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Breaking Bad Season Four: "Box Cutter"

Written by Royal Nonesuch on Monday, July 18 2011 and posted in Reviews

The new season of the critically-acclaimed AMC drama has started, and we have your recap right here!

"We're all on the same page."
"And what page is that?"
"The one that says I can't kill you, but you'll sure as shit wish you were dead."

Nothing ever goes the way you want it to.  If AMC's Breaking Bad could be condensed into a single theme, it probably would be that.  When mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher Walter White first decided to get into the local crystal meth trade, he did so with the hope that he would have something to leave behind for his family once his cancer claims him (a cancer which, by the way, is currently in remission).  "Everything I did, I did for my family," he urgently growls into a video camera in the very first episode of the show.  Now, fast forward to the fourth season premiere, and that sentence is starting to take on a different reading - as is Walt's newest boss and, in a way, his estranged wife Skyler (Anna Gunn). 

After a night of captivity and two escapes from certain death, Walt returns to Skyler in a cab wearing a Kenny Rogers T-shirt and white slacks, and is basically told to take a hike.  Skyler moved his car (promotional consideration paid for by Pontiac) away so that no one would know he was there (thus giving off the impression that maybe the two of them had gotten back together).  She spends much of the episode looking for Walt, worried that something has happened to him, even cajoling a locksmith into letting her into his condo. But when she finally does see him, he doesn't even get a "Where were you?"  So why the about face?  One wonders if Skyler finds something in Walt's place that reminds her that it's all about business with Walt now.  She is his money launderer, and nothing else.   She's positioned herself so that Walt can't succeed anymore without her help.

Then there's Walt's actual boss, Gustavo "Gus" Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) - the ruthlessEpisode-1-Jesse-Mike-Walt-Gus druglord/lovable fast food chicken magnate who last season set into motion a plan to kill off Walt and replace him with his former assistant Gale.  When Walt started on his drug cooking life he thought he could keep the operation small-  just him and his former student Jesse (Aaron Paul).  Again, things haven't worked out the way they were planned.  His working relationship with Gus has been fraught with difficulty and tension, and now that Jesse has murdered Gale (it turns out last season's cliffhanger ending went pretty much the way it was shown to us.  The bullet fired a year ago was fired right through the side of a tea kettle, by way of Gale's face), Walt figures he and Jesse will be kept alive, since there's no one else for Gus to use.  The centerpiece of this episode is Gus showing up at the lab, ominously walking around to the orange coveralls, putting one on, grabbing a box cutter and murdering...Victor?  His own thug?  The guy who showed he was perfectly capable of cooking the meth himself ("They call it cooking for a reason.  It's just following a recipe!"), thus rendering Walt and Jesse unnecessary?  Honestly, it's an age-old fake out in crime stories (particularly in film and television).  The whole "We think the boss is going to kill our protagonist but then he suddenly turns around and kills his own henchman instead" schtick is passé (right down to the "Get back to work" punctuation mark), and "Box Cutter" didn't really bring anything new to it. But the scene is shot marvelously, and the whole thing is sold by Gus' stoic silence contrasted with Walt's characteristic and incessant blather as he tries to talk his way out of the situation (as he is wont to do).  

Via a great match action from Walt mopping up Victor's blood to a patron swirling a French fry through a blob of ketchup on a plate at the local eatery (promotional consideration paid for by Denny's, and possibly Valero), we cut to Walt having breakfast with Jesse, who finally sees things in a new way.  After killing Gale to keep himself and Walt alive, and watching Gus murder Victor, Jesse seems at peace with the fact that he's under Gus' thumb, probably forever.  Whereas before he just wanted to be left alone and free to be directionless in life, now he's resigned to his fate and doesn't seem to mind the lack of control he has over his life now.  Things aren't going the way Jesse planned, but he'll take it because he understands it. 

In the short interlude featuring Hank (Dean Norris) and Marie (Betsy Brandt), it's clear that things aren't working well for them either.  As Hank continues to convalesce (and bid on minerals online on his laptop – promotional consideration paid for by Sony), Marie is trying her best to stay positive in the face of Hank's persistent rage and impatience. But if the way she slumps her shoulders and affects a pained look on her own face is any indication, it's obviously weighing on her.  How much longer can she keep up the facade?

Of course, Hank's shooting comes about as a result of Walt's actions, which reminds us of the tragic fate of poor Gale.  In the cold open for "Box Cutter," we get another one of those trademark Breaking Bad flashbacks, wherein we witness the moment when Gale convinces Gus to take on Walt after testing the Heisenberg meth.  He's astounded at the 99% purity, and earnestly makes the case to Gus that the best chance he has to put the best quality product on the street is to hire Walt.  "I'm not trying to talk myself out of a job here..."  You've talked yourself out of more than that, Gale.   This is bookended by a shot of the Albuquerque police department processing Gale's apartment, where the camera pans over to the garishly colored notebook where his lab notes where kept.  The one eventuality Walt didn't plan for, apparently. 


Written or Contributed by: Royal Nonesuch

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About the Author - Royal Nonesuch

As Senior Media Correspondent (which may be a made-up title), Royal Nonesuch tends to spearhead a lot of film and television content on The Outhouse. He's still a very active participant in the comic book section of the site, though. Nonesuch writes reviews of film, television, and comics, and conducts interviews for the site as well.  You can reach out to him on Twitter or with Email.


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