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Recap / Breaking Bad S4 E1 "Box Cutter"

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Season 4, Episode 01:

Box Cutter
Gus prepares to make some cuts to his workforce.
Written by Vince Gilligan
Directed by Adam Bernstein
Air date: July 17, 2011

"When you make it Gale versus me, or Gale versus Jesse, Gale loses! Simple as that. This is on you, Gus, not me, not Jesse."
Walter White

The Cold Open is a flashback to when Gus, Gale and Victor were setting up the super lab. Gale mentions a sample of 'blue sky' Gus had asked him to test. He says that he could not produce meth of such high purity, and convinces Gus, against his better judgment, that the 99% purity of the sample is worth whatever risks might come along with the person who cooked it.

Back in the present, Jesse is seen standing in Gale's doorway after shooting him. He slowly leaves in a daze. Victor arrives shortly after, pushing through a crowd of neighbors to see Gale, dead on his floor. He goes outside to find Jesse sitting motionless in his car, and takes him back to the lab. In the super lab, Walt and Mike stare one another down before Victor arrives with Jesse and delivers the news that Gale is dead. While Victor destroys lab equipment in frustration, Mike makes the call to Gus as Walt sits apprehensively hoping that his plan has worked. Mike also learns Victor was seen at Gale's apartment. Back at the White house, Marie drops in to say hi to Skyler and notes that Walt's car is in the driveway, assuming a reunion. Skyler, unaware of this, drives the car to another street so Jr. will not see it.

At the lab, Walt explains to Mike and Victor that he is now the only available cook, and that they need to stay on schedule. Victor responds by beginning the meth cooking process, claiming he knows all the steps from watching Walt for so long.

Skyler attempts to locate Walt by speaking with a paranoid Saul Goodman, who has hired a bodyguard, Huell, in case of fallout in the Gus/Walt feud. With no other options, Skyler goes to Walt's apartment and calls a locksmith, faking a panic attack and purse robbery so that he will let her in. Inside, she finds nothing that tells her where Walt is, but chances upon the glass teddy bear eye from the plane crash.

Marie returns home to congratulate Hank on his work in physical therapy while recovering from the cartel's attack. Hank is cold and disparaging to her and claims he hadn't made any impressive progress at all. Humiliated, he asks Marie to help him use his bedpan.

As Victor continues his cook, Walt's superiority lessens when Victor remembers a key step in the process. Jesse remains completely silent and motionless. Then Gus enters the lab, to Victor's delight and Walt's dismay. As Gus silently walks down the stairs, changes out of his suit and tie and puts on a bio-hazard outfit, Walt begins rationalizing his actions as necessary steps to defend himself, growing more panicked as Gus continues to dress. Finally, Gus selects a box cutter from the tool bench, the same used by Gale in the Cold Open to open boxes of lab equipment, and looms over Walt and Jesse as they both wait for his next move. Gus then steps across and cuts Victor's throat, spraying blood over Mike, Walt, and Jesse and shocking all three. A nauseated Walt cannot meet Gus' eyes, while Jesse furiously stares him down like a cornered dog. Gus calmly drops the box cutter, washes Victor's blood off, gets dressed again, and prepares to leave, but not before uttering a single line: "Get back to work."

Walt and Jesse mop up the blood, and with Mike's help, dispose of Victor's body, his gun and the box cutter in one of their hydrofluoric acid barrels. Later, Walt and Jesse eat breakfast at a Denny's, and a paranoid Walt discusses what their next move against Gus should be. Jesse appears totally detached and unconcerned, seeing their lives as safe for the time being because Gus does indeed need them, reluctant though he is to keep them around. Nonetheless, Gus' warning to them with Victor's demise was loud and clear to him: if Gus can't kill them, he can at least make them wish he had.

As Walt returns home to find his car gone Skyler greets him, tells him where it is, and asks if all is well. Walt responds affirmatively, but walks off with an uneasy look in his eye. Before the credits roll, we see a glimpse of the crime scene at Gale's apartment, police investigating, and Gale's lab notebook sitting in full view on a coffee table.

This episode provides examples of:

  • Addiction Displacement: Of the "workaholic" variety. Hank is still obsessing about finding crystals — only now, of the literal, geologic type.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Since coming home from the hospital and throwing himself into his new mineral-collecting obsession, Hank has grown very noticeable stubble.
  • Beneath the Mask: We already knew Gus was a tough customer with a commanding presence, but his savage murder of Victor in this episode gives Walt and Jesse a glimpse of the cold-blooded killer lurking beneath that tranquil exterior.
  • Blofeld Ploy: Gus executes Victor in front of Walt and Jesse, and his motives are left ambiguous. However, it is probable that Gus killed Victor because he was seen at the scene of Gale's murder, while Walt believes he may have been killed because he tried to cook a batch. Jesse, meanwhile, believes it was a warning to them that even if Gus can't kill them, he can make them wish they were dead. In truth, there might be a mix of motives behind Victor's death.
  • Call-Back: While Walt, Jesse, and Mike begin to dissolve Victor's body in acid, Mike states that he's never done this before and asks if it works. Jesse coldly responds with "Trust us."
  • Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Jesse believes this was what Gus meant to convey with Victor's death: with Gale dead, Walt and Jesse were now the only ones that could be counted on to keep the meth business going. Gus, thus, can't kill them, but can make them wish they were dead.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The box cutter used at the start by Gale while he is setting up the lab is later used by Gus to kill Victor.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Walter tries to use his position as the only cook able to operate the lab to protect Jesse from Gus.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Victor violently kicks lab equipment in frustration due to being shocked by Gale's death and his attempt to cook meth himself hints that he refused to have Walt getting away with it. Too bad he implicated himself at the crime scene.
    • Mike, Gus' most loyal underling, is shocked and disturbed by his boss's brutal murder of Victor. Walt and Jesse are, respectively, appalled and infuriated by the scene as well. Mike even raises his gun at Gus as a reflex and seems to contemplate firing it.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: In the shot where Walter is spraying down the barrel that holds Victor's remains, if you look closely, you can see the exact moment where what's left of Victor's skull detaches from his spine and drifts away.
  • Hidden Depths: Walt did not expect Victor to have paid so much attention to his cooking.
  • Insistent Terminology: In what will be the start of a running gag for the next few episodes.
    Marie: You buying a new rock?
    Hank: I'm bidding on a new mineral.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: When Victor tries to cook a batch after Gale's death to prove to Gus he can be the cook. He arrogantly claims that he's perfectly capable of following the formula. To give him his due, while Victor probably doesn't understand why he's doing what he's doing, not even Walt can spot anything he actually does wrong (at one point, he nearly skips a step, and Walt gets visibly hopeful that he'll screw it up, but then he remembers and Walt deflates).
  • Leave No Witnesses: Gus kills Victor because he was seen breaking into Gale's apartment.
  • Match Cut: From a mop swirling up a puddle of Victor's blood to a French fry being dipped in ketchup at a Denny's.
  • Never My Fault: Walter acknowledges that Gale didn't deserve to die but blames Gus for forcing him to kill Gale.
  • Oh, Crap!:
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: As mentioned above, Gus' method of disposing of Victor is so sudden and brutal that Mike instinctively pulls a gun on Gus before he realizes what's going on.
  • Pet the Dog: Strangely, the Cold Open shows that Gale was the one who pushed for Walt's hiring, arguing that the 99% purity was better than Gale's 96% purity, but Gus was perfectly fine with Gale's meth already.
  • Product Placement: Walt and Jesse have their post-body-disposal breakfast at a Denny's. The logo is visible during almost every shot of the scene.
  • Prove I Am Not Bluffing: Gus brutally slits Victor's throat just to prove a point to Walter and Jesse. Curiously, none of the characters are exactly sure just what the point is supposed to be. Walter initially thinks it is a warning against crossing Gus, since if he is willing to kill his own man then he will not hesitate to kill them, but later thinks it was actually punishment for the employee trying to take on more responsibility than Gus had given him and a warning to understand your role in an organization.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Victor is killed both because he implicated himself and as a warning to Walter and Jesse that Gus is not afraid to cut any loose ends.
  • Scenery Censor: When Hank is removing his trousers in order to use his bedpan, his open laptop is conveniently in the way of a frontal view.
  • Shout-Out: Walt and Jesse eat breakfast at a Denny's with brand-new shirts because their old clothes were soaked with blood.
  • Slashed Throat: Gus does this to Victor to scare the crap out of Walt, Jesse and Mike so that they never step out of line again. Victor was not only not expecting it, but the throat slitting was conducted with a box cutter (complete with a blood spurt). Just to make this throat slitting creepier, Gus simply removes his bloodied hazmat suit, puts on his business suit, tells Jesse and Walt to clean up the mess, and calmly returns to work.
  • Smug Snake: Victor is particularly smug when he tries to impress Gus with his cooking.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: After serving a recurring role in Season 3, Victor is killed by Gus for being a loose end at Gale's murder scene in this episode.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Victor checking out Gale's crime scene without making up a story to the witnesses and letting himself be seen, which leads to his death by Gus' box cutter.
  • These Hands Have Killed: Gus projects this one symbolically onto Walt, by laying Victor's corpse right at Walt's feet after he's killed.
  • Tranquil Fury: Gus is terrifyingly calm and deliberate, even when murdering Victor.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The prologue shows that Gus would likely never have gone into business with Walter White if Gale didn't pressure him to because of his own curiosity about Walter's recipe, thus setting in motion the events that would lead to Gale's own death.
  • Villainous Breakdown:
  • Weapon Title: The episode is named after what Gus kills Victor with.
  • Wham Episode: Jesse kills Gale with a gunshot to the head. As Jesse, Walter, Mike, and Victor wait for their boss Gustavo to return, he kills Victor by slicing his throat with a box cutter for arriving at Gale's murder scene as witnesses saw him there. It also served as a warning to Walter to not cross Gus again.

"Well? Get back to work."