Monday, July 18, 2011
"Breaking Bad" season premiere recap: The Proustian box cutter
See now, that right there is what makes "Breaking Bad" an amazing show. Intellectually, it seemed somewhat inevitable that Gus would cut Victor's throat. After all, he has to punish SOMEONE for what happen to Gale. So who? Walt? Pragmatically, you have to eliminate him pretty quickly. Walt is the lead of the show and, as good as Aaron Paul is, I don't think a Walt-less "Breaking Bad" is something you should try with at least a season and a half left. What about Jesse? The show could continue without him (maybe), and it would be a good visceral shock, but it seems unlikely that they would have Jesse commit murder and cheat us of a story that deals with his processing of that.
Mike? Maybe. But Mike, while not a central figure to the show, is important to Gus. Training another enforcer would be, as Gus might say, problematic in the extreme. And Victor, after all, was spotted by Gale's neighbors at the scene of the crime, which actually makes him a more immediate liability than Walt or Jesse (who wasn't seen by anyone but Victor). So it had to be Victor.
And it had to be the box cutter -- mainly because this episode is, in fact, called "Box Cutter," but also because of the gleaming close-up of the device in the opening Gale flashback. You know what they say -- if you show a box cutter in the opening scene, it must be used to slice open the throat of a would-be meth cook by episode's end. Or something like that.
So, yes -- that gut-wrenchingly suspenseful scene in which Gus toys with Walt and Jesse could only end with Victor's death. You could see it coming. So why, when it happened, was it still a visceral shock? Why was it still horrifying when it really was the only solution to that scene? I'm not sure. Maybe it was the minutes upon minutes of virtual silence in which Walt and Jesse wait to learn their fate. Maybe it was the scene in which Walt forcefully, but a little desperately, tries to convince Gus that killing him or Jesse (or both) was a bad business decision. Maybe it was Jesse's total silence throughout this entire sequence. Or maybe it was the cool way Gus stalked the Super Lab, like a mountain lion calmly waiting for the right moment to pounce on his prey.
Maybe it was all that. Or maybe it's just that this show is better at manipulating its audience (in a good way) than nearly anything on TV.
Whatever the reason, the death of Victor -- and Gus's calm admonishment to the guys to get back to work -- was one of the biggest gut punches TV has given us in a while. Welcome back, "Breaking Bad."
Here are some of my thoughts on the rest of the episode.
* Glad we got to see Gale one last time, in that opening flashback. We learn that, in true, ironic, "Breaking Bad" fashion, it was actually Gale who talked Gus into working with Walt again -- an act that ultimately led to Gale's death. RIP you decent, nerdy goofball.
* It wasn't quite as shocking as Victor's death, but I just hate watching Hank yell at Marie. And her relentless quest to try and break through and give him what he needs -- despite his anger and cruelty -- is just heart-breaking. Some really nice stuff here for Betsy Brandt, who plays Marie and seldom gets much to do.
* Ah, Skyler -- we all knew the ability to lie you demonstrated last season would come back into play. I couldn't help but chuckle as Skyler hyperventilated her way into Walt's apartment, with screaming Holly in tow. I don't want to be uncharitable to Skyler's ability as a mom, but do you think she had anything to do with her child's wailing? I'm just saying -- she had to have known that a well-timed pinch would have made her seem much more convincing as a harried mom.
* Of course, in the midst of all this, we had the show's typical dark comic touches -- most notably through Walt and Jesse's post-bloodbath attire. Few shows can get with a wrenching scene in which its two male leads discuss the moment of horror they've both shared while wearing matching Kenny Rogers T-shirts.