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Monday, July 18, 2011
TV Round-Up: Breaking Bad, "Box Cutter"
I've spent the last couple of weeks catching up on AMC's award-winning series Breaking Bad. I'd watched the first couple of episodes, drawn in by the pedigree of Vince Gilligan from his work on The X-Files. But somehow I got behind and while many others appreciated the genius of the show, I was far behind and never could quite catch up.

Thankfully, the show is on cable so seasons are only 13 episodes long...not too bad a catch-up if you really want to do it. And watching Breaking Bad, catching up is exactly what you want to do.

So much so that I've caught up now, watched the opening episode of season four and find myself feeling a bit of a void as I have to wait six more days to find out what happens next....

This show is that good. But it's probably not for everyone. It's dark, it's brutal and it's unflinching. It started out as a dark comedy about an ordinary chemistry teacher who when he finds out he has lung cancer decides to cook meth to help leave something behind for his family. He finds an old student whose a low level drug maker and dealer and uses his knowledge of the drug trade to begin making money. Since that time, the show has evolved into something more, showing the slow destruction of Walter White and how he poisons all those who come into contact with him. We've seen Walt realize he's only feeling fulfilled when he takes on his drug kingpin persona of Heisenberg and that he's incredible vain and short sighted at times. His weakness his ego and a need for gratification. He also has an amazing sense of self-deception as he can do terrible things and somehow justify them to himself. One stand out scene in season two sees Walt allowing his partner's girlfriend to choke on her own vomit and die simply because she's an obstacle to his overall safety and business.

All of which brings up to season four. One good thing about burning through the final couple of season three episodes on a lazy Sunday afternoon is that I only had to wait a few hours to see how it all picked up. Because man, season three ended on one hell of a cliffhanger.

Since it started, Breaking Bad has not only been about the slow destruction of Walter White, but also about the smaller moments that take place between the crimes being committed on screen. And it's in those episodes the show works brilliantly well. As amazingly on the edge of my seat as I was in last year's episode that Walt and Jessie trapped in the incriminating RV as his brother in law and DEA agent, Hank showed up outside because he was following Jessie, the episodes that examine the consequences of actions are just as good. If you're looking at season three, I point you to the fly in the lab episode and the one following Hank's attack by the Cousins.

"Box Cutter" is also about examining the consequences of actions. As last season wound down, Walt realized that his new boss, Gus, was preparing to eliminate Walt and allow lab assistant Gale to take over the cooking. Walt quickly decided that to save he and Jessie, Gale had to go. Meanwhile, Jessie was having issues with some of Gus' distributors, leading to Walt killing two of them and sending Jessie on the run. It all came to a head when Gus brings Walt in, supposedly to kill him. Walt appears to betray Jessie, instead using the phone call to let Jessie know where Gale is and giving the order to kill him. The season ended with Jessie at Gale's door, crying and forced to carry out Walt's orders to save them both.

And then, season four starts. Walt believes he's got the upper hand on Gus, for now since no one else can cook like he can. It's his formula and only he and Jessie can make it. What Walt doesn't count on is that one of Gus' men who has been guarding them in the lab might just be able to do it. The tension mounts as Walt and Jessie sit the lab, waiting for Gus to arrive. The guard shows them he knows enough to "follow the recipe" and starts making a batch of the signature blue meth.

Gus shows up and in a sequence that is both riveting and horrifying, shows Walt just how serious he is. It involves the box-cutter of the title and it's mean to send a message to Walt that everyone is expendable. It also shows just how much or little value Gus places on anyone or anything that gets in the way of his business. It's as dark and violent as the show has ever been--and yet it's a quiet moment. While Walt is justifying his decision, the sounds of Gus walking into the lab, changing into a protective pair of coveralls and then killing the man who made the mistake of being seen at Gale's after Jessie pulled the trigger and could link him back to Gus is one of the most compelling, dark and utterly horrifying moments we've had in this series..and that's saying a lot because this series is full of them.

Interestingly, Gilligan has stated on numerous occasions that he wants to end the series with the audience hating Walt. It's not hard too do. This isn't one of those cases of rooting for the bad guy or an anti-hero. At this point, there is little left to redeem Walt or make him likeable. But it's a credit to Gilligan's writing team and to actor Bryan Cranston that Walt is still compelling and utterly watchable. I can see how some could compare Walt to Tony Soprano or Vic Mackey, but in the case of those shows we met both characters after they'd chosen the life of crime. Breaking Bad takes the interesting route of showing us an ordinary guy who is likeable at first and shows us how he slowly becomes an evil, evil man. Watching the show, it's easy to see why Cranston has won three straight Emmys...and will probably pick up another one for season four based on what we've seen here.

If you haven't watched this one yet, get the DVDs and catch up. It's worth every last second.

I can't wait for next week....

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/18/2011 07:22:00 PM | |
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