“This is what comes of blood for blood.” —Gustavo (Gus so doesn’t seem like an appropriate name for this guy anymore)
I love this show so much. I love this show So. Much. Just when I thought I knew the direction this season was going, just when I fancied myself impervious to surprise, BOOM — Roasted! I knew the character of Gustavo Fring wouldn’t forever merely hint at a third dimension, but in no way could I ever have predicted such a mind-blowing backstory for him — one that asks way more questions than it answers.
Right from the beginning, it was obvious “Hermanos” would be no ordinary chapter in this dark saga, from the unsettlingly cryptic cold-open to the Gus-POV shots before and after the interrogation. But all that is small potatoes in light of all the ways in which this episode deviates from the Breaking Bad norm in both style and content. Not only is the final act composed of a single intensely drawn-out flashback, but the flashback in question does not even belong to one of the show’s protagonists. In fact, Walt and Jesse are almost totally marginalized this week; Jesse shows up just long enough for me to finally declare him a MILF* (upon the realization that he’s been taking care of Brock and Andrea from afar), then immediately take it back (upon the sight of him wearing this bedazzled T-shirt — I swear, it’s like they don’t want us to like him too much). As for Walt, aside from his hilariously awkward comportment with both Hank and Gus and the bit of counter-development with Jesse, his big moment this week comes in the episode’s first scene, when, clad in only a hospital gown — basically the most vulnerability-evocative garment in existence — he once again asserts himself as a control freak of colossal proportions — Gracious, Walt, all right! Tell me something I don't know. “...who's in charge? Me. That's how I live my life,” he boasts to the hapless young cancer patient, which is pretty much the definition of dramatic irony when we put Walter White and Gustavo Fring side by side.
Indeed, this episode belonged to Gus and the event that so completely defined him as a businessman, a drug criminal and a person. That flashback explains so much about the show’s most mysterious character, his legendary composure/self-control, his questionable business tactics, the full extent of the blow he suffered in losing Gale, and perhaps most pertinent of all, his recurring trouble with the cartel. (It also draws some interesting parallels between Gus/Max and Walt/Jesse.)
As per Walt’s assessment last season, I, too, was convinced that Gus was acting purely out of business-related self-interest when he gave Hank a head start on the heretofore nameless assassins’ (Marco and Lionel) imminent attack and the resulting DEA involvement that ultimately resulted in the death of Juan Bolsa. How much more interesting and layered (and terrifying) does this character instantly become once we learn that he, in fact, is not motivated merely by money or success but also by vengeance. “Sangre por sangre,” he says to the invalid Hector, whose once-able hands spilled the blood of Gus’s lover (or at the very least, dear friend), protégé and first-ever business partner some two decades earlier. (Poor Gus (can I say that?) keeps losing his meth chefs. Like Max, Gale was an integral part of Gus’s business, but he did not partake of the additional elements of love and equality that clearly existed between the Pollos Hermanos.) Looking at the demure Gus of today, it’s hard to believe that he was once as helpless as Hector is now, as indignant as Jesse and as rash as Walter, but it’s also very easy to see how that experience would have created the lying, calculating, manipulative monster we’ve observed thus far but far from known. Not that we “know” Gus any better than before; we might have a more complete understanding of his motivation and his ultimate agenda, but we are still miles away from knowing Gustavo Fring. More than anything, this glimpse into his past created more questions. Who was the young Chilean of the lifesaving resources and, as Jesse would say, “unwastable” connections in the eyes of Mexico’s track-suit-wearing cocaine don of the ‘80s? And speaking of Don Eladio, has he already been a victim of what appears to be Gus’s personal vendetta or is his destruction yet to come? How long until Gus's endgame, the cartel’s ultimatum — whatever it is — and Hank’s rogue investigation collide noisily? And where exactly do Walt and Jesse figure in all of this?
I love this show so much!
*The M stands for murderer, naturally!