By: Paul Andreacchi and Daniel Reynolds
Sometimes I think I don’t really want to watch Breaking Bad anymore. I swear, it’s not because the show is so fraught with these electrifying, uncomfortable scenes, back-to-back-to-back; though that definitely contributes. It’s not some academic stance against yet another show starring a ‘troubled white guy’ (re: almost all the top shows these days appear to be built this way). And it’s not even because I’ll never be able to look at the carefully controlled visage of Dr. Whatley the same way ever again. No, the reason is simpler than that: Breaking Bad can so easily make me feel very foolish.
Remember like, I don’t know, last year when we were all rooting for Hank Schrader? Oh, that was a joyous time, wasn’t it? All Hank had to do was assemble all the bits of evidence, march into the DEA office and be pronounced a hero. It felt doable. And for most of last night’s episode it still felt doable. Jesse, the reckless Robin Hood, had all but turned himself in; Skyler clearly continued to be rattled by her sister Marie’s condemnation; and Walt was still bound to dealing with all of them (and Saul, and whatever Todd and his scary family are up to). When the Whites and the Schraders sat down for dinner, it felt like ultimatum time and not just because we’d already seen Walt sit down to videotape his “confession” (shades of the pilot episode).
Here’s where the foolish part comes in. We are five episodes away from the series finale and the guy we thought was going to be our hero (Hank) has been completely removed from this game of bizarro chess by the evil king in utter control. There’s poor Hank shuffling out of the interrogation room, stonewalled by Jesse, screeched at by Marie, questioned by Gomez. We used to think Hank was a bit of a goober (let’s be honest), then we were pulling for him. Now, totally toothless; done in by medical bills. Hank never got to see Walt’s first confessional, and now, all he’ll ever see is that looming, discoloured face; Walt’s mouth recording the words that twist Hank into the villain. The reaction is shell shock. I can’t believe I was foolish enough to believe Hank had a chance.
Look, I know that half of these Breaking Bad recaps end up reading as a litany of sins. Some of the latest highlights: Walt manipulates his son by talking up his cancer, Walt has his wife film a confession that frames his brother-in-law, Walt reduces Jesse to tears as he convinces him that running away is the best course of action. And that hug, oh, that patronizing hug. It is Walt as master manipulator, loving father figure, and ultimate survivor all in one. It was supposed to be a good bye.
Here’s the thing about Jesse, though. While Hank has other concerns: A career he enjoys, a niece and nephew he’d like to protect, the desire to avoid jail. Jesse can go all-in. He can be foolish, because, well, why not? After spending what seems like an inordinate amount of time in the desert, it makes sense that Jesse would have a line drawn in the sand, a line that will not be crossed. As the grinding soundtrack droned on last night, the real confession wasn’t on videotape. It was Jesse standing by the side of the road, thinking about that missing cigarette. I was foolish to believe that Hank had all the answers; Jesse only needed one.
When ‘Confessions’ begins with Todd and his family reminiscing about Walter White’s criminal accomplishments, I expected a very different episode. In fact, after this scene, Todd and the rest are not to be seen again. Their presence serves to remind the viewer of the peak of Heisenberg’s drug kingpin career. He got what he wanted and eliminated others in his way at any cost. ‘Confessions’ now shifts this mentality of Walter from the criminal underworld to his family.
“Land of Enchantment” was the phrase etched on the sign for New Mexico as Todd and his family enter. Enchantment is a perfect word for Todd’s ever-growing admiration for Walter White while recounting the famous train heist from last season. For reasons unknown, Todd’s trip down memory lane made me think of the Walter White we first met in Season 1. Pre-Heisenberg Walt was a man you could almost forget the moment he left your sight. The only people who knew Walt were those that loved him: his wife, son, and his in-laws. They surely didn’t admire him like Todd does; but they undoubtedly loved him. Todd and company surely admire Walt, but they admire the criminal, not the man. Season 1 Walt experiences tragedy and sadness, but he is surrounded by people who truly care for him. Fast forward a short year and many lies later and the only people who recount their experiences with Walter White positively are men who wipe the blood of their shoe, and carry on their day.
This brings us to Hank. Since the premiere of this season and Hank’s discovery of Walt’s past, I found myself falling into the typical anti-hero trap of storytelling. Yes, our protagonist is a despicable human being who is responsible for pain, suffering, and death of those around him. But dammit, I still like him (Tony Soprano anyone?). So upon Hank’s discovery and new mission to bring Walt down, I’ve found myself with the same unrelenting devotion to Breaking Bad’s anti-hero. Unlike Tony Soprano, with this show I think I’m beginning to understand why.
Hank’s brief conversation with Jesse reveals a shade of Walter Hartwell White, his newly sworn nemesis. Yes, Hank is no criminal mastermind responsible for dozens of deaths. However, what Jesse sees immediately in their conversation is the similarities in Hank to the mighty Heisenberg. Both have been responsible to the physical and emotional damage of Jesse. Both would refuse ‘shameful’ charity and change their lives forever. They are both prideful creatures. Hank and Walt have an amazing gift to make any world event about only themselves, which Jesse points out to Walt quite correctly in the desert meeting. Rather than focus on the grave injustices performed to so many and fighting for the triumph of morality, Hank’s focus is on his experience of personal injustice. Jesse’s attitude may change, but Hank may have to change as well … at least to get me on his side.
The father/son dynamic has been explored on Breaking Bad since our introduction to Jesse falling out of a window in season one. Walt sees a potential business partner and Jesse finds a father figure. It is no surprise that Jesse is finally given lines in the episode that Walter Jr. shows up again (away from the breakfast table). Both Junior and Jesse have had similar experiences with Walt that are rooted in dishonesty. ‘Confessions’, however, revealed something to new extremes.
Viewers have always seen Walt’s emotional manipulation and abuse of Jesse in their dysfunctional father-son bond before, but never has Walt so blatantly manipulated his own son to achieve what he wants. Whether it be using his cancer to subconsciously keep Flynn close to home or using him to add the guilt upon Hank’s crusade against him, Walt continues to reveal the depths of depravity a falling criminal to ensure survival.
As for Walt’s other son, Jesse may not have taken on an adventure to a new life to Alaska but by the end of the episode, after his realization of Huell’s most recent pick pocket, his life has fundamentally changed. The last theft was part of the larger plan by Walt at the end of season 4 to put little Brock in the hospital and Jesse through one of many emotional whirlwinds. But now, Jesse will be manipulated no more. Walt has ruined him. Ruined an opportunity for Jesse to have a father figure who cared for him unconditionally. More currently, Jesse’s new discovery reveals Walt’s sabotage of Jesse’s own opportunity to become a father figure himself.