Friday, June 22, 2012

Breaking Down: Breaking Bad - Season Four, Episodes One Through Four

Season Four starts immediately where Season Three left off, at the scene of the crime of Gale’s death. Victor finds Pinkman in shock in his car and escorts him to the superlab where Mike, Victor, Walt, and Jesse await Gus’s arrival. Gus shreds Victor and declares, “Get back to work.” Hank has since become mired in mineral collection and karaoke videos whilst bed ridden while Marie returns to her kleptomaniacal shenanigans. Skyler attempts to buy a carwash to power wash some bags of money and perfects Walt’s gambling story. As relationships boil on the domestic front, Mike battles the cartel behind the scenes, and Pinkman turns his house into an abysmal hell of a continuous methamphetamine/industrial rock party.

This week we cover the first four episodes, and the next two weeks we will do four more each, and then land on the Friday before the Season Five premiere with commentary on the last episode and predictions going forward with Season Five.

You don't want to be near Gus when he's wearing this outfit
Stan Earnest: Season Four starts with an immaculately paced episode, "Box Cutter", with Gale making a triumphant return in the opening sequence. First question: What do you think Gus was going to do with Walt if he didn't go to work for him?

Craig Scholes: I don't think Gus was going to do anything to Walt himself, but I do think Hank would be walking because dos Penas would have had their way with Walt instead.

SE: I think "Box Cutter" is the best first episode of a returning season of serialized television ever. The tension, the backing score, the foreshadowing, and the climax with Gus going all Joe Pesci on Victor's neck, and with a twinge of that smirky Breaking Bad dark comedy the episode comes full circle, and Jesse Pinkman survives as Walt's partner! The dialog has all kinds of quotable lines, notably, "Get back to work." But my favorite lines come from Jesse chowing down at Denny's. You're right Jesse, everyone's on the same page now. Rewatching, I aimed to figure out if Gus killing Victor was really an errant plot line, but I see how it makes perfect sense now, especially once I realized that when Gus walks in he is caught stubbornly playing with the millions of dollars in lab equipment with a goofy smile stuck on his I-got-this-boss face.

CS: It occurred to me that perhaps Victor was executed because of the way he showed up at the crime scene, poked around, and, if I recall correctly, left fingerprints on the door jam, which only set off Gus even more when he saw Victor fucking around with the lap equipment. The further the show goes along the more I fucking hate Walt. He was such a smug asshole in that episode.

I absolutely LOVED the foreshadowing of the box knife at the beginning when Gale opens up the first crate. I remember thinking that Breaking Bad would in no way be able to keep the pace up after Season Three, and they definitely did that. The first episode of Season Four is probably my second- or third-favorite episode of the whole run. My favorite line of the episode was Jesse expounding upon that same page Gus and they are now on, "The one that says, ‘If I can’t kill you, you'll sure as shit wish you were dead.’"

SE: That is definitely the line I latched on to. By the way, I totally forgot that AMC flashed a violence warning before the Victor slashing, a petty move I am sure AMC was forced to make, and I hope it doesn't happen again in Season Five.

Mike totally picked out the Kenny Rogers shirts while Walt and Jesse cooked right? There couldn't be a more direct homage to Pulp Fiction. I will always remember that UC Santa Cruz's mascot is the banana slug.

Say "banana slug" one more time mother fucker
CS: Have you ever seen a banana slug in person? They are actually nearly the size of a banana, and they are the most easily spotted thing ever. They have to be poisonous to be that color and not be feasted on by random predators.

SE: According to the ever-so-truthful Wikipedia, raccoons, ducks, geese, and salamanders all feast on the banana slug. Also, there is a festival in Russian River, California for the slug where the most successful entries to the food competition are often those in which the distinctly repugnant flavor is unnoticeable. Speaking of slugs, Hank is a real charmer in Season Four isn't he? How do you think he developed a passion for minerals?

CS: I imagine he asked himself, “What is the dumbest fucking thing I can collect to annoy the piss out of my super-awesome, hyper-supportive wife.” I imagine she keeps calling them rocks just to piss him off though. Fun fact, the university that I "studied" at in Germany had the world’s largest mineral museum.

SE: I totally dig the way "Box Cutter" ends with the Alexander song "Truth" and a sweeping shot of Gale's apartment with the last shot being of the lab notes. I had that lightning bolt folder in junior high, although it might have been a Trapper Keeper. And I'm no Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros fan, but I've listened to that Alexander song probably 100 times since that shows airing.

CS: Can't say that I’m a fan of the song at all. Would you say that the overriding theme of this season is that everybody is fucking miserable. Seriously, every character in this show is just in a shitty mood for one reason or another.

SE: Yeah, everybody is grumpy as hell; at least the writers understand what they have put the characters through. Unpopular opinion alert: I may like Season Four better than Season Three. It certainly has a flair to it.

CS: Liking Season Four more than Three isn't an egregious error; it’s probably my second favorite season.

I can't decide if I am surprised Jesse owns a Roomba. On one hand, it’s one of those impulse buys. On the other hand, I don't think of Jesse as being the type of person who would worry about having clean floors.
SE: He could have gone the Tom Haverford route and had DJ Roomba, but I don't think that sound system would fit on the Roomba. Fun fact about this episode: the writers wanted a scene with Aaron Paul's head against speakers vibrating with bass, but they didn't want to blow Paul's ears out. On a trip to a local electronics store (they definitely like giving back to the community in ABQ) to purchase the sound system, they found a store clerk that showed them they could solve the problem by programming the unit in test mode where the speakers vibrate to the music, but without sound. They made a deal with the kid's manager and hired him for the day to program the song for show.

"Thirty-Eight Snub" and "Open House" are seen as filler, or boring, episodes to casual fans of the show. I find the slow burn to be quite pleasing, as I am intrigued to see if this is what the characters would actually be doing in the aftermath of what has happened, and there is definitely a fair amount of setup needed for the coming episodes. My problem is with Walt becoming a dumbass in this episode, but maybe he is just so completely razzed by everything around him he decides to act completely irrationally. He totally deserved that ass whoopin' at the hands of Mike.

CS: You could clearly tell that sound wasn't coming out of the speaker, and boy is Jesse losing his mind, all while being a good guy and leaving a nest egg with Andrea. What would you do if you magically had a stack of cash appear in your possession? I’m too paranoid to try and spend a bunch of hundreds anywhere. Is it just me, or is Skyler becoming just as sketchy as Walt? It seems to me that the $873K or whatever it was she offered for the car wash was a pretty low-ball offer; on the other hand, I don't think I would have countered with $10 million.

SE: Eyebrows McGee really takes pride in his car wash. Another fun fact: real-life Bogdan is a nuclear physicist.

Did you think for any moment that Mike would switch to Team Walter at some point? I figured that was definitely Walter's next move, convincing Mike that he had some humanity left, but I had no inkling that the conversation would last two minutes and leave Walt bloodied on a bar floor. There is some karmic retribution in Walt getting the Pinkman treatment, even though I don't believe in karma, but I reckon it must exist in television drama.

CS: I don't think Mike would actually just switch sides, but I do see a scenario where he would if the right circumstances arise. Well, if you aren't so much a fan of karma, think of it as regression to the mean. Walt was just due to get his ass kicked. I doubt you can work in that business for too long without having a tooth kicked down your throat eventually, which is probably part of the reason why Walt is learning valuable lessons like how to properly draw a snub-nose.

SE: Walt is regressing all right, but not meaningfully. I respect that the writer's went super dark with Pinkman for Season Four. He's been through too much; of course he doesn't care about anything anymore. Most shows would just gloss over that and keep him running full steam. I hope I never get to a point where I am throwing wadded $100 bills into a passed-out drunk's mouth.

CS: I would however love to get to the point where I could afford to throw wadded-up Benjamins into a dude’s mouth. Yeah, Pinkman has really gotten it stuck to him, his parents turned their back on him, he has repeatedly gotten his ass kicked, his friends are useless deadbeats, his boss won't even give him the time of day, his lawyer fucks him over (more than the usual), the DEA has been on his ass, and his special lady friend pulled a Bon Scott. I think my breaking point is way before that; fortunately, I don't foresee myself ever getting to that point.

SE: How about Walt having a nice hot cup of coffee from Gale's wonder brewer? Maybe Walt can buy a coffee shop to launder all that money. Those cameras in the lab are probably a bad idea, but Gus is taking "full measures" this time around. I wish he could have seen Walt chase that fly around. Imagine Gus pulling his Volvo into a dark alley, screeching to a dust-unsettling stop. Mike hops in the car. Gus sleekly pulls a black leather folder personalized "Gustavo" in fine Italian stitching from beneath his suit coat, out of it slides an iPad, and he and Mike giggle like school girls as they watch Walt fall on that lab vat over and over again.

CS: Not only are the cameras probably a bad idea, but they're also really loud. What would be even better is if you see Gus walk into the lab with a box, open the lid, and a single fly flies into the lab. Then watch his maniacal laughter as he exits the lab; of course then you see Gus and Mike giggle like school girls as they watch Walt fall on that lab vat over and over again. Speaking of watch, has Walt always worn that sweet-ass calculator watch?

Walt = Butt-head. Fitting.
SE: I think I've only seen it once, must have been a luxury purchase with the meth loot; although he likely uses it for work--tax write-off ya know. I like the idea of prankster Gus and Mike vs. prankster Walt and Jesse. Can you see Walt calling up Mike and telling him he needed his help because he ice-picked Jesse and made a mess? When Mike arrives, they have a surprise for him. That better not be a surprise birthday party, though; an accidental shooting would be likely. At this point, what could Walt or Jesse call Mike about that would shock him?

CS: At this point, about they only thing that would surprise Mike would be for Jesse and Walt to shut up and do their job. But, if we want to go with the whimsical version I hope there is a stripper in the cake for the surprise birthday party.

SE: Question: why does Gus continue to pay Walt and Jesse after their little skirmish? Afraid of Pinkman running to the feds, or is it just part of the master plan? Certainly he must have charged them for the cleanup of run-over rival dealer #1 and capped-in-the-head rival dealer #2. That receipt is probably filed under "Vilma" in Roger Goodell's office.

CS: I was wondering about this too, and I would imagine it would have something to do with ensuring the product maintained a certain level of quality. Not only that, but as Jesse mentioned so many times, they are making a fraction of what Gus is making. There is also a good chance that Gus took away the bonus $3 Million of goodwill, and they are making the straight $1 Million a month again. Gus is smart enough to know not to make a volatile situation worse with even more disgruntled employees.

SE: Gus is very wise to leave the two up to their own devices. He figures they will probably ruin each other, but they have to keep an eye on Pinkman. I don't know if Gus knows that he has a get-out-of-jail-free card, but if you're found with a pound of meth and $500k, I am pretty sure that turns into a don't-pass-go-don't-collect-200-dollars card. Walt really needed to accept that invitation to go-kart. Walter White in a go-kart would be good times. I've never been; how 'bout you?

CS: Apparently if you have never gone go-karting, then you have never been to Branson, Missouri, sir. I'm willing to bet that Branson is the go-kart capital of the world, and I highly recommend doing it. Speaking of go-karts, that scene with Jesse reminded me of the go-kart scene in Clerks II.

SE: A Google search for "go-kart capital of the world" declares no specific winners, but Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is in the running according to some random webbie's Flickr photo. No, I haven't been to Branson, and I don't really see the appeal, other than it is closer to me than Disneyland and I like salt water taffy. I have relatives that go and claim that it is heaven on earth. And Clerks II kept me laughing, but that movie is an abomination, right? At least my favorite character, Randal, got a rehashing.

How fantastic is the Hank and Marie dinner party? The Gale karaoke video was a nice touch. If you ever get drunk enough to sing karaoke, what song will it be?

CS: One should definitely go to Branson once, especially if you are somewhat in the vicinity. The last time I went I watched an old dude fashion a square log out of a round log for about 20 minutes and I saw a guy carve a totem pole with a chain saw. They have some of the most amazing street vendor food, and in the summer they have a pretty righteous kids fest that I remember fondly. And for what its worth, I liked Clerks II.
Ground control to Rivers Cuomo

The last song I sang karaoke-style was the "Star Spangled Banner" in Germany on my birthday after having drank about 20 liters of alcohol. If I were to do it tomorrow, it would probably be something by Weezer.

SE: Trick question, homeboy. One can not get drunk enough to defend the singing of karaoke, unless you make a video to entertain your family and friends post-mortem, and even then you're on dicey ground, but 20 liters of German beer make you more of a man than me. And on that note, Walt needs to really learn to handle his liquor. First he forces Junior to slam tequila, then he wakes up in a sea of stale popcorn, and then he challenges Hank to get back on the scent of the illustrious Heisenberg. It really is killing Walt that he can't let Hank know that he is all badass now, but in a fight between wheelchair-ridden Hank and criminally insane Heisenberg, I'm still taking Hank.

CS: I’m not sure I would take Walt in a fight with Old Man Salamanca. It’s amazing to me how many times Walt gets put in his place, and how much it just causes him to push back.

SE: And no matter how much you push Jesse, he keeps figuring out all new ways to take it--the true vision of the odd couple. How nice was it for Mike and Co. to snag the guy that took Jesse's money, and Jesse doesn't even give a what-what. Did you have any first thoughts as to where Mike was taking Jesse at the end of "Bullet Points"?

CS : I remember thinking the first time I watched it that there was no way they were going to just off him. So I kinda figured they were going to try some sort of scared straight tactic, either that or they were going to make him mop up the chicken batter in the middle of the New Mexican desert.

So there you have it, Part One of Season Four. Tune in next week when we cover the next four episodes of everyone's favorite dynamic duo.

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