Breaking Bad 4.01 "Box Cutter" Review

A column article, Shot For Shot by: Paul Brian McCoy
Breaking Bad returns for a fourth season of gut-wrenching violence, nerve-wrenching suspense, and pretty much any other wrenching you might expect from one of the (if not THE) best written, acted, and directed shows on television.

This week, Walt and Jesse face the deadly consequences of their actions (poor Gail). Skyler deals with a puzzling disappearance and Marie struggles to help Hank with his recovery.

Breaking Bad airs Sunday nights at 10PM EST on AMC, the home of just about every great show you might want to watch.

When last we left our plucky young heroes, Walt (Bryan Cranston) was staring down the barrel of a gun and Jesse (Aaron Paul) was making Gail (David Costabile) stare down a similar sort of barrel. That's what happens when you've got two star chemists, but only one is needed to cook the meth.

And you can probably guess how that turns out.

Poor Gail.

I've enjoyed just about everything I've seen David Costabile in. He was always a source of understated, demented humor on Flight of the Conchords, and here, he played Gail with an earnestness that made him extremely likeable, or, dare I say, loveable. As Walt says, he was a good man who didn't deserve what he got.

I love how the opening of this Fourth Season Premiere jumped back in time to when Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) was setting up the meth lab. Gail was in charge of making sure all the equipment was top of the line and everything looked great. This was going to be a professional operation.

Not only does series creator and the writer of this episode, Vince Gilligan, take this opportunity to show us Gail at a more innocent time, he also uses it to advance the plot. When Gail points out to Gus that Walt's meth is maybe a little over 99% pure, while his own tops out at 96%, he's being extremely honest and self-deprecating. He knows he can't cook as good as this, and wonders out loud if Walt shouldn't be the one in charge of the lab.

But as we all know, Walt is simply unprofessional.

The facts are all there in Gail's nice little notebook. All the results of the screening he ran on Walt's Blue Meth. That nice little notebook that's still in his apartment at the end of the episode, while the police go over the crime scene with a fine-tooth comb.

The director of this episode, Adam Bernstein, is a seasoned television veteran whose first directing gig, according to IMDB was on The Adventures of Pete & Pete, back in 1993. Somehow I find that comforting. Even more comforting than knowing that his hand was on the tiller of episodes of Upright Citizen's Brigade, The Job, Ed, Oz, and Bored to Death.

Every scene in this episode is framed beautifully. The use of color in the lab is amazing with vibrant reds, blues, and yellows exploding off the screen. The contrast between the lab scenes and the goings on in the outside world are startling. It really is another sort of reality down in the hole.

In the outside world with its harsh sunlight and shadowy bedrooms, people get on with their business. Skyler's (Anna Gunn) desperate attempt to convince the locksmith to open the door to Walt's home was amazing. Her character has become one that I actually look forward to seeing, after spending the first season or two as someone I couldn't stand. That wasn't her fault, I admit. It was the character. And Gunn's performance is one of the overlooked gems on this show.

Meanwhile, Marie (Betsy Brandt) is still taking care of Hank (Dean Norris) as he recuperates from his gunshot wounds. These characters were always the weak link for me, but, as with Skyler, they've developed into more complex and nuanced characters. There's still a tendency in the writing to treat them more superficially than the other characters in the show, but that seems to be changing.

And though he was really only in one scene, Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman was a joy, as usual. Sometimes, the comedy in this show can be a little broad, especially with Goodman being something of a caricature, but Odenkirk always brings his A-Game. I just don't think Odenkirk can do wrong. And I've seen Run Ronnie Run.

As far as season-openers go, this was about as good as it gets. The writing was impeccable, the direction was gorgeous, and every performer sold every scene as if it were their last.

Jesse's shell-shocked daze was pitch-perfect, and you could just see him reliving Gail's murder over and over as the show went on. Cranston's Walt veered wildly from confidence to nervous chatter to a soul-crushing weariness in the final scene. It's no wonder he's brought home the Emmy every year for the past three years. And this year he moves up to Producer, as well.

With Game of Thrones gone until next year, I don't think there's any real threat to Breaking Bad's title of Best Damn Show on Television. Sure, there are other shows that I love, but when it comes right down to it, the overall quality of Breaking Bad is stunning.

"Box Cutter" gets . I'd give it five, but I don't want to jinx the season. And besides, there's got to be a little wiggle room for even stronger episodes that might come our way. You can never tell just where things are going to go with this show.

Now where can I get a sweet Kenny Rogers T-shirt?

Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor to What Looks Good and Shot for Shot. He currently has little spare time, but in what there is he continues to work on his first novel, tentatively titled Damaged Incorporated. He is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, sci-fi television, the original Deathlok, Nick Fury, and John Constantine. He can be summed up in three words: Postmodern Anarchist Misanthropy. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy and blogging occasionally at Infernal Desire Machines.

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