“Breaking Bad” is a study in physics as well as chemistry. Specifically, it’s about Newton’s third law of motion, which states that for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Push here, feel it here; do this, watch that. The world is constantly striving for balance, even if it never achieves it. The horror that’s been visited on Walt’s family is a direct result of his frantic attempts to save them from a different kind of suffering. He decided to risk his life to break the law, tangle with some very bad men, and make a (now literal) killing, but to do so he’s destroyed his life, tainted his wife’s chance at innocence, and caused his own brother-in-law to be shot. Action and reaction, all born of the illusion of control and power. “Hermanos” was all about the ways our deeds come back to haunt us, and how we’re never quite ready to pay the consequences for our actions, and it illustrated those ideas beautifully through the tension-wracked stories of Walt and Gus.
Walt, of course, has been the show’s whipping boy when it comes to learning lessons about the fickle nature of the universe and the impossibility of maintaining control in a life of chaos. He lectures his fellow cancer patient with a tone well past reproach and into full-on prick when he says, “You never give up control. Live life on your own terms.” He intones that “every life comes with a death sentence,” which is like something you’d read on a rough draft of a Successory, and he puffs his chest out and acts like he’s got it all figured out. This is pretty much a guarantee that he’s about to get his worldview harshly adjusted, and sure enough, he spends the hour jumping through hoops of fire trying to avoid the sharp glare of Hank’s investigation while simultaneously placating Gus and also attempting to orchestrate his assassination. He learns at every step that things aren’t as they appear —Gus tells him to play along and plant the tracker, Jesse’s obviously hiding a growing work relationship with Mike — and he finds himself realizing, even if he’ll never admit it, that he’s not in control of anything.
Gus, though, really had his birds come home to roost. He’s been Keyzer Soze for years, running a multinational drug ring from a dumpy New Mexico fast-food joint and hiding in plain sight, but all it took was a few months with Walter White for everything to get shaky. He scolds Hector at the beginning (in a smartly executed flashback set after the events of last season’s “I See You”) that payback’s a feisty lady indeed, and that his dead nephews are the cost of doing business. “This is what comes of blood for blood, Hector. Sangre por sangre.” He’s a man in control of his world, until things get sloppy and Hank Schrader gets up and comes after him. There was no doubt he’d be able to perform admirably when questioned by the DEA and APD, but that’s not the point; it should never have gotten that far, not for an operator like Gus. He went too far, pushed too hard, and used the wrong men for the wrong ends, and now it’s starting to come back on him. Just seeing Gus controlling his worry and panic in the elevator after the interview was chilling.
The final act was a fantastic glimpse at Gus’ old life and the history that’s fueled his rivalry with Hector and the cartel for decades. Gus isn’t just icing his competition to get ahead. There’s a very personal stake here, and the continued use of the name “Los Pollos Hermanos” must be a knife turned in an open wound. Gus has carried the weight of Max’s death all this time, and he wants Hector to know that this isn’t just business; this is brutally personal. Action and reaction; push and pull. There’s nothing you can do that you won’t have to answer for.
• From a presentational standpoint, it was awesome to have a 10- to 11-minute sequence all done in Spanish to close out the episode. More network shows are getting comfortable with bilingual characters and scenes (off the top of my head, Lost was pretty committed to foreign-language scenes, except for Sayid’s history), and it added a touch of authenticity not to have the characters speaking in English, or to begin in Spanish but then switch to English in a gimmicky crossover.
• Director Johan Renck (who helmed last season’s “Mas,” among others) does some nice work here closing each act on a close-up of the men who will spend the hour learning lessons about the dangers or tempting fate. The cold open ends with a shot of Hector before a glimpse at the bloody pool, the next two acts finish on Gus’ face, the next one ends with Walt worriedly looking out Jesse’s window, and the episode ends on Hector’s driveling rictus. Deft touch.
• Walt got his but good: Hank’s surprise road trip to Los Pollos Hermanos was startling enough, but then Hank comes out and says that he only kept after the investigation when Walt asserted that Gale was just a minor player in a bigger man’s game. Walt tried to back out of the claim and say he was just drunk or mouthing off, but it’s too late now. He’s reaping what he sowed.
• Watching the show as it airs instead of on DVD or streaming video means being tipped when something really violent is going to happen, since AMC appends the “Intense Violence” warning to the start of the show. I’d almost forgotten about it when Max had his brains blown out, after which we got to see a casual fountain of blood squirt from his skull. Poor guy.
• I’m loving Hank 2.0. He’s been through the shit and come out carved from rock. He’s calm and assured now, even when it’s clear that his colleagues and superiors aren’t sold on Gus’ criminal activity. He’s changed so wonderfully over the course of the show.
Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and the Online Film Critics Society. He’s also a TV blogger for the Houston Press. He tweets more often than he should, and he blogs at Slowly Going Bald.