AMC’s Breaking Bad finally returned last week after more than a year’s absence. Like much of the series, the first two hours flow with connecting arcs, rather than tell stand-alone stories. In the first episode of the fourth season, “Box Cutter,” Walt (Bryan Cranston) secures jobs for Jesse (Aaron Paul) and himself, narrowly avoiding death at the hands of Gus (Giancarlo Esposito). But Gus shows his displeasure at Walt’s ruse by butchering one of Gus’s own henchmen in front of them. In “Thirty-Eight Snub,” Walt seeks a more permanent solution to his continued well being, but Mike (Jonathan Banks) is unwilling to form an alliance, and tells Walt he will never see Gus again. Which means Walt and Jesse can continue making meth, but only until Gus finds a replacement and takes them out, and there’s nothing they can do about it.
It is no coincidence that both episode titles are weapons. “Box Cutter” features one of the most graphically violent scenes ever shown on basic cable television. The murder Gus commits is both chilling and fascinating, proving that Esposito is on a tier of his own in terms of acting talent. The frustrating silence and steely eyed glare make the long, drawn out scene one of supreme artistic excellence, as well as keep the suspense taunt. It is no wonder. too, that Walt is now deathly terrified of Gus, and thinks the only way to take him out may be to do a little killing of his own. Obviously, Gus is a very dangerous man, and Walt and Jesse are only alive to keep production flowing.
Walt and Jesse handle their fear in very different ways. Walt goes for the tough guy routine, something the once meek chemistry teacher steadily grows more and more comfortable with, by buying a “Thirty-Eight Snub” and trying to turn Mike against Gus. Whether Walt has any chance at all of overcoming a powerful, cold-hearted criminal mastermind like Gus remains to be seen. Luckily, Breaking Bad has a masterful way of delivering twists, and the outcomes expected likely won’t play out in a predictable way.
Jesse, by contrast, begins growing reckless. He spends massive amounts of money on a new stereo system, and parties hard. This means Jesse’s sobriety is out the window. If Gus doesn’t take out Jesse, Walt’s assistant will remove himself from the equation soon enough. Interestingly, Jesse shows he has lost faith only in himself, not the world, by giving Andrea (Emily Rios) a large amount of cash and trusting her to buy a better life, rather than spend it on drugs. He is a very complicated character indeed.
In the meantime, blissfully unaware of the danger, Skyler (Anna Gunn) inserts herself more dominantly into Walt’s affairs, attempting to buy the car wash her estranged husband used to work at. Unfortunately, the owner remembers her, and shuts down that idea quickly. But Skyler’s concern for Walt is more than about money, as evidenced by the way she frantically searches for him when he is missing. True, she could just be concerned about her family’s financial future, but her frenzy seems to indicate that she still has feelings for the man that she now keeps at arm’s distance. Any possible reconciliation will be long off, but the door is not yet closed forever.
Marie (Betsy Brandt) scores a bit more screen time in season four of Breaking Bad as she suffers through husband Hank’s (Dean Norris) recovery. Hank is surly towards her, though kind to his physical therapist. He tries to get better, but won’t accept the slightest comfort from the woman he is closest to. Who would have thought that Marie has the saintly patience to put up with such a grouchy, uncooperative spouse? Yet, Brandt finds inner strength from somewhere, and swiftly develops Marie from an annoying woman into a near hero. Her strength as Hank undergoes the turmoil that comes with his trauma is impressive, and the subplot is most welcome.
Breaking Bad airs Sunday nights at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.