On a deck above the South American coastline sits Walter White, cleanly styled in bright beach garb with a dewy rocks glass in hand. The infamous black hat upon his head is the only keepsake from the web of meth-fueled entanglements through which we’ve witnessed him contort for five seasons; as the blood on his hands and the pungent odor of dissolving bodies in his wake became increasingly impossible to launder – ethically at least. The shot widens exposing Walter Junior on the beach and Skylar seated beside Walt with their daughter. And in the final words of the series, a cold and satisfied Walt says to his wife, “Who says breaking bad can’t end well?”
What the Schraderbrau!? That ain’t happening, right? Right. Walt’s clean escape is marginally more likely (and probably satisfying) than wrapping ambiguously with his fate undetermined or open to interpretation (a la Tony Soprano), but I’d bet all the fat, fat, FAT stacks in the White’s storage unit that neither were serious considerations for showrunner Vince Gilligan and his staff. No, all indications – Walt’s static and dark trajectory, the foreshadowing and flash forward, and most of all, statements by Gilligan himself (and Cranston) – point to a singular, bleak outcome for this anti-hero. Neck deep in unfathomable regret, awaiting cancer’s final bell in jail; or more likely, death – probably at the hands of someone closest to him — seem to be the only fates fit for the Scarface thisMr. Chips has become.
Full disclosure, Breaking Bad is already on the shortest of “greatest shows” short lists for me; a sentiment that hardens with every re-watch. (And finding it the most re-watchable of the golden age heavyweights, there have been an embarrassing amount.) I’ve loved every minute of the journey: the under-appreciated first and second seasons, the plane crashes and train heists, Skylar and Skinny,Hank’s rendition of “The Eye of The Tiger” and Huell’s bathroom habits. But more than most shows upon which we slap the label, it is indeed a journey with definite direction and a specific destination, and as such, the stakes for the final run are higher than Badger on the blue. Still, I’m all excitement, no worries for the August 11th return.
With clear yet satisfying options to checkmate Walt and the advantage of a board rife with powerful pieces to maneuver in the process, I’m confident grandmaster Gilligan will deliver a Walter White-worthy product that’s at least 99% pure. But there is one ingredient – a much more unpredictable element – that if handled correctly down the home stretch, will truly cement Breaking Bad as da bomb-est shit ever, yo. Jesse Pinkman. Bitch.
Jesse went from Cap’n Cook to defender of children (and consummate dinner guest) with so many emotionally potent trials in between, but the second part of the fifth season sets the stage for his most important role yet: the linchpin to historical excellence. As goes Jesse Pinkman, so goes the final series of episodes – or at least their ability to turn a “really great conclusion” into “fuck-me-sideways, that was so incredible, I don’t even know what to do with myself right now, pass the chili powder” territory: a notion that would go a long way toward permanently etching Breaking Bad onto TV’s Mount Rushmore.
Walt’s end-game may be purely academic at this point, even if brilliantly executed, but the canvas for the rest of the Jesse Pinkman saga is as wide open as the desert where he learned to cook. And that is the most intriguing and potentially mind-blowing aspect left. Will he live or die? Will he kill Walt? Will he ultimately be a second anti-hero or a beam of light in Heisenberg’s dark world? What would any of that mean? Will it be Kafkaesque? With such flexibility, a track record of spinning one hell of a story, and a deep understanding their characters, these creatives could very well drop the next Mona Lisa by way of a former smart-ass, wanna-be thug. As much as Breaking Bad will always be Walter White’s show, the remainder is, in many ways, the Jesse Pinkman story.
Some have floated theories that Breaking Bad is potentially a back-door hero story for Hank. And yea, he might save the day. But with all respect to Hank and Dean Norris, the heart at the center of the remaining story is Jesse’s whether assuming the role of back-door hero, martyr, or just another black hat. Hank turned out to be a terrific, three-dimensional character, but Jesse is like nothing before or since on TV: a secondary protagonist – who’s path has sometimes been parallel to Walt’s, but sometimes in hostile or haunting opposition — as nuanced, realized, affecting, evolving, and empathetic as any of the revolutionary leads of the last fifteen years. I mean, just look at this magic.
Every now and again you find a fierce factoid dropper intent on reminding you that Jesse wasn’t even supposed to make it into the second season alive. That he was not originally part of the big picture. Me? I’d just as soon forget that. Breaking Bad isn’t Breaking Bad without him, and I don’t want to big picture it any other way.
As a matter of fact, I may be selling him short. The fact that such an extraordinary character is second in the rotation is both amazing and unrivaled. In that way, Jesse has always been that linchpin, that secret ingredient. He’s suffered beat downs and breakdowns, lost soldiers and lost loves, and left a long trail of “bitches” behind him. But what’s next for Jesse Pinkman? I have no idea. But I can’t wait to see.