July 18, 2011 11:49am PT by Tim Goodman
Spoiled Bastard: 'Breaking Bad' Season 4 Premiere: 'Box Cutter'
This is a Spoiled Bastard. It contains spoilers. That’s the point. If you haven’t seen the episode, come back later. If you have, feel free to comment without worry of spoiling it for others.
Breaking Bad wasted little time in its Season 4 premiere reminding everyone of precisely how great it is. But it also clearly and convincingly stated the scales were now tipped inexorably toward bleakness and bad, bad things.
This part can’t possibly be understated. In fact I spent most of my review of the Season 4 premiere getting into just how ballsy creator Vince Gilligan has been from the start and how that loyalty to story will bring Breaking Bad to an end sooner rather than later (he’s now on record as saying five seasons will be it).
By this I mean that Gilligan’s stated attempt to take Mr. Chips and turn him into Scarface is on the fast track, and the Walter White we knew in Season 1 is not even remotely the man we find in Season 4. And this transformation goes beyond wearing a black hat and glasses as Heisenberg.
What “Box Cutter” did was show, starkly, how Walt’s actions – first selfless and now selfish – have destroyed so many people around him. This episode was really where we see just how destructive Jesse’s association with “Mr. White” has been. Never mind nearly getting killed, or getting rid of dead bodies, or losing his girlfriend. We’re in new territory now, as the episode opens up with what we all knew to be true – Jesse, prompted by Walt, rushes over and shoot’s Gale in the face.
What the first three seasons of Breaking Bad did with a wonderfully subtle touch is show, in small instances, that Jesse wasn’t really cut out for the drug game. He was always a kid in over his head. Hooking up – or, rather, being forced to hook up with his former chemistry teacher – is what led to all the trouble. There’s a reason Jesse still calls him “Mr. White.” It’s because Gilligan wanted to remind us that there’s a power/authority gap in their relationship (oh, and it’s also damned funny to hear).
But killing Gale has really put a black cosmic cloud over Jesse and, in turn, changed the dynamic.
Jesse is finally aware the Walt doesn’t really give a damn about him anymore – at least not when it comes to the Big Issue. And the Big Issue is that Jesse’s morality has been stolen and stomped on. It’s not until the end of the episode, sitting in those hilariously awesome Kenny Rogers shirts (Gilligan and his writers have proven especially deft at cutting the dark current of the show with ridiculous humor), that Walt even asks Jesse if he’s OK. Jesse doesn’t respond other than to make hand gestures that say, basically, what the fuck dude, it’s over. I killed him. What do you want me to say about it.
Did you hear how Walt phrased it? “You did the only thing you could.” That’s two you’s, no we’s.
But Jesse gets it more than Walt. Jesse realizes that boundaries have been crossed that can never be uncrossed. He’s so shell-shocked from killing Gale, that he doesn’t say a word for what seems like half the episode. He’s only shocked out of his Gale stupor by witnessing Gus use the box cutter to slash Victor’s throat, with the latter’s blood flying all over Jesse. The kid can’t get away from blood.
Going forward, we’re going to see that Jesse is numb now. He’s numb to it all. He just wants to feel something – something other than death.
A telling moment in the episode came when Jesse, soaking up the fatalistic nature of their arrangement, says to Walt: “We’re all on the same page.” Walt: “And what page is that.” Jesse: “The one that says, if I can’t kill you, you’ll sure as shit wish you were dead.”
Glad to see that eerie eye from the red stuffed animal that fell out of the airplane in Season 3 is back. It's karma, Walt. And it's looking at you.
Perhaps the hardest sell in the entire run of the series -- but done so incredibly well we all went with it -- was the slow crack in Skyler's moral code. From the cigarette while pregnant to her affair with Ted -- that was all believable -- but breaking bad in her own way to help launder the money from Walt's illegal meth-making was another. It's another element that was hard earned and when Gilligan and his writers wanted to play that card, he'd done enough to make us go with it. Nice. The question this season will be how much can Skyler take. If Breaking Bad has taught us anything, if you're in for a penny, you're in for a pound.
Use of color on Breaking Bad is something I've written about for three seasons and discussed with Gilligan during a podcast interview. What was interesting to me was not just the throbbing reds and oranges of the super lab -- especially the red blood on the red floor -- but how each character's palette had shifted just a bit. Take a look.
The B storyline in "Box Cutter" was Hank being in a wheel chair. Credit Betsy Brandt as Marie for some very nice work looking shattered in private but remaining upbeat for Hank. Of course, it appears that Hank is trying to drive her away, which comes across as thoughtless and mean-spirited -- he's damn lucky to have Marie's positivity in the house. And yet, Hank's reaction is not too difficult to decipher either. In his eyes, he's half a man. Having to have Marie change his bed pan and play Mrs. Positive is pushing all the wrong buttons and he's pushing her away. Let's not forget that Hank's situation is directly related to Walt's behavior and whatever Hank does to Marie can also be put on Walt's conscience. Where's that eye again?
I love that Gale's Lab Notes were on in a binder with lightning bolts on it. A storm is coming, people.