My notes on Season 4 after deciding to catch up on viewing this series. SPOILER ALERT: Since we are talking about episodes that aired some time ago, I’m not going to try to avoid spoilers, except that I haven’t finished season 4 yet, so IN COMMENTING, PLEASE DON’T REFER TO ANY EVENTS BEYOND THE EPISODES DISCUSSED IN THE POST.
I watched the first three seasons very quickly on Netflix, then bought season 4 on Amazon because I just couldn’t wait to see more. As you may know, season 3 ended in a major cliffhanger so finding out whether Jesse actually shot Gale, and if so, what that might mean, was a major issue for me. FWIW, I was betting he didn’t.
General impressions on the first three seasons:
As I’ve said elsewhere, this is a really amazing series. I’ve been surprised by the quality of the writing, cinematography and acting on many occasions. It’s just a joy to watch, even though the actions of the characters themselves are often violent or bizarre or just frustratingly stupid. But despite the violence, this series, being on basic cable, is far less violent and profane than other series involving drugs or other criminal behavior that air on premium cable stations like HBO or Showtime, and there is no nudity to speak of.
I was turned off by this show when I first started watching it sometime in the middle of the first season. It just seemed so dark, with no ray of light, that I found it depressing. What I found out, after talking to others on this site, was that this was due to not getting to know the characters. If you don’t start at the beginning, and get to know the characters as they develop through each episode, there’s no reason to care about them when they get into the problems that arise from their actions as the story progresses. In other words, in a series of this quality, you can’t come in in the middle. Start at the beginning. It’s the only way.
Another thing that this series does that others do not (and this may be part of the reason why you can’t come in in the middle): it doesn’t go out of its way to explain everything. It shows what happens. Sometimes there is no explanation at all, sometimes the characters eventually try to explain for themselves or others why things happen the way they do. Sometimes they are right, sometimes not, but the show doesn’t try to explain things to the viewer through dialogue or narration. In other words, it trusts and respects the viewer. Big props for that.
Another thing: Even the supporting cast is of extremely high quality. It goes without saying that the leads in the series are well written and well acted (looking at you, Giancarlo Esposito). But what sets this show apart is the high quality of writing and acting in the supporting roles. I’ll give you two examples: Saul and Mike.
Saul is the skeezy lawyer hired by Walt and Jesse to help keep them out of trouble. He’s a criminal lawyer (and a PI lawyer too apparently!) of some repute among the criminal class, and is no more than a criminal himself. He could have been just a stereotype played for comic relief and he is that too, but he is so much more. This guy has the greatest TV commercials in the history of American jurisprudence (“Better call Saul!”). He is a fountain of great lingo and a master of the sarcastic aside. His greatest hits would make a superb gag reel on the DVD extras. Here’s a sample:
Mike is the opposite of Saul. The classic Henchman. He’s the same guy employed by bad guys from the Evil Queen in Snow White to the cat-petting Bond villains. Never funny. Always dour. Never says one word when none will do. Never even smiles at a joke. Says everything with a twist of his mouth and a dead expression in his eyes. The ultimate world-weary tough guy. Seen it all. Doesn’t want to talk about it. He makes one speech. Here it is:
Finally, how funny is it that Walt drives a Pontiac Aztek? That has to be one of the five ugliest cars of all time, besides which: can you even still get parts for them now that Pontiac is dead and gone? Walt continues to drive it even after he could easily afford to upgrade. It’s a very strange choice, but it says a lot about who he is. His choice in shoes does as well. These details really make the series, in my mind.
Episode 1: Box Cutter
The episode starts with a flashback of Gale unpacking the equipment to set up the superlab at the laundry. Apparently, it was originally intended to be Gale’s lab, but he analyzes Walt’s meth and tells Gus that Walt’s is the best ever. Talks himself right out of a job, even though he says he’s not trying to do that. Why is Gale such a complete blithering idiot? He’s apparently smart enough to be a trained chemist but he seems completely oblivious of how things work in the real world.
Jesse did it. He killed Gale on Walt’s orders. Shot him in the face in his own doorway. I didn’t think he could do it, or maybe I didn’t think he would do it, after having tried to talk Walt out of it for so long. There’s going to be hell to pay for this from every angle you can think of, but I suppose it really was the only way out for Walt and Jesse, given the situation they were in. Maybe it was simply a matter of paying Walt back for Walt’s killing of the drug dealers. Among other consequences, this will not be easy for Jesse to deal with personally. He’s not really a killer, despite being essentially a career criminal. Oddly, Walt seems to be much more at ease with killing than Jesse is.
Skyler breaks into Walt’s apartment and finds only one thing: the eye. Walt kept the eye of the stuffed animal that fell into his pool from the sky when the planes crashed over his house. You might remember that the eye came off the animal and floated into the pool skimmer, where Walt retrieved it. It keeps cropping up again and again and so it has become a kind of symbol, if a familiar one, of the all-seeing eye. Remember “the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg“? With this little Gatsby reference, the writers pay homage to the greatest American novel ever written and also make a comment on the societal changes since the 20s. Then: Gatsby got rich selling alcohol, now: Walt gets rich selling meth. Is there a moral difference? The all-seeing eye, it knows.