Breaking Bad: "Box Cutter"

Breaking Bad: "Box Cutter"

Been a busy few days, but I wanted to register a quick reaction to Breaking Bad, which began its fourth season this week in a confidently low-key fashion.

After a year-long layoff, Breaking Bad returned with a grab bag of signature nerve-jangling elements. Walt chased a brutal, cold-hearted decision with a soberly dissembling rationalization of why it was someone else’s fault. Jesse, truly and completely hollowed out now, sits numb amidst the fallout of his latest bout with punching above his criminal weight class. Only alone with Walt can he yet again begin rebuilding an armor of curdling nihilism.

Toss in a healthy helping of casual deceit, in this case courtesy of Skylar, who continues to inch with unsettling ease down the path Walt blazed (enlisting her infant daughter in her manipulation of the law-abiding locksmith was some truly veteran sliminess). And of course Saul, wonderful Saul, injecting the requisite dose of comic, sneering paranoia.

Breaking Bad’s brilliance, and its audacity, is in the way it maintains a racing pulse throughout an episode so pitched in silence: Skylar calmly relocating Walt’s abandoned car, Hank atrophying in his bed pan, Walt and Jesse helplessly awaiting Gus’s reaction. The violence is notably brief, startling for its sangfroid cruelty despite its obvious necessity to the plot. The real centerpiece is the air around that violent moment, as Gus slips out of his cerebral, respectable exterior and back in again with complete deftness, his languid movements pumping up the tension in the room like a bellows.

Lastly, let us pour out a batch of aluminum for poor meek Gale. You could pack a whole support group full of people whose faith in Walter White (even unknowing, in Gale’s case) is repaid in tragedy. Or you could if half of those people weren’t either corpses or functionally shattered individuals.

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