Walt and Jesse finally face Gus (and the world's sharpest pair of scissors)

By Melissa Maerz
July 18, 2011 at 06:00 AM EDT
Ursula Coyote/AMC
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For anyone who prefers their meth dramas to be airy and escapist, let this be a warning: things are about to get dark. By the end of Sunday night’s season premiere, “Box Cutter,” Jesse had fired his gun directly into Gale’s face. Blood had sprayed around a meth lab in great, sprinkler-head gusts. And no less than two Kenny Rogers t-shirts had been purchased.

Still brave enough to stick with us? Good. Because this episode was awesome. So let’s start with that gun.

Clearly, Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan is a big believer in Chekhov’s gun; the rule that says a writer shouldn’t put a loaded gun in the first act unless someone’s going to shoot it by the third act. (Or, in this case, that one shouldn’t start an episode with an image of a box cutter unless he plans on eventually ripping out a character’s throat with it—but we’ll get to that later.) So, yes, when Jesse shot at Gale, he killed him—though, considering all the online debate over that topic, you can’t blame Gilligan for toying with our expectations first. When we first see Gale, he’s not only alive, he’s praising Gus, quipping, “I doff my proverbial cap to you, sir!”

Of course, we soon find Gale lying on the ground with a bullet hole through his left eye. The clock on his shelf is flashing 10:13. (Superfans might recognize that number as 10/13, or October 13, a reference to the birthday of Gilligan’s friend and fellow X Files alum Chris Carter.) The message here is clear: Gale’s time is up. Consider our own caps doffed.

It’s fitting that this season begins just like the last one did, by going back in time. During the season finale, a flashback showed us that, long before he was dissolving dealers’ corpses in acid, Walt was a risk-taker in the making. Now, this latest flashback shows Walt taking another step in his transformation from “Mr. Chips to Scarface,” as Gilligan once put it. Long ago, Gus might have told Gale, “I don’t consider [Walt] a professional.” But that bullet hole in Gale’s face should settle that debate forever. Like it or not, Walt’s a professional now.

As for Jesse, we’re not quite sure. It seems he’s having a harder time adjusting to his new role as a murderer. Our first clue? After he shoots Gale, the camera zooms in on Gale’s table, where there’s a copy of Stephen King’s short story collection “Everything’s Eventual.” The title story in that book focuses on the guilty conscience of a man whose job requires him to kill criminals. We’ll bet Jesse can relate.

Not only is Jesse all busted up over murdering an innocent meth cooker, he also knows Gus will soon want payback.  “We’re on the same page,” Jesse tells Walt of Gus over breakfast at Denny’s. And what page is that? “The one that says, if I can’t kill you, you’ll sure as shit wish you were dead.” Yep, everything’s eventual—especially Gus serving up Jesse’s head on a Grand Slam platter.

NEXT: Why did Gus kill Victor?

For now, both Jesse and Walt have bought themselves some time. But Victor? Not so much. Watching Gus slice Victor’s neck and crank his chin skyward gets our vote for the most shocking scene on television since Tony Soprano got freeze-framed mid-sentence. Why did Gus kill Victor? Did Mike tell him that Victor was caught at the scene of the crime, and Gus needed to clean up the evidence? (When Gus made use of that Emergency Eye Wash station, we’ll bet junior high school teachers across America cheered.) Was Victor’s death a message to Walt and Jesse that Gus can kill any one of his employees, the second he decides they’re inessential to his business? Or are we to believe this fried chicken boss is simply finger-licking crazy?

Regardless, poor Victor was just another worker lost down the assembly line of Gus’s fast-food empire. Which is why we laughed when the camera cut from Jesse mopping up Victor’s blood at Los Pollos Hermanos headquarters to Jesse mopping up ketchup with his French fries at Denny’s. And we laughed again when Jesse and Walt traded their bloody uniforms for t-shirts that paid tribute to Kenny Rogers, another outlaw who (like Gus) happens to run his own chicken restaurants.

Funny that Skyler’s the one who notices Walt’s strange t-shirt. Either she’s getting savvier this season, or Walt’s moral rot is finally infecting the people around him. No longer the poor little housewife, Skyler is faking panic attacks, manipulating locksmiths, even using her own baby as bait before breaking into Walt’s house. (Fun fact: on the show, that baby’s name is Holly, the same name as Gilligan’s girlfriend.) You get the sense that even that human weasel of a lawyer Saul Goodman has come to respect her, if only because she’s become such a good liar.

Still, when Skyler discovered that toy eyeball in Walt’s drawer, it felt like a bad omen. That eyeball, you’ll remember, belongs to the pink stuffed animal that Walt found in the swimming pool after the plane crash in the season 2 finale. (Another fun fact: according to one sharp-eyed viewer, this crash bares a striking resemblance to a real-life mid-air collision caused by a man named, yep, Walter White.)  The pink toy keeps popping up in Walt’s life: it was in Holly’s nursery at one point, and in the store when Walt had his fugue-state moment, and later floating in his swimming pool. So why is it suddenly staring down Skyler? Maybe it’s because someone just shot her husband’s meth lab partner—in the eye, no less. And if someone comes looking for Walt, they’ll surely be watching his wife, too.

Lucky for Skyler and Walt, the best watchdog in town is currently bed-ridden. Yes, Hank is confined behind a giant purple comforter, cultivating his new habit of collecting pretty rocks on eBay. (Kind of funny that both Walt and Hank are obsessed with crystal.) We already feel very bad for Marie, who’s trying very hard to stay cheery while emptying bedpans and fielding Hank’s abuse. But we suspect that Hank won’t be idle for long. Again, we think Gilligan’s abiding by Chekhov’s rule. In the very first scene of this episode, Gale grabs a folder labeled “Lab Notes” and hands it to Gus. The very last scene finds Hank’s police cronies investigating Gale’s apartment, where that same “Lab Notes” folder lies on the table. (By the way, that fantastic song playing in the background is “Truth,” by Alexander Ebert.) Like a loaded gun waiting to go off, it’s just biding its time before it makes its way back to Hank.

We’ve always thought that Breaking Bad was the best Western on television, with its brutal desert vistas, its emphasis on family bonds, even the way that Walt dons his Heisenberg hat, just like John Wayne does when he’s about to go all vigilante on the bad guys. Even Gale, who was so square he probably couldn’t lasso a donkey, shares his last name with the filmmaker Budd Boetticher, who was famous for making Hollywood Westerns during the 1950s. We have a feeling that Gale’s death will eventually lead to a Mexican standoff between Gus and Walt.

Who will pull the trigger first? We’re already placing our bets. Until then, my friends, may Skyler’s toy eyeball watch over you.

More from EW.com:

Hear Aaron Paul discuss the fourth season of Breaking Bad

Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, and Aaron Paul give season four scoop

Breaking Bad season finale recap

Walter White descends into the criminal underworld.
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