Quick Take Breaking Bad, "Hermanos"
"Every life comes with a death sentence." - Walt
Review: Breaking Bad, "Hermanos"
(S0408) One of the most impressive things about Breaking Bad is the show's willingness to advance individual plot lines with surprising speed. Remember last season? We assumed that the Cousins would spend most of the season tracking Walt (Bryan Cranston) down and build to a late-season showdown. Well, it didn't quite happen like that. The Cousins found Walt almost immediately and the showdown was ultimately between the Cousins and Hank (Dean Norris), not Walt. When Breaking Bad has a story to tell, it does so without dragging anything out and without the week-to-week build up that we have come to expect from serialized television shows.
Think about it: it was the only in the final scene of last week's episode when Hank brought his suspicions about Gus (Gustavo Fring) to his pals at the DEA. It would be easy to assume that the inevitable sitdown between Gus and law enforcement would be pushed back a few weeks in order to build tension and anticipation. Well, Breaking Bad doesn't need to try to manufacture tension; it's already there in virtually every scene. This show doesn't believe in delayed gratification. So instead of building toward a showdown sometime in the future, Breaking Bad gives us the confrontation in the first half of the very next episode.
Gus gets a call from Tim (Nigel Gibbs), the Albuquerque PD detective who brought the Gale case to Hank's attention, asking him to come down to the station to answer a few questions. Tim starts the interview by telling Gus his prints were found at the scene of a homicide. Gus immediately admits that he knows precisely what crime Tim is referring to and weaves quite a yarn to explain his relationship with Gale. He tells a pretty convincing tale about a chemistry scholarship he funded, which Gale was a recipient of. He claims that he hadn't seen Gale in years prior to a chance encounter at Pollos Hermanos a few weeks back. According to Gus, Gale, who "was a very talented... but interested in taking shortcuts," approached him regarding a vague investment opportunity. Gus continues to come up with answer after answer, alibi after alibi. When Hank finally speaks up to ask his final question, the other cops are basically eating out of Gus' hand. "Is Gustavo Fring your real name?" Hank asks because he was unable to find any record of Gus' emigration from his birthplace of Chile to Mexico (where he lived prior to emigrating to the United States). Once again, Gus is quick with a response, and a believable one. He blames Pinochet's regime for mismanaging their citizens' records.
As great as the interrogation (if you can actually call it that) scene is, the really fantastic moment comes just afterword. As Gus rides the elevator down to the lobby of the police department, the camera lingers on his face and we see an expression that we've never seen from him: pure terror.
While I've counted the speed with which Gus and Hank are brought together as a positive, I can certainly see how critics/skeptics might disagree. One could argue that bringing Gus in for questioning this early in the investigation is both unrealistic and shoddy police work. After all, Gus is a highly respected (and highly connected) member of the local business community. To risk pissing him off by bringing him in for questioning without much direct evidence linking him to the murder is something most savvy detectives would do their best to avoid. One would think that the better course of action would be to investigate Gus a little more on the sneak-tip before bringing him "downtown." Not only would you be able to use whatever additional evidence you may be able to dig up as leverage against him in the interrogation, but you would avoid tipping him off to your suspicions. Now that Gus knows the cops and the feds are sniffing around, he can simply flea the country whenever he feels them getting too close.
I actually agree with these criticisms one hundred percent, however I would argue that the lack of realism doesn't really matter. In the context of the show, given the trajectory of the season and the various stories the writers are trying to push forward, bringing Gus in for questioning so soon makes perfect sense.
The part of the episode that is bit harder to justify is Hank's decision to involve Walter in the case. For the sake of drama -- Breaking Bad is a dramatic television show, after all -- I get it, but still it felt a tad too contrived. Hank tells Walt he needs him to drive to a mineral fair (do those even exist?), but instead he directs Walt to Pollos Hermanos. Sitting in the parking lot, Hank spills the beans. "You ready for your mind to be blown? I suspect [Gus is] a drug dealer...honest to god, I really believe this guy's one of the biggest movers in the southwest." Walt's terrified response is classic. "Hank, why are you telling me this?" Good question, Walt. I was wondering the same thing.
Hank asks Walt to walk over to Gus' car and install a GPS tracker that will allow Hank to follow his suspect's movements. Why Hank decides he needs Walt's assistance with this matter is beyond me. That said, I'm willing to sacrifice a little bit of realism if it means we get scenes as excellent as the one in the Pollos Hermanos parking lot. Just as Hank is explaining Walt's task, Mike (Jonathon Banks) pulls up right next to them. The tension is thick enough to fog up the windows of Walt's Aztek.
Aside from the show's ability to advance the story at warp speed when it wants to, the other thing Breaking Bad does exceptionally well is make use of its supporting characters. Sure, the show is technically "about" Walter White, but the writers have absolutely no qualms about basically putting him on the sidelines and allowing other characters to shine for a moment. And "Hermanos" pretty much belongs to Gus.
"Hermanos" features not one but two Gus-related flashbacks. The cold open shows Gus sitting with Hector, the wheelchair bound cartel henchman, in the immediate aftermath of Hank's shootout with the Cousins. Gus tells Hector that he tipped off Hank before the attack and warns the old man that if the cartel wants a war it will be "sangre por sangre." Initially, I was unsure how this scene fit in with the rest of the episode, which dealt not with the threat from the cartel, but with the police. But eventually it became clear that the show was illustrating the fact that Gus is capable of dealing with both the cartel and the cops individually, but when those problems are combined they threaten to create a "perfect storm" that Gus might be unable to weather.
The episode's final scene -- another flashback -- is simply superb. There's just no other way to put it; I was blown away. A much younger Gus, new to Mexico and just starting out in the meth business, has a sit down with Don Eladio, the leader of the Mexican cartel. Gus is accompanied by his "hermano," the co-owner of the burgeoning chicken franchise and Gus' first expert chemist. Apparently Gus put his "chef" through college in Chile, where he studied chemistry. Gus is a forward thinking dude who realizes that meth, not cocaine, is the "drug of the future." He also realizes that meth could provide the Mexican cartels with a product they can make themselves, allowing them to grow into something more than lowly middlemen for the Colombians.
Don Eladio isn't particularly thrilled to have a couple of Chileans moving into his turf and telling him how to run his business. "If you're the cook, why do I need him?" the Don asks Gus' partner. For a moment, Gus must have known exactly what it feels like to be Jesse. He's powerless, in grave danger, and, worst of all, he's expendable. But instead of killing Gus, Don Eladio and his men (including Hector, who at this point is still able to walk and talk) shoot the chef. The Don tells Gus that the only reason he didn't kill him too is because the cartel knows who Gus is. What exactly he means by this is up for debate, but the dialogue suggests that Gus was in some kind of position of power in Chile before moving north to Mexico. After Don Eladio kills the chef/chemist, the camera zooms in Gus’ face. And there it is again: that expression, that look of pure terror.