So, Mr. Cat and I have been watching Breaking Bad. It is his second go through, but I have been so busy with test preparation and other professional chores that I wasn’t able to devote my attention to it previously.
Last night, we got through three episodes at once. Something I saw in a season ending episode caused me to need to keep going a little further. I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to ruin anything for the dozen other people out there who may not have seen it yet. However, I have been checking blogs and wikis and other social media to try to see if the audience has come to any conclusions about why one dramatic, perplexing plot twist occurs. I think I have an understanding of it that is different than anything I have seen.
I think it won’t ruin things too much to say that Gus kills someone in a rather dramatic fashion in front of Walt. Now, a lot of people are saying that he did that to scare Walt, or just to send a message, or because of some fault on the part of the person killed. They had made a few mistakes, had taken a few liberties, but nothing compared to the outrageous behavior Walt had exhibited.
So, why, why did Gus kill that person instead of Walt? Gus, who is usually so cautious, so poised, so distant from the savagery of the streets, or so it seems. For the purposes of the story, his choice is obvious. First, the show would be over if he killed Walt, but also there was a need to expose a secret, more vicious side of Gustavo. But beyond plot and exposition of character elements, it would have made sense to the character Gus, himself.
The killing was a human sacrifice. Terrible things had happened, and someone had to die in order to set things right. Gus may have wanted to kill Walt, but finding his hands tied, his requirement for blood had to be satisfied in another way. He chose his victim for many reasons, but in carrying out the act personally and in the ritual fashion in which it was done, he made his victim a figurative scapegoat for Walt. Gus was not saying “Look what I could do to you if you crossed me,” since Walt had already crossed him. Rather, he was showing Walt “Look what I am doing to you. This man is you. This is your throat that I cut. I avenge myself on this living effigy of you.”
The victim’s actions just prior to his death made this even more obvious, since he had been emulating Walt in a very superficial way. Gus’s spirituality is not revealed in the show, but given his origins and the swirls of mysticism throughout the show, it is not unlikely that he has been exposed to some blend of Santeria and South American indigenous religious tropes, along with those of the prevailing Catholic culture. Imagery of human sacrifice and blood atonement would certainly have been part of his upbringing, however rational and businesslike his adult life. Even if he didn’t articulate this as a motive himself, the connotations are there in the actions themselves.
A final point is that, unlike the expiatory sacrifice of Christ, the death of this scapegoat does not erase the stain upon Walt. All is not forgiven. Rather, Gus intended to place the burden of this man’s death onto Walt’s ledger. Doing the deed directly in front of Walt is a way to tell him that it had to done because of him. It is a threat, but also an accusation. Walt has killed, has sinned greatly against Gus. In response, Gus has tried, judged, and executed symbolically Walt through the proxy of this other man’s death, and he wants Walt to know it and to be deeply troubled by it.
He explains none of this. Partly, he is too enraged to speak. He has nothing to say to Walt, because if he allowed his rage to vent through his words, he would lose control. Probably, he cared very much about at least one person whose death is attributable to Walt. But also, his actions have more effect if Walt is forced to contemplate their obscure meaning at length on his own.
Just as we viewers are compelled to do.
Breaking Bad is the single best, most coherent, artfully composed, brilliant work of television drama ever. It is the height of the medium, and its influence will span decades. It is so dark, but it stimulates so much more thought than any other show I’ve ever watched. Sometimes I feel guilty when I watch TV shows, like I am wasting my time on mental junk food. Breaking Bad is more like modern literature.