Note: Episode review contains substantial spoilers.
It starts with a box cutter and ends with a box cutter…
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AMC’s Emmy winning series Breaking Bad opened its season 4 premiere with a slow and methodological pacing that lead to an ending that was literally to die for. For those who have been out of the loop, for the past few seasons spanning from 2008-2011 creator and producer Vince Gilligan, has molded the infamous chemistry teacher turned meth manufacturer Walter White (Bryan Cranston) into a figure we oddly can relate to. Walter or Walt is just like any other family man, he wants to provide for his teenage son with cerebral palsy Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte) and set forth a bright future for his newborn baby girl. While estranged from his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) he still hopes to be an active part of his family’s wellfare, regardless of marital tensions. So where does meth come into all this?
Well, Walt’s life expectancy doesn’t look too pretty because he has been diagnosed with lung cancer. The only way he can manage to pay up the bills for advanced treatments (not a cure mind you) and leave his family with a comfortable rainy day fund is with some hefty dough. Thankfully, or not so thankfully, Walt is a brilliant chemist and easily masters a superior meth recipe that has big time drug lords like Gustavo ‘Gus’ Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) interested in his work. Walt’s only real friends in the affair though are a former student of his turned lab assistant Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) and a lawyer notorious for his sleazy late night advertisements Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). To make things stickier, Walt’s wife is now in on his business dealings, and his brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) happens to be a DEA officer. While Hank is unaware of Walt’s close ties with the very business he cracks down on, a few rivals hunting down Walt end up paralyzing Hank’s lower body, causing him to be completely bedridden for the time being.
Now that the uninitiated are up to speed here is the play by play of “Box Cutter.” Rather than being catapulted into the shot heard around the world – the show starts off with a flashback of an enthusiastic Gale (Jesse’s former replacement) slicing some packing materials gleefully open with a box cutter. Upon having Gus review his work as he sets up the lab, we see how naive Gale is from the start. Gale was never good at picking up on cues – we are reminded of this when Gus pressures Gale to accept his meth formula which only yields a 96% crystal purity versus Walt’s nearly flawless 99%. Gale truly is an incorruptible foil of Walter. From beginning to end his heart is set on the chemistry rather than the dollars and cents.
Jump to Jesse’s horrified mug as he lowers the gun he just used to shoot Gale. Yes thats right – it turns out season 3’s ending really was not so ambiguous after all. The camera pans the room gluing our eyes to the corpse of Gale and all his scientist paraphernalia – bet you didn’t catch the pertinent detail just yet. Jesse makes a smooth exit but of course he is met up by Gus’ associate Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui). For once we see Victor is not the clean and slick operator we thought he was – showing that anyone in this business ends up tripping on their shoelaces. He is seen but he growls that people will just assume him to be a “looky-loo.”
From there the bicycle easing up the hill of a plot starts whirring downhill. Mike (Jonathan Banks), one of Gus’ other associates eyeballs Victor, and slowly haunches up to the phone to make a call that he doesn’t seem too enthusiastic to make. While Mike is the go-to-hitman there does appear to be some doubts and uncomfortable opinions starting to develop inside that he doesn’t want to show. Walt in the meantime shifts to the bottom line and makes an argument worthy of his Heisenberg personality that they better get to cooking.
Even though this seems like Walt getting down to business – Heisenberg is Walt’s defense mechanism and public front. Heisenberg is the big scary meth dealer that can roll with the coldest like Gus. Walt believes by reverting to him he can puff up his peacock feathers and get everyone to fall in line. Victor keen on making him back off, goes to work right away, revealing that he had been learning the motions Walt had been performing in the lab and that Walt’s smack talk had little effect on him.
This episode is all about calling bluffs during the waiting game. Even Skyler manages to deal her own as she gets a locksmith to help her bust into Walt’s apartment by playing her cards as the single mom in distress. When Gus finally arrives in the lab to answer the play that Jesse and Walt dealt, every movement is the literal embodiment of a poker player. Gus knows Walt is hiding a desperate hand and he doesn’t necessarily want to go all in on Walt. Jesse just employs the strategy of folding by hardly uttering a peep during the episode but even that doesn’t escape Gus’ detection. Finally he plays his hand – by thrusting a box cutter not into Walt or Jesse’s neck but Victor’s. Victor placed a bet that did not sit well with Gus, not only did he make the cocky move of showing up to the crime scene – he also started cooking without asking his sugar daddy permission first.
Oh and that pertinent detail that I mentioned earlier, looks like this deck contains one card that none of them expects – a joker. The show flashes the mocking card in our face Ala a shot of a notebook called “LAB NOTES” laying around in Gale’s apartment crawling with cops. Looks like they all played a bigger hand than they could afford to pay. Gilligan just made us go for broke with our assumptions and caused us to walk away no better than the rest of the cast…being sent to the cleaners.
[xrr label=”Breaking Bad S. 4 Ep. 1 ‘Box Cutter’ is rated” rating=4.5/5]
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