Breaking Bad: Like Zero Douchebags

…as opposed to “like zero dicks in there” from Louie earlier this season. Maybe all the great shows are going to incorporate a line of dialogue centered around the phrase “like zero”?

Anyway, let’s get to it. A discussion of “Hermanos,” with spoilers aplenty, coming right up.

That’s more like it.

Breaking Bad hasn’t been slumping this season — far from it — but it hasn’t been quite at the breathtaking level it lived on for seasons two and especially three. This season, with its suffocating atmosphere and super-slow build, has been harder to love, like an unattractive but sweet third child. In particular, we as viewers have had to reevaluate what we want and expect from this show now that Walter has fully morphed from antihero/protagonist to whiny, insolent eight-year-old. (Breaking Bad is succeeding where The Sopranos ultimately failed: turning the audience against the morally corrupt protagonist. No matter how awful Tony behaved, we still wanted him to win. I’m no longer sure we can say the same about Walter.)

But “Hermanos” was vintage Breaking Bad — an all-timer of an episode.

I don’t know that Gus Fring needed to be deepened as a character, or had his motivations explained. Gus was perfectly effective as a stone-cold villain — an inexplicable spectre haunting Walter and Jesse’s lives. But shedding more light on the Chickenman’s past instantly makes the entire series more compelling. In a world of drug dealers and bad guys, with no legitimate heroes, seeing Gus watch his good friend and partner (lover?) get executed moves him way up the scale in terms of rootability. There still may be more to unearth about Gus’s past in Chile, but there’s no denying that it was a rush to watch him fuck with Tio in the final scene, knowing what we know now. We got the same thrill that we used to get watching Walter put one over on Tuco or on Gus himself.

Are the writers setting us up? Are they deepening Gus’s character only to kill him off? He certainly seems to be in mortal danger, with the cartel, Walter and DEA Agent Schrader all after him. And it seems like something this show would do: make us care about Gus, then take him away from us. And we do care. How could we not, after watching Gus in that elevator post-interrogation, his usually stoic face revealing that his world is collapsing around him.

The only downside to this fantastic episode? Skyler putting the excess money in vacuum-sealed laundry bags. Is it in Anna Gunn’s contract that she has to appear in every episode? Because that scene was superfluous to the rest of the episode, thematically ill-suited, and momentum-killing. Other than that, great scene!

Jesse didn’t have much to do, but his one scene with Walter may end up being as crucial to the series’ ongoing story as Walter’s drunken boasting to Hank that Gale couldn’t possibly have been Heisenberg. Walter knowing that he can’t trust Jesse, and perhaps thinking that Jesse is conspiring with Gus and Mike against him, will likely set off a chain events that will lead us straight to the season finale. This may be the fissure that ultimately breaks Walter and Jesse’s relationship for good. It speaks to the overall strength of “Hermanos” that this vital scene doesn’t even stand out when you think of the episode’s highlights.

It was a crackling hour, start to finish, with the blood in the pool water pre-credits clueing us in that something important was about to happen. I spent most of the episode convinced that Gus was going to end up dead in the Whites’ pool, joining the stuffed bear from the plane as backyard casualties. That didn’t happen, but they might just blow up the Chickenman yet.

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