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One of the fun things about Breaking Bad is that two of the biggest characters, Walt and Gus, live lives that suggest they have fascinating backstories, but we don’t know those are. Well, this week a pretty big chunk of Gus’s backstory gets filled in.
That’s pretty much all I need for an intro, don’t you think?
So. Season 4 Week 8 opens differently than most other episodes this season have—with a flashback. Only it’s not a flashback to an entirely new event we’ve never seen before; it’s a replay of a scene from episode 8 last season, called “I See You”. In that episode, the twin brother assassins from the Juarez Cartel, Marco and Leonel, tried to kill Hank, but Gus tipped Hank off and Hank managed to kill Marco and severly injure Leonel. This week the scene begins in the hospital where Leonel was taken. Mike has surreptitiously injected Leonel with some drug that has given Leonel a cardiac arrest, killing him too.
Then the show cuts to a scene we haven’t seen before. In the aftermath of Marco and Leonel’s failed assassination attempt, Gus pays a visit to their uncle Hector Salamanca, aka “Tio”. He used to be a high-ranking member of the Juarez Cartel, but now he lives anonymously in a retirement home in the US. A stroke has taken away his speech, but all of his other mental capacities are fully intact. So, when Gus shows up to give Tio the news, that Marco and Leonel are dead, that the Juarez’s current leader Juan Bolsa is also dead, and that Gus himself was pretty much responsible for it, Tio can only sit there and seethe at him. Has Gus come here just to gloat? That seems out of character for him, doesn’t it? Why would a guy so calculating indulge in something so personal?
After the opening credits we go to Walt, who’s getting a cancer checkup. Sitting next to him is another cancer patient, a young and healthy guy with all his hair, so most likely he’s new to the process. He’s scared and needs someone to talk to, so he tries to lean on Walt. At first, Walt doesn’t even want to bother with another guy’s anxiety, but when the guy starts telling the familiar cancer patient story—“everything was going so well, and then one day boom, cancer”—Walt snaps to and tells the guy that that attitude is bullshit. Walt, as he tells the guy, has refused to let cancer take control of his life. Until the day he dies, Walt will be the one on control. Which kinda contrasts with the next scene, which is of Walt zipping into his hazmat suit for work, all under the constant supervision of Gus’s security cameras.
But this week is Gus’s episode, and next the show goes back to him. After learning last week from Hank that Gus’s fingerprints were found at Gale’s apartment, the DEA and the Albuquerque PD have brought Gus in for questioning. Gus sits down in a conference room with Hank, Gomez, Merkert, and Tim the APD homicide detective. He’s in full Los Pollos mode—mildly surprised at having to talk to the police, but transparent and helpful. He has a ready explanation for why his prints were at Gale’s house…a decade or so ago, Gus says, he set up a chemistry scholarship at Arizona State and Gale was the recipient. (The scholarship, Gus says, was named for a guy named “Maximinio Arcenega”, a friend of Gus’s who died too young—this is important later). As the story goes, Gus and Gale lost touch over the years until recently, when Gale sought him out for a business proposal. So Gus had dinner at Gale’s apartment, explaining the fingerprints, and at dinner Gale asked Gus to invest in a shady-sounding “new business venture”. Gus recalls that Gale was a chemistry genius but also took shortcuts, implying that Gale was referring to a meth business.
This story does actually seem true. It would explain how a guy like Gale came to be affiliated with Gus. But Gus has an alibi, and everything checks out. Hank just has one more question for him: is “Gustavo Fring” his real name? Hank has looked into Gus’s past and couldn’t find any record of him in Chile, where he says he’s from. Gus smiles. He left Chile in 1986 and went to Mexico. This was during the Pinochet days, when record keeping was spotty. And that’s that. When Gus leaves, Hank’s still suspicious of Gus. The story’s just too neat. But for everyone else, Gus is clean.
Then it’s over to Jesse for a brief update on his personal life. A few episodes ago he started sending his old girlfriend Andrea and her son Brock some of his money for them to get out of their awful neighborhood. Now they’ve got a house, and Saul has showed up to give them their weekly allowance while Jesse waits in the car. When Saul comes out, Jesse asks him how Andrea and Brock are doing, and Saul’s had enough. He’s happy to do these errands for Jesse, but if Jesse really wants to know how they’re doing, he should just see for himself. Jesse gets out and we don’t know what happens next.
And then it’s over to the Whites for an update on them. Skyler is trying to squirrel away Walt’s huge cash supply. First she tries hiding them inside clothes, but when she hangs them up in the closet the rod collapses. So instead, she just tosses them in the crawlspace under the house, Gacy-style. Later, during another family dinner, Walt tells everyone the results of his checkup: he’s still in remission. Everyone’s happy and Hank asks Walt for a favor—can Walt drive him to a mineral expo tomorrow? Walt agrees.
The next day Hank and Walt are on their way, but Hank doesn’t really want to go to a mineral expo. Instead, he wants to go to Los Pollos. Walt pulls into the parking lot and Hank lays out everything he suspects about Gus, all of which is actually the truth. Walt tries not to look horrified. They’re here today, Hank explains, because officially he can’t investigate Gus any more so he’ll have to do it on the sly. He wants Walt to attach a GPS tracking device onto Gus’s car.
Walt is trapped…decline the request and upset Hank, or go through with it and potentially piss off the boss. He gets out and walks over to Gus’s car, where he kneels and looks like he places the tracking device. But instead, he goes into the Los Pollos and finds Gus at the cash register. He shows Gus the tracker, insists that he didn’t want any part of this. Gus smiles and doesn’t break character. He tells Walt simply to go back out and put it on his car, which Walt does. Later at the empty superlab, Walt reiterates to the surveillance cameras that he had no idea his brother-in-law was investigating Gus, and he promises to keep Hank in the dark regarding Gus’s true nature.
By which he means he’ll press Jesse to accelerate the plot to murder Gus. Walt goes over to Jesse’s house and asks him for an update. Jesse claims he hasn’t had a shot at Gus since the plan was thought up, but while Jesse leaves to take a piss, his phone gets a text. Walt reads it and discovers that Jesse had a meeting scheduled with Gus that very night. So he’s been lying.
We leave them for this week to go back to Gus’s storyline. Mike has looked into Hank’s investigation and gives Gus an update—Hank is doing it on his own accord. If Hank were found out it’d be career suicide. But at the same time, if the Juarez Cartel made a move on Gus and Hank saw it happen, it’d blow their cover. They can easily keep Hank in the dark or they can deal with the Mexico threat, but not both.
And then we have a real flashback, to stuff we’ve never seen before. It’s a scene taking place somewhere between 1986 and 1989, from Gus’s Mexico days. A much younger Gus and an associate named Max—same name as the scholarship guy, eh?—are sitting on the patio of a plush hacienda. A younger Tio is there with a younger Juan Bolsa, and then out comes the previous head of the Juarez Cartel, Don Eladio.
We learn some of Gus’s backstory—he and Max left Chile in the 80’s and started the prototype of the Los Pollos restaurant in Mexico, a version that sold only chicken. And a little meth. Much like now, Max was the cook and Gus was the businessman. They wanted to get Don Eladio to sell their product but had no way to get an audience with him, so Gus cooked up a plan—they would give some of Don Eladio’s men a sample of their product, which, like now, was a purer form of meth even more addictive than cocaine. Don Eladio has taken notice of them and brought them to his mansion to explain themselves.
Gus and Max lay out their business plan—Don Eladio could sell their pure meth, eliminating the need for the Colombian cocaine supply line and quadrupling their profits. Eladio likes the idea. But Tio shoots Max in the head in the head anyway. And Don Eladio explains to a horrified Gus that the only reason he’s alive is because of who he used to be in Chile.
Too, too much. Full recap tomorrow.