End of Season Report: Breaking Bad, Season 4 – Part 2

31 Jul

Season 4

This is part two of a look at Breaking Bad, Season 4 – part 1 can be found here.

Gus completely owns episode 10, in which he takes Mike and Jesse down to Mexico.  Jesse shows how far he’s come when he impresses the arrogant Mexican cooks with his formula, and the big scene everybody remembers is Gus poisoning all the top brass of the cartel with tequila.  Gus bided his time and played the long game for his revenge for his partner’s death, but it certainly seemed to be sweet.  The chaotic scene in which everyone is dying from poison, outside of its plot relevance, is another brilliantly filmed set piece, of which there are so many on Breaking Bad.

I remember having more sympathy for Gus during my first viewing than I did in this rewatch.  Gus has his reasons, and there’s certainly moments when you feel good for him, such as when he has his long awaited revenge on the Don.  At the end of the day though, Gus is a villain.  He’s a great villain, and he’s hardly evil, but he’s far more bloodthirsty and calculating than Walter White.  This may explain why he’s successful, along with his lack of ego.  He doesn’t equivocate or think twice before deicing to kill; it’s not a major decision that needs to be hemmed and hawed over.  He doesn’t need a rationale.  He’s willing to and about to kill Hank, a DEA agent, before the events of the last couple of episodes.

Walt tries to convince Gus that he is steering away Hank from finding out about his meth empire however he can, and Gus has him place a tracker on his own car, to try to fool Hank.  When Walt can’t do any more to slow down the tenacious Hank, Gus, unfairly in my mind takes it out on Walt, and threatens to kill Hank (I’m not sure what Walt is actually supposed to do here to continue to prevent Hank from investigating).

Skyler is focused on both laundering money through the car wash and fixing up a situation that resulted from her cooking the books for Ted.  There are two particularly excellent scenes that come up from this plotline.  First, there’s Skyler appearing to be a ditzy mistress of Ted’s who knows nothing about accounting, convincing the IRS to drop criminal charges as long as Ted pays the IRS the money their due in time.  Second, there’s the scene in which Saul has his goons convince Ted to send Skyler’s check to the IRS, making sure that Ted keeps Huell happy, which offers some great tragicomedy.

This is all leads us to the huge big epic final episodes. In episode 11, Gus has Walt driven out to the desert, tells him he’s fired, and that he’s only not being killed because Jesse won’t allow it, but that Gus thinks he can change Jesse’s mind soon, and that Hank will die, and if Walt attempts to prevent it, Walt’s family will die.  Walt is back at full helplessness mode; end times seem near.  He tries to arrange with Saul to hire Saul’s witness-protection-on-crack-disappearing guy, but it turns out Skyler has used the money he needs to have Ted pay off the IRS, a case of poor timing if ever there was, and masterful plotting by the writers.  Walt’s hysterical laughter in the crawl space once he finds out that the money is gone is the most abject display of his desperation yet, and he starts off the next episode sitting outside his house by a pool, playing with his gun, and waiting for death to come.

Walt executes his master plan, poisoning Jesse’s girlfriend’s kid, convincing Jesse that it was Gus who is responsible, and getting Jesse to distract Gus.  Walt’s first plan to blow up Gus’s car doesn’t work when Gus senses something amiss (I’m still not sure how, and I’d love an explanation, this has always been something that didn’t quite work for me, but adds to a Gus-as-superhero mythos).  Next, Walt recruits Tio, and that plan is a success, leading to the memorable explosion, zombie Gus fixing his tie, and Walt’s declaration that, “I won.”

The fourth season of Breaking Bad is no longer about regular people the way the first couple of seasons are.  Everything is on a larger scale, and Walt is no longer a regular guy trying to sell meth to pay for his medical costs, and bumbling around doing so.  The season is a 13-episode long battle between Gus and Walt, both of whom are superheroes rather than regular people in the comic book world of Breaking Bad.  When Gus walks through a storm of bullets, and doesn’t get shot, Mike rationalizes that the gunmen don’t actually want to kill Gus, but the implication to me is that Gus is simply some kind of superhero.  Mike is as well – see the cold open where he pops out of the truck to take out several cartel men by himself.  Breaking Bad, if it ever did, no longer takes place in the real world, but in a type of comic book universe.

I say this not as an insult; the fourth season is a suburb season of television, but rather to simply describe the change in the show.  What makes it work so well is slightly different from the earlier seasons; there are fewer of the moments where we can directly relate to Walt and his family.  Still, the acting is top notch, the characters are all extremely well-built, and the tension and suspense packed into nearly every episode is second to no other television show.

The plotting of the fourth season is immaculate – setting up Skyler to have to pay off the IRS so that Walt wouldn’t have the money to make his family disappear is well-timed and properly set up so that it doesn’t feel forced or like a cheap cop out that disappearing is no longer an option.  Nearly every decision characters make on the show I believe, because it’s been set up either through specific events that have transpired, and by motivations we know the characters have.  When Gus succumbs to Walt’s plan, it’s preying on the weakness we know Gus possesses, his desire for revenge.  I’ve heard complaints that Gus would never keep Walt alive after the events of the third season, and while that’s a reasonable argument, I think the show does a very solid job of setting up why he wouldn’t kill Walt; he needs a chemist, and he can’t afford to not have the superlab running at just about all times, which was alluded to over the course of the third season.

Walt is trapped for much of the season, and he fights tooth and nail for a way out for him and his family, and finally he finds it, which leads to the natural fifth season question of, you win, then what next.  His entire fourth season was defined by Gus Fring, who is now out of the picture, and he’s on top, a position that seemed exceedingly unlikely until the moment it happened.

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