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Season 4, episode 1: “Box Cutter”

06 Aug

Breaking Bad, 4-1: “Boxcutter”

Opener

In the opener to this episode, Gale uses a green-handled box cutter to open a 10-foot tall box containing a piece of equipment that’s just arrived for the super lab. Up on a ladder in shorts and sandals, he cuts the top strap excitedly, then climbs down and releases the sides, giggling as he drags the big pieces of cardboard off to the side.

Gus comes in and asks from the balcony, “How’s it coming?”

“Very well! There’ve been a flurry of deliveries…It feels like Christmas morning!”

It’s sad to see Gale’s innocent, happy, young face in this flashback when we’ve just seen him murdered. The lab was also a fresh, new beginning, albeit for a dark purpose, that’s now been tarnished, and will soon receive a further corruption – or contamination, as the language of “Fly” would have it.

When Gus asks when the lab will be “up and running,” Gale says, “In a month.”

“Two weeks,” Victor interjects.

“Two weeks,” Gale agrees. The camera pans over a folder labeled “Lab Notes,” as he adds that he’s tested the “sample” Gus or Victor has given him, and “it’s quite good…Is that our competition? If it is, we have our work cut out for us.”

“There’s no competition, as far as I’m concerned,” Gus says, but Gale is still concerned.

“I’ve achieved a purity of 96%, a hard-earned figure, and this is 99% pure, maybe even more. That last 3% is tremendous.”

“For our purposes 96% will do just fine.”

“I’d just love to know who synthesized it.”

“A man who wants to work with me,” Gus says, “a trained chemist like yourself. But it won’t happen. I don’t consider him a professional.”

“If he’s not, I don’t know what that makes me.”

“With this person, there are other considerations.”

“His is the best I’ve ever seen, hands down. With this place and all the money you’re investing, I know you want the best.” Gus’s face remains impassive.

Scene 1: Gale’s apartment

We see what we saw at the end of the last episode of Season 3: Jesse, face contorted, shooting Gale into the camera, so that he seems to be shooting us. Now we see Jesse’s shock and horror in the seconds after he pulled the trigger.

After Jesse leaves, the camera pans over Gale’s eclectic possessions, and we hear the voice of one of his neighbors calling the police. Gale’s phone, on the counter, is still vibrating as Mike tries to warn him. His kettle, boiling over, drips water on the floor.

We see the neighbor, an older man in a robe, standing in the apartment, as a neighbor couple, looking stricken, lean together in the open doorway. When Victor runs in, the older man is alarmed. “Mr.,” he says, “You don’t want to touch anything.”

Now we see Gale, lying on his back in the middle of his large one-room home, his face astonished, eyes open. The bullet from Jesse’s gun has entered his left eye.

Outside, Victor has his gun on Jesse, who still sits in the driver’s seat of his car, a vacant expression on his face. Victor gets in, and orders him to “Drive!”

Scene 2: the lab, Casa Blanca

Walt and Mike are sitting in the lab, Mike holding his gun on Walt whose hands are folded in his lap. Mike stands as Victor brings Jesse in and slides a chair under him next to Walt. Victor gives his gun to Mike, takes a few steps, and angrily kicks over a table of glassware.

“What happened?” Mike asks.

“He’s gone.”

“Shit. Were there people there? Did they see you?”

“Yeah. So what? Just another looky-lou.”

Jesse’s still in a trance. Walt looks at him. Mike says, “I guess I’d better get this over with,” and picks up the lab phone to call Gus.

We see time-lapse photography of nighttime highways and dawn skies… At the Whites’, Skyler, dressed in her coral robe, answers the door. Marie gives her Hank’s latest therapy bill, says the bills “seem to be getting bigger,” and thanks her sister. “Tell me if it’s too much.”

“Absolutely not,” Skyler says, smiling.

Then Marie asks if Walt’s car, parked in the driveway, means “what I think it means,” and we recall that Walt was scooped up by Victor the night before as he was leaving. After Marie leaves, Skyler verifies that the car is there. Inside, she looks in the baby’s room, and passes Junior’s door, behind which rap music plays. Still in her robe, she goes back outside, gets Walt’s spare key from inside a rear wheel well, and moves the Aztek a few blocks away.

Back at the lab, Victor sits on a table, swinging his legs, and Mike has his feet up on a red container. “All right, look,” Walt says. “I make it ten to nine, which means – ”

“Shut up,” Mike says.

“Which means we need to start a cook in the next ten minutes to keep to our schedule – Gus’s schedule. As angry as he may be, I don’t believe he’s willing to forfeit an entire batch. This might make him even angrier…Come on, Mike – let us cook. Isn’t that what this whole thing is about?”

Victor stands, takes off his jacket, and starts the lab machines. Mike looks on as Victor puts on a respirator. Jesse is still staring vacantly. Victor, gloves on, about to pour methylamine from a stepladder, says to Walt, “That’s right, genius. Watch me. We ain’t missin’ no cook.”

Scene 3: Saul’s office, Walt’s apartment, the Schraders’

Someone knocks repeatedly on the door to Saul’s office, and Huell, Saul’s “enforcer,” tells them, “We’re closed.”

Saul’s secretary answers the phone, buzzes Saul, and finally goes in his office and tells him, “Skyler White is calling.”

Saul is on his hands and knees, looking for bugs. “What the hell does she want?”

“Walt is nowhere to be found,” Skyler tells him.

Saul’s outside on the payphone, Huell standing guard. “I’m sure he’s fine. Maybe he car pooled to work.”

“A car pool to a meth lab?”

“You’re breakin’ up there…Ooh, you’re a chatty Cathy today!” After he hangs up, Saul asks Huell, “You got a passport, right?”

Skyler drives to Walt’s place, and calls a locksmith, saying she’s been mugged and can’t get into her apartment. When the locksmith says he can’t let her in without proof of residence, Skyler lets Holly cry, and even puts her into the locksmith’s arms, while she pretends to hyperventilate. “Oh, God, not now…” She says she needs medicine that’s in the apartment.

Of course, when the guy lets her in, Walt’s place is clean, neat, and empty. Skyler opens a drawer, picks up the teddy bear’s eye, looks at it, and puts it back.

Marie returns home, and cheerily asks Hank, “How was p.t.? I heard you broke new ground today.”

Hank, unshaven and in bed with the minerals he’s collecting, is still being surly with his wife. “I walked sixteen feet in twenty minutes – up from fifteen and a half yesterday,” he says sarcastically.

After a short conversation about his minerals, which Marie calls “rocks,” Hank says, “I need the thing.”

“Numero uno?”

“Dos.”

Marie brings the yellow bedpan, turns her husband, pulls down his pants, and gets him into position.

Scene 4: the lab

Victor’s pouring another liquid, as Walt says, “I just want to go on record. We should all be wearing masks.”

Mike gets some coffee from Gale’s special brewing system. Jesse’s still out of it, but Walt leans into him and says, “Bet he forgets the aluminum. Guaranteed…” Victor remembers, however. “Son of a bitch!”

We hear the upper door, and Gus walks onto the balcony, dressed in a red shirt, suit, and tie. Victor raises his respirator, smiles, and starts taking off his gloves. Walt and Jesse are in the blue reflected from metal lab equipment. Gus descends the stairs, his footfalls clattering, and steps onto the red lab floor. He stands in front of Walt and Jesse, and Jesse looks up. Gus walks away and takes off his jacket, putting it on a hanger.

“All right,” Walt says, “let’s talk about Gale Boetticher. He was a good man and a good chemist and I cared about him.” Gus takes off his tie, as Walt continues. “He didn’t deserve what happened to him. He didn’t deserve it at all.” Walt turns, as Gus starts taking off his shirt. “But I’d shoot him again tomorrow. And the next day, and the day after that.” Gus is down to his white T-shirt. “When you make it Gale against me or Gale against Jesse, Gale loses – simple as that.” Gus hangs up his shirt. “This is on you, Gus. Not me – not Jesse. Gale’s death is on you! I mean, what did you expect me to do – just simply roll over and allow you to murder us? That I wouldn’t take measures, extreme measures, to defend myself? Well, think again.” Gus puts on orange protective overalls. “Let me suggest that you keep one thing in mind…”

Jesse turns to look at Walt and maybe Gus, as Walt continues: “Without us, without Jesse and myself, you have no one to make your product. Certainly not him. This person doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing.”

Victor says, “I’ve been watching him for weeks. I know every step of this cook.”

“Oh, do you really?” Walt says. He tries to get up and go toward Victor, but Mike, behind him, yanks him back to his seat. “So, tell me…” Walt asks Victor a series of technical questions, ending with, “I forgot…Help me out, professor! Gus – come on, let us work!” Gus has a protective jacket on now.

“All his bullshit aside,” Victor says, “it’s called a cook. Everything comes down to following a recipe. Simple, complicated, it doesn’t matter. The steps never change.” Gus is now passing Walt on his way toward Victor, who stands facing Walt from a distance of four or five yards. “And I know every step,” Victor concludes, as Gus passes him.

“Is that what you want?” demands Walt. “This short order cook? You’re not cooking hamburgers here, pal. What happens when you get a bad barrel of precursor – how would you even know it?” Having looked for something in a high cupboard, Gus, gloves on, looks in a drawer. “And what happens in the summer when the humidity rises?”

Gus has the green-handled box cutter in his hand, and he clicks the blade out. Watching him, Victor smiles. Walt, seeing Gus with a weapon, says, “Gus – you do this, all you have left is an 8 million dollar hole in the ground.” Jesse’s still slouching, but looking up. “This lab, this equipment, is useless without us, without Jesse and myself.” Gus is standing by Walt. “Without us, you have nothing. You kill me, you have nothing. You kill Jesse, you don’t have me.” Jesse turns his head a bit toward Walt, hearing this.

Gus, who has been standing behind Walt, now moves in front of Victor, as Walt continues: “You won’t do this. You’re too smart. You can’t afford to do this!” Gus is impassive. “Please! Let us just go back to work! We’re here – let us work. We’re ready to go to work!”

Gus, behind Victor now, grabs him suddenly and slashes his chest and throat with the box cutter. He holds his right-hand man almost tenderly as he gasps his last, his eyes on Walt the whole time. Victor moves gently, held by someone he trusted completely. His blood is all over – spattered on Walt and Jesse. Walt looks at the blood on his hand in horror. Jesse looks up, almost defiantly, at Gus, whom he’s always hated. He starts to get up almost, as Gus, still looking at Walt, throws Victor’s dead body face first toward him. Walt gasps, Victor’s head now inches from his feet.

Gus walks slowly by Walt, dropping the box cutter. Victor’s blood spreads to Walt’s shoes as Gus washes his hands, face, and head, and takes off the protective suit. He shakes water off his glasses, and begins to dress.

Walt’s still in shock, his hand on his chest. He breathes shakily, as Jesse turns to look at Gus. Gus, dressed as nattily as before, leaves the lab. He’s never said one word.

Next we see blood trailing over the red lab floor to a gutter, as Jesse, in a red cleaning suit, drags Victor’s body to a white drum. Walt, also red-suited, says, “Lay him down, feet first,” as Mike watches. Walt looks at Mike as if to say, “A little help here?” and Mike helps right the drum with Victor’s body in it.

Jesse wheels out a cart loaded with jugs of acid. Mike, respirator on head, says, “I never used this stuff. Are you sure it’ll do the job?”

“Trust us,” Jesse answers. He and Walt pour as Mike watches.

We see the drum, full of reddish liquid, raised on a winch as Walt cleans its outer surface with Windex. Then someone slaps a “corrosive” warning sticker on it after loading it onto a tractor-trailer, and the truck moves away.

Mops move the remaining blood toward the drains.

Scene 5: a Denny’s restaurant, the Whites’, Gale’s

We go from red blood on a red floor to red ketchup on a plate. A man is swirling his French fries through it, as Walt and Jesse sit in a window booth. Jesse drinks iced tea through a straw as a waitress puts a plate of pancakes and bacon in front of him. Walt just has coffee. Both are wearing off-white jeans and identical brown shirts, Walt’s with the “large” label still on it.

“How are you doing?” Walt asks. Jesse shrugs. “No, I mean how are you doing?” Jesse shrugs again, wider, mouth full of food. “You did the only thing that you could – I hope you understand that…Any thoughts on what our next move should be, given the fact that at the next opportunity Gus will kill us?”

“That was an opportunity just now,” Jesse says. “Seemed like a pretty damned good opportunity to me…Golden, I would say.”

“We bought ourselves some time, I guess, but the question is: how much? He’ll be looking for another chemist.”

“He’s not going to find another chemist. Where’s he gonna find another chemist? Someone who can run a lab that big, someone he can trust, someone he knows will keep their mouth shut? Yeah – good luck with that. Bet it took him years to find Gale…At least now we all understand each other, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean him and us. We get it.” Jesse draws his knife across his throat. “We’re all on the same page.”

“What page is that?”

“The one that says, ‘If I can’t kill you, you’ll sure as shit wish you were dead.'” Jesse smiles, even laughs a little. He finishes his drink and hands the empty glass to the waitress.

We see a yellow cab stop at the Whites’. Walt gets out, wearing red sneakers, the white jeans, and the brown shirt. He sees his car is missing from the driveway. Skyler comes out and explains that she moved the Aztek “to avoid a lot of questions…Are you okay?” She picks the “large” sticker off Walt’s shirt.

There’s a pause, then Walt says, “Yeah, right as rain.”

“It’s three blocks down, on the right.” Skyler looks distant, but sad.

Back at Gale’s apartment, now a crime scene, we see his body still lying on the floor and his “Lab Notes” on the table. “Truth” by Alex Ebert plays:

The truth is that I never shook my shadow/Every day it’s trying to trick me into doing battle

Calling out “faker” only get me rattled/Want to pull me back behind the fence with the cattle

Building your lenses, digging your trenches/Put me on the front line, leave me with a dumb mind

With no defenses, but your defense is/If you can’t stand to feel the pain then you are senseless

Since this I’ve grown up some, different kind of fighter/And when the darkness comes, let it inside you

And your darkness is shining, my darkness is shining/Have faith in myself – truth

I’ve seen a million numbered doors on the horizon/Now which is the future you’re choosing before you gone dyin’?

I’ll tell you about a secret I’ve been undermining/Every little lie in this world comes from dividing

Say you’re my lover, say you’re my own homie, tilt my chin back, slit my throat, take a bath in my blood, get to know me

All out of my secrets, all my enemies are turning into my teachers/Because, lights blinding, no way dividing what’s yours or mine

When everything’s shining, your darkness is shining/My darkness is shining/Have faith in ourselves/Truth

…I’m only loving only loving only loving only loving the truth.

Season 4 is off to a grim, dark start, in keeping with the DVD cover picture of Walt, by himself, glowering evilly. As I write these notes, I’m starting to remember that I didn’t like this season much the first time around, probably because it seemed that Jesse had lost every shred of happiness, innocence, or spark. And who really likes darkness and evil? Some, I guess, but I’m not in that number.

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