WARNING: Spoilers from Breaking Bad Seasons 1-5 follow
Occupational hazards take their toll on Walt’s exponential growth plan when a clueless Combo is caught in turf wars. This motivates Walt to take immediate action, seek his businessman counterpart and basically jump into bed with another Tuco. However, the burden weighs heavily over Jesse and he starts using again.
BEEN DOWN THAT ROAD (The “Intimidating Employer” Effect – Part 3) *
“This entire process has always been one step forward and two steps back!” There’s a cyclical pattern in Walt’s business partnerships; they always begin, change course and end in blood. For one thing, both Tuco and Gus brutally murdered one of their henchmen right in front of him, killing two birds with one stone, both intimidating Walt and clipping the wings of their employees who had overstepped their boundaries and flown too close to the sun. Then again the same thing essentially happened to Gus, as he witnessed Hector Salamanca killing his partner, Alex, in cold blood on Don Eladio’s orders.
Working with these druglords has always been a quest for power; a darkly twisted spiritual journey where Walt gets to meet the personifications of the extremes his alter ego would go and pick up their personality traits. He won the mind game with Krazy 8 and learned how to play innocent, he indirectly defeated Tuco and inherited the guy’s intimidation tactics (on how to be tough), and finally after overthrowing Gus, mastered the art of disguise and took full control of his two identities. Arguably the one mistake of these employers, which ultimately got them killed, was underestimating the deadly ambition of their employees.
- Krazy 8 shouldn’t have underestimated Walt’s capabilities, Tuco should have guessed Walt wouldn’t simply go to Mexico as a hostage, Gus should have anticipated Walt would go to unimaginable extremes in order to save himself from inextricable situations, and finally Don Eladio should have considered the overwhelming grudge Gus held against him and thought twice before drinking that tequila. While Walt took the explosive way (literally and figuratively) to overpower Krazy 8 and Tuco upon their first encounter (which turned into a planned meeting in 1.06), this time he simply relies on his chess tactics to corner and motivate Gus. Little did King Heisenberg know in Season 5 that Lydia was effectively manipulating him into making a deal; in a way hiring him while letting him hold on to his illusion of authority.
- Gus Fring is everything that Tuco wasn’t; he’s confident, extremely cautious and in charge of his emotions. More importantly, he hides in plain sight. “I don’t think we’re alike at all, Mr. White.” Here, Gus is right of course, as Walt can not fully control his alter ego at this point, he’s careless, overly ambitious and easily agitated. You could say that Gus is the perfection of Heisenberg in every sense of the word. While Walt is driven by blind ambition, hubris and self-pity, Gus is driven a by complex sense of honor and the grudge he’s been holding for almost 20 years. But in the end even the mighty Two-faced chicken master couldn’t stop his hateful feelings from devouring him after suspecting Hector for talking to the DEA.
- So the King and his soon-to-be successor sit across the table to find common ground (Check out the analysis of this particular scene in Infobytes TV’s “Reflections on the doppelganger”). Heisenberg subconsciously looks for his skilled counterpart. Interestingly he recognizes the true nature of Gus, one of his own kind, through their window reflection; Gus’s face is revealed on the other side of the looking glass, so to speak.
- This symbolic indication recurs later in the series as we see how Walt easily recognizes and handles his business partners (one of his many superpowers), namely Declan and Uncle Jack . While Heisenberg tends to see his reflection in like-minded criminals, Jesse on the other hand, sees a faint reflection of his innocence in children. Notice other recurrences of reflections in glass surfaces in the episode. And there’s the blurry one from 5.08, in which Walt doesn’t seem to recognize himself anymore as he’s fully turned into Fring.
- The deal becomes a defining moment for Walt where in the height of tension he chooses to ignore his family and stick to the task. Walt’s Test of initiation is juxtaposed with the test he gives his students. You don’t gain anything without at least losing something: He won Gus’s trust for now, but missed the birth of his daughter. This unfortunate outcome brings a scene from 1.06 to mind when Walt kept ignoring Jesse’s calls until Hank reminded him: “Maybe it’s Skyler’s and she’s in trouble…”.
- It’s noteworthy that Jesse is somehow always an issue with Walt’s employers. Krazy 8 warned Walt against his big mouth, Tuco didn’t like him one bit from the get-go, and although Gus believed his addiction to be problematic, he eventually found him more reliable and loyal than Walt and used him to win a war against his old foes. Jesse’s too good (or rather naive, in another sense) to belong in the criminal world, therefore he always ends up standing between Walt and his bosses.
- “You can never trust a drug addict.” Even though Walt believes he’s in total control of his minion, Jesse, in the end we realize Gus was right after all. Walt does really have poor judgment; Jesse’s addiction (a way to cope with his guilt) gets in the way of Walt’s deal as he only manages to deliver the product by the skin of his teeth.
* Read Part 1 here.
Next: The Circle of Life…