by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
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Gus Fring, “Box Cutter”
Is there any scene in modern television more gripping than Gus Fring slowly changing out of his street clothes, unexpectedly slashing the throat of one of his loyalest employees, then changing back, as calmly as before? It’s a shocking show of force from a character that had mostly distinguished himself for his almost quaint professional decorum. He was a drug lord, sure, but he treated it as a kind of regular day job, fully compartmentalized from his familiarly domestic home life. In many ways, Rowland Tusk feels cast in that same mold, separating his home life from his more sinister occupation, and largely keeping his hands clean until — suddenly — he needs to get his hands dirty.
Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta start as far from that violence as they can, giving us a glimpse of Tusk’s banal familial duties, taking his anxious kids to their first day at a new school.
Heck, we might recognize this son character’s story from countless kids movies, where the new kid in town discovers something strange going on in this weird new place. Only, the weird thing going on here is happening under the direct supervision of the father character. It’s not clear to me if the kids have been merged, too, but either way, nothing about their home life seems out of the ordinary. It’s enough to make you wonder if merging is really that bad.
But Kirkman and Azaceta have a journey to take us on. At first, Tusk’s job feels largely managerial, repairing some of the infrastructure and relationships with his underlings that Sidney had let deteriorate. He’s whipping the local branch into shape, never mind what business they’re actually in. But then we’re reminded that merging is a painful, scary thing that robs people of their identity. Tusk rides along on a police call about an escapee from one of their safe houses, and we’re forced to confront the violence, terror, and utter loss of humanity that is merging. Tusk and the cops manage to subdue the poor soul, using methods that don’t feel all that different from Kyle and the Reverend’s earliest exorcisms. The only difference is, they’re working to prevent the person being possessed from expelling this demon.
But it’s the final scene that stands as Tusk’s box cutter moment, as he rebukes the man in charge of the safe house — the man responsible for the escapee. As far as Rowland is concerned, there’s no excuse, so attempting to defend his actions costs this guy his tongue.
Cutting off (or ripping out) a liar’s tongue is a classic villain move, a symbolic overreaction to a smaller slight. That would be a shocking enough move to remind us that Tusk is closer to a mafioso than a middle manager, but Kirkman and Azaceta take it further, having Tusk eat the tongue raw. I’m not sure that has any meaning beyond being shocking and gross, but I’m not sure it needs to. As familiar as Tusk’s home life may be, we can’t presume to predict his actions. His morality is not our own.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?