'Breaking Bad' season premiere review: Fear the box cutter

“Get back to work.” So spake Gus, giving the order to Bryan Cranston’s Walter White and Aaron Paul’s Jesse, in the season premiere of Breaking Bad. Getting back to work — resigning oneself to a life of both rigorous tedium and unnerving danger — is as good a way as any to think of the theme developing this season. The shoot-‘em-up action thriller has always resided around the edges of Breaking Bad, with a few notable exceptions (the shoot-out in the parking lot in the “One Minute” episode; Mike’s masterly clean-up of some Mexican cartel thugs in last season’s climactic “Full Measure”) rarely at its center.

And so while the season-premiere scene that everyone will be talking about today is the moment when Gus calmly slit Victor’s throat with a box-cutter (that instrument of death was the very title of the episode), flooding around the series like so much spilled corpse blood is the red, rueful acknowledgment that Breaking Bad always circles back to the drudgery of work. From the series’ first-season scenes of a weary Walt teaching bored students chemistry to a stunned Jesse and Walt resuming their meth manufacturing labors in the big red room, Bad is uncannily attuned to two key audience desires: We like to see that people on TV can be as sick of working as many of us become, and we like to see heightened-reality ways in which work can be escaped, money can be made, and happiness is held out like a mirage.

As though to make absolutely sure there can be no doubt as to what Aaron Paul’s Jesse did to the fastidious meth-maker Gale at the end of the last season of Breaking Bad, show creator Vince Gilligan offers a close-up shot of dead Gale, with actor David Costabile making a (final?) appearance laid out with a gunshot in his eye. So much for the theory I and a few others held that Jesse may have moved his arm away just a few inches, thus sparing Gale.

Indeed, as a result of Jesse’s action, one dictated by Walt, Jesse spent much of the new season’s opener in a mute state, shocked into silence as he tries to absorb the fresh hell to which he’s consigned himself. Hellishness also figured in other subplots. Hank is sitting in bed, enduring the tortures of physical and mental pain as a result of another of Walt’s earlier decisions, and Hank is lashing out at wife Marie. The idea, so dear to the concept of marriage, is that if one mate is suffering, so must the other. Hank’s verbal abuse and emotional neglect of Marie is as quietly powerful as any scene of violence, and even under these trying circumstances, I’m glad to see more of Dean Norris and Betsy Brandt. Much less of a victim is Skyler, who is now working with with a firm, quiet intensity on making the most of the mess and profits Walt has created.

But to return into the red room of the meth lab, as deliriously evil an environment as David Lynch’s red room in Twin Peaks: Gus, covering his red shirt and tie, putting on a red jumpsuit to commit his ruthless murder, demonstrated how likely it is that a control freak can go freaky on you. Walt’s moments-earlier threat-pleas to Gus to spare him — “You kill me, you have nothing. You Kill Jesse, you don’t have me” — only serve to confirm to Gus that he’s chosen wisely to kill people around Walt and Jesse (Gale; Victor), but not the meth makers themselves. (Keeping this in mind, I’d say, “Watch out, Mike! The way Walt and Jesse disposed of Victor’s body showed that, in certain areas, these two amateur cleaners know even more than you about ways to wipe away the existence of someone.”)

The body was put in a container, sizzled with acid (the box cutter with Gus’ fingerprints on it also met the same fate), and carted off with a label slapped on it: “Corrosive.” A good word, that: It also applies to the corrosion of Jesse’s soul, as he sat, in the final moments this week, in a Denny’s with Walt, scarfing down pancakes and still coming to terms with a life that’s gone too far to ever be redeemed.

As I look back on the hour of TV I’ve just described, I wonder a little at why I was so exhilarated after watching it. I do know why, of course. For all the talk we can have about how “dark” and “bleak” and “gritty” Breaking Bad is, for all the doom toward which Walt and Jesse are heading with a ferocious inevitability, the formal beauty of this series — its eloquent silences; its breath-taking pictorial compositions; its fine, essential moments of comic relief courtesy of Bob Odenkirk’s Saul; the neatly-tucked corners of its tidy story-telling — these are pleasures that transcend 98% of television’s usual attempts at dirty realism or fashionable pessimism. Bad slices through prime-time cliches, depressingly predictable dialogue and plot turns, with the clean efficiency of a box cutter.

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Comments (202 total) Add your comment
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  • cain

    Best scene was the last: Walt wanted to tell Skylar what had happened to him but she shut it down. He walked away holding back the tears as he held his pants up. sad sad moment.

    Gus… elevating the level of violence like that at the beginning of the season means this will be a very violent season. A main character will die before season 4 is over. Very excited for this season.

    • Memo

      That Denny scene with them wearing that Kenny Rogers shirt was very reminiscent of Pulp Fiction with Jules and Vincent sitting in that diner.
      I am glad, really glad, to have the best show (tied with Mad Men, IMO) back on TV. This shows the potential of real TV. No other show matches in writing and especially cinematography and writing.
      Breaking Bad reminds me of Coen Brothers movies, and those guys are the best directors working today so I say they go hand in hand.

      • Abe Froman

        It reminds me more of Tarantino. The long, slow, methodical scenes that ratchet up the tension. So glad to have Breaking Bad back!

      • Rae

        Take off of Hemingway’s short story The Killers. Diner scene, killers dressed like twins, etc. Tarantino copied it as well.

      • mrsraybird

        very well expressed memo…I feel like I’m still holding my breath. If he can’t kill you, he’ll make you wish you were dead. I think Jesse already is.

      • Hydro Fluoric

        Skyler is so fat that the show is no longer realistic. Anna Gunn has ruined the show with her selfish gluttony. Her tears of sorrow will be caught in her blubber fold for years.

      • ReHF

        I hear you. Skyler is one fatty fat fat. This season was ruined by her fattiness. Anna Gunn was so fat, I didn’t even know it was Skyler. So, so, so fat.

  • MWeyer

    Well, Bryan Cranston just earned himself a fourth Emmy. The way Walt goes in that scene from totally confident Gus is going to see their way to more and more frantic as he gets ready to kill someone was amazing, Walt obviously terrified that this was going to backfire but trying to bluff it. Meanwhile, Jesse just sitting there silently with a “dude, shut up, he’s going to kill us no matter what” vibe, knowing better than Walt how this goes. Then Gus slicing the throat, both reacting and man, I so missed this show.

    • MCS

      He is such a tremendous actor. It is so hard to see him as the same man from Malcolm in the Middle.

      • GDH

        Not hard for me. He was one of the best comedic actors I’ve ever seen. It’s just harder to appreciate performances in comedy.

      • Juan

        pourquoi zues est-il si cruel ..utilise9 un pauvre jotrialnsue au bord d gouffre c’est l’ironie du sort .un Zeus de9sespe9re9 qui se sert d’un pauvre humain tout aussi de9esepe9rer .mais c’est-on se qu’est le desespoir?un avant gout des plus afreux de lamort?tellement affreux et sadique qu’il me8ne les plus fragile e0 la mort?heu .bloupbloup ..hors sujet .de9sole9e .

    • Hydro Fluoric

      No one can dispute the fact that Skyler is an obese syrup eating ball of lard.

      • RetroDubz

        No one can dispute the fact that you’re fixated on something completely irrelevant to the show. And just for the record, Skyler’s weight gain, if anything, makes the show MORE realistic.

      • No Excuse

        There is absolutely nothing realistic about gaining 80 pounds in 24 hours. Her weight gain was distracting. People are not fixated. Skyler’s weight gain just can’t be ignored, and the fact that you commented about it means you noticed too.

      • sarah

        Have you left your parents’ basement or eaten anything besides Taco Bell in the six months since you left that comment? Didn’t think so.

      • ThisGuy

        The only person eating six months worth of Taco Bell is Skyler.

  • Phillip

    Man this was a great episode and living in Albuquerque just makes it so much better. The Denny’s in this episode I have eaten at many times it was so cool to see that. Also Vince Gilligan said several people will die this season I’m so pumped for it.

    • Hydro Fluoric

      Suprisingly, Anna Gunn didn’t die from over eating.

  • MattS

    My favorite moment of the show was when they went from the bloody mess of a murder scene into dipping a french fry into ketchup. I busted out laughing. Very twisted indeed and if I experienced that in real life I’d probably pass out or barf. Overall, great episode and start to season 4 (still can’t believe this show has become such a hit).

    • Hydro Fluoric

      Although, it should have been Skyler eating the fries and ordering donuts dipped in chocolate while hoarding the carmel bars in her purse.

  • Sergemeister

    My wife and I noticed that Anna Gunn aka Skyler gained a ton of weight and her scenes were shot in over the shoulder shots, wide shots and extreme close-ups? This while wearing robes or loose fitting black clothing? Last season even as she was giving birth she wasn’t this large!

    • Jenckles

      Who gives a crap. Focus on acting, not a shallow thing like weight. If that’s what you notice in this show then don’t watch it.

      • Sergemeister

        Who gives a crap? You should if you care about the acting you should care about the continuity also. She gains like 60 pounds from the end of season 3 to the season 4 premiere. Further its not shallow to point out how much the director went out of his way to mask the weight increase. This isn’t the only thing I noticed, I didn’t want to be redundant and post what everyone else is posting. I agree with almost everyone here. I just wanted to point out something you might have missed. Finally, you must be an idiot to think that because I notice something like this that I should stop watching this show.

      • Mike

        There’s always going to be slight continuity issues from season to season. Slight hairstyle changes, weight gains/losses. It just happens and you have to do your best with it. These people have lives outside of work too. Things happen. And she may have gained a few pounds, but saying that it’s 60 lbs is a little extreme!

      • Deez Nutz

        Take it easy, ladies

      • Hydro Fluoric

        It’s closer to 80 pounds. Watch the last couple episodes of season 3. As for acting, she should be ashamed for making the director deal with her choosing to balloon into an elephant.

    • Vince

      You just watched a great episode of Breaking Bad, and this is what your thoughts linger on?!?

      • Sergemeister

        I couldn’t help it. We finished watching all of season 3 today, the episode was masterful but her weight gain was just too big of a distraction for me.

      • honey starr

        I agree. If she gained 7 pounds, big deal so did I. What you didn’t notice is JONATHAN BANKS. HE had his eyes done! so suble ! excellent job. enough of the surgery, the review is so true and look forward watching it

      • Hydro Fluoric

        I loved every minute of this episode, except for her scenes. It was agonizing to watch a land blimp bounce around in cars and lose breath over locked doors.

    • LinH

      She spent most of the first 3 seasons in a pregnancy suit. For her to come back as a size 2 would make no sense for the continuity. Contrary to popular opinion (and what we see on TV time and time again), women actually do carry that baby weight for a while, especially if they’re breast-feeding. I thought it was a typical Breaking Bad nod to realism to have Skylar carry around a few extra pounds. But that’s just me ….

      • Anne

        Except you lose a ton of the weight through breastfeeding

      • Hydro Fluoric

        Except she’s 80 pounds heavier than the last episode of season 3. Seeing her on screen made me want to vomit, but that’s just me.

      • Andrea

        And except you DON’T gain a bunch of weight AFTER having the baby. She stayed very small during her “fake” pregnancy for the show, so it makes NO sense to have her gain 80 pounds! She looks TERRIBLE!!! Very bad for the show. It really has been a HUGE distraction. And I am not someone who is usually bothered by weight. I have a very over weight mother and sister. So I am not meaning it to be rude. It just is what it is. It’s ridiculous for her to be this much heavier then last season.

      • Akbar

        Actually, no you idiot. Contrary to what YOU think is popular belief, breast feeding actually makes you lose your pregnancy weight faster by causing the release of oxytocin, which helps with contractions which help shrink the uterus. She looks huge. Not hating, but it is crazy distracting.

      • Wil

        The problem is the first episode of season 4 is the next day after the end of season 3, and Skyler already had the baby for a month or so before the end of season 3, so it can’t be realistic that she got that big. Honestly, I would probably get big too if I was on a hit tv show and was making tons of money, but to say that the weight gain is realistic because she just had a baby doesn’t make sense to the time frame of the show.

    • Eva

      Ignore Vince and Jenckles Sergemeister, I noticed Anna Gunn’s weight gain too and it was distracting, in terms of continuity.

      • Sergemeister

        Thank you! I was hoping I wasn’t the only one. I’ve watched this episode 3 times now and every time it just becomes more distracting. It is obvious that they are trying to hide the weight gain instead of writing it into the story. I don’t expect anyone in TV to be a super skinny model but I do expect to believe that the Season 3 “Half Measures” and “Full Measure” was immediately followed by the events of the Season 4 Premiere “Boxcutter”. If you look at the episodes back to back it makes absolutely no sense why they should be masking her weight.

      • Hydro Fluoric

        I finally was able watch the episode after editing out the whale buoy scenes.

      • RetroDubz

        Umm so what about Marie growing 3 inches of hair in 24 hours?

      • No Excuse

        I mean really? That’s the best you can do? Tell me you really aren’t comparing 80 pounds in 24 hours to a new hairstyle.

    • mae

      i’d probably gain some weight too if i just found out my husband was a meth dealer and my bro in law got shot.

      seriously though – this is not a show about models or beverly hills- she looks like a woman and its great.

      • Jake

        this episode continued the same day as season 3 ended… so she gained a ton of weight in a few hours? she should have stayed the same weight, come on there is no denying that

      • Sergemeister

        I agree with Jake here. Its obvious that this is the reason why they had to mask the weight. They were stuck between masking it and having to come up with a reason as to why she gained so much weight in what could only have been at the most 48 hours. What did she do win 6 pie eating contests back to back? Seriously. I have a feeling Skyler will be the one to die this season because they have made her the most unbearable to watch.

      • Hydro Fluoric

        When they do kill Anna Gunn off, I hope it’s by throwing her in a wood chipper feet first so we can watch her face.

    • ash

      I noticed it too, it wasn’t just her bodyweight, but her face. She looks like a different person. It felt really weird, and slightly distracting. It doesn’t change that Anna Gunn really sells Skyler’s ability to manipulate without the “standard succubus” character route that most writers take.

      • honey starr

        gUESS what? Skylar isn’t that skinny from day 1. I always saw her maybe a sioze 8 . on t.v that looks like a size 10. perhaps it that silk robe. Who cares. She’s a star on the best show, what are we doing??

      • Sergemeister

        I don’t understand the “who cares?” argument from anyone. It matters. This show is epic in that it is realistic. The people are believable and they make the situations believable. Having one of the actors suddenly break the suspension of disbelief of the audience is upsetting and something you should care about.

      • ash

        honey starr.. i just checked this later .. I make records and have played to tens of thousands in crowded audiences… does that give me enough cred to point out something that’s obvious without having to defend it? She gained weight.. I never said she was ugly or a no talent.. it’s obvious that she put on some pounds, and looks different. who knows if there’s an underlying cause. It was still a little distracting to me… but I’m a little shallow and admit to that. :)

      • nahd

        Watch deadwood – she is considerably skinnier

      • Hydro Fluoric

        She’s not skinnier. She’s just not grossly obese like she is now. She’s at vomit level.

      • Tony

        Agreed !! Her face has morphed into God knows what ? and thought that maybe she was actually pregnant for season 4 ?

      • Hydro Fluoric

        She has not been pregnant for over half a decade. Alas, she is simply a huge fat grease stained hippo. Skyler is so fat now that they need to use a wide angle lens just to get her face on camera.

    • bb

      I noticed it to and was thinking maybe she’s pregnant

      • Hydro Fluoric

        She is not pregnant. Stop trying to find excuses for her lard azz. She is simply a huge fat worthless being.

      • sg

        thats what i was thinking does anyone know if thats the case?

      • No Excuse

        She has not been pregnant for over half a decade. A snails bit of effort will confirm that for you, but since you’ve refused to do that before posting, you are obviously trying to come up with excuses for her.

    • Kate

      Saw her filming in person and she is not as heavy as she looked last night.

      • honey starr

        thanks kate. you would know. it’s the robe. I hope no one shows this to her. she will cry!!

      • Hydro Fluoric

        The robe was the director trying to hide her newly acquired blubber folds. She should cry after destroying a great drama with her selfish gluttony.

    • Ebs

      I noticed it before the premier when they had the actor interviews talking about season 4. Her haircut is shorter and not as flattering for a woman as broad shouldered as she is and this makes her look a lot heavier but she has gained quite a bit of weight. Vince is meticulous so I can’t help but think that maybe there will be a story line this season.

      • honey starr

        IF she begs Vince to have her killed by anyone, because she read this, don’t say I DIDN’T WARN YOU

      • Sergemeister

        Honey Starr, you seriously think these actors care about what you have to say? about you defending them? They don’t. They are not going to read this and cry. They are actors and a certain discipline is required from them when they are playing a character. Especially a character in a show where the episodes are filmed months apart but only days have passed in actual film. If she is killed off its because she didn’t have the discipline to continue playing her character in a manner suitable to the story. Jeez you remind me of the “Leave Britteny Alone” person!

    • Afterschool Carl

      I agree. It was very distracting, like when Leah Remini gained all that weight on King of Queens. The show was never the same. Jumping the shark? I’d say Skyler “jumped the whale”.

      • Hydro Fluoric

        That saying should be rewritten to, “Jumping the Skyler.”

    • AB

      Maybe she’s pregnant again.

      • Hydro Fluoric

        Sorry no valid excuse there. Anna Gunn currently has 2 children: A daughter named Emma born 2001 and a second daughter born September 2006.

    • honey starr

      I noticed that also. On another site the person said she had cosetic surgery.I think 5 pounds. She is excellent and always reind of BETTE MIDLER. great acting best show

      • Hydro Fluoric

        She is not excellent, and not a good actor. Good actors maintain consistency of character, and she doesn’t even come close.

    • RT

      If I learned that 1) my husband was cooking meth; 2)this caused someone to shoot my brother-in-law; 3)felt need to let hubby cook more meth to pay for B-I-L’s rehab; 4) had to keep a happy face on for son and baby… damn, I would pig-out (stress eating anyone?) and gain at least 100 lb. I say her appearance fits the story line beautifully.

      • honey starr

        Do you think this review and it’s comments is produced by JENNY CRAIG

      • Sergemeister

        This would make perfect sense, if they had tried to write it into the show but instead they tried, horribly, to hide it.

    • bork smalork

      Yeah, at least your real life continuity is in good shape since your wife’s always been a fatass, right?

    • Jules Outwest

      If a character’s weight gain is all you notice through these absolutely brilliant episodes of Breaking Bad then you either have ADD or simply put, you are bloody ignorant.

  • Cece

    I couldn’t look away from tonight’s episode…Thank you, Vince Gilligan, for saving summer television.

    • Steve

      Talk about not being able to look away… I thought maybe the episode was only 30 minutes in, and all of a sudden it was about over. It was just riveting.

    • Hydro Fluoric

      I had to look away when Fat Skyler was on the screen. She was so vomitous. Jabba the Skyler.

      • RetroDubz

        Thanks for monopolizing the entire conversation with misogynistic douchebaggery.

      • Bwahahahaha

        “Jabba the Skyler” – lmao!

      • salvo23

        Ha, ha….nice. Jabba the Skyler…

      • PerkyXOXO

        Jabba the Skyler <<< Best one ive seen.

      • Mike Hunt

        Skyler the Hutt…ho..ho..ho..ho…

      • findmynimo

        nice Jedi reference.

      • TomPeet

        Jabba the Skyler…claasic…

      • julie

        Yes Skylar gained about 15-20 pounds, which could be done in a month or two.. and her hair looks shorter too. They could’ve worked it into the show a little but other than that I really hate that people are making such nasty comments.. come on that’s really ugly behavior!

      • YabbaDabba

        Skyler the Hutt is better. Ho-ho-ho-hoe..

  • Jenckles

    My favorite show used to be Dexter (notice the word “used”), until Breaking Bad came along. Breaking Bad is now miles and miles ahead of Dexter.

    • jay

      Yeah, Dex, time to step up! We’ll see in a couple of weeks.

    • honey starr

      DEXTER is brain candy. great fun. BREAKING bad is the real deal. I thought the year with JOHN LITHGO was fab

  • Jason

    SHOW IS UNBELIEVABLE. I dare anyone to watch and say differently..Sorry it is not possible.=)

  • Conaw

    So glad to have my favorite show back. Even before Gale murdered Victor, I just had chills watching him walk around silently. He’s become a great character.

    • Jeannie

      Gus murdered Victor.

    • Abe Froman

      Jesse killed Gale. It was Gus who killed Victor.

  • Justin

    Just watched this episode on my pvr holy hell it was everything I wanted. Vince Gilligan is a genious. I was worried I waited so long for nothing but it was totally worth the year and a month wait for that, =D so wicked. Best scene? When Gus slit a throat and Jesse just stared into Gus’s Eyes as he stared back. Such intensity and it was the moment Jesse finally Proved to Gus that him and Walt aren’t kids in a school yard playing drugdealers. They’re out for survival and blood if necessary. And Jesse and Walt have Gus by the balls because lets face it how many pro chemistry pro’s Go right to cooking meth? Just Gale, who wanted to provide clean product. Where as walt was forced to by desperation and self loathing. Gus won’t find another like Gale, 1 in a 100 000 000

  • Jobless

    Best scene was the opening scene. Heartbreaking to see Gale basically single-handedly convince Gus to bring Walt aboard knowing what ends up happening.

    • Nicole

      Agreed. Gale was so super nice that at first I was completely convinced he’d turn out to be a giant psycho, but nope, he was just really, really nice. And a total fanboy of Walt, which is just tragic. So well done.

      • jessie

        my favorite part of the gail/walter relationship is when gail looks at walter when they’re first cooking together and says “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” yeah, he was walts fanboy all the way. he had to go! yay jesse!

    • iago’s yoda

      Especially when you consider the reveal in the Dennys that Gus must have spent years finding a chemist as good – and bad – as Gale.
      Wow. Just wow.

  • tv gal

    I marathoned all 3 seasons on AMC this past week and was soooo ready for the 4th Season’s opener.

    Incredible. Hooray, “Appointment TV” is back for 13 weeks!

  • gale

    The way the director films is so refreshing the only second I
    missed was Victor’s demise by Gus.

  • Tajah

    Gus’ scene was fantastic, so menacing! Quiet and lethal. Each movement telling Jesse and Walt ‘Make no mistake, I will do what must be done as easily as changing my tie’. Total badassery.

    I still can’t stand Skylar. She will use and spent the profits from Walt’s enterprise, but no way in hell will she support the ugly parts of it.

  • Mary

    @Lina Hunt: This is not an internet auction site. Your comment is inappropriate.

    • Chris

      Pretty sure those posts are computer generated, guys.

      • honey starr

        What a clever dude you are. Why in the world would anyone put such a stupid comment. I a sure you are correct

    • Afterschool Carl

      Don’t complain about Lina. She is just doing what her husband Mike asked her to do. So if you’re gonna give lip service, give it to Mike Hunt.

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