The title of this episode of Breaking Bad was entitled “Hermanos”, spanish for brothers – As always, this has implications on the episode’s themes.
The most memorable image of the episode of course was a young Gus Fring watching his partner Max, the other half of “Los Pollos Hermanos” (Gus and Max are not biologically related) bleeding from a head gunshot wound into the pool. For the Don Eladio to become partners with Gus, his old one had to go. As is often with partnerships. People will leave behind one romantic relationship for a new one, one friendship for a new one, one work partnership for a new one, tag team wrestling partners hit each other with chairs before striking up a new tag team. Gus himself ended a supply partnership with the Cartel to begin one with Walt. Victor had his partnership with Gus end abruptly in the season premeire. Off screen, surely Mike’s predecessor met an unfortunate demise when his work partnership with Gus ended. Being attached to Gus puts one in risk of being replaced as a partner, just as Don Eladio replaced Max as the partner to Gus.
Likewise, in this episode we started to see Walt and Jesse’s partnership continue to splinter, as it has for a while. This was arguably a breaking point as Walt caught Jesse in the act of a lie – not revealing to Walt a meeting. Jesse has been building a partnership with Gus and Mike for the last handful of episodes. As in the previous examples, it appears Jesse’s old partner and new one won’t be able to coexist. He will need to choose where his loyalties lie. Walt was forced to realize this episode he has lost control of Jesse’s loyalty.
There are partnerships still in tact. Mike is still loyal to Gus, catching Walt carrying the GPS tracker in Hank’s car and clearly pushing him towards telling Gus. We never saw Gus’ reaction to Walt’s apparant loyalty here, but it may have been more significant than it seemed to Walt. Gus does not have many partners left. With the trouble with the cartel and the police investigation, perhaps he now sees his beef with Walt’s betrayal as something to put on the backburner.
Furthermore, Skylar has started her criminal partnership with Walt – and her money laundering side of the job. With so much money, she’s now forced to hide the cash under the house. Saul maintains his partnership with Walt, Jesse and Skylar, helping Jesse help out his former flame financially. At the beginning of this season we saw Hank and Marie’s partnership save both, so to speak. Marie helped Hank find his spirit again and put in the work to walk again, Hank helped stop her from falling into her kleptomania.
This season as a whole has been about webs and networks. The first 3 seasons of Breaking Bad saw Walt diving into the drug/”Bad” world, but by this season he is already completley ensared. Now the game is the Gus Fring drug game, bound together by mostly forced and financial partnerships, constantly threatening to splinter in power plays and break out into blood. But at the same time, these partnerships keep the players in the web alive, if only all out of self survival. This tension and dichotomy in the network is the appeal of most drug movies and tv shows.
That’s also why there’s one player in danger: Hank. It’s made clear Hank does not have partners in his investigation of Gus. The rest of the cops bought Fring’s story and won’t be following up. Hank is going rogue investigating Fring. The person who knows most about what Hank is doing, Walt, has a stronger partnership with Gus out of self survival at the moment. And this is a very precarious position for Hank to be in. If the police investigation is simply Hank charging on his own, it’s a comparatively easy situation for Gus to solve. If I wrote a review for last week’s episode, I would’ve compared its events to chess pieces revolving around Fring’s King. A checkmate of course requires multiple pieces cornering a King and the combination of the police, the cartel and Walt’s desire to off Gus in last week’s episode felt like the equivalent of a Queen, Rook and Knight closing around a King. Well the chess equivalent of Hank’s chase of Gus may be a lonely Pawn charging ahead on the board and finding itself unable to avoid the bigger pieces looking to off it. We’ve seen Walt endanger himself with pride this season, and the same might be true for Hank. Months of being bedridden has been him too determined to come roaring back into the force. But Hank doesn’t know the danger of the drug world as much as Walt does. I know nothing about the remaining episodes this season, but at this point I’ll be more surprised if Hank makes it to the 5th season than if he doesn’t. And a Hank offing would poetically fit Walt’s Gus Fring like arc – As it’s seems evident that Gus and not Max, the college educated chemist, was the one who thought it was a good idea to join the Don’s drug game. Gus watched his dive into the drug world kill at least one loved one (and probably brought down or killed more) – Walt unwittingly has also brought many down with him. Jesse has lost his innocence by becoming a killer, Skylar is a criminal who will likely go down when Walt does, but the Max like breaking point for Walt may be leading Hank, his “Hermano in law” to his end.
I have one more thought about this episode as it relates to the Don Eladio, Gus Fring, Max, Hector scene: We know Hector replaced Eladio as Don in what had to have been a short time afterwards - The cousins flashback with Hector as Don was likely 20 or more years ago, enough time for them to age as kids to killing adults. This would fit the timeframe for Gus as well. So Hector likely replaced Eladio in a decade or less after this scene. My money is on Hector offing Eladio himself as a power play. The question is, who’s Hector in our modern day equivalent? The obvious choice at first is Mike, Fring’s right hand man and the one I’ve suspected for a while would finally bring on his checkmate. But it could also be Jesse. Perhaps Jesse, not Walt, is the future “Don” in this game and the one willing to go all the way by having a Max killing moment.