It’s a good thing I rewatched the first two seasons the past month, because my heart may have exploded if I wasn’t prepared. We’ve come to expect nothing less than brilliance from Breaking Bad, and Vince Gilligan and his crew deliver again with masterful hour of television, tugging the viewer left and right in a slow, methodical, but supremely suspenseful episode. There’s not much more you need to say these days: it’s Breaking Bad.
Continuing from the third season finale, “Box Cutter” begins with Gale alive, setting up the lab for Gus. It’s an instant reminder of the person Jesse has just shot, a proud, unassuming chemist who finds an almost childish pleasure in these instruments Gus has for him. We soon learn that it was Gale who brought Walt on board, as he tries to convince Gus how great Walt’s product is. To Gale, who is a chemist like Walt, 96% is a lot worse than 99%, and Gale wants the chemist with the best skills. Like everything else on the show, each decision brings with it a fateful consequence and for Gale that is death.
The mainstay of the episode is, of course, Walt and Jesse’s confinement in the lab and the arrival of Gus. It’s a tense stretch of time, as Walt and Jesse are unsure of their fate while Mike and Victor don’t know what to expect either, and the viewers are in the same boat too. Gus arrives eventually and boy is it terrifying. The writers stretch it out as long as possible. Gus slowly removes his jacket, hangs it on a rack, and dons a protective suit. We know Gus is a quiet man who doesn’t get down an dirty, but he’s clearly preparing for something.
All the while, Walt tries to argue his case why he and Jesse should live, that only he knows the chemistry and that Victor following directions is limited. There is a moment of uncertainty when Walt realizes that Gus is completely silent, that anything can happen. But in bold move, Gus cuts Victor’s throat, splattering blood everywhere. Now we see Gus getting his hands–and face–dirty. The murder doesn’t come too much of a surprise, considering the early appearance of the box cutters (I like to think of them like Gilligan’s box cutters, a corollary to Chekhov’s gun), but the manner in which it is done is brutal, quick, and shows us exactly who Gus is. And just as Gus entered the lab, he exits, first rinsing himself off, removing the protective suit, and then putting his jacket back on. Cold, deliberate, and utterly frightening.
There are a couple reasons why Gus would kill Victor. Obviously he wants to scare Walt and Jesse, but there are other reasons why. Victor called Gale a few times and even went into his apartment, evidence for the police to track back to Victor and ultimately Gus. Victor now knows the ingredients for Walt’s perfect meth formula, and after Victor demonstrated some capability of making a batch, Gus wants to get rid of them. The reasons are good alone, but it is the indifference of Gus that is frightening. He isn’t the out of control drug boss like Tuco. He’s smart, deadly, and uncaring–the deadliest combination possible.
There is a cute (or disturbing, however you want to look at it) callback to the failed attempt by Jesse in the first season to dissolve Emilio’s body in the bathtub. Three seasons later, Walt and Jesse are knowledgeable and capable of getting it done correctly.
Those few plot elements–Gus showing up, killing Victor, and leaving–basically make up the episode and were relatively skimpy compared to most episodes. Skyler has several scenes in which she is worried about Walt’s whereabouts, even tricking a locksmith into getting her into Walt’s condo. She finds the teddy bear’s eye from the second season, but nothing else, and is none the wiser when Walt returns. Walt’s in new clothes, tells a couple lies, and he’s back to Walter White, normal guy (or, to Skyler, drug cooker who’s not in big trouble). Hank and Marie’s scenes weren’t crucial to the episode, but there is a conflict brewing. Marie still has lots of medical bills and Hank has taken up buying rocks online, or minerals as he calls it
Looking ahead, there are several issues to tackle. The biggest is Gale’s notebook which surely has information about Gus’s lab and the blue meth. It’s out in plain sight and the police will read it eventually, once again focusing attention on Walt. We’ll see how well Gus can deflect this incursion. The second thing is Jesse, who is visibly rattled after shooting Gale. Even at Denny’s (yum!), Jesse seemed very distant and out of it. After losing Jane, murdering a man in cold blood, and seeing another man killed right in front of him, he must be feeling messed up.
Tags: breaking bad