Breaking Bad, Season 4, Episode 8: “Hermanos”

Slate's Culture Blog
Sept. 4 2011 11:24 PM

Breaking Bad, Season 4, Episode 8: “Hermanos”

[Caution: There are spoilers ahead! So if you haven't yet watched "Hermanos," come back when you have and share your thoughts and theories.]

Jessica Grose Jessica Grose

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.

Bryan Cranston as Walter White in Breaking Bad
Photograph of Bryan Cranston as Walter White courtesy of Ursula Coyote/AMC

There are two main themes coursing through the veins of this Breaking Bad episode: family (this week’s show is titled “Hermanos”), and control. We’ll start with the first, and it will lead to the second.

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Though June and I had both been longing for more back story on Walter White this season, I was still partially satiated by the flashbacks from Gus’s past. In this episode, we discover why he became the stone-cold, murder- his-henchman-with-a-boxcutter chicken purveyor we know today: Mexican drug thugs killed his brother. The Fring brothers were trying to be honest salesmen, attempting to go into business with the local kingpin instead of selling meth behind his back. But the kingpin was still offended, and Hector—the uncle of the two insane brothers from the Mexican cartel who maimed Hank last season—shot Gus’s brother in the head. Then Hector forces Gus to lie next to his brother as his skull drips crimson into a bright blue pool. Gus is, understandably, out of his mind with grief.

It's in this episode that we also see Gus going to visit Hector—who is mute after a stroke—in the nursing home. Gus tells Hector about the deaths of his nephews. “This is what comes from blood for blood, Hector. Sangre por sangre.” Gus’s face doesn’t reveal a flicker of emotion when he says this. Even though the Mexican cartel has given him an ultimatum, and Hank is on his trail, Gus feels like he’s in complete control of this moment.

Early in the episode, Walt’s back in the doctor’s office, getting a check-up. A young, handsome man is also getting a check-up, and he goes on and on about his own cancer, to Walt’s annoyance. He finally says, of his illness, “You can’t control everything,” and Walt explodes. “That is such bullshit,” Walt tells the man bluntly. “Never give up control. Live life on your own terms.” Walt believes that’s what he’s doing by selling meth, but this episode continues his season-long slide into frenzied incompetence. Any sway he previously had over Jesse is now gone—Walt tries to head over to Jesse’s place to get him to try to murder Gus, and Jesse flicks him away. There’s a close shot of Walt at the end of his interaction with Jesse, and the loss of control is plain as the glasses on his face.

Back to Gus for a second—there’s a matching shot of his face this episode, too, one that displays just the briefest moment of fear. Gus is going down in an elevator in the DEA building—he’s just been questioned by Hank and his coworkers about where he was the night of Gale’s death. He’s answered every query smoothly and skillfully, but Gus can tell that Hank doesn’t trust him. That moment in the elevator shows that despite Gus’s best efforts since his brother’s death, he can’t control everything.

I keep returning to what Gus said this episode about sangre por sangre. Hector, before he kills Gus’s brother, points out that they look nothing alike—“dark meat and white meat,” he says. Gus’s brother says that Gus rescued him from the streets of Santiago, Chile.  Hank and Walt are also brothers of a sort, ones who look nothing alike (save for their bald heads).  As Mike tells Gus this episode, “Schrader and the Mexicans at the same time—if he’s watching when they make a move, it could be the perfect storm.”  Do you think the writers are teasing an eventual showdown in which Walt is going to have to choose whether or not he saves Hank’s life? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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