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October 9, 2015

Gus, Trust and Gale: Thoughts on the 'Breaking Bad' Season Premiere (VIDEO)

by Maureen Ryan, posted Jul 18th 2011 11:15AM
I can't promise I'll be recapping 'Breaking Bad' every week -- with Comic-Con and other travel commitments looming, it would be foolhardy promise that -- but I wanted to share a few thoughts about 'Breaking Bad's' masterful season premiere.

I wrote in my season 4 review that 'Box Cutter' was one of the finest season premieres I'd ever seen, and the word that kept coming to mind as I watched it was 'trust.'

There isn't any between Gus and Walt, but trust was nevertheless evident in every frame shot in the Superlab.

The trust was among the actors, the director, Adam Bernstein, the director of photography, Michael Slovis, and the episode's writer, series creator Vince Gilligan. At this point, the show's main creative team is like a phenomenally tight rock band, who have played together for years and know exactly what the others can do. They don't have to wonder about what their fellow musicians can keep up or can follow what they're doing. Each person just goes for it, safe in the knowledge that there are no weak players on the stage.

Maybe the analogy will stretch a little further, because Gus was indeed giving a performance for Walt and Jesse. You know when you were a kid and you got in big trouble and your mom said, "Wait 'til your father gets home," and you spent the rest of the day in an agony of horrible anticipation (which was usually worse than any punishment your dad dished out)? This was like that, only a million times worse. And there was indeed a shocking punishment: Gus killed a loyal employee right in front of them. You can't say Gus fails to motivate his team.

What a spectacular failure it could have been to have Gus not say a word to Walt and Jesse for such an extended period of time. What amazing trust Gilligan has in Giancarlo Esposito -- trust I'd say has been more than earned since Esposito joined the show. In some weird way, I think Gus may be the heart of 'Breaking Bad.' Not that he showed much heart in the episode. But like the show, he is rigorous, unforgiving, precise and utterly controlled. And he's ruthless. God, is he ruthless.

This episode appeared to create suspense effortlessly -- thanks in large part to Gus' silent, fastidious anger and Walt's stream of fearful justifications -- but part of why 'Box Cutter' worked was because we were not hit over the head with obvious dialogue, yet we were told exactly what the characters were going through. Not only did we see Gale -- sweet, innocent Gale -- and thus revisit the deep awfulness of what Jesse and Walt did, every composition, every shot reinforced or communicated things about the characters' emotional states.

Gus didn't have to speak, because the primary colors that surrounded him -- the yellow of his lab suit and the angry red of the floor -- told us just how intense his emotions were, underneath that composed facade. It takes a brilliant actor to make scenes of a man putting on and taking off a protective jumpsuit utterly compelling. The fact that Gus can be so calm just after slitting a man's throat tells us everything we need to know about who he is.

Walt and Jesse were framed in blues and grays, cool tones that reflected their fear and icy dread. In the lab, Jesse didn't speak either; his face said all we needed to know about how numb and awful he felt. And the angles through which he and Walt were filmed reinforced the idea that these men are cramped, trapped, unable to avoid a kind of mental and spiritual lockdown.

The way the episode created suspense visually and non-verbally was impressive (you know how most villains strut around making the Bad Guy Speech? It's so much more effective -- and the bad guy is more impressive -- when he doesn't feel the need to resort to the "What I'm Going to Do to You" chitchat). But perhaps the most impressive thing about the episode is the way it brought home the awfulness of Gale's murder without becoming sloppy or sentimental about it.

How many lives, at this point, has Walter White ruined? And how many of those people were merely trying to do something nice for Walter? Nearly everyone who's shown pity to Walter or gone to bat for him in some way has come to regret it. Because Walter may not have a cancer actively growing in him at the moment (that we know of) -- he is the cancer. One look at Jesse's face is all the proof we need that Walter is a destroyer of lives. How long before Skyler wears that look of hollowed-out hopelessness?

It takes a lot of guts for a show to make someone as morally bankrupt and self-deluding as Walter the center of its story. But the fact is, 'Breaking Bad' is so good at creating suspense and deeply compelling scenarios that, as I wrote last week, at this point, it's impossible to look away from the wreckage Mr. White creates. Just as Walt and Jesse couldn't look away from the murder of Victor, we'll have to see where this thing goes.

The next two episodes, which I've seen, are not as intense as 'Box Cutter.' Nor would I want them to be. But I certainly trust that this season, we'll be in for one hell of an interesting ride.

A few more notes:

* Another visual grace note I enjoyed -- the way that Skyler was silhouetted against a doorway at Walt's apartment.

* As I said in my review, I love the way that the show allows itself to breathe -- this isn't a show addicted to quick-cutting and choppy editing. That deliberate approach to editing is part of the AMC house style, which favors deliberate compositions and allows moments and dialogue time to sink in.

* To me, it appears that the murder of Gale will be the "foundational sin" of the season. Agree or disagree?

* The matching Kenny Rogers shirts were priceless. Not only were they a weirdly funny choice, but if we've learned anything after three seasons, it's that Walt never knows "when to fold 'em."

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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I see your liking bb now mo! I remember back in your "the watcher" days u used to hate on this show! Anyways, love bb, and am a big fan of urs. miss the watcher and your awesome recaps of first and foremost the shield, lost, and battlestar galactica!

July 26 2011 at 1:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Remember too, Kenny Rogers had a CHICKEN franchise. Did you notice Jesse's head snapped when Walter bothered to mention him as someone who must live?? To me, all of a sudden Walter acknowledged his partnership, paternal feelings and care for Jesse, which seemed a big surprise to Mr. Pinkman himself. That continued in the Denny's (right across from the UNM campus.) And I agree with everybody who said they felt Gus's new interest in Jess. B.t.w., people make fun of Walter's blabbing on about the "science," but my husband is an organic chemist, and let me tell you, folks -- it happens. Also, now that Skyler is "on board," Walt is treating her in a much less loving manner. GOD I love this show.

July 23 2011 at 11:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jason A. Yeiter

In regards to BC's comments about Gale...in the Season 3 finale, Gus lies to Gale about the reasons why he needs to take over the lab. He claims Walt is dying of cancer, when he is actually in remission, as the reason why Gale could have to take over. He also tells him not to ask Walt about it as he doesn't like to talk about it. Gale has no clue about the men Walt killed or any of the horrible things coming his way. He doesn't even appear to recognize Jesse when he shows up at his apartment. Which makes sense as the only time he saw Jesse was after the beating Hank had given him. Gale appears to think he was being robbed. At worst, Gale was a very, very naive man who chose to morally look-the-other-way in regards to cooking meth and by not understanding the realities of the business he was in, his death was inevitable.

July 20 2011 at 3:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tony DiMeo

The murder reminded me of Tuco killing his sidekick at the begining of season 2 so intense

July 18 2011 at 10:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dennis Horlick

Not only was Gale seen by the people in the apartment, but he repeatedly informed Gus that he could only achieve 96% perfection over Walt's product. That was the real key here. At first Gus says "It doesn't matter. We don't need perfection, just a good product." But Gale is persistent in telling Gus just how important that extra 3-4% is. "Its huge," he says. I think it was at that point that Gus decided to eliminate him. I even think I remember a little sideways look when Gale said that. So Gale's awe at Walt's perfect product is really what got him killed. If he had kept his mouth shut he would have been alive.

July 18 2011 at 8:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Interesting that you should mention trust. The name of the song that played at the end of the episode? Trust.
So glad to have BB back!

July 18 2011 at 6:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Victor was dispensable because he was seen by witnesses at Gale's apartment. The demonstration was a bonus.

Gale wasn't sweet or innocent. He knew Gus brought him back to learn Walter's process and that Walter and Jesse would be disposed of when he could duplicate it, and he didn't seem to have a problem with that. You can't say he deserved to be murdered, but the fact that the people who were to be eliminated made themselves temporarily indispensable by taking him out is a logical consequence of the field of employment he chose. He's actually more monstrous than Walter, because Walter realizes what he does even as he rationalizes why, while Gale was just enthralled with science and oblivious to the uses to which it's being put.

I'm not sure Jesse sees his life as being destroyed by Walter--he was doing a very good job of that on his own. Last night, he visibly perked up when he realized that Walter was making his life part of a package deal and that the gambit might actually work.

July 18 2011 at 2:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'd have to agree with ED. There was really no suspense who was going to be leaving the show. But, I will say that the episode moved so smoothly that it seemed to speed by, like it was over in ten minutes!

July 18 2011 at 1:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Writing this in hopes that producers/writers of "Breakling Bad" will take notice. I have noticed how PERFECT and white Jesse's teeth are. One of the most notable characteristics of meth addicts or users is their teeth are dingy, yellow, or missing (from falling out). It would be more believable if Aaron Paul would insert teeth to cover his perfect teeth.

July 18 2011 at 12:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Edward Chapman

The warning of "Intense Violence" was a major spoiler. It telegraphed that someone would die in the next scene and it was obvious who that would be.

July 18 2011 at 12:31 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Edward Chapman's comment

I agree. This is already an adult show. Don't give us a hint that something intense is coming, it slightly dulled the moment (just slightly, though)

July 25 2011 at 12:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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