Last season was about Walter White finally accepting what he had become and seemingly relishing the transformation from mild mannered high school chemistry teacher to Heisenberg. He was perfectly OK with killing the two dealers that would have almost assuredly gunned down Jesse in “Half Measures”, and I believe he would have shot Gayle himself had Victor not intervened in the finale. But as we see in “Box Cutter” Walt still has some reservations about his position.
The episode begins in a much simpler time; some months before Walt and Gus ever meet. Gayle, in his last non-corpse appearance of the series, with a notebook full of notes, is giddily opening the shipments of brand new equipment Gus has ordered for the soon to be built super lab. As a chemist it’s like Christmas morning for our opera loving friend. He and Gus begin discussing the amazing clarity of this new, competing, blue meth that Gus has acquired a sample of. It’s at this moment that Gayle costs himself a job, and in a roundabout way his life. Even though Gus shoots down Gayle’s request to meet this unnamed cook because he doesn’t consider him (i.e. Walt) a professional, Gayle’s continuous praising of the product, and lack of confidence in his own work, ultimately leads to the hiring of Walt.
After finding Jesse in the parking lot outside of Gayle’s apartment, Victor brings him back to the lab where Mike and Walt are waiting. Walt brings up the excellent point about them needing to start cooking again in 10 minutes to maintain Gus’s rigid schedule. Victor, fuming over the whole situation, begins the process himself telling Walt “That’s right, genuis. Watch me. We ain’t missin no cook.” He was ordered to watch over Walt’s every move when Walt was training Gayle, so it’s only natural that he’d pick up on the process. Walt begins smugly critiquing Victor under his breath, but is surprised to see he’s not missing any steps. Then, the real fun starts as Gus enters.
That was one of the more chilling scenes I’ve ever seen, be it TV or movie. Gus, moving slowly down the stairs and past the four men, stops at the rack of safety suits and begins undressing, seemingly to help Victor cook. Walt, not being able to stand the silence, begins to lament what happened to Gayle, but says he would do it again and again if Gus ever put him in the same situation. As Gus finishes putting on his suit Walt begins to verbally undress Victor’s cooking, giving him a pop quiz on a variety of issues that could arise that only a trained chemist would know how to handle. Gus, still not having said a word, grabs a box cutter — the same one Gayle used to cut open the shipments in the first scene, and slowly walks over to the men as Walt pleads his case for why he and Jesse should be allowed to continue cooking. Gus slowly walks over to Victor, eyes transfixed on Walt, and calmly proceeds to slice Victor’s throat open with the box cutter. His eyes never lose focus on Walt as Victor dies in his arms, his blood spewing all over the floor. On his way to clean himself off he drops the box cutter on the floor, like a rapper dropping the mic after an impressive rhyme. After putting his clothes back on and heading toward the exit he turns and tells Walt “Well, get back to work.” and leaves.
I have a few thoughts about that amazing scene. Obviously Gus put on the safety suit as to not get any blood on his actual suit. Kind of like when Michael C. Hall wears his butcher’s apron on “Dexter.” Secondly, this was the first time we’ve seen Gus get his hands dirty. All of his other deeds we’ve seen have been handled by Mike, Victor, or some other hired gun. Thirdly, it’s telling just how calm Jesse looked as Victor was being murdered and how utterly disgusted Walt looked. They’ve each killed before, but are obviously handling those situations much differently. Jesse never wanted this life. He was content with being the small time dealer. Walt, on the other hand, craved this. He put them in this situation in the first place. If anyone should feel uneasy by witnessing Victor’s death it’s Jesse. Yet, as they sit in Denny’s in new, matching outfits after leaving the lab Jesse calmly eats his Grand Slam breakfast while Walt nervously ponders if Gus will try and kill them again. Jesse assures him if he wanted them dead he had ample opportunity to do so in the lab. Roles seemingly reversed. Excellently played by all involved.
Walt returns home, after Sklyer had been looking for him all episode. She doesn’t question his absence — she has learned not to — or the fact that he’s wearing new pants, new shoes, and a Kenny Rogers tee shirt with the size sticker still attached. As Walt begins his three block walk to get his car that Skyler had moved as to not draw suspicion, a look of uncertainty and fear washes over his face. He’s a murderous meth cooker working for a murderous meth dealer. There’s no going back.
The episode wraps with the crime scene in Gayle’s apartment, and his book of lab notes sitting on top of the coffee table. We don’t know what exactly is in the book, or how detailed Gayle’s notes actually were, but I doubt there is anything that ties Gus or Walt to him. However, any notes he took would make it obvious that a high volume meth ring is in the area. That’s going to come back to bite someone, me thinks.
Some other thoughts:
-The scene in the Denny’s where Walt and Jesse eat breakfast in their brand new clothes after leaving the lab is very reminiscent of the final scene of “Pulp Fiction” where Vince and Jules, fresh off cleaning up Marvin’s remains, share breakfast in the diner.
-It was terribly uncomfortable watching the interaction between Marie and Hank. I hope he wins the bid on the mineral he wants.