The cold open of season four’s premiere episode of Breaking Bad, “Box Cutter,” flashes back to the late chemist Gale setting up the laboratory that Walt and Jesse now work in. We witness him using the episode’s titular tool to bust open some, you know, fucking boxes, and discuss with Fring that while he can achieve 96% pure meth, the blue product that Fring has brought him is 99% pure – possibly more so, even. We are lead to believe that Gale’s admiration of Walter’s chemistry capabilities got Walt the job in the first place. Because this is Breaking Bad, where all actions have cosmically dire consequences, it’s made heartbreakingly clear to us that had Gale not stuck up for Walt, a man whose name or face he didn’t even know, he would never have taken a bullet to the face from Jesse, who was shooting per Walt’s desperate orders, naturally.
And if there was any mistaking that Jesse popped Gale at the end of last season (though show creator Vince Gilligan said shortly after its airing that any unclearness on that front was an unintentional mistake on their part as filmmakers), that shit was cleared up toot-fucking-sweet in the scene immediately following the opening credits. Jesse pops Gale then sits dumbly in his car outside Gale’s apartment building until he gets picked up by Victor (that was kinda narratively convenient, don’tcha think?) who just missed saving Gale, then taken back to the lab to sit with Walt and Mike while they wait for Fring’s word on what the next step will be.
While they sit and wait Walt argues – quite reasonably – that he and Jesse may as well get cracking on another batch, what’s done is done and there’s no reason to make Fring anymore pissed than he is already. Then, in a great twist, Victor quickly suits up and starts cooking all by his lonesome, doing everything required in Walt’s formula to T. It’s a deliciously sick turn, a moment that proves that not only was Jesse’s murder unjustified and unnecessary but that Walt and Jesse aren’t necessary either, that his practical if harsh appeal to Fring as a businessman first and foremost was fucking useless.
When Fring shows up and the patented Breaking Bad agonizing suspense sequence goes down, with Fring wordlessly putting on protective gear then stalking around the room with the box cutter from the first scene while Walt desperately tries to reason with him, we see that Fring can do wet work just as well as good ol’ Mike. When he cuts Victor’s throat and bleeds him out (and good God does he bleed him out – that shit was fucking nasty) he proves further the lack of power anybody but him has in any situation (loved how not even Mike was prepared for that turn). Victor’s death could have just as well been Walt’s or Jesse’s or both, all bets are off and have always been off, no matter what kind of chips Walt thought he was holding.
After some great body disposal shit and a generally tough day at the office following a long-ass night, Jesse and Walt regroup at Denny’s where Jesse chows down on some ‘cakes, Walt just nursing a coffee. Walt tries to play caring papa to Jesse, assure him that they had no choice at the time, etc, but a familiar Jesse has already reemerged, the one we saw at the beginning of the third season after he got out of rehab following his girlfriend’s death: the cold gangster who recognizes the stakes and the pointlessness of the life he has chosen. That hard exterior seems to just be part of Jesse’s coping process, but he did seem particularly unhinged in that scene, which could mean we’ve either got some more reckless fuck-ups coming from him soon or maybe – who knows? – he’ll be more calculating and mercilessly cool like Walt or, to a far greater degree, even Fring.
Far as other characters and their personal struggles go, we got to see quite a different side of Skyler this week. We were reminded that she’s still footing the bill for Hank’s physical therapy with a visit from Marie, who applauds her for fucking Walt again, referring Walt’s (still hilarious to me) Aztek being in the driveway. She quickly runs it down the block so as not to confuse Walter Jr. when he wakes up then goes looking for Walt, calling Saul (as the billboards advise one to do) who doesn’t know dick and then breaking into Walt’s apartment by running some fucking primo hustle on the locksmith. This is some crafty shit for our “straight” Skyler, but also some possibly legit concern, though whether for Walt or for her and her sister’s ailing husband’s meal ticket I don’t know. She sure was cold to Walt when he finally appeared, showing herself to be non-plussed and unsurprised by his secrecy regarding just where the hell he’s been and why the fuck is he dressed like that. But knowing what she now does and wanting to continue to get the money her sister needs, that’s sadly probably the right attitude to have if you want to stay sane, whether you care about the person or not.
Speaking of caring (segue!), Marie’s still keeping a brave face on for Hank as he recuperates from last season’s shooting, though the old bastard’s not making it easy on her. His whole scene this week was disheartening, from the discussion of him shitting his pants to the, well, watching of him shit his bedpan, the guy is not exactly feeling tip-top. Already a mess of insecurity and fragile pride, he’s not exactly gonna end up on a local news inspirational puff piece any time soon with his current attitude.
But “Box Cutter” wasn’t all sad-sack-shit-pants scenes and brutal throat slashings – no sir! There were also some great gags: You’ve got Walt and Jesse calling back to season one by assuring Mike that, yeah, acid will definitely work on a human body, followed by a great scene change going from a shot of a mop swabbing up blood on the floor then cutting to a guy running a Denny’s fry through ketchup on his plate. Walt’s sweet threads following a quick stop to the store after getting his usual get-up soaked with Victor’s blood: Kenny Roger’s T-shirt with the size sticker still on, red Chuck Taylors and some loud white pants. There was also the following exchange, Marie: “You ordering a new rock?” Hank: “I’m bidding on a new mineral.“ Then there was the great image of Saul lifting up the edge of one of his tacky columns to search for microphones, revealing them to be made of anything but stone.
Unlike last season’s opener with the question of who those two silent twins were and why were they so fucking unstoppable (not to mention season two’s black-and-white flashforwards that teased us endlessy all season), “Box Cutter” doesn’t quite have such a solid tension-inspiring mystery. I mean, we have the knowledge that working for Fring is even more dangerous than ever, but that doesn’t really give us anything to speculate on. What does raise some eyebrows however is the reveal that Gale had a notebook full of lab notes just lying about his apartment, an apartment now naturally crawling with homicide cops. If anything could get Hank out of bed, I’ll bet it’s a fresh lead on some blue meth…
But enough of my speculation, what do you guys think? Could we see Fring brought down this year with Gale’s notebook being the key to investigation? Was anybody else surprised how quickly they wrapped up Jesse murdering Gale? I thought that he’d be on the run for a few episodes at least but nope, back to business after one episode. Any other concerns I didn’t address in this windy-ass post? Let me just say before wrapping up that goddamn does it feel good to not only be watching Breaking Bad again but to be covering it for Spinetingler once more. Hope you’ll all stick with me for the rest of the season.