(In which I re-watch and discuss, with SPOILERS aplenty, the first four and a half seasons of Breaking Bad, one or two or three episodes at a time, leading up to the final half of season five beginning August 11, then continue with write-ups of the last eight episodes as they air. If you’ve never seen the show, you are 1) crazy!, 2) advised to start watching it immediately, and 3) not to read these discussions until you’ve completed step 2)
Season 4 is the darkest yet of Breaking Bad. Which is saying a lot. It may be the best season too. I’m curious to see how it plays out. It’s the second half to season 3’s first half. Vince Gilligan called it a 13 episode chess match between Gus and Walt, and that’s exactly right. When it aired, I recall people complaining that not enough was happening in the early episodes. As usual with this show, I figured the writers knew what they were doing, that it would all come together in the end. Which it does. Gloriously.
Episode 1 begins with a flashback. It’s the smart kind. It sets up the beginning of the chess match. We see Gale, alive and happy as chem nerd can be, opening up the boxes of shiny new lab equipment. He cuts them open with a bright green box cutter. Gale hands Gus a tiny baggie of blue meth. He tested it and found it to be alarmingly pure, 99%. Gale’s best is only 96%. Gale is worried about that level of competition. Gus explains that the man who made it is not their competition, and that he’s not a professional. Gale makes a case that whoever made this meth is beyond professional, that he must be a master. Gus demands the best, says Gale, and the blue meth is the best he’s ever seen. We see Gus considering this. And we know what Gus decides. He chooses to use Walt. Gus’s fate is thereby sealed. Gale’s too.
We pick up the second Jesse shoots Gale. Victor turns up, too late, is seen by the neighbors, and finds Jesse sitting in his car.
Victor brings Jesse to the lab with Mike and Walt. Mike learns that Gale is dead, and that Victor was seen, but so what, says Victor, they were merely “looky-loos.” Mike looks unimpressed. He calls Gus to tell him the news.
Walt babbles on about how they should be allowed to cook. They’re here, after all. It’s their job. Victor then goes about making a batch, saying he’s been watching and learning. Walt is appalled.
Skyler finds Walt’s car in the driveway in the morning. But no Walt. She moves the car. Calls Saul, who’s busy tearing up his office looking for bugs ala Gene Hackman in The Conversation. Saul has a new security guard, a giant pudgy guy with a head shaped like a pear, Huell.
Skyler puts on a distressed mom act, with baby crying, to convince a locksmith to let her into Walt’s apartment. Finds nothing there save, in a kitchen drawer, the pink bear’s eyeball. I love the eyeball. I want it in season 5, doing I don’t know what. Just being creepy would be fine. The eyeball is a master of being creepy.
Hank is stuck in bed at home, looking awful and being a dick to Marie. Also, he’s now collecting minerals. She helps him shit in a bedpan. Nice.
Then comes a rather amazing scene. Gus arrives at the lab. He says not a word, just goes about changing out of his clothes and putting on a plastic lab suit. Walt won’t shut up. He begs and reasons and pleads and explains. Nobody else says anything. Jesse has yet to say a word this episode. Gus picks up the green box cutter. The colors are beautiful. The green box cutter, Walt’s blue shirt, Gus in orange, the red lit lab, the equipment in gold, all in one shot, full, intense colors. Gus walks around Walt and Jesse like he’s going to kill them.
Instead, Gus grabs Victor and cuts his throat, holds him tight while he dies. It’s so sudden and shocking that Mike pulls his gun. Blood squirts from Victor’s neck. Walt and Jesse are horrified. Victor flops dead to the floor. Gus goes about changing back into his street clothes. Walks up the stairs, and pauses only to say: “Well? Get back to work.”
So they clean up the lab, and melt Victor with hydrofluoric acid. Mike asks if that’ll work, and Jesse utters his first words: “Trust us.” Yep, they’re old pros at melting bodies with acid.
At a diner, each sporting a pretty new Kenny Rogers T-shirt (to replace their blood splattered clothes), Walt is freaked out. Are they next? Jesse is completely blasé. Says the message is clear. If Gus can’t kill them, he’ll make them wish they were dead.
The last shot is of the crime scene in Dale’s apartment, which zeroes in on Dale’s lab notebook.
Quite the gripping opener. A big first move by Gus in this chess game.
The next three episodes focus on how well Walt and Jesse are able to deal with their new reality. Very poorly, as one might expect.
Jesse wants only to numb the pain. He invites Skinny P and Badger over, gets them high and meth, cranks his new sound system, and invites a ton of other people over for a wild party. Looks like fun! Next morning the house is a disaster. Jesse cranks the music. Says the party isn’t stopping. His new Roomba glides by.
Walt buys a snub-nosed .38 from a wise and chatty illegal gun salesman, who tells Walt he’d be better off buying a legal weapon. Walt buys it anyway. Then practices drawing it at home like the gangster he imagines himself to be. Walt’s convinved Gus is going to kill him. He’s going to strike first.
Walt has his gun in the lab. Someone enters from above, comes downstairs. Gus? Walt prepares to shoot. But it’s not Gus. It’s Victor’s replacement, Tyrus, who’s no more cheerful or loquacious. Where’s Gus find these guys?
Also of note, Gus has installed cameras in the lab. And Mike shows up demanding they weigh the meth again. Walt says he just wants to talk to Gus to clear the air. Mike say, “Walter, you’re never gonna see him again.”
So Walt drives to Gus’s house late at night. Walks across the street when he gets a phone call. It’s Tyrus. “Go home, Walter.”
Hank continues his mineral collecting obsession and his physical therapy and his treating Marie like shit. She’s beginning to lose it. The havoc wreaked by Walt is spreading out.
Skyler tries to buy the carwash from its owner, Bogdan. He won’t sell. He’s not impressed with Walter White sending his woman to do his work. The price is $20 million. Skyler and Walt meet with Saul to come up with a plan, but Skyler’s nixes threatening Bogdan with violence. She has her own idea. She has Saul send a guy over pretending to be with the EPA, who “finds” toxic chemicals leaking into the surrounding areas. Going to cost a bundle to fix. Sure enough, Bogdan calls Skyler wanting to sell. And so the Whites buy a carwash.
Andrea stops by the endless party. Seems Jesse left a huge chunk of money with her. She suspects he had something to do with killing the gangsters who killed Tomas. He suggests she use the money to move into a better neighborhood.
Finally the party ends. Skinn P is beat. Badger recalls a cat he needs to feed. Alone, Jesse cranks his music and sits in front of a throbbing speaker, losing his mind.
Walt finds Mike in a bar. Lays it out, says they’re both in danger after what happened to Victor. Asks Mike to just get Walt in a room with Gus, and Walt will take care of the rest. Mike decks Walt and kicks him for good measure.
Nothing Walt does is working. He’s got no power over anyone.
In episode 3, things continue falling apart. Jesse drives a go-kart maniacally around a track, then comes home to find his party has turned ugly, with people fighting, fucking, and spray-painting the walls. He sits on his sofa like everything’s perfect. Throws money into the air and watches the addicts scramble for it.
Marie returns to theft, this time going to open houses and stealing crap from shelves and coffee tables, all the while telling elaborate bullshit stories about herself to the realtors. She’s in escapist mode, big time. A realtor catches her and Hank has to get a cop friend, Tim, to bail her out. She’s so distraught she doesn’t want to go home.
Walt’s barely in this episode. Skyler freaks out at his black eye and his absence. He assures her that he’s not in danger. Once she successfully buys the carwash, he actually compliments her on a job well done. They celebrate with champagne, a $320 bottle. Skyler, aghast, explains to Walt that they’re supposed to be poor. They can’t be seen buying expensive things. He doesn’t care. He’s a criminal! Just like Jesse when he was outraged at the notion of paying taxes, Walt has no interest in feigning destitution. It’s his money and he damn well wants to spend it. But for now he makes nice with Skyler.
Tim the cop stops by to visit Hank. He asks Hank to unofficially look over Gale’s notebook. Seems to Tim like some big-time meth maker. Hank barely interested. But as the episode ends, awake in the middle of the night, he looks it over.
In episode 4, Gus makes a big move, though we don’t know what it is yet. It’s the beginning of his long play, which is going to leave Walter helpless and ineffective until the end of the season.
The episode begins with the ambush of a Pollos truck. Fortunately, Mike is, as usual, on top of things. He’s hiding in the back of the truck. Two cartel guys shoot a hundred holes in the truck, but Mike is hidden behind boxes of product. He takes out the goons and suffers only a shot ear.
Then we have an unusually long scene with Skyler and Walt discussing what they’re going to tell Hank and Marie. Marie hasn’t told Hank where the money’s coming from and doesn’t plan to. Something about manly pride, perhaps Walt can understand that? But they need to explain the carwash through Walt’s gambling addiction story. Skyler has pages of their “story” printed out. Walt is a total pain in the ass about it. Has no interest. Once again, this isn’t something under his control. The whole story makes him look weak and pathetic. He hates every bit of it.
Dinner at Hank and Marie’s. To entertain Walt and Junior, Hank plays a DVD found at a crime scene. Turns out to be Gale singing “Major Tom” (the song by Kurt Schilling, not to be confused with Bowie’s “Space Oddity”). Later, Hank asks Walt to look over Gale’s notebook, asks about the chemistry. Hank thinks he’s found his Heisenberg. On one page is written, “To W.W. My Star My Perfect Silence.” Who’s it stand for? Hank suggests a few names, such as “Walter White.” Says Walt in jest, “You caught me.” Walt pages through the notebook and comes to the Whitman poem Gale quoted him back in season 3. The W.W. must stand for Walt Whitman.
Meanwhile, Hank and Marie and Junior are stunned by the gambling news. Junior’s thrilled, thinks it’s awesome and wants a new car.
Hank runs off to Jesse to tell him the APD are investigating Gale. Which is hardly news. If they’d found Jesse’s prints anywhere, they would have arrested him by now. Walt demands Jesse tell him exactly what happened when he shot Gale. The scene plays out behind Jesse’s eyes. It’s the one thing he’s been trying so hard to forget. Jesse pays some partgoers to throw Walt out of the house.
Walt goes to Saul, freaking out as Walt does. Jesse is a mess and Gus wants Walt dead. Even Saul gets nervous. He says, as a last resort, he knows a guy who, if paid enough, will vanish Walt and his family, give them new identities, they’ll never be found. It’s an “end game” option. Walt thinks there must be another way.
One of the partygoers steals Jesse’s bag of $70,000. Jesse doesn’t care. Even when Mike and Tyrus return the money and the crook, tied up and gagged, Jesse doesn’t care. Mike says he’s on thin ice. Goes to Gus, says no matter how mad it makes Walter, something has to be done about Jesse. There’s a nice moment of Mike eyeing a penknife on Gus’s desk, reminding him (and us) of Victor’s demise. Is Mike worried?
Walt goes looking for Jesse, breaks into the house. It’s empty. No Jesse. But Jesse’s phone is there. Uh oh.
Cut to Mike and Jesse in a car. Mike asks Jesse if he wants to know where they’re going. “No.”
We know where he’s going. Gus has a plan. He’s going to mold Jesse into his new cook and get rid of Walt instead.
I can see why people were a little frustrated by these episodes. Walt is totally ineffective. And Gus’s intentions are so far completely opaque. Even as the next few episodes unfold, the deeper game is unclear, and Walt becomes ever more useless and frustrated. But there really isn’t a missed beat in here. The interior paths of the characters drive the show, and we follow them step by step, even if often we don’t yet understand what’s driving them and where they’re headed.
Previous in this series:
- Season 1, Episodes 1-3
- Season 1, Episodes 4 & 5
- Season 1, Episodes 6 & 7
- Season 2, Episodes 1 & 2
- Season 2, Episodes 3-5
- Season 2, Episodes 6 & 7
- Season 2, Episodes 8-10
- Season 2, Episodes 11-13
- Season 3, Episodes 1-4
- Season 3, Episodes 5-7
- Season 3, Episodes 8-10
- Season 3, Episodes 11-13