“Breaking Bad” – Confessions of a Megalomaniacal Mind

Be warned: Spoilers for “Confessions,” the most recent episode of “Breaking Bad,” await you after the jump. 

As “Breaking Bad” continues to hurtle toward the finish line, the show’s characters — one by one — continue to walk away from potential avenues out of this world. They have been offered escapes (not necessarily clean ones, but escapes nonetheless), ways to get away from the death, destruction and havoc that surrounds them, and they have chosen to stay where they are.

The latest potential escapee is Jesse Pinkman, the former “Cap’n Cook” who once upon a time served as Walt’s gateway to the drug world. Since then, Jesse has increasingly served as the show’s conscience, the only one involved in evil and destructive acts who seemed to bear the toll upon his soul. He has murdered and been party to other murders, he has helped create and distribute destructive drugs and he has lied to, stolen from and endangered those around him. Yet despite this litany of misdeeds, Jesse displayed remorse and repeatedly revealed a moral streak.

“Goodbye Jesse Pinkman, hello Mr. Credit To Society.”

For the last few episodes, Jesse was broken by the string of atrocities he saw and abetted. He barely talked and was, not for the first time, a beaten and defeated man. But after rejecting Hank’s plea to help the lawman take down Walt, he was offered a way out of town and, with a new identity, a clean break from his life. He could have walked away and never looked back. But as soon as he realized that Walt had indeed poisoned his ex-girlfriend’s son two seasons ago, there was no way he could leave.

[UPDATE: The one thing I couldn’t figure out was how, exactly, Jesse realized Walt had poisoned Brock, because it had turned out the kid was poisoned by a lily of the valley plant instead. Alan Sepinwall added an update to his review that I found to be a very helpful explanation.]

Like Walt (who went back to the drug game after his cancer went into remission, who goaded Hank to keep investigating Heisenberg and who didn’t get rid of the book signed by Gale after his retirement), like Skylar (who opted to help Walt launder the money rather than turning him in, who didn’t confess to Hank when she had the chance), like Hank (who could have told his DEA colleagues about Walt), he had a way to leave his current path and current situation. Unlike Walt and Skylar — and much like Hank, really — his desire for vengeance outweighed anything else, and turned him back around toward Walt.

Vince Gilligan and the rest of the show’s creative team have performed a magnificent trick so far with the first three of the final eight episodes of the series (here are my reviews of the first and second episodes of the final stretch). We knew the final episodes would give us Walt facing off against Hank, just like we knew there would inevitably be a Walt/Jesse showdown and just like we knew we would get to a point down the line (hinted at in the first episode of season five) where Walt was on the run. But it has been fantastic to watch how they played out these threads and to see the unexpected routes they take to bring these stories to life. Rather than giving us a Hank and Walt cat-and-mouse game, they have the two men face off in the first episode of this eight-episode mini-season. They hint at Jesse teaming up with Hank, only to instead turn Jesse loose on Walt like an angry dog. The three episodes so far have been overloaded with details and developments, yet the show has not felt rushed or hurried. They have slowed things down to the point where we have lengthy, precise scenes involving Walt manipulating people (like his talk with Jesse in the desert, his cancer reveal with Walt Jr. and his video for Hank) before hitting the gas with frantic, tense sequences like Jesse barging back into Saul’s office.

Jesse’s discovery was enough to set him back on Walt, and it also came at a welcome moment in the show’s story and in Walt’s story. As this week showed in the continuing adventures of Walter White, Magnificent Bastard, Walt had achieved a certain measure of detente with Hank. He hadn’t made peace, of course, but instead he recorded a faux-confession (echoing his videotaped confession in the show’s pilot) that very carefully placed all of the blame for Heisenberg’s actions over the last four and a half seasons on Hank’s shoulders. The video was masterfully acted by Bryan Cranston (obviously) (I mean, really, that is almost an unnecessary statement; his acting prowess has been so thoroughly documented, commended and awarded that it almost seems superfluous to mention, doesn’t it?), but even as we saw Hank and Marie’s shock at what they were hearing, the camera kept closing in on the image of Walt talking, with each closer shot reminding us we were merely watching a projection, something synthetic created solely to be broadcast.

“My name is Walter Hartwell White….This is my confession.”

The confession itself included kernels of truth, but what is left unclear is how much (if any) of it was Walt being honest. He described his fear and his feelings of helplessness, which would fit with how we know he felt at times over the course of the show, but he was also saying it within the context of a larger lie. Just like last week’s scene on the bathroom floor, it serves to humanize Walt by reminding us about what he is doing and how he has suffered, but at this point we (like Jesse) have been conditioned to expect everything to have an angle and every seemingly honest moment to have an ulterior motive.

Walt’s talk with Jesse in the desert was another such moment. Yet again, Walt said something that was perhaps partially true (that Jesse should leave town and start over because it could be good for him), but he only said it within the larger context of what he needed and wanted at that moment (Jesse to leave so he couldn’t help Hank’s investigation). Jesse seems to have turned a corner with Walt now, where he recognizes the man’s lies for what they are. It appears that the choreographed murders in “Gliding Over All” did more than sever Walt’s ties to the old Gus Fring operation; they showed Jesse, once and for all, what Walt would do (and, as he said two episodes ago, that had to include killing Mike). But as Jesse yells at Walt to be honest, Walt can’t bring himself to do that. His hug with Jesse — and Jesse’s emotional reaction — is cloaked in uncertainty. Is Walt hugging him because he knows Jesse needs that comfort? Or is Walt hugging him because he can’t answer and, as we well know, can’t openly ask for help?

Throughout the episode, Walt is shown manipulating others, as he has throughout the show. He uses cancer to keep Walt Jr. on his side, he uses paternal comfort to tell Jesse to leave and he uses his own history (and just enough honesty) to tell Hank to back off. But we also see, clearly, signs of the old Walt — both the top-of-the-world Heisenberg and the frantic, earlier seasons in-over-his-head budding drug lord. The Walt who comes in to Skylar’s office to talk to her is hidden in the shadows, a lurking apparition who reassures her in a course of action that basically ends her relationship with her sister; this is the character Walt has revealed, the Heisenberg whispering in the ears of others. Later, the Walt who learns Jesse knows Walt poisoned Brock is frantic, rushing to the door of the car wash before pausing to compose himself; this is Walt as he has been for most of his life, the harried man struggling to keep up.

And Jesse, by the episode’s end, has awoken from his existential despair and once again tapped into the rage we’ve seen him display a few times throughout the series. Just as Walt seems to have stymied Hank’s crusade (albeit very, very briefly, as we saw with Hank leaving the DEA office in a hurry), another of his past misdeeds comes to the fore and threatens him with an even graver, more immediate danger. I have no earthly idea what will happen with Walt and Jesse — I know lots of people have long predicted a Walt Kills Jesse ending or a Jesse Kills Walt ending, but I also know there’s no point in guessing because Gilligan and his writers presumably have some crazy third option in mind. I do like how they continue to build this final stretch by using the history of these characters to assemble continuous threats to Walt and his world: Hank threatened his status as a free man, Hank contacting Skylar was a threat to Walt’s accumulated wealth, Marie was a threat to him keeping his children and now Jesse is a very real threat to Walt’s life and his freedom. (There’s also the threat in the future, which could be anything — Todd and his uncle, Jesse, Hank, the DEA or some combination of these and other dangers.) And I cannot believe there are still five episodes left, because this episode’s cliffhanger felt like it was leading into the finale.

A major schism between Walt and Jesse has been explored before, most notably during the fourth season, when Walt was able to end that by poisoning Brock and manipulating Jesse. It seems impossible to imagine him talking his way out of this with Jesse. It’ll be interesting to see how this long-awaited Walt/Jesse face-off plays into the overall endgame while also displaying how these two characters have evolved over the years.

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  1. Pingback: “Breaking Bad” – The Devil and Old Yeller | Digressions

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