By: Paul Andreacchi and Daniel Reynolds
Daniel: At some point, when you’ve built your entire television show’s season around the analogy of a Mexican standoff, it behooves you to maybe, perhaps, host an actual Mexican standoff. Now, the Wikipedia definition of ‘Mexican standoff’ is “a confrontation among three opponents armed with guns.” And, while we’ve had the triangular dance between Walt (and family), Hank (and family plus Gomez), and Jesse, it has never been a proper three-way confrontation. We knew it was only a matter of time though, before that got sorted out.
Let’s rewind. Last night’s episode of Breaking Bad was all about trickery. Each character, from Walt on down, was trying to manoeuvre the others to get the advantage they needed. For Walt, this means exhausting every method he could to find Jesse. He had already tried appealing to their old kinship, he had tried being nice, now he puts in a call to Todd and family to solve his problem. For Walt, this is a blunt instrument. He’ll shuck and jive for Andrea and Brock, but it is all part of a plan. Walt really would prefer to minimize the damage, he’d like to remotely eliminate Jesse humanely as possible. Of course, there is irony there when he later calls Jesse a coward.
Our heroes, meanwhile, have to entrap Walt, which, as I’m sure they’re aware, is no easy feat. Hank and Gomez aren’t bringing in the DEA, they are operating outside of normal conduct. They’ve partnered, for better or worse, with Jesse who knows the only piece of real evidence they need is the money. And so, we get elaborate cover stories, safe houses, and not one, but two perfectly staged photos. Who knew Hank had such a knack for set dressing? Crime fighting, mineral collection, photography; Hank is a real renaissance man. It’s a comeback story for the ages, Hank, having corralled Jesse, goofing on Huell, back on top.
That’s just the binary story, though. Last night’s episode made room for some other tangents. Saul shows up at A-1, Skyler worries, Marie waits by the phone for news. There is talk of the importance of brands, both legal (“Have an A-1 day”) and illegal (blue meth). Todd gets uncomfortably close to Lydia. Hell, I suspect Vince Gilligan was straight trolling us when Walt, after dragging Andrea and Brock back into the mise-en-scene, extolled the virtues of Fruitloops. But I’m stalling.
The final point and angle on this deadly triangle was always going to come from Todd, or actually much more potently, from Uncle Jack. When Walt rounded the corner of that rock, after begging Jesse not to burn his money and then knowing in his bones that he had been outsmarted, it felt strangely tragic. The great Heisenberg, the modern master manipulator, tricked by a staged cellphone photo? Inconceivable! But, the thing about all these tricky ploys and twisty plots is that they fall apart – they seem almost quaint, and so fragile – when faced with the rigid geometry of violence and force. Walt has a plan, Hank has a plan, Jesse has a plan. Uncle Jack has assault rifles.
Paul: “To’hajiilee” begins with the return of Todd to the fray, and of course, he returns in spectacular fashion. He has been a part of the most memorable and shocking moments over the last year of Breaking Bad: the emergence of Vamanos Pest into the meth business, the spectacular train heist, the murder of a child on a dirt bike, homicides across the prison system within a two minute window, and now the ultimate standoff between the law, Walt, and a neo-Nazi gang.
For a time, Todd even became the second coming of Jesse Pinkman, Walt’s new protégé and student. Part of the show’s introduction of Todd was designed for the audience to see what Jesse could have been. For all their similarity of circumstance, however, Jesse and Todd are strikingly different.
Although Todd is more attentive and diligent, his ‘somewhat’ blue cook reveals him to be far less skilled than Jesse. For all Jesse’s failings as a student, drug dealer, and business partner he was a much better cook. Nevertheless, this brings me to something much more compelling about the Todd character: something just isn’t right with him but he does a great job in concealing his deep disturbance. Jesse’s emotional and psychological problems are laid bare every moment he is on screen. He wears it on his face and reveals his severe troubles through his words and delivery. Todd’s words and body language reveal nothing more than a happy-go-lucky ginger going along for a fun ride in the meth and murder business. For this reason, Todd is really the last remaining enigma of Breaking Bad. The future actions of Walt, Jesse, Skylar, and Hank do not necessarily have me on the edge of my seat. Todd is the only character left on the show shrouded in complete mystery. It is the quiet madmen that can cause the most damage and the writers have done a tremendous job diverting our attention away from Todd’s monstrous, remorseless side to see only his calm and respectful politeness that offers to double up Lydia’s tea.
As I have written in previous entries, Jesse has continually revealed himself to be Walt’s last connection to his own decency and humanity. He reminds the Nazi Uncle Jack that Jesse is like family and is definitely not a rat. So, when Jesse inevitably leads Hank to the stranded Walt, the audience gets a glimpse into a Walt that feels something other than anger and vengeance. Betrayal, though a merited act for Jesse, brings even the mighty Heisenberg to tears. Once again, Breaking Bad reveals itself to be the greatest anti-hero story to grace a television screen as in this moment, the only thing I can manage to feel for the monstrous Walter White character is compassion.