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TV Review: BREAKING BAD, 4.1 - "Box Cutter"

This episode chooses to work through the problems created after a seemingly dooming season finale, and in true Breaking Bad style, it does so in ways you'd never expect.

rating: 3.5

The wait between television seasons is never an easy one, especially when the show in question is as thrilling, character-driven, tense, and unpredictable as Vince Gilligan'sBreaking Bad. That wait becomes almost unbearable when you're faced with a cliffhanger as dramatic as that of season three: Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) racing to save the life of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), his only chance of survival resting on the murder of an innocent man. Season three culminated on the image of Jesse firing his gun towards the camera, implicating the death of chemist and all-round nice guy, Gale (David Costabile). There was speculation as to whether Jesse did indeed shoot Gale - it isn't made completely clear, but Gilligan confirmed the fact months before season 4's premiere: the shot wasn't supposed to be speculative, only definitive, and pushed to convey that both Walt and Jesse would have to live with the consequences of their actions in the episodes to follow. Now comes "Box Cutter", the first episode of Breaking Bad's fourth season, and perhaps one of the most anticipated premieres in recent television history. Breaking Bad has built up a hefty fan base in the last few months alone, with many viewers racing to catch up in time for the season four premiere. In previous seasons, viewers became accustomed to enigmatic episode openings. Only as the season progressed would these striking images begin to make sense. Season four has dropped this technique, and the first moments of "Box Cutter" begin with a flashback: Gale, in the newly purchased meth lab, ogling at the expensive equipment as Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) looks on. This scene stands to remind us what a pleasant person Gale was. He's honest, and despite his position (and an opportunity that stands to make him lots of money), he insists that Walt's meth is better than his. 3% better, to be precise. Then we're back to the present, moments after that life-changing shot has been fired, as Jesse rushes from the apartment in shock. Gale is dead, that's for sure. Before Jesse can get away, he's captured by Gus' man and taken back to the lab where Walt is being held by Mike (Jonathan Banks). Nobody is quite sure of the pending situation, and the wait for Gus to arrive begins. Walt insists to Mike and a henchman that both he and Jesse are essential and tries to buy time, whilst Jesse stays slumped in a silent horror. Skyler (Anna Gunn) is dealing with her own kind of trouble. She's convinced something has gone wrong with Walt (she expects it by now), and sets out to his apartment to find him. Skyler is no longer recognisable as the loving, understanding wife we knew in the first season. She's heavy-handed, impulsive, and even seems out of touch with her own baby. Hank (Dean Norris), meanwhile, is stuck in bed, his legs useless, doomed to a life of growing stubble and buying minerals on eBay - a horrible existence for the DEA agent who once fought down two ruthless Mexican assassins at the same time in one of the show's defining sequences. When Gus finally arrives at the meth lab in one truly chilling scene (and this episode's best moment), it becomes apparent just how deeply Walt and Jesse have gotten themselves. We've been here before at the end of season one, with Tuco battering his sidekick to death for simply speaking out of turn. But even that seems tame now by these standards, and there's no way out - death seems like a viable option. The path Walt must now walk will end in nothing but self-destruction and the destruction of those close to him. It's also important to understand how Walt's actions have changed the lives of everyone he loves for the worse, and that's really what this episode is about. Skyler, Walter Jr., Hank, Marie and Jesse are all worse off since Walt decided to start a life as Heisenberg. His intentions were originally good-natured, but he has been consumed by his own desire to remain unbeaten. It's worth noting that Jesse barely says a word in this episode, whereas Walt, as usual, is all talk. Their positions on this kind of lifestyle are made apparent. So what will everyone make of "Box Cutter"? Well, it's not breaking any new ground, nor does it rank as one of the show's best episodes. It is, however, gripping, dark, and compulsive viewing that, despite those positives, may disappoint a few. That's not because there's anything wrong with it, it's just slow burning with only subtle hints of what's to come. Fine. It's finding ground and planting seeds. Breaking Bad is not the kind of show you lose faith in during the early stages, after all. This episode chooses to work through the problems created after a seemingly dooming season finale, and in true Breaking Bad style, does so in ways you'd never expect. Breaking Bad airs every Sunday night on AMC in the US.
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