The richness and complexity of “Breaking Bad” becomes fully apparent in this antepenultimate episode. Harking back to Walt and Jesse’s first cook on the To’hajilee site was genius – a poignant bookending of the comparatively innocent figures of Walt speaking lovingly to Skyler on the phone and Jesse cavorting joyfully in the background fading away and being replaced by the grim reaping of the Nazi gang. Crime doesn’t pay, Gilligan is telling us – at least not crime committed by a hungry ego like Walt’s. All of our actions have repercussions on others.
As always, my thoughts on “Breaking Bad” revolve around Jesse, my favorite character. It’s no wonder Jesse has such an affinity with children and they with him – he’s straight out of “Peter Pan” – Peter himself at times, a Lost Boy at others. Intended or not, I’m beginning to see Jesse’s character as a commentary on our society, which can’t appreciate or tolerate this kind of beauty and innocence. You might ask why Jesse doesn’t just “grow up,” but growing up entails some kind of acceptance of or resignation toward the status quo, and Jesse’s playful spirit is too pure for this. Children need guidance, but Jesse’s wild anarchy couldn’t accept the rote strictures of his typical, “nice” middle-class parents. The only positive guidance he received growing up was from the high school shop teacher who encouraged him to care enough about artistic vision and craftsmanship to finish a beautiful little wooden box – a gem, like Jesse himself, with nowhere to go in this society. His instinct was to give the box to his mother, but she wouldn’t have appreciated it, as she only valued what society told her to value, and Jesse knew that. So he sold his soul for “weed,” a few hours of distraction, just as he distracts himself later with video games, rap music, and strippers: the play of a “man” in our superficial culture. Then this directionless, unconscious child re-meets another teacher – the overly purposeful and even more wounded Walter White, so consumed by his loss of monetary reward for his creativity and intelligence that when cancer frees him from his normal routine, he jumps through the wormhole into a freedom not of play, but of inflated ego, seeking such proof of its value that it has to amass seven barrels of hundred dollar bills, the only currency this society recognizes.
Jesse resists Walt’s control every step of the way, but admires his brilliance and dedication to purity of product (excellence). He takes the opportunity to learn how to “be good at something” and to be noticed and needed by a father figure. He forgets that Walt started by coercing him and doesn’t realize, at least early on or consistently, that he’s being played and used. Though the relationship includes some real love and caring, both ways – as in the wonderful “Four Days Out,” it’s ultimately incredibly abusive. (As is, one might note, Walt’s relationship with his own son. Both Walt and Skyler treat Flynn not as an individual with needs of his own, but as a foil for their own egos.)
Having glimpsed or suspected Walt’s evil several times before, Jesse finally – for the sake of Brock, another innocent child – breaks from him irrevocably, going so far as to do what we thought he’d never do – rat him out to the cops. Jesse’s been concerned about morality and justice for a long time, seeking, in a childlike way, consequences for actions. Now he has a chance, with Hank’s help, to bring those consequences to Walt. But it’s too late – Walt’s ego has allowed him to consort with the true scum of the earth, and they roll in and kill Hank, capture Jesse, and take most of Walt’s money. Jesse is beaten bloody yet again, and re-captured, with no hope of escape or even non-cooperation, lest Brock and Angela pay the price.
I’d hoped for more growth for Jesse’s character, but there’s not much time left and little hope for rescue, unless Walt’s going to recognize the error of his ways and come back to rescue his adopted son. Besides, Jesse’s committed crimes, too, whether at Walt’s behest or not, and wouldn’t he be held accountable for them, if rescued? He’s already paid enough along the way, in my opinion — in guilt, beatings, and the loss of people he loved – his aunt, Combo, Jane, Angela, and Brock.
I wish the series hadn’t been so rushed. I would have liked to have seen 13 episodes in season 5 and a full 13-episode sixth season. Maybe we would have lost some of the intensity of these last episodes, but there would have been time to develop things more fully. I would have liked it if there’d been time for Hank to develop some liking and caring for Jesse, for example. And there wasn’t much time to see Jesse’s reaction to the long-awaited revelation of Walt’s complicity in Jane’s death.
Jane’s death is another example of the show’s amazing richness and complexity – kind of like life. Walt was a monster not to have rolled Jane back onto her side after causing her to fall onto her back. But she had greedily threatened and blackmailed him, and she was dragging Jesse down, maybe to the point of dying from an overdose. On the other side, Walt refrained from saving her for his own selfish reasons, completely without regard for the life of a beautiful, intelligent young woman who might come out right in the end. Back to the good, after driving a grief-stricken Jesse to the point of suicide by drugs, Walt rescued him from the drug den and took him to rehab. Nobody is pure evil, and even now we keep seeing some good in Walt.
More bookending at To’hajilee, to get back to the episode: the money comes out of the hole in the ground and the dead bodies of Hank and the faithful Gomie go in. Even more than the White house, that place is going to be the iconic “Breaking Bad” location.
And two more examples of things I’ve wanted to see happening too quickly to enjoy: the reconciliation of Marie and Skyler (and the heart-stopping, heart-rending flipflop of the fates of the husbands they were waiting to hear from) and Flynn finding out the truth about his parents. Flynn rose to the occasion – protecting the mom he’s resented and still has a right to be angry at from the dad he’s idolized, and, without a moment’s hesitation, doing what should have been done long ago: calling the cops on him. Something else I’d like to see, but doubt there’ll be time for: Flynn meeting Jesse. I’d like to see what they’d make of each other, and what notes they’d compare.
The episode ends with the innocence of another child hurt by Walt’s machinations: Holly, the baby daughter he cares for so tenderly, but whom he exposes to so much danger. The expression on her face as she sat in the fire truck all by herself broke my heart. Largely unconscious of the drama up to now, she’s beginning to see, hear, and speak. (“Ma-ma?”) What will she say (or “say”) at the end, if there’s time to see, and if she – hopefully! – survives?