“Breaking Bad” Review: “Felina” Redeems Walt… Or Does It?

As I mentioned last week, I’m now blogging over at Cinemeditations rather than Tinsel. You’ll be able to find more of my writing about film and television over there, including my recent look at the new Showtime series Masters of Sex. Below, you’ll find a portion of my review of the series finale of Breaking Bad. You can find the full review over at Cinemeditations. Thanks again to Rebecca for allowing me to blog here for the past few months! I look forward to continuing the conversation.

It was Gilligan’s Catholic upbringing that partially inspired him to create a show that explores not just evil, but its consequences. We watched Walt gradually slide down a slippery slope until he seemed to be the Devil incarnate, and then we saw his empire crumble, the people he loved forever damaged, assuming they were even still alive. It was Old Testament judgment, an eye for an eye, and while it was tragic, it was also satisfying to see Walt get what he deserves.

But Catholicism is also about redemption. “Granite State” saw Walt leaving his ego behind, and “Felina” finds him receiving some of the grace that by definition he doesn’t deserve. His opening lines are a prayer—“Just get me home, I’ll do the rest”—and God, or the universe, or Vince Gilligan, grants him his wish. What follows is a twisted tale of self-sacrifice in which Walt assures his children’s financial future, reveals the location of Hank’s body, poisons Lydia, says goodbye to his wife and daughter and gets one last look at his son before saving Jesse’s life by taking out Uncle Jack and his gang.

It would be a mistake to interpret this as “Walt wins.” It’s more accurate to say that he dies knowing that he’s done pretty much everything he can to bring closure to the entire affair. He can never get his family back, Hank is still dead, and he’ll never get to enjoy spending all the money he made selling meth. But he finally admits his own guilt and does his best to act not in his own interests, but those of others. Before taking his last stand against Uncle Jack, he visits Skyler and finally says the confession two years in the making: “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really… I was alive.” Later on, he rejects Jack’s offer to get back the tens of millions of dollars he lost. This is not the same Walter White that just two episodes ago was pushing his last barrel of money—his prized possession–through the desert. As was first stated in the pilot, chemistry is the study of change. Breaking Bad has been the study of Walter White’s transformation.

Click here for full review.

“Breaking Bad” Season 6 Episode 7: Stuck In A “Granite State”

To everyone who has read my television reviews and commented on them over the past few weeks: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure writing for Tinsel, and I’m grateful to Rebecca for giving me the opportunity. I’ve recently been granted my own blog at Patheos: Cinemeditations. From now on, I’ll be writing about film and television over there, including the last two episodes of Breaking Bad. Below, you’ll find a portion of my review of the most recent episode, “Granite State.” It’s an episode I think deals with themes of addiction and pride in a pretty interesting way, and I hope you’ll take the time to comment and let me know what you think of how the series is drawing to a close. You can find the full review over at Cinemeditations. I’ll be covering many more shows in the near future, and I hope you’ll add it to your list of regularly-visited pop culture blogs. Thanks again for reading.

Some people have complained that “Granite State” is a disappointing episode because there are no big twists or intense pieces of action (aside from Andrea’s death, of course). I’d argue that yes, while it in many ways functions as a transitional episode, setting the pieces in place for a (hopefully) explosive finale, it’s also an extremely important episode, because this is the first time we see Walt stripped (or nearly stripped) of his pride. Heisenberg was born out of an attempt for Walt to reign in the unknowable, to control what little he could about his pending death. The opening scenes of this episode find him desperately clinging to that desire for control, badgering Saul to put together a team of hitmen to take out Jack’s gang. For a moment, Heisenberg rears his head, towering menacingly above Saul and growling orders, but he quickly dissipates in a fit of coughing. Walt’s pride has helped him do a lot of things, but it can’t cure cancer.

For the rest of the episode—at least until its final moments—Heisenberg is nowhere to be found. The iconic porkpie hat briefly brings back Walt’s delusions of grandeur, but the thought of having to leave what little he has left, even if it’s just a shack in the middle of nowhere, soon evaporates them. The title of this episode doesn’t just refer to the state of New Hampshire, it’s also a playful reference to a time when Walt was fully in control: his “fugue state.” That was a situation built on lies orchestrated entirely by Walt. Now, he can’t even muster up the ability to lie to himself and trust that the Vacuum Repair Guy (played by brilliant character actor Robert Forster) will take his money to his family once the cancer finally kills him. By the final scene of this episode, Walt seems to have finally given up. We don’t see him doing anything for himself; he can’t even draw his own blood or cut a deck of cards. He has finally relinquished all illusions of control.

There’s a part of me that thinks this could have worked well as a series finale. It seems appropriate for Walt to spend his last days alone, rejected by his family, with a pile of cash and nothing to spend it on. He makes one last attempt to send Walter Jr. some of his blood money, only to be rejected by his own son: “Just die!” He sits at the bar, ordering one last drink before the police arrive to take him into custody, with nothing left of the life he once had. He has nothing left to hope for, and his frustrated cries that “It can’t all be for nothing!” have made no difference. This is rock bottom. But I think Vince Gilligan may have something even more tragic in mind.

Click here to read the full review.

 

“Breaking Bad” Season 6 Episode 6: The Fall of “Ozymandias”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
–Percy Shelley, “Ozymandias”

And so begins the fall of an empire.

The sixth episode of Season 6 of Breaking Bad (or, more accurately, the fourteenth episode of Season 5) is aptly titled “Ozymandias” after the poem of the same name. It’s an allusion that was used in a lot of the marketing in the lead-up to this half-season, and now we finally get to see why. This is an episode that finds Walt “on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage,” with only a truck and eleven million dollars left of all his accumulated wealth. He can’t talk or scheme his way out of this mess, and by the time the credits roll, he is completely alone.

“Ozymandias” was directed by Rian Johnson, one of the most talented young filmmakers working in Hollywood (check out Brick and Looper if you haven’t already) and the man behind two of Breaking Bad’s most memorable episodes: “Fly,” in which Walt’s obsession with squashing a housefly was used as a metaphor for his guilt about letting Jane die, and “Fifty-One,” in which Skyler actively began trying to move the kids away from Walt’s moral toxicity. Both of them are masterfully crafted, and “Ozymandias” is no different—this the best episode of this season so far. Every scene feels perfectly executed, and over the course of an hour Walt goes from his most villainous to actually showing signs of growth.

The episode opens with a flashback of Walt and Jesse on their first cook, a brilliant reminder of how far they’ve come from those days in the RV. We see how naïve they are, and how inexperienced Walt is at deception. We witness the first of many lies to come, as he tells Skyler he’ll be home late because there’s work to be done at the car wash. He’ll make another call to her—and, I’d argue, another quasi-lie—at the end of the episode. But first, he and Jesse and the RV dissolve into thin air, remnants of the past. When we return to the same shot after the break, it’s a year later, and that initial lie has snowballed into horrors far beyond anything Walt ever expected.

Paul wrote in Romans 7 about the struggle between his dual natures. In verse 18 he says, “I have the desire to do good, but I cannot carry it out.” That’s Walter White in a nutshell, a man constantly battling a desire to do what’s best for his family against a more narcissistic desire to do what’s best for himself. This is in many ways an episode about the final showdown of Walt’s dueling natures, and the fallout of last week’s shootout reveals his two very distinct personalities.

First, there’s his good nature. Gomie is dead and Hank is injured, but before Jack can finish the job Walt rushes to his defense (something I predicted might happen). This is Walter White, a family man who is willing to set aside pride (and 80 million dollars) in order to save a person he’s been in a cat-and-mouse game with for weeks. He is a good man. But Hank knows that it’s too late, and he remains steadfast to the end, refusing to compromise himself. Jack shoots him in the head, and Walt collapses in shock, unable to cope with the fact that part of the family he swore to protect now lies dead in the sand.

When he stands back up, he’s pure Heisenberg. If you ever wondered what it would look like when he hit moral rock bottom, this is it: Walt has never been as evil as he is here. He denies his own culpability and places all the blame on Jesse. After all, you can practically hear him thinking, it was Jesse who cooperated with the DEA. It was Jesse who refused to dialogue about Brock’s poisoning. It’s because of Jesse that Hank was out here to begin with. And so, after a year of psychological abusing this young man, Walt hands him over to be tortured and killed, but not before finally admits to letting Jane die. It’s his last secret, and the final twist of the knife. He doesn’t just want to kill Jesse’s body, he wants to kill his soul. “Look at my works, Ye mighty, and despair!”

The scene where Walt wheels his last remaining barrel of cash through the desert is a perfect summation of Heisenberg left uncaged; he is alone, with only his money left to love. A wise man once said that the love of money is the root of all evil–it’s Walt’s greed that has led him here, his egotistical desire for more money, more power, more credit. The soundtrack for this segment is “Take My True Love By The Hand” by The Limeliters, and the lyrics are perfect: “Take my true love by the hand, lead her through the town…” That barrel of money is Heisenberg’s true love, and it will be close by for the remainder of the episode.

As a result of his greed, Walt’s worst fears start to come true. First, he loses his reputation. This is a big deal. Walt has said multiple times throughout the series that when he dies he wants his son to have good memories of him rather than recalling him as sick and pathetic. Unfortunately, those good memories were founded on a lie, and when Walter Jr. is told the truth about his father, they all come crashing down. Walter Jr.’s last memory of his father won’t be of a kind teacher dying of cancer, it will be of an abusive liar threatening his mother. The great Heisenberg won’t go down in history as so great after all.

Secondly, he loses his family. Hank’s death is the last straw. Skyler spent a year collaborating in Walt’s misdeeds, all in the name of protecting her children from the knowledge that their father is a criminal. Once the truth is out and there’s no longer any guarantee that her family is safe, there’s no reason for her to stick by him. When she picked up that kitchen knife and took a stand, I wanted to cheer. That’s something she should have done a long time ago, and as she tells Junior, she’ll spend the rest of her life wondering why she waited so long. I was briefly concerned that her struggle with Walt would take a tragic turn, but that would be too easy. Walt’s family may still very well be dead by the end of the series, but if that happens I don’t think it will be by his hand—it’ll be the delayed result of that chemical reaction, that chain of lies, that began a year ago.

Walt’s final phone call with Skyler may very well end up being the defining moment of the entire series, and I’ll be dumbstruck if it doesn’t earn Cranston an Emmy. It’s a scene that finally reveals the uncomfortable truth at the heart of Breaking Bad: that no matter how many times characters call Walter White the Devil, he’s just a man. We’ve seen him do terrible things, but even now, he is not completely lost. The backbone of the entire series has been the internal struggle between Walter White and Heisenberg, a Jekyll-and-Hyde battle for one man’s soul, and while he may now be facing the consequences of Heisenberg’s actions, that doesn’t mean that Heisenberg has completely taken over. The truth is far more poignant: Walter White is still in there, somewhere, a good man now reaping what his sinful pride has sown.

There’s a debate about whether he means everything he says to Skyler on the phone or if it’s all just another lie. The truth is, it’s both. If begging for Hank’s life was Walt’s good side and condemning Jesse to torture and death was Heisenberg, this phone call is the synthesis of both of them into one man. There’s a grain of truth to everything Walt says here; part of him has always thought Skyler and her morals were keeping him from reaching his full potential. Though he claims to have done it all for his family, deep down he sees them as just another chain tying him to a dead-end life he was never meant to have. (This is also exactly the sort of criticism Anna Gunn has faced from viewers who see Walt as a hero and Skyler as the nagging wife holding him back. Showrunner Vince Gilligan uses this scene to reveal just what a wrong-headed, sexist, and morally repulsive line of thought that is). But I also don’t think Walt fully means what he’s saying. He is, like all of us, a paradox, a mess of contradictory emotions capable of great good and great evil at the same time. His family may have rejected him (deservedly so), but to completely reject them in return would be to acknowledge that everything he’s done was based on a lie. I think this is one time where Walt’s ego is actually helping him do the right thing, and to recognize that the only way for Skyler to escape jail time is for everyone to finally see him as the monster he’s become.

Note that he makes the call next to the fire station where he’ll drop off Holly. By the time he dials that number, he’s made his decision, and he knows the police are listening. Nabbing Holly was a last act of desperation to hold onto a family, any family, even if it’s just him and his daughter. But he ultimately realizes that this is just an extension of the lie that started it all: that he broke bad for the people he loves, when he really just did it for himself. His phone call seems on the surface to be the final nail in his moral coffin, but it may actually be his most altruistic action in the entire series, a moment in which he takes all the blame upon himself. The irony is delicious: his most selfless act requires everyone to see him as a selfish lunatic. In order to save his family, he has to lose them. Walter White and Heisenberg are finally in balance.

Alas, I think it may be too late. As dark as “Ozymandias” got at times, I have a feeling this was only the beginning of a whirlwind of consequences that will continue to play out over the next two hours. Walt may have finally begun to realize he’s the cancer infecting everyone around him, but moving away won’t magically fix everything. The damage is done. I have a theory about how the next episode will play out, and I’ll let you know next week if I was correct (or you can message me on Twitter and ask for my prediction), but suffice it to say I think Walt’s empire still has a long way to fall.

What did you think of this episode of Breaking Bad? Let us know in the comments below!

Read More:

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 1: Blood Money.

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 2: Buried

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 3: Confessions

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 4: Rabid Dog

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 5: To’hajiilee

Vote on how the series should end here.

Would Obamacare Have Prevented Breaking Bad’s Walter White from Becoming Heisenberg?

One of my esteemed readers has left an astute and interesting hypothetical in the comments section of another post. If Walter White, whose cancer diagnosis was the catalyst to turn into a meth cook, had free health care, would he have, um, broken bad?

This idea – the medical costs made him do it – has been bouncing around, including in this widely circulated cartoon by Christopher Keelty.

So, what about it? Would socialized medicine have prevented Heisenberg? Would it have saved Jesse from deep soul torment (the kind that brings most of us to religion), Brock from ricin poisoning and whatever the heck happened to Hank and Gomez in that interrupted shootout last episode?

Could it be that easy?

Let’s break it down.

Walter White was a long term high school chemistry teacher in New Mexico*. Public school teachers, God bless ‘em, have some of the sweetest benefits in the country, including retirement, long term disability, and a stellar health care plan. New Mexico is no exception. Seriously, we should all be so lucky as to have such benefits. The private sector is not nearly so generous. (And, we all know, pensions and benefits for public employees is one of the things bankrupt states are fighting over to try to balance the books.)

So as much as anyone is in life, Walt was set with the best medical care money could buy.

As an aside, the same would be true for his D.E.A. agent brother-in-law. His medical care would cover treatment for the bullet injury to the leg of Ole Hank (may he rest in peace if the shootout didn’t end well). The show dealt with this relatively fairly, because his wife Marie wanted different, more expensive treatment than what the insurance provided.

Guess what, guys?

That happens under socialized health care. Like, a lot. The wealthy buy their way out of the system and into better care. Ask anyone from England.

So Obamacare wouldn’t have helped Hank either.

In fairness to the show, it wasn’t so much the medical bills that lured Walt into a life of crime. It was the desire to leave his family financially secure.

That’s a different issue than medical bills, isn’t it? One that Universal Healthcare couldn’t fix.

But it’s not unfixable. This is exactly why responsible people buy life insurance. If you roll the dice and don’t have that protection, that’s on you.

Also, that’s why responsible mothers like Skyler keep their accountancy skills up to date and perhaps keep their tabs on jobs. What was Skyler? Incompetent? Helpless?

We all know now she’s not. She’s pretty ruthless, truth be told. In fact, she would have been better off if Walt had died an honorable cancer death. At least she wouldn’t be looking at serious prison time.

The bottom line is that it was Walt’s pride, not his access to medical care, that led him down the road to perdition.

Which makes for a great, rich, deep story.

Just don’t try to base health care policy on it, m’kay?

 

*Like an idiot, I said in my first version of this post that the show was set in Arizona when anyone with half a brain knows it’s New Mexico. The error has been corrected. I blame Miley.

Read More:

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 1: Blood Money.

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 2: Buried

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 3: Confessions

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 4: Rabid Dog

Vote on how the series should end here.

“Breaking Bad” Season 6 Episode 5: Showdown At “To’hajiilee”

Well, that was intense.

Viewers who thought last week’s episode was too light on action won’t be able to make the same complaint after “To’hajiilee.” You know there’s a good chance the fit will hit the shan when the credits list Michelle MacLaren as director. She’s the person responsible for some of the series’ most memorable action sequences, including the prison massacre in “Gliding Over All” and Hank’s shootout with the Cousins in “One Minute.” This was her final episode behind the camera, and she went out with a bang. Or rather, several bangs.

The first half of this episode picked up where the previous one left off, with Todd getting the call from Walt. He’s still the most polite criminal you’ll ever meet, a perfect gentleman content to be used by the people around him. He’s like Jesse but without a backbone, willing to do anything for the authority figures in his life. It’s that weakness that makes him so creepy, and potentially dangerous; his only personality trait is one of submission. In this episode, we find out he has a crush on Lydia. Somehow, I don’t think the feeling is mutual.

Hiring Uncle Jack to take out Jesse may turn out to be Walt’s biggest mistake. Jack hasn’t felt like much of a formidable antagonist, especially compared to the likes of Gus Fring, but showrunner Vince Gilligan has turned that to the show’s advantage. Fring imbued the series with a sense of omnipresent oppressive dread; he was a quasi-mythical force that seemed impossible to beat. Jack and his gang, meanwhile, are far more ordinary, just a bunch of scummy neo-Nazis looking to get rich. In a strange way, this makes them even more dangerous. Fring was a meticulous professional—he had a way of doing things. Jack does whatever he feels like will help him out in the short term. Whereas Fring was the embodiment of order, Jack is chaos incarnate. He’s like a more threatening version of Tuco, a cold-hearted killer who actually seems to be sane. When Walt shakes his hand, he may have unknowingly just signed his own death certificate.

For a few seasons now, one of the running motifs of Breaking Bad has been how Walt takes on the traits of the people he kills. After he killed Crazy Eight, he started cutting the crust off his sandwiches. After he killed Gus Fring, he inherited his bathroom etiquette. In “To’hajiilee” it’s revealed that Walt now has Hector Salamanca’s distrust of the DEA. He deluded himself into assuming Jesse felt the same way, that no matter what happened, cooperating with Hank was out of the question. When he calls Jesse a coward, he means it. Walt has always acted out of desperate cowardice as much as bravery, but he’s grown to view himself as an old-school gangster. In Walt’s game, using a child as bait to manipulate other people is an acceptable move, but working with the cops is dishonorable.

As a side note: Like Fring, Walt’s weakness is what got him into the meth business to begin with. Fring spent decades building up his empire so he could eventually seek revenge on Hector Salamanca and the cartel, and it was the panic at the thought Hector might have beat him that ultimately destroyed him. Walt started cooking meth to make money for his family, and once that’s threatened, he races straight to his undoing. Gus’ assumption that Hector might cooperate with the DEA was his downfall, and Walt’s assumption that Jesse never would is his. Jesse finally did “apply himself” after all and learn what Walt was teaching.

Their final meeting in the desert is one of cathartic relief. The look of awe on Jesse’s face speaks volumes: he can barely believe what he’s seeing. This is what we’ve been waiting for, to see the Devil himself finally in handcuffs. Cranston knocks it out of the park here, going from anger to fear to confusion to resignation in a matter of seconds. He could easily take that final step to the dark side and call in Jack to kill Hank—after all, it was just one episode ago he referred to Jesse as family, and look how that turned out—but, in a weird way, he still has a sense of honor. He knows that Jesse beat him at his own game, and he’s willing to accept defeat. This makes the arrival of Jack even more tragic. Walt has finally reached a line he won’t cross, but he’s made a deal with someone who will cross it for him.

And yet, I’ll be surprised if Hank dies in this shootout. We’re used to seeing major characters get killed off right at their moment of triumph (especially after making one last heartfelt phone call to their loved ones), and if there’s anything Breaking Bad has shown us, it’s to expect the unexpected. Jesse even said as much last week: “Whatever you think is going to happen, the exact reverse opposite of that is gonna happen.” Who knows, maybe Walt is even so committed to keeping family safe that he’ll even put his own life on the line to rescue Hank and Jesse.

If these are Hank’s last moments, it’s a satisfying death, but I hope he took a cue from Saul and decided to wear some extra protection. He’s survived shootouts like this before, but has his luck finally run out?

What did you think of this episode of Breaking Bad? Let us know in the comments below!

Read More:

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 1: Blood Money.

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 2: Buried

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 3: Confessions

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 4: Rabid Dog

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 6: Ozymandias

Vote on how the series should end here.

Bryan Cranston Talked About the End of Breaking Bad: What is Justice for Walt?

Back in October 2012, I spoke with Bryan Cranston while he was on the press tour for Argo. I just remembered that, as a huge Breaking Bad fan, I cornered him after the film interview and asked him about the show. He was very gracious and took a few minutes to chat with me. He was also so affable and friendly that it was hard to imagine him as the ruthless Heisenberg.

At the time, the ending hadn’t been filmed yet and Cranston did not know what the ending would be.

Here is our exchange:

(me) Well I am a huge Breaking Bad Fan

Well, thank you. 

So it’s really wonderful to be talking to you.

Thank you very much.

I am curious what you think justice would be for Walt. 

It’s hard to say because you have well… perhaps justice… Some people ask me is it possible that Breaking Bad could end well. And I say perhaps him dying in a firey gun battle is “well” because he’s so toxic himself and sort of brought upon this, this environment on his own and maybe that’s the true ending.

I don’t know the real ending.

Right.

I don’t know what’s going to happen.

And even if you did you couldn’t tell me.

No, I couldn’t, because I don’t know. 

Well, good luck with…

But it’s going to be fun, going to be a fun ride.

Thank you.

Thank you.

The Salvation of Jesse Pinkman: Is There Room for God in ‘Breaking Bad?’

If you’ve been watching the most recent Breaking Bad episodes (recaps here and beware spoilers!), you know that poor Jesse Pinkman is a mess.

He’s addicted to drugs, wracked with guilt over murders he’s witnessed, consumed with rage toward his evil mentor Walter White, and desperate to somehow make amends. He’s so desperate that he drives around town in the wee hours like a demented tooth fairy, tossing bundles of cash to sleeping neighborhoods.

He’s got what we would call demons.

Any person of faith knows this moment, this recognition that things aren’t the way they should be, that I myself am not what I should be, that there is no way to fix the mess I’ve made and yet that it’s vitally important that it be fixed. In fact, fixing it is the only thing that matters.

We call it a “come to Jesus moment.”

And we see it, too, in real life: In the convicted murderer who dissolves in tears, in the addict who surrenders, in the white collar thief who gives up his wealth and heads for the mission field, and ordinary adulterer who hits bottom and calls out to a God, only faintly hoping there will be an answer.

It’s so common as to be a cliche. Life brings us to our knees. The results of our own misdeeds bring us to our knees.

Why not Jesse?

Series creator and head writer Vince Gilligan has made a pair of profoundly human, neo-Shakespearean story arc contrasting Walt’s descent into depravity with Jesse’s desperate clinging to something – anything – good. I am in awe of Gilligan’s storytelling prowess, and that of his team. I am in awe of the acting: Aaron Paul as Jesse and Bryan Cranston as Walt.

And yet – so far – they’re missing something so primally human, so common that it hides in plain sight: The desperate man’s desperate plea to his Creator.

As writer Anne Lamott has said, there are only three prayers: “Help me, thank you, and wow.”

Jesse is certainly at the “Help me” stage.

The final episodes are written and filmed, so Jesse’s future is set in stone, a future I doubt will include God, but I can see it so clearly in my mind’s eye: Jesse wandering into a seedy, beaten-down Catholic innercity mission, talking to a priest who’s seen it all but still doesn’t know how to handle Jesse’s confession. Or, maybe, Jesse falling in with a Pentecostal black church whose members have seen the insides of prisons and love Jesus – and aren’t afraid to show it by rolling in the aisles. Or maybe Jesse slipping into the back pew of the church of a televangelist, a showman who doesn’t even believe his own show, but whose disingenuous words still strike Jesse with truth.

Someone who tells him God loves him, even him.

Man, it could be good, so….interesting.

The conventional wisdom is that Hollywood avoids faith in general because they don’t want to rule out any part of their audience. But I think it’s really because there’s a lack of imagination and experience in the people writing these stories. Evil they know well. But redemption tends to be boring. It’s terminally nice. It’s yawn-inducing in its vanilla blandness.

But Jesse is way beyond a boring future, isn’t he? He’s ruled out the picket fence and the Lutheran church on Sundays and two towheaded kids.

If I were writing the end of Breaking Bad, I’d follow the old mantra:

Go big or go home.

Jesse is a desperate man in need of redemption. So I’d give it to him, blown up large, exploding off the screen.

As a Franciscan monk, sweating in the war-torn wastes of Sudan, digging wells and risking his life to bring former enemies to peace.

Or as a soft-spoken man slaving away in a innercity mission, tenderly wiping the blood and spittle off raving addicts, like a modern day John Newton (a slaver trader who wrote the famous hymn “Amazing Grace”).

Or as the founder of an Indonesian orphanage, cleaning and feeding and loving children left parentless by the ravishes of drug use like a modern day Mother Teresa.

Go big or go home.

No revenge on Walt or tragic denouement would be as satisfying as if Jesse found real salvation and real atonement.

Read More:

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 1: Blood Money.

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 2: Buried

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 3: Confessions

Vote on how the series should end here.

“Breaking Bad” Season 6 Episode 4: Curing the “Rabid Dog”

One of the underlying subtexts of Breaking Bad has always been about how Walt is a cancer, a disease eating away at the people around him. In “Rabid Dog,” the fourth episode of this latest batch, we see that nobody is immune from his infection. The two most shocking revelations occur when both Skyler and Hank reveal that they have no regard for Jesse’s life; he’s just a tool for them to either use or to throw away. In their obsession with either protecting or catching Walt, they have become just like Heisenberg, valuing human life only insofar as it suits their purposes.

“We’ve come this far,” Skyler says. “For us, what’s one more?” One of the unexpected side effects of Walt’s continual slide into darkness is that he’s dragged his family along with him. In fighting for his own survival, he’s made it about theirs. Skyler is now just as morally lost as he is, and she perfectly sums up the slippery slope they’ve slid down. In the grand scheme of everything they’ve done to keep from being caught, Jesse’s life doesn’t mean much. Not even Hank, the supposed moral center of the show, cares about Jesse as a person. Forgiveness doesn’t seem to be an option. A desire to repent, to atone for past sins, is only a device to be used to take down Walt, not something he thinks Jesse deserves. As he puts it: “Pinkman gets killed, we get it all on tape.”

“Rabid Dog” doesn’t feel quite as action-packed as the past few episodes. In fact, writer Sam Catlin seems intent on denying the audience violent confrontations and dramatic reveals altogether. We aren’t shown the scene where Hank finally relents and tells Gomie everything that’s going on. We don’t see the full tape of Jesse’s confession (for structural reasons as well as thematic, I imagine—it would take hours). The only glimpse we’re given ends with the line, “He was my teacher.” That’s the real tragedy of Jesse Pinkman’s life—in many ways, he was just a child led astray by an adult he trusted. His relationship with Walt is one of love, but it’s a twisted love held in place by force and psychological abuse.

The only question now seems to be whether Jesse was a good student. This is an episode all about him realizing his independence and finally cutting himself free from anyone who might try to manipulate him. In a brilliant twist of editing, we see Walt arrive home to a gasoline-soaked living room with Jesse nowhere to be found, only to flash back in time and reveal that Hank prevented him from lighting the house on fire at gunpoint. The knowledge that Walt poisoned Brock is the last straw, the final bit of injustice that zaps Jesse out of his guilt-ridden stupor and into action. He wants to do something, and “Rabid Dog” follows his journey to figure out what that should be.

First, he finally confesses. Hank now knows the entire story, and they cook up a plan to have Jesse wire up and meet Walt in the plaza, where they can hopefully get Walt to admit his misdeeds on tape. But once Jesse confesses, he’s released from the psychological chains of “the Devil” (there’s that name again), but he’s still not fully free. He’s just replaced one master for another. Hank doesn’t have his best interests at heart, so when he wires up and then makes the sudden decision to disobey orders and take another course of action, he isn’t helping Walt, he’s helping himself. This isn’t an episode about confrontations; it’s an episode about salvation. Jesse begins the episode like the rabid dog of the title, but he ends it a new man with the potential to use everything he’s learned from “Mister White” over the past few years to his advantage. No matter what happens now, at least he’s taking responsibility for himself, and he won’t be put back on anyone’s leash.

The tragic irony is that Walt was the only person who genuinely cared about Jesse’s well-being. Their relationship has been through so many ups and downs that he views Jesse as a spiritual son, someone who traveled with him down the wide path of destruction and, in at least one instance, saved his life. His hug with Walter Jr. by the pool acts as a repeat of the embrace he shared with Jesse in the previous episode. He would never kill family, so how could he kill Jesse, who knows him better than his son ever will?

Jesse is no longer the rabid dog. Walt is the one who’s always been a danger to those around him, who’s capable of going on a rampage of deceit and destruction when threatened. When he calls Todd at the end of the episode—supposedly to “make Jesse see reason” in the Skyler sense of the phrase—he’s throwing a lit match on gasoline that was spilled long ago. I have a feeling Todd’s involvement is going to ruin all of his plans.

The question is, if Walt is Old Yeller, who’s going to be the one to put him down?

As a final side note: What’s going on with Marie in this episode? We finally get to meet her therapist, Dave, and she admits to fantasizing about poisoning Walt and Skyler. “There is no problem, no matter how difficult…that violence won’t make worse,” he tells her. “Don’t worry,” she responds, “I would never hurt anybody. It just feels good to think about it.” This gets at the heart of the complex relationship between fantasy violence and real violence. Violence in media often acts as a cathartic way to release our own violent thoughts and tendencies, but it also reinforces cultural attitudes and myths about violence that might be unhealthy. It will be interesting to see if Marie ever acts on her impulses. If so, I wonder what that means Vince Gilligan thinks about the people who enjoy Breaking Bad.

What did you think of this episode of Breaking Bad? Let us know in the comments below!

Read More:

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 1: Blood Money.

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 2: Buried

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 3: Confessions

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 5: To’hajiilee

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 6: Ozymandias

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“Breaking Bad” Season 6 Episode 3 “Confessions”: Unleashing Chekhov’s Arsenal

One of the reasons Breaking Bad is such a great series is that it somehow manages to feel surprising while also entirely inevitable. Most narratives implicitly follow the law of cause-and-effect, but few showrunners actually hold to it as tightly as Vince Gilligan has with his tale of Walter White’s fall from grace. This is why it’s emerged as one of the most profoundly moral shows on television: it’s a show in which actions always have consequences.

Author and playwright Anton Chekhov famously said that you should never show a loaded rifle on stage if you’re not going to fire it; Breaking Bad isn’t about Chekhov’s gun, it’s about Chekhov’s arsenal. These weapons can take the form of seemingly innocent objects that suddenly become instrumental to the plot—a box cutter, a cigarette, a tap bell—but they more often show up as bits of knowledge, or secrets waiting to be exposed. A typical episode juggles several of these elements, and a great deal of the show’s tension derives from the careful balancing act Gilligan and the writers have maintained when crafting each season, figuring out which rifle to fire at particular points and which to leave until later. Breaking Bad is a structural symphony, and Chekhov’s gun is the notes.

“Confessions,” the eleventh episode of the fifth season—or the third episode of the sixth season if you’re thinking of this last batch of episodes that way—would have made Chekhov proud. It’s an episode in which several figurative guns were finally fired and others (including one actual gun) were set on stage. The slow burn of Season 4 is a thing of the past. We’re in free fall now, and the show is hurtling towards a definitive conclusion.

It all feels so methodical and obvious in retrospect. Of course Jesse wouldn’t tell Hank anything, given their history. Of course Walt would find a way potentially turn Hank into the fall guy. Of course he wouldn’t kill Jesse, his pseudo-son—he tends to only resort to murder out of a last grasp for self-preservation. Of course Jesse can’t dig himself out of his spiritual hellhole until he’s discovered the truth about Brock’s poisoning (though the circumstances of Jane’s death, Walt’s final secret, remain unspoken). And of course once he realizes the extent of Walt’s deception, his immediate reaction will be a wild dash for revenge.

The scene where Walt confronts Jesse in the desert takes their relationship to its only logical conclusion given the elements in play. There is no explosive act of violence, no sudden reversal or unexpected twist. The only thing that changes is Jesse’s willingness to say what’s on his mind. He’s done paying lip service to Walt’s lies, and he lays it all out on the table, from his certainty that Mike died at Walt’s hands to his understanding that Walt only really cares about himself. But just as he did two episodes ago, Walt doesn’t break character. He’s become such a master manipulator that he himself can’t separate truth from falsehoods, so he takes the lie to its breaking point, embracing Jesse like a prodigal son. I think there’s a part of Walt that really does love Jesse, and it’s that side of him that ironically allows him to take Jesse further down the rabbit hole. As much as he’s willing to kill and cheat his way to the top, he also wants to deny that he’s that kind of person. This is one of life’s great paradoxes: No matter how evil we become, we all still want to believe that we’re good.

Walt’s lies have now so affected everyone around him that there appears to be no hope to take him down. The confession tape he gives Hank reveals the full extent of his moral bankruptcy—he’s so determined to get away with it, to die without facing a jury, that he’s willing to frame it all on his arch nemesis, the show’s moral core. He has subverted the very essence of a confession; he hasn’t atoned for his sins, he’s only transferred them to someone else. Because his medical bills were inadvertently paid for with drug money, there’s likely no way for Hank to come out of this unscathed. Like the ricin, the DVD is Walt’s last resort, the simpler version of Saul’s escape plan—if he can’t become someone else, he’ll turn someone else into Heisenberg.

With Hank out of the way, the only apparent wild card is his former protégé. But even if he takes care of Jesse (one way or another), there’s still another party that could ruin Walt’s plans: Todd. This episode opens with Lydia’s new cook recounting their train robbery to his uncle like he’s speaking about a folk hero—Heisenberg has once again become the stuff of legend. He views Heisenberg as a role model rather than a cautionary moral tale, and he’s so captivated that he can barely leave a voicemail message informing Walt of the “change in management.” This subplot involving Madrigal and the continuation of Walt’s meth enterprise continues to play out largely in the background, only taking up a scene or two each episode, but I suspect it will soon play a major role in how Breaking Bad ultimately ends.

After all, once you’ve shown us the rifle, you can’t just let it sit there.

What did you think of this episode of Breaking Bad? Let us know in the comments below!

Read More:

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 1: Blood Money.

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 2: Buried

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 4: Rabid Dog

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 5: To’hajiilee

Breaking Bad Season 6 Episode 6: Ozymandias

Vote on how the series should end here.


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