The fact that this week’s episode presented us with the same pre-game warning as the season premiere – “This program contains intense violence which may be unsuitable for some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.” – should’ve served as a tip-off for just about everyone that there was no way we’d make it to the closing credits without getting some sort of “holy shit” moment, but, holy shit, what a moment. Hell, even without the violence, this was an intense episode all around.
We begin the proceedings with a flashback to Episode 3.8, which took place in the wake of the Cousins’ attack on Hank. What we didn’t see at the time, however, was Gus’s visit to see the Cousins’ uncle, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, and tell him of their fate, saying, “This is what comes of blood for blood, Hector.” And then we get a shot of the viscous red substance in question, floating through a swimming pool. If you’re like me, you were already thinking, “Oh, this is gonna be good,” and if so, then surely you weren’t disappointed by episode’s end.
Hey, what do you know? “Breaking Bad” finally takes time to acknowledge that Walt is still being treated for cancer. This scene really underlined how much he’s changed since his initial diagnosis, however. So Walt’s living his life as if he’s in charge, huh? Yeah, he talks big, instantly dismissing the fears and concerns of the poor bastard who’s sharing the waiting area with him, but the second we see him back in his usual environment, he looks completely lost and mostly hopeless…which is, at least momentarily, a look he shares with Gus when the latter gets a phone call to pop ’round the ABQ police department. With Walt, though, I have to wonder if he got a report on a cancer that he wasn’t expected. But we’ll get back to that.
If Gus looks mildly stricken when he first gets that phone call to come into the station, you can see something approximating horror when his eye lands on the poster of Victor posted on the bulletin board. It appears to be utterly gone from his system when he steps into the office with Hank and the gang, however, and he manages to prove highly convincing with his effortless responses to all of the questions and couched accusations thrown his way. It’s nonetheless an incredibly intense scene, however, because although we can’t really imagine that Gus won’t be able to keep himself afloat, we also know what a pitbull Hank can be, and having seen the way he kicked ass with the police work to place Gus at Gale’s place, it’s equally hard to imagine that he’s going to let this go until he gets his man. It isn’t until we see him in the elevator post-discussion and get the close-up of Gus’s fingers tapping / twitching and the look on his face that we get a feeling of just how upset and angry he is; that such a small gesture says so much about the man’s rage and fury is a testament both to the development of the character and the performance of the actor (Giancarlo Esposito). It’s no wonder that everyone but Hank bought Gus’s stories, but it’s also no surprise that Hank is refusing to accept Gus’s assurances at face value.
This must be the week for “Breaking Bad” to play catch-up with semi-dismissed storylines: in addition to revisiting Walt’s cancer, we also saw Saul pop in to check on the status of Andrea and Brock, who – as we soon discover – are living in a nice pad that Jesse is quietly paying for. In a slightly unexpected moment, Saul proves to have more emotion at the surface than Jesse, asking him why he doesn’t just go and talk to Andrea and Brock if he wants to know how they’re doing. In response, Jesse jumps out of the car to avoid any further discussion. He might be the hero, but that doesn’t mean he’s fully recovered from all of his recent emotional trauma.
Too funny: Skyler tries her best to “launder” the excess money by vacuum-sealing the cash inside some of her clothes and hanging them in the closet, only to find that the cumulative weight of the outfits breaks the bar in the closet. Instead, she throws the bags under the house, which feels like a spontaneous decision doomed to cause problems in the future. But maybe that’s just me. Either way, it’s pretty worth an additional smirk when, moments later, Marie casually says to Skyler, “You’ve really taken to this whole being-your-own-boss thing…” Speaking of “maybe it’s just me” moment, I’m just not entirely confident that Walt’s cancer scan came off as scott-free as he claims during dinner. He looked so hopeless during that first post-scan shot that I can’t just write it off as being the result of his situation at the SuperLab.
Time for another intense scene. Actually, make that several intense scenes back to back. When Hank had Walt pull up in front of Los Pollos Locos and said, “We’re not here for the chicken,” it was a heart-stopping moment, but then things got even crazier, with Hank asking Walt to put a tracking device on Gus’s Volvo station wagon. We can only imagine what sort of emotional storm was going on inside Walt’s head during all of this, first pretending to put the device on the car, then going inside to talk to Gus, only to have Gus tell him to put the device on for real. And to have Mike hovering in his line of sight while he’s trying to decide what he’s going to do? Awesome. But, oh, is Gus pissed…and, oh, is Walt scared shitless. After the speech to the camera, in which Walt desperately tries to save his own ass and avoid throwing Hank under the bus while backpedaling on every bad thing he’s said about Gus since the beginning of the season, Walt runs to Jesse’s place and immediately wants to know where they stand on the whole killing-Gus thing. It’s a rather sad scene, when you get right down to it, because it serves to finally confirm to Walt that Jesse, who he’s arguably done more for in the past few seasons than he’s done for his own son, is now more dedicated to Gus than he is to him. It’s not like it’s not warranted, but it’s still sad, because it’s painfully clear that Walt realizes he no longer has anyone on his side.
Time to jump back to Gus, who gets an update from Mike on the situation with Hank and the ABQ police department. Feeling confident (but not cocky) that Hank won’t be able to do anything if he finds and removes the tracking device from his car, Gus does so, driving off to visit Tio…and, oh, what a visit it turns out to be. Not the visit itself, of course, but the flashback that it inspires. “Is today the day?” Gus asks Tio. Cue the rippling of the water – itself a sly tribute to the rippling effect used as a typical TV trope before bouncing back in time – and a sepia-toned look into Gus’s past which features Steven Bauer, late of “Scarface.” (You know damned well he enjoyed getting to wear the track suit and the jewelry as an old-school coke boss.) Sure, the tension isn’t sky-high when Max gets taken out – given that we haven’t seen him in the present, it was semi-inevitable that he wouldn’t live through the scene – but the whole event helps to underline both how Gus became the man he is today and why there’s so much bad blood – no joke intended – between Gus and Tio. But who is Gus? What does the Don know about him that we don’t? I can’t wait to find out.
Best episode of the season to date? Your mileage may vary, but it’s certainly my favorite.
Tags: Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Betsy Brandt, Bob Odenkirk, Breaking Bad blog, Breaking Bad fourth season, Breaking Bad Season 4, Bryan Cranston, Dean Norris, Giancarlo Esposito, Gus Fring, Hank Schrader, Jesse Pinkman, Jonathan Banks, Marie Schrader, R.J. Mitte, Saul Goodman, Skyler White, Walter White, Walter White Jr.