We begin the fourth season of Breaking Bad sobbing with gratitude that the wait is finally over. I mean, elephants stand in awe of how long it takes AMC to gestate a season of this freaking show. Not that I’m bitter! Love you, AMC. ::blows kisses in spite of The Killing::
Anyway, the show begins its fourth season, not at the business end of the gun from Season 3, but in flashback to Gale Boetticher’s first day as an employee of Nuthin’ But Meth Inc. The very first image we see is of the green box cutter he’s using to open the many cartons of Pfizer-quality lab equipment the genteel Gus Fring has bought so Gale can cook the finest meth in New Mexico. Well…second finest. Alert! The box cutter is foreshadowing. You might want to write that down somewhere – perhaps in Gale’s Lab Notes notebook from this scene. Alert! The notebook is also foreshadowing. As is Victor the henchman lurking in the background, displaying his long-time loyalty to Gus. It might be easier if you just assume everything you set eyes on in this show is foreshadowing. Because it is.
Poor earnest Gale seals his own fate when he convinces Gus to hire the mysterious cooker of blue meth, demoting himself to admiring assistant. For Gale it’s all about respecting the science, you see. He doesn’t quite grok that the science in this case is only a means to an end – that end being a stranglehold on the illegal drug trade of the entire southwestern United States. It’s a fatal miscalculation on his part. What, you didn’t think Jesse was going to miss, did you?
Back to present day…Jesse doesn’t miss. He shoots Gale in the face, instantly killing him and, more importantly for everyone except Gale, ensuring that Jesse and Walt will live to cook another day. It also destroys Jesse’s soul right before our very eyes. Trust me, his acting in this scene foreshadows that Aaron Paul will be getting another Emmy nomination. Jesse slinks away into the night, although not as far as you might think.
Meanwhile, Victor arrives too late to stop Jesse, shoving past the neighbors to make sure Gale has gone, rather ungently, into that good night. Unhappily for Victor, he doesn’t see the notebook entitled “Lab Notes” that Gale has lying around his apartment, but I have a feeling it’s not the last we’ll see of it. Just a hunch. Victor hurries outside, only to find that Jesse has fled all the way to his car parked in front of Gale’s apartment, where he huddles miserably, contemplating his lost innocence. Victor wastes no time in commanding him at gunpoint back to the lab. Poor Jesse’s gonna get yet another beat down, and that’s best case scenario.
Back at the lab, Mike is vexed as hell at being outwitted by Walt. Let me confess, I have the lusties for Mike, hyper-competent, unapologetic bad guy grandpa that he is, so let’s just assume that every time I mention him, I also refer to how sexy he is whilst undertaking his latest amoral act. It’s a deal. ::shakes on it:: They face each other in tense silence, a stalemate between two bald men at the top of their game in their respective fields. Victor and Jesse arrive, but Mike’s relief is short lived when he finds out that Gale was permanently “downsized”, Victor was seen by the neighbors, and there’s nobody to tell Gus but him. Now what the hell are they going to do? This is utmost on Walt’s mind as well. Not so much Jesse, who’s emotionally curled up into the fetal position.
But we’ll all have to wait to find out, because we go next to Skyler, who wakes up the next morning to her sister Marie at the door. Marie is asking nicely for more money for Hank’s ongoing physiotherapy from last season’s shootout at the Wal-Mart corral. She’s stressed and distracted, but does take a moment to tease Skyler about the fact that Walt stayed overnight, seeing as how his car is still in the driveway. Walt was, in fact, abducted by Victor in that driveway the night before – the very opposite end of the fun scale as compared to an unplanned booty call with an ex. The hamster wheels start churning in Skyler’s brain. She’s knows this isn’t good, but she’s not sure how not good. Skyler, who once held the moral high ground in her marriage like few wives ever could, is relaxing into this new life of crime like she was born for it. And why not? She hasn’t seen the violence and terror and corpse-slushies that have transpired behind her back the last three seasons. To her this is like watching The Godfather on network TV, with all the really bad parts cut out. So she does what any good wiseguy would do; she moves the car a few streets away so as not to arouse suspicion, and then sits tight to see what happens next.
What happens next is way worse than whatever you’re imagining might happen, by the way. Unless you’re imagining Jigsaw coming to the lab instead of Gus, I guess. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Walt finally breaks the overwhelming silence to point out that even with everything that’s happened, Gus would likely still want them to cook a batch of meth, making the best of a bad situation as it were. Victor is beyond pissed, and thinks this is the perfect time to demonstrate how he hasn’t just been zoning out as he’s guarded them day after day. He’s been studying them, watching what they do and how they do it. He starts to cook on his own from memory, much to Walt’s dismay. Are Walt and Jesse out of a job, and into a shallow grave in the desert?
We must leave them hanging by that cliff, because at this juncture we join “Gotta Call” Saul, easily the most enjoyable television lawyer ever. He’s shaken to the core ever since he actually sided with the “good guys” and crossed Mike and Gus. (Maybe he’s growing a heart after all these years…or maybe he’s hedging his bets. You decide.) He’s hired himself a bodyguard, possibly with a Groupon coupon, and is frantically searching his office for bugs/bombs/his conscience when Skyler phones him. She wants to chat on a landline with Saul regarding Walt’s whereabouts – Saul wisely hauls ass (and gigantic bodyguard) to a pay phone, one of the last in existence I might add. As for Walt’s abandoned car, Saul’s explanation: “People carpool to work, it’s good for the environment.” Ha! Now, I hate to say it, but Skyler is fearless to the point of being an idiot. She talks about money laundering and meth labs like it’s a franchise they’re thinking of buying. Even if she can’t see the inherent danger in this line of work, has she never watched an episode of The Wire? Or Law and Order?? Plausible deniability, my girl. Grab some. Saul is planning his international escape before he even gets off the phone.
Skyler goes to Walt’s condo in search of clues to his disappearance. She can’t break in, so she calls a locksmith to break in for her. He can’t because of, you know, the law, but that makes no nevermind to Skyler. She bawls and hyperventilates and uses her wailing baby to talk him into it. It works, and Skyler’s moral compass spins to and fro for our amusement. She snoops around, finding Walt’s teddy bear eyeball (a nice shout-out to season two), but not much else. Foiled!
Now we go to Marie, who’s sitting outside her house in her car, trying to find the courage to go in and face Hank again. Marie and Hank were a fairly silly couple at the beginning of the series, with their first world problems and petty squabbles, but they’ve grown into a compelling and realistic married couple facing a terrible crisis, where it’s not the life-threatening injury that grinds them down, but the minor and daily affronts to their dignity that leave them hopeless and desperate. She tries to stay upbeat and optimistic for him, but Hank is in the throes of depression, dividing his time equally between internet bidding on minerals (not rocks!) and feeling sorry for himself. Admittedly, we can’t help but wince on his behalf when he needs Marie’s help to poop into a bedpan. Hank, the manliest of men, has been reduced to something he despises – and he’s taking Marie right into hell with him. Numero dos indeed.
Finally, back to the lab. Walt is growing more alarmed by the minute as he watches Victor correctly mix a batch of meth. His concern is only compounded when Gus arrives. Gus says not a word as he stares down at them, his rage so palpable that Walt has to look away. He methodically comes down the stairs and changes into a hazmat suit. This freaks out Walt so badly that he starts to babble to fill in the silence. He makes excuses, he blames Gus, he justifies his actions. He makes fun of Victor’s ability to cook and spouts off a few chemistry terms to make himself look indispensable. Gus, meanwhile, is searching the cupboards for a random instrument of torture. He finds the green box cutter from the first scene and clicks it open. Uh oh. Walt starts to beg and threaten for their lives. Jesse, as silent as Gus this entire time, is probably wishing that Gus would just go ahead and put him out of his misery. We’re all waiting with held breaths to see what awful fate is in store for Jesse and Walter!
And then Gus grabs Victor and slits his throat wide open. OH MY GOD. The other three are understandably as shocked us us. Mike is so rattled he actually draws his gun and points it at Gus, but of course doesn’t fire. They can only watch as Gus holds Victor’s head back so he bleeds out faster, and bleed out he does – all over Walt and Mike and Jesse. It’s interesting, because even though Walt is breaking bad of his own volition, he pretty much falls apart at this barbaric act like the weak high school teacher he likes to think he’s left behind. Jesse, the junkie loser who tearfully shot Gale that very night, is made of sterner stuff, and even sits forward as if to say to Gus, “I know what you are because I know what I am, and nothing you can do can scare me anymore.”
When Victor finally gurgles his last (eep), Gus drops the body at Walt’s feet. Lesson learned. He then calmly changes back into his street clothes and leaves, saying only a curt, “Well? Get back to work.” That of course means taking care of Victor’s body. As only Breaking Bad can do, the scene switches from horror to comedy in a split-second as they maneuver the body into a plastic barrel like they’re the two stooges. When Mike questions whether hydrofluoric acid can do the job, Jesse replies, “Trust us.” That’s right, they’re old pros when it comes to melting dead people.
So with the last swipe of a bloody mop, the scene switches to a french fry being swirled in a gob of ketchup. Gross and funny. Thanks, Vince Gilligan! Walt and Jesse are sitting in a Denny’s booth, wearing brand new matching outfits that Mike must have picked up for them at the nearest Ross. A green-tinged Walt is sticking with coffee, but Jesse has bounced back like a boss and is tucking into a Grand Slam. He shrugs off Walt’s massive anxiety and rightly points out that if Gus was going to kill them he would have, and that Gus is going to have a hell of a time finding a replacement cook so he can kill them in the future. Jesse seems fairly confident that no matter what Gus does to them, it won’t be half as bad as what they’re doing to themselves.
Walt takes a cab to Skyler’s place. She’s waiting for him, and although she asks if he’s okay, she’s careful not to ask where he was or what happened to his other clothes. He’s also careful not to share any details at all with her, and she accepts this without question. Plausible deniability, you’re doing it right. She goes back into the house, and Walt shuffles away toward his car, holding up his new too-baggy pants, trying his best to fit into the clothes he doesn’t quite know how he came to be wearing.