime soon. I don’t think Jesse really ever intended to do it. My favorite shot here is Walt’s face, after Jesse lies right to him about the phone call, the last lingering shot of the scene. Too many potentially awful things are all coalescing at once. As Mike says later to Gus, this could be the makings of a perfect storm.

I’ve gotta say, how great was it to see Tio again? Characters always come back on this show. No one is ever forgotten. This is where I wonder about how far in advance certain elements of the show are planned out. When that little line was placed in the Los Pollos Hermanos commercial, did the writers know it would come back, that Gale’s death would lead Hank to investigate the trail of Pollos and :Madrigal Electromotive? Did the writers know that there would at some point be another person who would be the other “Chicken brother” when they first introduced the restaurant name in Season Two? And Tio, when his character was first introduced, did they have any idea that would come back several times in different seasons?

Tio never rings his bell in this episode, but the elevator Gus takes has a very similar dinging sound.

How smooth is Gus at that DEA meeting? Poised, playing all the right notes, pitch perfect. Unflappable, except maybe at seeing the sketch of Victor. Cool as a cucumber as the saying goes, and he plays it friendly and helpful, engaged. Not cool as a cucumber in a detached or cold way, just absolutely believable. Nothing rattles this man. Not on the outside anyway.

Who was Gus in Chile? Who is he that Don Eladio, Tio and Juan Bolsa can’t kill him? Someone so important that they’d rather kill the chemist, who arguably, from a logistical standpoint, they’d probably need more. We may never find out these answers for certain. BrBa doesn’t do a ton of backstory, usually just gives us bits and pieces to stitch together. Here, we get more of Gus’s backstory from before the time of the pilot episode than we do for most characters, even Walt, Skyler and Jesse.

So Max dies in 1989, right? That’s the year of the flashback? And Gale graduated with Gus’s chemistry scholarship in 1999? That means it took Gus ten years to find Gale. Gus needs Walt, or someone who can cook Walt’s formula perfectly. Jesse was right.

Speaking of formula though, I got a little mad at what Max said in his pitch for the product he and Gus were selling. He says that his meth is structurally a different molecule, which makes no sense. It seems he was talking about the chirality, because he mentions that, but all he’s really pitching is something that’s enantiomerically pure, meaning all “right-handed” versions of the molecule only, but structurally it’s not different. If it were, it wouldn’t be meth. It can be purer; it can’t be a structurally different molecule.

breakingbad42One of the best moments this entire episode was when the bar in the closet where Skyler hangs all the bags of cash collapses under the weight of all that cheddar. Into the crawl space it goes.

Jesse is back with Andrea. It seems now that he’s sober, his life is regaining a little bit of normalcy. And it’s nice to see that Andrea did indeed use Jesse’s money to move into a better apartment in a better neighborhood for herself and her son.

Hank still has to retrieve the bug he put on Gus’s Volvo. Will he get Walt to do it? What will he find out? Will Gus make any mistakes? The tracker was in the trash can when Gus visited Tio, but what will a cool as a cucumber meticulous sort like Gus do with it for the rest of the time until Hank gets it back?

There is a perfect storm brewing here. Gus has to deal with Hank’s investigation and the cartel, and unbeknownst to him, Walt and Jesse’s murder plot. Walt has to deal with trying to murder Gus, being Hank’s chauffeur to investigate the drug operation he himself is a part of, Gus and Mike’s reaction to this and possible intention to kill Hank, Jesse’s lying, and being a man who Gus wants to see dead.

Is it me or is Walt a total asshole to that guy in the cancer clinic? It’s good to get a reminder of Walt’s cancer, and I like that they brought it up without the cancer being back here. It’s way too early for the cancer to be back, if it does indeed resurface, and somehow if there had been no in-between times, times where he visits and is still in remission, times like this episode, it somehow would’ve seemed a bit sloppy. Too convenient if the cancer wasn’t addressed fully until if and when it’s back. No, this is just a nice little reminder.

But yeah, Walt’s a dick. I think his theme for this season might have something to do with claiming to be in control and powerful while really having no power in the Gus empire other than being too important to kill. Every time Walt declares his powerful role, Gus watches his every move like Walt is an ant under a magnifying glass on a hot day. Walt’s theme might be hubris, or semi-delusions.

~Emilia J

Next Episode: Bug

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