Sunday, October 9, 2011

At the "Breaking" Point!

I know I haven't kept up to date on reviews of "Breaking Bad" since that first episode of this season. For me, this is the first season where I've watched it regularly from week to week, which is as intoxicating as it is frustrating. Each episode's end has me biting my nails to see where it goes next week. There have been minor qualms throughout this season, because it's honestly just not the same as the "Breaking Bad" of the past three seasons. Season 1 was an introduction to the characters and the world. Season 2 was examining these characters. Season 3 was expanding the world to include more prolifically the Mexican Cartel, as well as the soon-to-be antagonist of the show, Gustavo Fring.

Season 4 has been such an insane nail-biter, and Gus isn't just the businessman on top. He has become the ultimate evil of the series. In the titular 10-minute sequence of "Box Cutter", Gus transformed from being the humble employer to being a ruthless murderer with an agenda. What that agenda was remained a mystery for quite some time. The Cartel started terrorizing Gus' business in "Bullet Points", but even then it just seemed like some simply war plot. It wasn't until four episodes later in "Hermanos" that we learned of what drives Gus. He's driven by an insatiable bloodlust after the death of his close partner, and we get the impression soon enough that it will not stop at the Cartel.

Death has had a constant presence in the show since that episode. Mike's henchy taking a bullet to the head in "Bug"; the entire Cartel going down in "Salud"; Ted's idiotic move in "Crawl Space"; Even Brock is surely given the death chime in "End Times". It's the intent that no blood will ever be enough so long as Gus is around. Everything about this season has been driven by him, and it's been quite an insane ride for most of the characters. If you could tell that all this would happen from the first episode of the season, I'd have allotted you foresight that I thought was only exclusive to Gus.

The first four episodes of the season existed as a strong block of slow, yet calculated, storytelling. Walt's crippling paranoia and desperate attempts to finish off Gus sooner rather than later. Jesse trying to numb his inner guilt and pain after killing the poor and innocent Gale. Hank struggling through a life with no real purpose or drive. Skyler grappling with her own fear for (or fear of) Walt and his business, as well as breaking taboos to buy the car wash from Mr. Eyebrow Guy. Marie struggling with Hank, and whining in general. And Gus pretty much disappearing from the face of the earth entirely.

Then we got a block of episodes I could only say work as character pieces of each of our main characters. "Shotgun" is probably the closest thing we're going to get to a Mike centric episode, and it's worth it, if nothing else, for the joy his priceless line-reading of the "You are not the guy!" speech. "Cornered" was absolutely brilliant, focusing on Walt's enhanced hubris, ego, lust for power, fear, anger, and really cementing him as this new man. It was a piece of moody, yet beautiful, filmmaking. "Problem Dog" was Jesse's show, and it was an exquisitely written, rawly acted episode. And then there's "Hermanos", which was steeped in all kinds of yellow-hued, crime saga authenticity.

And then there's the current string we're on now, with the noose tightening around Walt's neck. In "Bug" Gus finally managed to turn Walt against Jesse, and Jesse against Walt as well. In "Salud", Walt was weak and battered, and fully realizing of his own mistakes, all while a bigger game played out down south. In "Crawl Space", Gus threw down the gauntlet on Walt in the middle of the desert, and we knew things were finally coming to an end on this season. In "End Times", Jesse was inadvertently sent to kill Walt, which ended up with Walt and Jesse reuniting as a team. And now we're at tonight.

What's going to happen? I haven't any idea, but I get the feeling at least one of our characters is about to leave for good, and I've got a terrible feeling that it's not going to be Gus. This show has shocked us again and again against our expectations, and I half expect them to do it again. I don't expect we'll be dissatisfied either way, but if Gus is going to die tonight, you better bet it will come at a horrible price. Will that be Skyler? Walt Jr.? Hank? Marie? Mike? Jesse? I'm not making any bets against anyone biting the bullet.

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