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Breaking Bad Watch: You Gotta Keep the Devil Way Down in the Hole

As Jesse tries to turn on "Mr. White," Breaking Bad reveals itself as a horrifying, sustained depiction of the psychology of abuse.

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“I know you’re angry. … We will talk and we will fix this.” –Walter White

“You two guys are just guys, OK? Mr. White–he’s the Devil.” –Jesse Pinkman

Walter White has been Jesse’s teacher. He’s been Jesse’s mentor. He’s been Jesse’s partner. But above all, he’s been–and even after the previous relationships have ended, he still is–Jesse’s captor.

He’s built a prison inside Jesse’s own head. Jesse has lashed out and clashed with Walter before, but in the end–as with Brock’s poisoning and its aftermath–Walt has always managed to lie, to manipulate, to break Jesse down and convince him that his own intuitions are faulty, that he needs to trust “Mr. White.” In the classic pattern of an abuser, Walt has built a hermetic psychological cell for Jesse, an isolated cell soundproofed from the outside world’s logic and reason, where Walt’s word is supreme.

At the end of last week’s “Confessions,” the wall of that cell cracked–enough, maybe, for Jesse to squeeze himself out–as Jesse realized in a flash that his first instinct was right: Walt did poison Brock. But he isn’t free yet. As Hank tries to persuade Jesse to wear a wire, we get a glimpse inside the prison and see Walt the way Jesse sees him–and honest to God, this is one of the most horrifying things Breaking Bad has ever shown.

(MORE: Breaking Bad Watch: Confessions of a Middle-Aged Drug Kingpin)

In Jesse’s mind, Walt is not just ruthless or powerful. He’s magic. As Jesse spins out the ways Walt will subvert their plan–there will be a sniper, he’ll “have me sit on a poisoned needle or something”–it’s as if we’ve suddenly switched genres and are watching not a crime story but a ghost story, a horror movie in which physical laws don’t apply, evil spirits shift shapes, and mortal bullets simply pass through the bad guy. (The tense scene at the plaza brilliantly visualizes this–Walt-like figures vanish and appear before Jesse’s disoriented eyes, as if Walt himself were apparating like a demon.)

This is the world Jesse has been living in, and Aaron Paul’s delirious attempt to explain it makes us see it through his eyes. Jesse has seen, over and over, Walt face impossible situations and turn his enemies’ plans back against them. No matter what you plan against him, Mr. White just makes it part of his plan and “Mr. White”–Jesse can never, even under interrogation, stop using the honorific–always wins. Jesse can scream and thrash his little arms, but in the end, Mr. White will pull him in for a hug and get his way.

In this psycho-horror landscape, Jesse is a tiny, tiny boy, and Mr. White is God, Mr. White is the Devil, Mr. White is the universe itself. Other people may tell you they can save you from Mr. White, but they don’t know, they don’t know Mr. White, they don’t realize that he is everywhere and he knows everything. Jesse is a grown adult now, but in a way, Breaking Bad has been TV’s most sustained and horrifying depiction of long-term abuse.

This final run of episodes has been light on the sort of capers and narrow escapes–the magnets, the train heists, the bombings–that have helped give Walt his magical reputation in Jesse’s mind. Instead, they’ve revealed starkly that Walt’s most ingenious and demonic machinations have always been psychological. For Jesse, for Hank, for his wife and child, he has created tightly constructed fictions, girded with elements of truth, that keep them isolated and under his control.

The video he made for Hank and Marie in “Confessions,” in this light, looks as much like a flourish, like showing off, as it does a threat. Look at this marvelously constructed cage I have built for you–that you helped me build. Come at me, and I will trap you in it and add you to the collection; try to escape and you will snare yourself tighter. (These last few episodes been full of images of claustrophobia and imprisonment, of people framed in doorways and in close corridors.) This maybe, is why the visual of Hank and Marie watching the video was striking enough to become a new Internet meme: it lets us sees the essence of Walt’s coldness and genius, which we’ve watched develop over five seasons, dawn all at once on two characters with fresh eyes.

So Walt determines, once again, to “fix it.” But there are signs, in “Rabid Dog,” that his old tricks are losing their magic. The house stinking of gas, he switches into harried-dad mode and explains it on a gas-pumping accident, but no one believes him. (Albeit for different reasons; Walt Jr. thinks it’s the cancer, and once again, Walt is willing to use this fear to manipulate his own son.)

And though Walt has enough hold on Jesse to foil Hank’s plan, Jesse is now free enough to want to come at Walt in his own way (whatever that turns out to be). Leaving Walt, at the end, reconsidering his hopes to smooth things over with Jesse, instead leaning towards Saul’s advice to adopt an “Old Yeller” solution, Skyler’s advice to put Jesse down like a “rabid dog.”

(MORE: Breaking Bad Watch: You Made Your Bed of Money, Now Lie on It)

Those are two different descriptions of Jesse as Walter’s dog, and they imply two different views of their relationship. Saul’s echoes Hank’s argument to Jesse (whether Hank believes it or not) that Walt genuinely cares about Jesse, just like Timmy did Old Yeller. Skyler’s (though actually the “rabid dog” phrase comes from Walter’s mouth) is that Jesse is an uncontrollable threat Walt has brought too near their children; he dragged her and their family into this situation, and it’s absurd to suddenly scruple over killing one more junkie.

Which kind of dog does Walt think Jesse is? This episode–like “Confessions” with that ambiguous hug–makes arguments for seeing it both ways, that Walt has actual emotional motivation to protect and spare Jesse, or that he believes Jesse to be more useful alive. It’s an interesting question (and maybe elements of both arguments are true), but why the hell should Jesse care? One way or the other, he’s still the beaten cur, listening to his master’s voice on his voicemail.

The bad news for Jesse: by episode’s end, the Devil may be coming for him. The good news: The Devil may be running out of tricks, and his dog still has his teeth.

Now for the hail of bullets:

* “Say just for the sake of argument the kid’s not in the mood for a nuanced discussion of the virtues of child poisoning.” It says something for Breaking Bad that it has managed to make a sleazy drug lawyer and audience surrogate and voice of reason. Of course, if everyone listened to Saul’s advice, this would be a much more boring show.

* So Marie, we learn in her therapy session, has been online researching untraceable poisons, which, not to be judgmental here, is perhaps not the wisest move for someone whose husband has just been threatened in a frame-up job? I can’t imagine that poison, or the Internet search history, or both, will not figure in the last episodes of the series somehow.

* “He got upset over something he thinks I did. I did do it. But for very good reasons. It’s complicated.” That string of dialogue does a great job of showing Walt’s deceptive mind in real-time–especially the jump from “something he thinks I did” (as if he is still considering the possibility of lying that he’s innocent) to “I did do it” (as if, in a split-second, he decides to go with the rationalization instead).

* Also, Walt, understandably, is not going to go anywhere near detailing what it is Jesse “thinks I did” (in this case, poisoning a child). I suspect Skyler would rather not know. But I am very curious how she would react if she knew. Having thrown in with Walt to the point of considering murder–even reluctantly, out of some notion of protecting the family–is there still a moral line she will not cross with him?

* At this point, I am just going to assume that Bryan Cranston at all times has a gun in the waistband of his underwear, out of commitment to the character.

MORE: Breaking Bad Is Back: Why It’s the Most Moral Show on TV

120 comments
ShaunMacNeil
ShaunMacNeil

It's interesting how BB completely stayed away from showing any end-users of the product that Walt and Jesse made.  Other than occasionaly  Jesse himself  and his gang of misfits, the show veered away from showing any actual use of their "blue".  I'm merely curious why the writers would purposely stay away from any of the downstream scenes of Walt's exceptional meth product.  I'm not questioning the writers' choice..... just to understand their thinking.

EbonyEnright
EbonyEnright

as James responded I'm impressed that some people can get paid $6975 in 1 month on the internet. this website == > w­w­w.B­a­y­9­3.ℂ­o­m

eponte
eponte

"He was my teacher." As heartbreaking as those words were to hear, by then end of the episode I came to think of them as foreshadowing. When Jesse gets back into Hank's car, he clearly has a plan - and a look on his face that reminded me of Heisenberg when he cracks the code on how to get out of a seemingly impossible situation. 

Walt tenure as Jesse's teacher didn't stop at high school. He taught Jesse to cook - and Jesse became good enough to earn his own lab in Mexico.  "Yeah, bitch. Magnets!" was Jesse's idea. While at times it seemed like magic, Jesse has been an apprentice to that magic. Jesse gets how Walt thinks - he immediately (and rightly) thought that Walt poisoned Brock, before even the audience did. Waving his gun at Walt seemed crazy... but he was right. 

I think Jesse is about to serve Walt some of his own medicine. He didn't have confidence for a long time, but I think he's got it now. I'm looking forward to the next four episodes... there's a new Heisenberg in town...


glnnjrdn
glnnjrdn

Well written show, well written review also. VG always seems to be one step ahead of the audience, like the decision of Hank to take the afternoon off after pulling the two detectives from following Jesse....now we know why, cant wait for Sunday

chadwick
chadwick

Really great article, you seem to have some good insights into Jesse's character and his complex relationship with Walt.

Podvko
Podvko

I don´t like this TV show... It is an irrelevant article. The Walking Dead is a good TV show. Spolier  <a href="http://drop70.com">Spoiler</a>

DaveT
DaveT

"In Jesse’s mind, Walt is not just ruthless or powerful. He’s magic. As Jesse spins out the ways Walt will subvert their plan–there will be a sniper, he’ll “have me sit on a poisoned needle or something”– it’s as if we’ve suddenly switched genres and are watching not a crime story but a ghost story, a horror movie in which physical laws don’t apply, evil spirits shift shapes, and mortal bullets simply pass through the bad guy."

Seems worth mentioning here that, quoting Wikipedia, "abuse of methamphetamine can result in a stimulant psychosis which may present with a variety of symptoms (e.g. paranoiahallucinationsdelusions)."  Jesse's view of Walt is rooted in facts and experiences, but Jesse's also a meth addict and more than likely prone to bouts paranoia.  Jesse's meth-addled brain is a place where "physical laws don’t apply, evil spirits shift shapes, and mortal bullets simply pass through the bad guy."  

The presentation of that last scene in the plaza, from Jesse's POV, was not a view seen by someone who is right in the head.



brooklynite4321
brooklynite4321

Layla00 -- Take a moment to wipe the foam-flecked spittle from your monitor, and relax. It's a TV show, not Syria, or climate change. Get it? Breathe, honey. Breathe. That's it. 

Pattymeagher
Pattymeagher

Jessie will become Heisenberg. Hit him where he lives. Walts EGO! Jessie will cook up a great batch, get it out there and waa laa Heisenberg is back but NOT Mr White but Mr  Pinkman, Watch and see! No man wants to get his ego hurt.

ShaneC
ShaneC

Marie's poison searching might tie back to someone's ricin death (undetectable, that's why they chose it, right?) - Hank? Walt Jr?

Layla00
Layla00

You're an idiot.  Bryan Cranston is an actor, he doesn't carry a gun you pathetic loser.  Your obsession with Jesse is apparent and scary. I hope he has a bodyguard. Another thing, you may want to try and start actually watching the series because most of that crap you wrote is misinformation and made up in your own twisted mind to make Jesse a victim. 

courteneyh
courteneyh

@thewetmale the bit where you realise that they met at school makes walt’s treatment of jesse so much more violating & off

GamerGirlRiot
GamerGirlRiot

I think Walt feels responsible for Jesse. He was the one who convinced Jesse to help him start the meth business. Walt has been stringing this hapless junkie along all this time, but in the end he always tries to do right by him, even if his method is a little bit twisted so it works in his favor. Having to save the day for Jesse so many times has majorly contributed to Walt becoming "the devil."

JoannaWilliams
JoannaWilliams

Walt did not poison Brach.  Brach ate a poison flower Lilly of the Valley.  The Risen thing is a red herring to throw everyone off

the truth.  I don't think Walt is evil.  Why are they pulling Jesse & Walt apart.  I like them as allies.

HezekiahMorris
HezekiahMorris

I think Walt should live and Jesse is a @#$%^&*  snitch

ChelseyRiddle
ChelseyRiddle

I am just waiting for everyone to figure out that Walt is STILL in the meth business, and has lied to everyone about it. I bet that would send Skylar over the edge with Walt. 

NischalGomez
NischalGomez

Jesse goes to meet Walt...is paranoid, after all, he is going to meet "the devil". So, when he sees the bald toughie, his reaction seems right. But then the very next moment he talks about coming after Walt where he "really lives". Is that simply anger talking, or does he have a concrete plan? Apparently he does, as he tells Hank later about his "better way" of dealing with Walt. But this transition from paranoia to "eureka!" seems like a stretch.

Jesse is clearly not the thinking type, though he does come up with brilliant ideas now and then (e.g. using a magnet/ building a battery). The question is does he indeed come up with an idea to deal with Walt in those two or three minutes, when he was seemingly focussed on locating any possible threats to his own life ("clock tower guy", "poisoned needle")?

TamaTamaFoFama
TamaTamaFoFama

@TIME Jesse also stopped maturing when started using drugs, rendering him both childlike & exceptionally easy for Walt to control/manipulate

ShaunMacNeil
ShaunMacNeil

@eponte  I think you're exaclty right.  Jesse was right not to meet Walt on the plaza.  Jesse knows that Walt killed the masterful Gus Fring, the thuggish Tuco, the experienced pro, Mike, and heartlessly almost killed the toddler, Brock.  (And several others he had a hand in.)   Personally, I would NEVER have met Walt on that plaza knowing that he regarded me as a thorn in his side.  Jesse can hold his own when he is clear-minded....  and he seems to be a man with a plan right now.

Dude6
Dude6

@Podvko Nice rack of medals, dude. How'd you get so many? Especially the ones they give to generals and admirals, the Army DSC, the Navy Commendation and Unit Commendation. Didn't know SEALS got army awards.

ShaunMacNeil
ShaunMacNeil

@DaveT   Better than anyone else, Jesse knows how Walt operates.  His fear of a needle or a sniper, (while expressed in less than lucid terms), is not at all out of the realm of possibility from what he's seen with his own eyes.  He knows that Walt kills when he has his back against the wall.... and that he does so cleverly, regularly, successfully, and without remorse.  To his own credit,  at the last minute, Jesse had a revelation that he could defeat Walt on his own terms rather than give "the devil" the opportunity to take him out on the plaza. (Would  YOU meet Walt knowing you were causing his a serious problem??  NOT me!!!)  Jesse is fragile, no doubt.  And addle-brained at times.  But he is formidable in his own way.  And he now knows that Walt tried to kill a toddler whom Jesse regarded as his own son. 

Matterless
Matterless

@hudsonette I spent a few seasons deriding Jesse and Gilligan is making me pay for it big time.

StrayChild01
StrayChild01

@jlamotta23 Texto larguísimo. Pero, concuerdo que mucho de lo que hubo es para dar paso al pico de la temporada, como en las anteriores.

AmaranthSparrow
AmaranthSparrow

@Layla00 What gutter did you crawl out of?

1. It's a joke about method acting. Do you know what method acting is? It's where an actor stays in character both on set and off.

2. What obsession? Jesse is not a real person, why would he need a bodyguard from a television critic analyzing the psychology of a fictional character?

3. Walt has absolutely victimized and manipulated Jesse, time and time again. Walt blackmailed him into the partnership, let his girlfriend die, forced him to kill people, poisoned his girlfriend's son, manipulated into breaking up with his girlfriend, murdered his mentor/father figure, etc. Not to mention the constant verbal abuse he's hurled at Jesse for the last six years.

SukeMadiq
SukeMadiq

@courteneyh @thewetmale 

Well, they met there.  But the partnerships started when he met Jesse crawling out a window after a Meth bust.

AmaranthSparrow
AmaranthSparrow

@JoannaWilliams It has been confirmed time and time again that Walt poisoned Brock, from showing the evidence in his back yard and him trying to get rid of it, to Walt admitting it in this very episode ("I did it," he says to Skylar), not to mention overtly stated by the creators, writers, and actors.

And Walt IS absolutely evil. The whole point of the show was to depict the transformation of a good man into an evil man. He's a liar, a manipulator, a drug dealer, and a murderer. At this point, he's not even remorseful about it. The last ounce of good he has left in him has been his unwillingness to kill Jesse, and this episode ends with him ordering a hit on him.

WilliamTowne
WilliamTowne

@JoannaWilliams Walt did poison brock. The last scene of season 4 was the camra zooming in to the lily of the valley plant in Walts backyard

MuricanBob
MuricanBob

Which episode are you on? Walt is not cooking

AmaranthSparrow
AmaranthSparrow

@NischalGomez Where Walt "really lives" is his meth empire, or perhaps his own ego...

My theory, for now, is that Jesse is going to use Walt's "proprietary kind of selfishness" about his formula to get at his "overweening pride," and make him screw up. We've seen the two clash about it several times, so Jesse certainly knows it would get to Walt if, for example, he tried to frame himself as the mastermind behind the operation, with Walt as just a fall guy. I don't think Walt could handle that.

SirTwigbelly
SirTwigbelly

@TamaTamaFoFama Not necessarily easy to manipulate, but Walt is a pretty hardcore manipulator. Once he realized what he could get he changed

ShaunMacNeil
ShaunMacNeil

@eponte  oops!  Hank killed Tuco!  Well.....  you know what I mean.  LOL.

StephenRussell
StephenRussell

@AmaranthSparrow @JoannaWilliams I disagree, I don't think the job he has for them is for Jesse! I think its to either Fake kill himself or something along those lines. I do not thinkeven now he wants Jesse dead...not yet

Layla00
Layla00

@MuricanBob the same one as this pathetic fool who calls himself a writer. 

JoeScraps
JoeScraps

@AmaranthSparrow @NischalGomez I agree.  I think Jesse's ultimate plan is to return to cooking himself and start selling the Blue Sky, leading people to believe that Heisenberg is back.  This will eat Walt alive as his ego will never let him sit back while someone else sells his brand.  Walt will then return to cooking and be set up to get caught.

TamaTamaFoFama
TamaTamaFoFama

@SirTwigbelly I think Walt changed because he's dying. Has nothing to lose, & subconsciously desperate to prove "I was powerful/important".

MuricanBob
MuricanBob

Lol you're obviously mad and confused. I wasn't asking you and if James is such a "pathetic fool" why are you here? Take a nap, brother.

AmaranthSparrow
AmaranthSparrow

@SirTwigbelly @TamaTamaFoFama Money was only part of his motivation. He's got a whole host of complexes that contributed to his criminal behavior.

From a writing perspective, the cancer was primarily a plot device; that's why they took it away (remission) after he got in deep, leaving him without that excuse. Vince Gilligan's goal was to turn Mr. Chipps into Scarface, and the diagnosis was what facilitated that.

SirTwigbelly
SirTwigbelly

@TamaTamaFoFama Money was his motivation at first. Now that he literally has too much to use, and he's dying, he's partially trying to make

TamaTamaFoFama
TamaTamaFoFama

Asked magistrate about filing Motion for Reduction of Bond, his answer was no, can't file it. I'm now officially living in Bizarro World.

TamaTamaFoFama
TamaTamaFoFama

Talked w/magistrate last night. Wouldn't even consider bond reduction, claimed he was unaware Holley ran over Kevin & others in Kevin's yard

GamerGirlRiot
GamerGirlRiot

@TamaTamaFoFama @SirTwigbelly I have always said this...sort of. I think it started out as a desperate attempt to save money for his family in the event of his death. But clearly this is no longer his motive...

TamaTamaFoFama
TamaTamaFoFama

@SirTwigbelly Dying @ 50yo, Walt regretted never achieving greatness. Money was his excuse, not his true motivation.

SirTwigbelly
SirTwigbelly

@TamaTamaFoFama Oh, for sure. I'd say that's why there are two significant shifts in Walt: the beginning and now the end

TamaTamaFoFama
TamaTamaFoFama

@SirTwigbelly I've taken care of several dying loved ones @ my house as you know. Knowing you're dying changes ppl on very fundamental level

SirTwigbelly
SirTwigbelly

@TamaTamaFoFama I'll believe it. I do think that the entire show is about Walt's downward spiral into being a drug master-mind