(In which I re-watch and discuss, with SPOILERS aplenty, the first four and a half seasons of Breaking Bad, one or two or three episodes at a time, leading up to the final half of season five beginning August 11, then continue with write-ups of the last eight episodes as they air. If you’ve never seen the show, you are 1) crazy!, 2) advised to start watching it immediately, and 3) not to read these discussions until you’ve completed step 2)
The real focus of season 4 isn’t Walt; it’s Gus. In these next three episodes, we finally get a look at who he is and what’s driving him. But as with everyone in Breaking Bad, we don’t learn everything about Gus, only what pertains to the story being told. There remains much mysterious about Gus’s past.
Episode 8 opens with a flashback to Gus and Walt in the hospital after Hank’s shootout with the Salamanca cousins. Again we watch as Mike exits the building while the cops crowd around the second cousin as he dies.
We then join Gus as he visits Hector AKA Tio in his rest home, where he watches the news of the death of his sons. Gus relates exactly what happened to Hector’s boys, clearly implying that it was he who tipped off Hank. Juan Bolsa, the cartel boss, is also dead, says Gus. “This is what comes of blood for blood,” he concludes. What’s he talking about? We soon find out.
But first Gus is invited to chat with Hank, Gomez, ASAC Merket and Tim the cop. Gus declines to have a lawyer present, despite not knowing what they want to ask him. They tell him they found his fingerprints at a crime scene. Right away Gus says it must be Gale. He tells a story of funding a chem scholarship and how Gale was one of the recipients. He hadn’t heard from Gale for many years until Gale came to see him at Pollos. Gus had dinner at Gale’s apartment, where Gale made it clear he needed money. Gus mentions that the scholarship was named after “a friend who died too young.”
Hank says that he can find no record of “Gustavo Fring” in Chile, that Gus’s name just appears in Mexico in the late ‘80s. Gus chalks it up to poor record keeping by the Pinochet regime. All the cops are satisfied that Gus is on the level. But not Hank.
In the elevator ride down, Gus taps two fingers together. A beautifully subtle character moment. You see those fingers tapping and think “Holy fuck! Gus is freaking out!” Because when has Gus shown any indication of, well, anything, ever? He handled it perfectly, but he wasn’t expecting this.
And it’s all due to Walt having told Hank that Gale was just a flunky. Once again, Walt drives the story purely by accident. His ego is in charge.
Dressed in a hospital gown, Walt waits for his PET scan. A young man waits too. He begins telling Walt the sad story of his cancer, a very touching moment–and Walt cuts him off to take a call. The guy resumes, talking about the loss of control–and Walt cuts him off. “That’s bullshit,” he says. Then explains that he is in charge, not his cancer. We’re all born with a death sentence, says Walt. Walt’s just talking to himself here. He’s totally oblivious to the other guys’s life or concerns. It takes all of Walt’s effort just to convince himself that he’s charge.
Hank has Walt drive him around…to Pollos, where he tells Walt to stick a GPS tracker on Gus’s car. Hank lays out all of his suspicions of Gus, while Walt looks out the window to see Mike pull up and watch them curiously. As usual, Walt does a terrible job hiding how freaked out he his. He goes into Pollos and Gus comes to the counter. Walt holds up the tracker to prove he didn’t stick it on. “Do it,” says Gus. Walt exits and puts it on the car.
Then he hauls ass to the lab and into the lab camera says Hank knows nothing, he’s acting on his own. Walt promises to tell him nothing.
Panicked, Walt tells Jesse he has to kill Gus immediately. Walt spews out endless bullshit about how Jesse should go about talking to Mike to set it up, but Walt’s bullshit isn’t working anymore. Jesse goes to the bathroom, and Walt spies a text from Mike about a meeting with Gus being called off. So Walt knows Jesse is lying. Jesse’s been in contact with Gus after all.
Gus removes the tracker from his car to drive to Tio’s rest home. Gus speaks of the past, and we flashback to a much younger Gus at the hacienda of Don Eladio, the real boss of the cartel. With Gus is Max, a young chemist. The two of them run Pollos. Seems they’ve been cooking meth and handing out free samples to Don Eladio’s men to get them interested and to set up a meeting. Max makes the case for his pure meth, how it’s the drug of the future, not the crap hillbillies and bikers make. Max says Gus funded his education.
Also present is Bolsa and a young, walking and talking Hector, who’s no less a complete shithead. Hector shoots Max in the head. Gus flips out, he’s wrestled to the ground, but not killed, because, as Eladio says, he knows who Gus is—but he’s not in Chile anymore. Hmmm. What went down with Gus in Chile?
And we return to Gus and Tio in the rest home. Gus asks if today is the day? The day that Tio will look at Gus. It isn’t. Tio never looks at him.
So Gus isn’t purely a businessman after all. He might put on the best front of all time, but there’s a personal element for him too. One that will be his undoing. Also of note, we now realize how Gale’s death must have affected him. Once again Gus funded a young chemist, and once again he was shot dead.
In episode 9, Hank and Walt retrieve the tracker from Gus’s car only to find that Gus went to work and to home and nowhere else. To Hank, nothing could be more suspicious. Hank tells Walt he’s discovered the chicken ranch and wants to check it out. Walt feigns illness and says he’ll drive Hank in a couple days. Then calls Mike to tell him what Hank knows.
Mike and Jesse and other henchmen clean all the meth out of the chicken ranch. Outside, a sniper shoots and kills one of the henchmen. He almost gets Jesse too, but Mike knocks him out of the way. Gus walks outside right into the gunfire, but isn’t shot. As Mike explains to Jesse, they don’t want Gus dead, they want Gus working for them.
Gus calls the cartel and says one word, “Yes.” Seems he’s giving in to them. Or is he?
A the laundry, Jesse keeps on telling Walt that yes, he’s going to kill Gus when he gets the chance. But later, when Mike and Jesse roll in the dead henchman to be dissolved, Mike angrily tells Walt not to talk to him or to Jesse, to just do his job. Walt is fully on the outside now. Jesse’s with Mike and Gus.
As if that’s not messed up enough, Ted Beneke shows up at the carwash to tell Skyler that he’s being audited. Looks like he’s going to jail. And Skyler signed off on all of his books. Uh oh.
At the audit, Skyler arrives dressed like a ditzy secretary, and acts like one too. This display of total ignorance gets Ted off the hook in terms of going to jail, but he needs to pay the $617,000 fine, or else Skyler’s ruse will quickly come apart under further scrutiny.
Gus invites Jesse to his house for dinner, just like the time with Walt. Jesse’s still highly suspicious of Gus, more so when Gus asks if Jesse can cook Walt’s formula. Jesse says if Walt is killed, they’ll have to kill him too. But that’s not why Gus is asking.
Jesse has Walt over to his house and explains what went down. That Gus is trying to make a move to avert war with the cartel and needs Jesse to come to Mexico and cook. Jesse’s scared. Can Walt give him advice? Or tips? Walt wants to know who told Jesse all of this, if Jesse hasn’t seen Gus at all. Jesse lies. But Walt put a tracker on Jesse’s car. He knows he saw Gus. Jesse’s pissed off that Walt bugged his car. A fistfight ensues. They’re both beat-up, but Jesse kicks Walter’s ass. Tells him to get out and to never come back.
Walt is truly laid low during this episode. He’s got nothing.
Espisode 9, “Salud,” brings Gus full-circle to his long-past encounter with Don Eladio. It begins with Gus, Mike, and Jesse boarding a private airplane in the desert and flying away to Mexico. Gus tells a nervous Jesse, “You can do this.” In his lap Gus carries a gift-wrapped box.
Saul, head on his desk, buzzes in Ted. Tells him that his great aunt Birgit died in Luxembourg eight years ago and left Ted $621,000 dollars. A day later, Saul visits Skyler to say once again what a terrible plan this was, and to prove it, shows her Ted’s credit record, which shows that hours after he met with Saul, he leased a new Mercedes.
Skyler visits Ted at the newly re-opened Beneke offices and pretty much tells him he has to pay the IRS. Ted doesn’t see it that way. It’s his money and he’ll do with it what he wants. The scene ends with Skyler revealing she was the one who gave him the money. Which money, by the way, came from all of Walt’s cash she’s hidden in clothes-bags underneath the house.
Skyler gives Junior a nice safe car for his birthday. Walt misses the party. Junior finds Walt at his apartment, beat to hell and drugged up on pain killers. Walt cries, says he was gambling, says he made a mistake, and that everything is his fault. Junior puts Walt to bed, and Walt sleepily refers to him as Jesse.
Next morning, Junior is still there. Walt tells a the story of his own father, who died when Walt was six. The only thing Walt remembers about his dad is seeing him one day in the hospital, shortly before he died, his breath rattling, his body twisted. He doesn’t want Junior to remember Walt the way he was the night before. Junior says that wouldn’t be so bad, because at least Walt was real in a way he hasn’t been for the past year.
The real thrust of the episode is the Mexican adventure. Jesse, Gus, and Mike are brought to the cartel’s lab. Jesse is to cook. It looks bad at first as the head chemist mocks Jesse’s seemingly ignorance. But Jesse steps up. He tells the chemist off. Gus and Mike can barely conceal smiles.
Jesse cooks a batch. It’s 96.2 percent pure. Success! The cartel henchman says it’ll be the first of many cooks. “You belong to the cartel now.”
And we’re back at the hacienda of Gus’s youth, poolside. Gus eats two mysterious capsules (which we must assume are something like charcoal, to absorb the poison). Jesse can’t believe he’s being kept in Mexico. Mike tells him, “I promise you this. Either we’re all leaving, or none of us are.”
Don Eladio and his men arrive. He’s oh so friendly to Gus, who smiles stiffly. Eladio opens his gift. It’s a fine bottle of tequila. Shots are poured for everyone. Gus drinks first. All follow, save for Mike and Jesse. The party starts, girls arrive. Eladio smugly tells Gus that everything that happened in their past was just business. Gus goes to the bathroom, were he makes himself vomit. Outside, everyone keels over dead, poisoned. Gus returns to see Eladio flop into the pool. Mike retrieves his necklace.
But Gus isn’t unaffected. They exit fast, when one of the henchmen shoots Mike. Jesse gets Mike and Gus into a car and hauls ass out of there.
This is an insanely tense episode. The entire pool sequence at the end lasts over ten minutes. It feels like we’ve come into this epic story of Gus’s revenge against the cartel at the very end, a great place to be. The life story of Gus would have made for a hell of a TV show, too. Unfortunately for Gus, he’s in Walt’s story.
Previous in this series:
- Season 1, Episodes 1-3
- Season 1, Episodes 4 & 5
- Season 1, Episodes 6 & 7
- Season 2, Episodes 1 & 2
- Season 2, Episodes 3-5
- Season 2, Episodes 6 & 7
- Season 2, Episodes 8-10
- Season 2, Episodes 11-13
- Season 3, Episodes 1-4
- Season 3, Episodes 5-7
- Season 3, Episodes 8-10
- Season 3, Episodes 11-13
- Season 4, Episodes 1-4
- Season 4, Episodes 5-7