Tuesday, July 19, 2011

BREAKING BAD: "Box Cutter"

The fourth season of Breaking Bad finally premiered this week. I've been an avid viewer since the pilot of the show, and a fan of Vince Gilligan's writing since his time on The X-Files. Because I no longer have cable, I was terribly annoyed that I would be unable to see this season until DVD. AMC doesn't stream it online like it does The Killing, nor does Hulu have it. However, I found that I could buy it on iTunes. Since I just happened to have iTunes cards lying around from Christmas, I was more than happy that I could watch the premiere finally!

The episode is just as disturbing and dramatic as you would think. The part of me that was hoping Jesse didn't succeed in killing Gale was saddened by how the episode opened. No X-Files fake-outs on this show! Actually, they did do that between the pilot and the first episode, so maybe Vince didn't want to push it. The teaser of the episode was a flashback, a style they had used a lot in season 3. We saw Gale first setting up the super lab and discussing whether or not it was worth having Walt work for Gus. When the episode picked up after the title, it picked up the split second after last year's ending. I thought that was cool.

So much of the episode focused on Walt and the dangerous game he plays in the aftermath of his little risk. Can he convince Gus he is still needed? Gus more and more shows that he is not a man to be messed with. In some ways I worry because I don't like this show having a "villain". It headed that direction in season 3 with the cousins, and it felt a bit too traditional. There's already a lot of dramatic irony to contend with. Yet there is a certain reality to the types of people Walt will deal with if he continues to delve deeper into this world. I come to realize more and more that Walt's biggest problems stem from his ego. He is blinded by his own idea of his importance, the purity of his product, etc. Whenever there's a real game change, it's because Walt thought he knew what he was doing and got cocky.

It was good seeing Saul again, who is understandably skittery after his run-in with Mike last season. We also got back to the Hank and Marie relationship. Hank is still not happy with his situation, and who can blame him. I'm not sure how much time has passed here since he left the hospital. It can't have been much. But in the meanwhile he's been buying rocks off eBay. Marie keeps trying to be optimistic and talk to him about how his therapy is going, but he wants none of it. I've noticed this about women in general; they always want to discuss the last thing any man wants to talk about. The shooting, the physical therapy, the indignity, that is all Hank can brood on and the last thing in the world he wants to talk about. To me, Marie would be better off discussing anything else. Though it's also in her character to not be that smart. Side note: I wonder what's become of her kleptomania, and will that play a larger part later in the season?

There's a very shocking moment that comes toward the end of the episode that I won't spoil. But it does put things in perspective. The more the show goes down the rabbit hole, the more I wonder whether Walt can ever be redeemed, or is he sealed to a bad fate? The show is growing very Godfather-esque undertones, with Walt being the Michael Corleone. We just had the shooting of Fredo. Is there any hope for him? So because it's seeming like Walt's hubris will be his undoing, the character I'm most concerned about is Jesse. If Walt started a good guy who is descending into hell, Jesse started the troubled burnout, leading me to hope he can become something better. Whenever we're teased with that, it's been snatched away. Jesse's nobility gets him in more trouble. After what he's gone through the past three episodes, I hope he doesn't stay zombified.

With all the darkness, it was nice to see a few touches of the old dark humor back, which almost all but disappeared in season 3. It was there, but a lot more subdued. There's an awkwardly funny scene where Marie comes to see Skyler. And another reminder of how bad Walt and Jesse are at the tough guy business in a moment that recalls season one. I hope the show retains some of it's humor. I'd also love it if they could get back to the kind of "subversive chemistry lessons" the show used to do in the first season. Though the way the showing is going this seems unlikely. It is odd to feel I should start rooting for Hank. Finally, the show ends with a tease of where things might go that could make life difficult for Gus's operation in the future. The show has started to come down to this trend of ret-conning story threads. I hope they keep it to a minimum. Last year's RV story worked, but too much of that makes a mess of continuity (though this show is very good about continuity) and cheapens drama. At any rate, season four is off to a good start. Though last year had some really great moments for Aaron Paul, I still think the second season was the best so far. Will this year top it? Hope it was worth the wait.

Oh, and one of the later scenes made me really wish there was a Denny's around here.

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