Breaking Bad – Season 4 Part 1

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.

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37 thoughts on “Breaking Bad – Season 4 Part 1

  1. Couple points about season 4. No spoilers.

    Skylar gained a lot of weight. Not sure what happened with Anna Gunn, but she looks about 30 pounds heavier. Just saying…

    Saul Goodman is my favorite supporting character on television. My favorite Saul line, “Sometimes you need a criminal lawyer and sometimes you need a CRIMINAL lawyer.”

    Thank about the names of the characters on Breaking Bad. Saul Goodman, may, I humbly suggest, end up being the moral center of the entire show–a show that has as its major theme the slow decay of moral principle. Think about it…

    Also Mike is amazing. That monologue above is possibly in my list of top ten favorite monologues.

    Now that THE WIRE is off the air and Omar is eating Honey Nut Cheerios in a Gangsta’s Paradise I can say that Mike is the biggest bad ass on television. By far.

  2. Sorry. Also, I must say, another huge bad ass is Tio Salamanca. That actor is amazing. He can do it all with his face and a bell.

  3. I noticed the same thing about Skylar. I thought maybe she was pregnant in real life.

    Is the old guy Tio Salamanca or Hector Salamanca? Seems like they call him both. I can’t keep his name straight. You’re right about that actor, though. He’s amazing. He’s able to do more with his mouth and his eyes than most actors can do with their whole body.

    Ok, after researching this, apparently his name is Hector, but Tio is his nickname. I guess that’s a diminutive form for Hector?

    The actor’s name is Mark Margolis.

  4. Tio = Uncle…as in Tuco’s uncle. I think he was also uncle to the brothers that went after Hank.

    I really like Dean Norris, but I find the character’s brooding and self-pity to be a little out of character…or at least hard to identify with.

    Mike is great.

    I don’t know about Saul as the moral center. I lean towards Jesse. Although he killed Gale, it wasn’t a moral decision, if that’s possible.

    Unlike the Walking Dead, the stupid decisions made by some of these characters are easy to understand. It’s usually either inexperience or pride that leads to the hamartia.

  5. “I lean towards Jesse. Although he killed Gale, it wasn’t a moral decision, if that’s possible.”

    I’m with you on that, although I think there was a “moral” obligation, if it can be called that, that compelled Jesse to protect Walt the way Walt protected him.

    Pride. I see Walt as the poster boy for pride. His education level and general high regard for his own intellect has led him to be contemptuous of practically everyone. He learns hard lessons because he’s not as smart as he thinks he is and he always needs help from others to get what he wants, including especially Jesse, someone for whom he started out with no respect at all.

  6. I was a fan of this show for some time – but somehow missed something until my cousin brought it to my attention.

    In Season 2, episode 6 – an episode titled Peekaboo – Walt is teaching his high school chemistry class about carbon and how it is the essential building block of all living things. He then segues into a rant – writing the name H. Tracy Hall on the blackboard, telling his class they should write down the name, saying that Dr. Hall was the inventor of the first reproducible process to create synthetic diamond – describes how diamond is now used in multi-billion dollar industries (oil drilling, electronics, etc. and then complains that General Electric (which made a fortune off this invention) rewarded Dr. Hall for his efforts with a $10 savings bond.

    It was kind of fun to see a character on a popular television program get so passionate talking about my grandfather.

  7. Let’s just say there were some internal issues/politics at GE that made it so they didn’t give him the full credit he deserved. There was one other individual scientist there who claimed he created the first synthetic diamond (just before my grandfather succeeded) but he could not repeat his results. Later the diamond he claimed was man-made was tested by the Smithsonian and it turned out to be a natural diamond.

    My grandfather left GE and formed his own company. He also was a chemistry professor at Brigham Young University.

    The wording of the Breaking Bad script seems to indicate that the show’s writers did their research and new the background story.

  8. MCQ, on future episode write ups, can you include a sentence about the interaction between Walt and Jesse? This is not a spoiler, but it’s something I think is very complex about this show and worth discussion.

    You mentioned that Walt started with no respect for Jesse. Do you think that has changed?

  9. Breaking Bad might have the most carefully plotted tension build-ups I’ve ever seen in a program. It’s almost unbearable at times, wanting and waiting to know how a situation will be resolved – but the payoffs are huge.

    MCQ, I’ll only say that season 4 does not disappoint.

  10. Jesse is definitely portrayed as having a strong sense of morality, no question, although it’s certainly off center, I would say. He’s done a lot of things that are morally indefensible. For example, trolling twelve-step programs in search of customers. I think Jesse suffers under crushing guilt more than most of the other characters, that much is true.

  11. The story about danithew’s grandfather is very relevant to understanding Walt’s character.

    Long time fans of the show may have a harder time remembering but in the early seasons it’s well-established that for whatever reason Walt lost out to a former partner that is now a millionaire and to add insult to injury, happily married to a woman Walt had a relationship with.

  12. Yeah Brian, I would like to know more about that story. What we do know is that Walt had a relationship with Gretchen, then they broke up just after she took him to meet her parents. Now, Gretchen is married to Elliot, Walt’s partner at Gray Matter, and Gray Matter is worth millions. How Walt missed out on that payday and why he and Gretchen broke up and why he won’t accept anything (even a job) from Elliot and Gretchen has not been fully explained, so far as I am aware.

  13. i really like jesse’s character. aaron paul (the actor) was kind of annoying to me in “big love” but he’s really grown on me. plus he’s from my hometown of boise, so that makes him extra cool.

    anyway, there was an interview with aaron paul on fresh air on npr and he was talking about how originally jesse wasn’t supposed to survive for very long, maybe not even through the whole first season, but i think the writers saw how much better the story of walt’s descent is when told through his relationship w/ jesse.

    i’ll throw my vote in as well for him being the moral center of the show. there are more scenes later in season 4 that make that even more apparent, but i’ll leave it at that for now.

    my favorite scene from this episode though is at the end when gus kills victor. just awesome acting, i love how methodical walt is as he changes into the yellow lab gear in preparation for the taking care of victor, kind of like a sadistic mr. rogers. so neat and particular in every action. great stuff.

    really, this is my favorite show on tv right now. i’m so glad we’re covering it.

  14. That scene is absolutely chilling, Mike. One of the most iconic of this series, I think, because it’s so unique and so typical of each character. Gus’s eeie silence, Walt’s complusive grandstanding, Jesse trying to appear disinterested, Mike watching everyone like a moray eel. Then the shock of Gus’s actions, without any warning or explanation. I couldn’t believe it and I couldn’t understand it.

    Ok, here’s my question: Why? Why did Gus kill Victor? And why that way? I have my theories. Let’s hear yours.

  15. gus has the two most iconic scenes of season 4 for sure, the one we’re discussing and one in the season finale. i’ll just leave it at that for now.

  16. i think he killed him to 1) send a message to walt that he’s not afraid to get rid of someone who is important to his organization, that he’s not afraid to do the dirty work himself, and 2) because he thought victor likely got made at the crime scene at gale’s apartment and was therefore a potential liability. crazy how mike didn’t even blink, although i’m sure he was going nuts inside.

  17. I think several characters discuss this later, so you might quit the topic of victor. if not discussed, it’s at least vital to season 4 themes.

  18. I think Mike did blink. For a second, I thought he was going to shoot Gus. That’s one reason I couldn’t figure it out, because Mike was clearly not in on it.

    I like your reasons, mike d. I’ll add another one: I think Gus didn’t like it that Victor started to cook a batch in the lab without permission. By doing so, he potentially could have ruined a batch and he destabilized the situation further by revealing another possible replacement for Walt or Jesse, which was the whole reason that Gale was killed.

  19. I think Gus killed Victor not to show he can dispense with you even if you’re important (Victor gets replaced with Black Victor aka Tyrus), but to show that if you are not essential, you are dispensable. This may just be semantics, and the same thing MCQ said, but I saw the message as “I’m in a killing mood but I simply cannot kill you now…not yet.” I’ll have to footnote this and revisit after a few more episodes if I remember.

  20. However, if Walt really wasn’t essential then Gus would have killed him long before. I think that Gus is partly taking out his frustration with being dependent on Walt on Victor.

  21. I think there’s another dimension to Victor getting the box cutter treatment and that is control. Gus is beyond a control freak. Everything about him is very neat, clean, and controlled. He’s the guy who thinks about everything way in advance. He pre-meditates everything, so I think killing Victor was an act of asserting his control.

  22. I’m absolutely hooked on this show, but I especially appreciate the fact that the end of this season isn’t the cliffhanger that the end of season 3 was. There are still things to resolve, for certain, but at least waiting for season 5 isn’t going to be as hard as waiting for season 4 was.

    I think the biggest surprise to come out of season 5 is going to involve just how much Hank really suspects Walter just might be Heisenberg. Hank is no idiot, and there’s so much that has gone on with Walter and the gambling story along with so much more that happens in season 4 that I really don’t believe Hank buys any of it for an instant. I think he’s just keeping his cards close to his chest and is willing to look like an idiot as a result.

  23. I’m not so sure that Hank know for sure. But I feel like the writers are inevitably heading toward a few confrontations that will not be avoidable. Just as Season 4 centers on Gus vs. Walt, the show as a whole has to resolve Hank vs. Walt to be satisfying. So the day will come, but one thing the writers have done very well is establish that Hanks is 1) a great cop and 2) tough as hell.

    There’s also a possibility that he may be corrupted by Walt. We’ve witnessed Walt’s corrupting touch spread to Skylar. Marie already has a touch of the criminal, so theoretically she could be corrupted next, and that’s how Hank might join into the criminal enterprise.

  24. That’s an interesting idea, Brian. If it comes to that, it’s going to be a huge conflict for Hank, but then arresting Walt would be a huge conflict as well. We’ve already seen that he makes exceptions for his wife, but I’m not sure he will be willing to go so far as to let Walt go or join him, if he ever figures out he is involved.

  25. I’m shocked that anyone thinks the end of season 3 was a cliffhanger. It was very obvious (to me, anyway) that Jessie did kill Gale, and the fact that Vince Gilligan repeatedly said in interviews that there was supposed to be no ambiguity about this fact makes me wonder why so many people thought it could go either way.

  26. Seriously? I didn’t see any of those interviews, but the fact that people were asking that question shows that the season ending was at least ambiguous as to whether Jesse actually did it. Anytime you hear a gunshot and then the scene immediately goes black, there’s no certainty as to what happened.

    Heres the ending sequence:

    Watching it again, I guess the fact that the camera pans around to right in front of the gun before it goes off is supposed to let you know that Jesse shot Gale, but it certainly doesn’t make it obvious. If he wanted to make it perfectly clear, he would have showed Gale as the final shot, rather than just Jesse.

  27. There’s a considerable amount of pain and anguish in Jesse’s eyes and it even looks like the shot wobbles off target, I think that’s why people wondered.

    It’s interesting that in the season finale of season four people see a certain amount of ambiguity in something that Vince Gilligan has said is fairly clear in interview as well.

  28. Here’s an example of one of the interviews:

    http://www.avclub.com/articles/vince-gilligan,42064/

    Here’s the part of the interview dealing with the season 3 finale (keep in mind this interview was conducted and published right after season three ended):

    The A.V. Club: Last season ended with an episode that was reasonably conclusive, whereas this season ends with a cliffhanger. Why’d you choose to end on an ambiguous note?

    Vince Gilligan: Well first let me ask you: When you say “ambiguous” do you mean ambiguous in the sense of did Jesse shoot Gale or not?

    AVC: Among other things, yes.

    VG: Gotcha. That’s interesting, because I’m hearing that from some folks, that question. To me, for what it’s worth, it’s not actually meant to be ambiguous. It’s meant to be, “Oh my god, Jesse shot poor Gale.” But I’m realizing now that when people see the camera come dollying around so it’s looking down the barrel of the gun, some are reading that as maybe he’s changing his point of aim. But that’s not what we intended. Apparently it’s not as clear as I thought it would be. [Laughs.]

  29. For the record, Vince Gilligan is a genius. I went to a Breaking Bad panel and he came off as a very humble, mild-mannered guy, a real Southern gentleman.

    Apparently, the fifth season will be the last. One thing Gilligan said in the panel was that his experience on X-Files taught him that some series shouldn’t outlive their excellence.

  30. I think it’s pretty clear that he’s a genius based on the results in this series. I’m glad he’s also smart enough to have the show end when it should end.

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