21. Breaking Bad: Season 4 (2011)

It’s Got: Walter vs. Gus.

This is my favourite season of Breaking Bad, and thinking about it, that’s a little surprising. I love the character of Walter White because it’s an incredible depiction of how this man’s worst enemy is himself. Even setting aside that the guy has terminal cancer, the whole show is about how Walt constantly makes life worse for himself thanks to his pride, his ego, and his greed. That’s definitely still a part of this year, but it’s the one season that’s primarily dominated by Walt’s conflict with another person.

I absolutely loved the situation coming into Season 4. Walt and the wonderfully implacable Gus Fring found that their meth cook/distributor relationship had deteriorated to almost Trump/Jeff Sessions levels of tenuousness. Both men were fully aware that once Gus found out how to carry on his operation without Walt, that’d be the end of that. So the whole season become an intense battle of wills between the two characters. The situation with Gus is untenable and there’s still another two seasons to go after this one, so the end is a foregone conclusion. The real question, how ugly is this showdown going to get? How much collateral damage will there be?

It’s a really strong main plot, and all the better for how it ropes in the supporting characters as well. Aaron Paul sells the crap out of all of Jesse’s big scenes, as he starts to become overwhelmed by all the death and ruin that’s been wracked up by his adventures with Mr. White. Hank gets closer and closer to the truth. Skylar finally, FINALLY gets something to do other than to be the wife who gets in the way. Marie……. does not.

Throw in some absolutely perfectly executed standalone sequences (the box cutter, the flashback to Eladio’s pool, the bloody revenge in the same place, a big Hector and Gus scene, pretty much the entirety of “Crawl Space”), and we’ve got a winner. I of course love Season 5 too, it puts the focus squarely back on Walt and ends the series terrifically. But Season 4 just perfectly escalates over the course of 13 episodes.

If I Had to Nitpick…: Marie shoplifts for an episode or some such hell. And I know that Hank had to deal with PTSD for the first couple of episodes, so it’d have more impact when he got thrown back into the shit later. But… rock collecting? Sorry, mineral collecting?

Notable Episodes: “Box Cutter” is a great premiere, and the series reaches another level entirely in the last six episodes of the season. Particular props to “Hermanos,” “Salud,” “Crawl Space,” and “Face Off.”

#22 | THE LIST | #20

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