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'Breaking Bad': Summer's Most Addictive Show

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When the critically acclaimed Breaking Bad — about a terminally ill chemistry teacher who falls into cooking meth to support his family — returns this July 17, ”the show gets even darker,” says creator Vince Gilligan. ”In some sense, season 4 is a Frankenstein story, in which the scientist becomes afraid of his creation.” The following character files contain all the intel you need to prepare.

NAME Walter White (Bryan Cranston)

KNOWN ALIASES Heisenberg

DATE 7/17

RACE Caucasian

HAIR COLOR NA

EYE COLOR Blue

FACIAL HAIR YES

MISC Glasses

BACKGROUND Husband of Skyler. Father of Walter Jr. (RJ Mitte), a teenager with cerebral palsy, and Holly, an infant. High school chemistry teacher. Diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Turned to cooking and selling crystal meth to leave enough money behind to support his family. Now in remission. Working for drug kingpin Gus Fring.

LAST SEEN Bargaining for his life while being held at gunpoint by two of Gus’ men, then desperately telling Jesse to kill Gus’ replacement chemist, Gale, thereby ensuring their (temporary) survival.

EXPECTED WHEREABOUTS ”Walt will find himself in a very unpleasant battle of wills with Gus, a man who may be even smarter than he is,” says series creator Vince Gilligan. ”Season 4 will be a chess match between Gus and Walt, and these two play chess — they don’t play checkers.” And Walt, says Cranston, has become one of the dark pieces on the board. ”He’s thinking like a criminal because quite frankly now he is. Even with his blindfolds on, he sees through and in some ways owns his criminality.” Meanwhile, Walt pulls lawyer Saul (Bob Odenkirk) deeper into the fray, prompting him to hire a bodyguard. And when Skyler joins forces with Walt in business, their marriage changes for better and for worse. ”It becomes volatile, whereas before their relationship was dormant,” says Cranston. ”And like a volcano it erupts, and you never know when it’s going to erupt again.”

NAME Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul)

BACKGROUND Former high school wastoid. Blackmailed by his chemistry teacher, Walter White, into forming a partnership to cook and sell crystal meth. Fell in love with his landlord, Jane, who died of an overdose. Spiraled back into addiction before Walt sent him to rehab.

LAST SEEN Following Walt’s panicked orders and firing a bullet at Gale — who’s being groomed to replace Walt — presumably killing him.

EXPECTED WHEREABOUTS ”Jesse has lost a great deal of innocence at the beginning of season 4,” says Gilligan. ”It will have dark echoes throughout the season and send him down some paths that we will not expect him to take.” And some that we might have feared. ”Jesse’s even more lost than he’s ever been,” says Paul. ”He’s turning to drugs to fill that void. He throws a party that keeps going and going and never ends.” Jesse will also gain another partner in the meth trade. ”He’s learning the ropes of a different side of this drug world,” says Paul, hinting, ”You’re definitely going to see a new side of an old character.”

NAME Skyler White (Anna Gunn)

BACKGROUND Wife of Walt and mother of two. Sister of Marie Schrader (Betsy Brandt), who’s married to DEA agent Hank Schrader. Former bookkeeper at Beneke Fabricators, where she engaged in a brief affair with her boss, Ted. Kicked Walt out of the house when she discovered he’d been lying to her.

LAST SEEN Offering to serve as bookkeeper for the car-wash business that she wants Walt to buy to launder drug money.

EXPECTED WHEREABOUTS Skyler will further entangle herself in Walt’s web of criminality as she partners with her husband in some type of business. ”One might think that the best way out is to not turn on their heel and go backward but to press onward, and we’ll see Skyler employ that philosophy this season to mixed results,” says Gilligan. ”Mistakes she made in the past will come back to haunt her this season, which will bring about some interesting moments.”

NAME Hank Schrader (Dean Norris)

BACKGROUND DEA agent. Brother-in-law of Walt. Prone to wisecracks and panic attacks. Hot on the trail of Heisenberg, but unaware that Heisenberg is Walt. Suspended for assaulting Jesse after Jesse tricked him into thinking his wife, Marie, was rushed to the hospital. Shot three times by two thugs from the Juárez cartel in Mexico as revenge for killing their associate Tuco.

LAST SEEN Glumly checking out of the hospital and beginning a painful rehabilitation process with Marie’s help.

EXPECTED WHEREABOUTS ”Hank has a very long road to recovery, but don’t count him out too soon,” says Gilligan. ”Hank is a cop through and through, and even when he thinks he’s out of that life, he’ll find himself drawn back into it this season.” Also look for Hank to occupy himself with a new hobby that involves a ”prodigious amount of eBay shopping.”

NAME Gustavo ”Gus” Fring (Giancarlo Esposito)

BACKGROUND Respected member of the Albuquerque, N.M., business community. Owner of multiple franchises of the fast-food restaurant Los Pollos Hermanos (translation: the Chicken Brothers) and an industrial Laundromat, which is being used as a front for his crystal meth lab. Runs a drug-distribution empire with tentacles reaching across the Southwest. Formerly affiliated with the Juárez cartel.

LAST SEEN Plotting Walt’s demise and warning Gale to be ready to take over as chemist. Alas, Walt threw a wrinkle into that plan by sending Jesse to kill Gale.

EXPECTED WHEREABOUTS ”This mild-mannered, polite, staid businessman that we’ve come to know will reveal a new side of himself that is going to keep people awake at night,” warns Gilligan. Light will be shed on Gus’ past as well: ”We’re going to learn a little bit about who the brothers are in Pollos Hermanos.”