Breaking Bad – Season 4, Episode 1

2 Aug

I’m going to do my own little Breaking Bad recaps here, and since it’s just the third week now, I’m going to run back and give my take on the first two episodes of the fourth season so there’s some sense of full-season completion.

Season 4, Episode 1 – Box Cutter

I wouldn't want to be the guy on the right

Here’s something that Breaking Bad does well.  It takes a situation which could easily be boring and predictable and makes it exciting and tense. In this case, the circumstances at the end of the third season and the beginning of the fourth, where the writers have painted themselves into a corner.  Walt and Jesse’s lives are in extreme danger, yet they can’t kill Walt or Jesse this early in the show’s run without dramatically changing the show.  There is a situation that should have high tension, but you already know how it’s going to end; Gus needs Walt to run his meth lab, and Walt, in turn, says he needs Jesse – and the two of them live.

Even though you know what’s going to happen,  Breaking Bad does a great job of making this predictable set of consequences feel both incredibly tense and completely natural. Based on everything we know about these characters and the circumstances they’re stuck in, this feels like the outcome that would come of it.  Gus needs Walt, as it’s been clearly established that without this lab running at capacity all the time, it’s a giant money sink, which Gus can’t afford.

On top of this, when the show ends, even though the immediate tension of the third season finale has been extinguished, as Walt is no longer less than a minute away from dying, the long-term fourth season tension has been set up. Whenever Gus finds a new cook, which could take a long time, but might not, Walt and Jesse are finished, and they have just that amount of time to figure out a plan.

The episode features a fantastic edge of your seat scene. Gus angrily, but calmly, comes downstairs to the lab to deal with Walt and Jesse after finding out Gale is dead, and then kills Victor, who is trying to prove that Walt is unnecessary by cooking the meth himself.  Gus murders Victor in the most cold-hearted manner, silently with a box cutter as Walt, Jesse and Mike look on.  The exact purpose of the kill is unclear; there are a couple of different possible reasons.  Gus may be punishing Victor for getting seen at Gale’s apartment, or he may be sending a message to Walt and Jesse, telling them that they’re this close to death themselves.  Likely, it’s a combination.  The scene gives us a new appreciation for Gus’s cold business sensibility.  Gus’s murder of Victor was at the least disturbing, maybe borderline sociopathic, and even Mike seemed shocked by the sheer manner of the kill.  Watching Gus clean himself off afterwards was priceless.

The scene ended with a nice touch, showing Jesse and Walt using chemicals to destroy the body.  Mike, looking on, asks if they’re sure their method will work. Jesse and Walt assure Mike that it will, showing us an example of how chemistry and Walt can be as dangerous in its own way as Mike’s time-tested methods.

The police investigate Gale’s murder and we get a tight shot of Gale’s notebook, where Gale stores his notes on the meth-making progress (Gale has always been a diligent student).  Walt will be squeezed from both sides this season.  With Gus coming at him from one side, and the police from the other, the question for the rest of the season is who will get to him first?

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