EDITOR’S NOTE: In a powerful Breaking Bad, Gustavo “Gus” Fring, bold businessman and master liar, is “explained” — sort of. The following recap of contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.
By Matt Zoller Seitz
Press Play Contributor
Where to begin describing “Hermanos,” the tightest, scariest episode of Breaking Bad this year?
I could start with that closeup of the blood in the swimming pool, glimpsed briefly in a preliminary flashback by Gustavo Fring; blue-green water with crimson seeping into it. A lovely and mysterious image, one of the best on a series that’s very, very good at showcasing abstract and often haunting close-ups. Or I could start by admiring the show’s decision to structure that last act as a long flashback that showcased one of the program’s more spectacular talents, its ability to put you in the middle of a real-time moment of violence that builds with a nightmarish mix of inevitability and surprise.
Or I could begin with a caveat that I’m sure fans probably don’t want to hear: that an episode like this one is best evaluated a week or two after it airs. On a TV series like Breaking Bad, which prides itself on “Oh my God, I can’t believe they did that!” moments, a setpiece of slow-build bloodletting can leave viewers dizzzy, and inclined toward superlatives. I call this reaction “adrenaline inflation.” I remember experiencing it right after the season 3 Sopranos episode “University,” the one where the loathsome Ralphie Cifaretto beat his pregnant stripper girlfriend Tracee to death. That sequence and its aftermath (Tony thrashing Ralphie) were so overwhelming that it took a few days for me to admit that the episode as a whole was basically an inferior, x-rated attempt to one-up a similarly structured (and similarly titled) season one episode, “College”, but with schematic parallels between Ralphie’s sexist cruelty toward Tracee and Meadow’s psychological abuse by her college beau. The bloody horror depicted in “University” overwhelmed close readings right after the fact; in the hours after it aired, I thought it was groundbreaking, when in reality it was mostly just ugly. Graphic violence sometimes has that effect on critical faculties. It’s like a set of high-beam headlights blaring in your face while you’re trying to drive a winding road at night.
You can read the rest of Matt’s recap here at Salon.
A critic, journalist and filmmaker, Matt Zoller Seitz is the staff TV columnist for Salon.com and the founder of Press Play.