‘Breaking Bad’ is not the story of Walter White building a meth empire, rising from “Mr. Chips from Scarface,” as the oft-quoted Vince Gilligan line goes.
It’s the story of one man’s chickens coming home to roost.
The retired king of the Czech Republic drug game cracked more than his share of eggs on his way to the top. No single person has beared the brunt of Walt’s relentless narcissism more than Jesse Pinkman. The list of people Jesse has cared for over the years – Jane, Andrea, Mike – reads as a list of people Walt has systematically eliminated from Jesse’s life, either directly or indirectly. Jesse knows this, deep down, and while the lies Walt has told and the cirumstantial evidence he’s provided adequately address each situation on an individual basis, Jesse, having lost everything, is starting to see the big picture. And that big picture is a crumbling facade of half-truths and convient alibis that, when stacked together, betray the utter devastation that Walt has wreaked on Jesse’s life. No wonder he’s ready to pack up and head to Alaska.
Unfortunately for the other wild card in Walt’s getaway, Jesse’s in no mood to play snitch. Despite all the huffing and puffing he can muster, Hank can’t turn the boy he once beat to within an inch of his life against his former partner, and instead gets tongue-lashings from Saul and later Gomez. Unlike Jesse, Hank only recently discovered that his cancer-stricken brother-in-law is one of History’s Greatest Monsters, and lacking the retrospective context that Jesse has, Hank gets himself easily boxed into a corner by Walt.
In this case, it’s Walt who’s the one that’s able to survey the last year’s worth of moves on the chessboard and weave an elaborate, coherent, and just-believable-enough story through the move history to checkmate Hank.
Hank, and the audience, believe that Walt and Skyler are meeting with him and Marie to discuss a confession. Instead, Walt issues a warning about Marie’s attempt to lure Junior to their house (easily thwarted by Walt, once again eager to exploit his dire medical condition), and he and Skyler plea for Hank to drop the investigation. That’s not happening, of course, and when a stalemate is reached, Walt leaves Hank with what appears to be his confession, burned to a CD like it’s 2005.
But as Hank and Marie – standing in anticipation to watch Walt’s confession, just like I was – learn, Heisenberg doesn’t do confessions. To paraphrase another great drama, you come at the king, you best not miss.
Bryan Cranston’s spellbinding performance during what must have been a 7+ minute uninterrupted monologue was the kind of a big acting moment that somehow stands out in the midst of the flawless work he’s done over the last five years. He’s not only portraying Walter White, meth kingpin – he’s portraying THAT Walter White portraying Walter White, scared chemistry teacher. I don’t know how the Emmys work, but I’m reasonable sure Cranston should win two for this scene.
Defeated, Hank is left to meekly ask some of Gomez’s men to tail Jesse, only to get promptly told off. If he couldn’t tell the DEA about his brother-in-law before, he certainly can’t now, considering Walt’s trump card: the $177,000 the Whites generously contributed to Hank’s recovery. If a case is to be made that Hank is Heisenberg, that’s the smoking gun, and Hank knows it. In the world of ‘Breaking Bad’, no small detail is forgotten, and acts of kindness always have strings attached.
When Walt asked Saul to swipe the ricin cigarette off Jesse last season, it was under the guise of kindness. Walt didn’t want Jesse to hurt himself, you see. Of course, Walt’s true intentions were far more nefarious, involving poisoning Brock, the son of Jesse’s then-girlfriend Andrea, and pinning it on Gus Fring in order to reunite with Jesse against a common enemy.
It worked like a charm, and while the time Jesse has spent reflecting on his life has yielded many disturbing truths about Walt (that he killed Mike, for one), he stopped worrying about that cigarette once he found it gobbled up by his helpful Roomba (planted there by Walt, unbeknownst to Jesse).
When Walt calls Jesse to the desert to try to gently talk him into utilizing Saul’s disappearing service to skip town, a weary Jesse sees through the manipulation, and finally confronts Walt about it. “Will you, for once, stop working me?” Jesse pleads. “Just ask me for a favor. Just tell me you don’t give a shit about me and it’s either this, or you’ll kill me the same way you killed Mike.”
Walt, rather than taking Jesse up on the invitation to go full-on Heisenberg, instead doubles down on being the fatherly figure he sees himself as, embracing his wayward son. And Jesse, aware of Walt’s manipulation but still yet to realize the depths of his moral depravity, eventually breaks down, weeping in his arms.
That final realization, however, would be forthcoming. Ready to leave town with a bag of weed in tow, Jesse randomly chooses Alaska as his new home, as Saul rings up the Hoover Max Extract service and bids the troubled young man farewell. But as the van carrying his earthly salvation pulls up, Jesse checks his pockets, and realizing the weed is gone, walks right past the van.
Jesse heads right to Saul’s office and starts beating him, eventually holding him at gunpoint. Figuring that Huell pickpocketed the weed off him, Jesse realizes that Huell had pulled the same trick with the ricin cigarette. The only way Huell would’ve known about that cigarette is if Saul had told him, and the only reason Saul would’ve told him is because Walt ordered it. Thus, Jesse realizes that Walt’s entire story – Roomba included – is a lie, and that Walt is responsible for young Brock’s poisoning.
As Jesse leaves the office, gun in hand and with Saul’s car, Saul immediatley warns Walt. Walt, hilariously trying to stay composed in front of Skyler, plucks his hidden and frosty gun from the car wash vending machine, and speeds off. Jesse beats him to his house though, and begins manically pouring gasoline, ready to torch the place.
Fitting that an episode containing Todd’s oral history of the legendary train heist would drive a freighter through the heart of the ‘Breaking Bad’ universe. Highlighted by unreal performances from Cranston and Aaron Paul, “Confessions” has flipped the season script from Walt vs. Hank to Walt vs. Jesse, a far less traditional but much more interesting battle that, at the breakneck pace this final season is traveling, may very well come to a head next week. As has been the case with all three episodes so far this year, ‘Breaking Bad’ left me pretty much wrecked, while practically begging for more.