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

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Ursula Coyote / AMC

Skyler White (Anna Gunn) and Walter White (Bryan Cranston) - Breaking Bad Season 5 Episode 11

“In a few years, this all might feel like nothing more than a bad dream.”

It can easily be argued that, ever since Walt poisoned Brock in order to arrange the killing of Gus Fring, his biggest nightmare has been that Jesse would eventually find out. Now Walt will have to live that nightmare, thanks to a final confession in an episode that was full of them.

Jesse began this week’s episode in the same fugue state in which he ended last week’s episode—but, by the time he was feverishly dousing the White residence with gallons of gasoline, it became clear that he was more alert and aware than we’ve ever seen him. He starts out the night face-to-face with Hank and, given the title of the episode (“Confessions”), a lesser show might have had Jesse spill the beans right then and there. But Breaking Bad didn’t stoop to such a trope. Vince Gilligan and Gennifer Hutchison (credited with this week’s script) do not for one moment lose sight of the extreme animosity between Hank and Jesse. After all, the last time Hank suspected Jesse of being connected with Heisenberg, he nearly beat Jesse into a coma.

Instead, Jesse allows Saul to bail him out and bring him to a meeting with Walt in the desert (“It’s always a desert,” Saul quips). When Walt arrives, he launches his finely honed ‘Jesse Conversation Procedure,’ which nearly always involves the following two steps:

1. Immediately request the essential information. In this case, it was what Hank knows (that Walt is Heisenberg, but that he has nothing to prove it, and also that he hasn’t told the rest of the DEA) and what he wants from Jesse (to inform on Walt).

2. Dispense the requisite fatherly advise in an attempt to gain the desired result. This week, Walt suggests that Jesse leave town and start his life over, free from the strife and agony that have dominated his every waking moment of late.

But it seems that Walt has gone to the well one time too many: Jesse snaps out of his daze and yells at his former mentor, “Would you just for once stop working me?” Nearly everyone who watched the season premiere two weeks ago agreed that Jesse didn’t believe Walt for one moment when he said that Mike was still alive, and now we seem to have substantive proof of that. Even though Jesse finally challenges Walt, confessing that he’s entirely aware that Walt is completely full of it, Walt still manages to gain the upper hand. Rather than leveling with Jesse outright, he wraps him in a long embrace, which was perhaps the only thing the emotionally distraught Jesse needed more than honesty.

(The way that episode director Michael Slovis shot the scene was a nice illustration of Walt and Jesse’s constantly fluctuating power structure. During Walt’s interrogation of Jesse—not entirely unlike Hank’s from earlier in the episode—Jesse is shot straight-on, but Walt is shot from below, emphasizing his position of power. After Walt transitions into father-figure mode, the two stand next to each other, almost as equals. Once Jesse challenges Walt and tells him to “drop the whole ‘concerned dad’ thing,” it’s Jesse who’s shot from below. As Jesse grows increasingly emotional and Walt moves forward to hug him, the camera angles level out between the two.)

Jesse agrees to disappear with the help of Saul’s magical vacuum repair man, though he clearly has reservations about actually going through with it. (Whether those reservations are due to a reluctance to leave his old life behind or because he believes he might end up going to Belize instead of Alaska is somewhat less clear.) Over Saul’s objections, Jesse squeezes past Huell and out of the law office with a bag of joints still in his pocket. Minutes later he’s waiting on the side of the road (in front of hundreds of concrete rectangles that bear serious resemblance to tombstones) for the ‘very punctual’ human disappearer. He checks his sweatshirt pocket for the bag, but quickly realizes it’s not there. Instead, all he finds is a pack of cigarettes—the very same brand as the pack that once carried the fabled ricin cigarette. Once he sets his eyes on it, it’s only a matter of seconds before he puts all the pieces together: Huell’s pat-down just before Brock’s poisoning, the ricin cigarette that Fring had allegedly stolen and Walt’s unparalleled Machiavellian nature.

After rushing back to Saul’s office and beating the episode’s last confession out of Albuquerque’s most morally bankrupt attorney (that Walt orchestrated Brock’s poisoning), Jesse takes a page from the Heisenberg playbook. He goes to the White residence and emptying a canister of gasoline with the apparent intent of burning the place down in the same way that he and Walt torched the old meth super-lab. The flash-forwards tell us that the gasoline will never actually be lit—I’d wager that Jesse finds either Walt Jr. or Holly in the house—but the once-great alliance between Walt and Jesse has already gone up in flames.

Jesse’s revelation and its aftermath were so stunning and well-designed that they managed to overshadow what could fairly be called the greatest false confession in television history. After Marie attempts to lure Walt Jr. to the Schrader’s purple palace (a ploy Walt is able to rebuff only by confessing to Junior that his cancer has returned), Walt sits down and asks Skyler to film a confession that starts exactly the same way as the one that opened the series pilot: “My name is Walter Hartwell White. I live at 308 Negra Arroyo Lane, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87104. This is my confession.” After Walt and Skyler fail to reach any sort of agreement with Hank and Marie during the world’s most awkward double-date—Marie suggests that Walt simply commit suicide—Walt leaves Hank and Marie a disc as he and Skyler get up from the table.

Instead of confessing to running a meth empire, however, Walt pins the whole thing on Hank, saying that his brother-in-law manipulated him into cooking meth, killed Fring and countless others, and terrorized Walt and his family for more than a year. The confession was so thorough, well thought-out and convincing that I almost found myself wishing it were true. (If there isn’t a Usual Suspects-style re-cut of earlier scenes that support Walt’s version of the truth on YouTube before the week is out, it will be highly disappointing.) The video even seems to shake Hank’s resolve: the last time we see him during the episode is when he wanders out of the office in the middle of the day after a verbal thrashing from Gomie. But if Hank ever finds out Walt and Jesse’s relationship has taken a turn for the explosive, that brilliant false confession will be about as useful as it is truthful—and Walt will have a brand new nightmare on his hands.

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And now for the traditional hail of bullets:

* None were actually fired in this episode, though Walt and Jesse both have guns now—which doesn’t exactly point to a happy ending for Heisenberg and Captain Cook. (Also, who keeps their gun in a soda machine?)

* This week’s POV shot came from Jesse’s gasoline canister.

* Walt’s confession to Walt Jr. is eerily (and somewhat creepily) similar to his confession to Marie about Skyler and Ted Beneke’s affair. Both were truthful but had little to do with the larger issues, and both were designed to manipulate.

* This is the first time we’ve seen Jesse in a desert since Todd murdered Drew Sharp (which started Jesse’s downward spiral). Drew was carrying a tarantula with him at the time, and we see a very similar-looking spider approach Jesse as he’s waiting for Walt.

* Though the taped confessions in this episode and the pilot began the same way, the tone was remarkably different. In the pilot, Walt was completely panicked. This time, eerily calm. (And the first time, he was completely honest. Not so much on this go-round.)

* Though the circumstances were dissimilar, this isn’t the first time that Marie has supported Walt ending his life. In the pilot, she was the only member of the family who did not encourage him to fight his cancer and undergo chemotherapy.

* The Internet is already dubbing Walt’s embrace of Jesse the “Heisenhug.” It bore an uncanny resemblance to the Fredo hug from The Godfather—one of the show’s most-referenced films. Though most of the evidence suggests otherwise, that hug and the imagery behind Jesse as he waited alongside the road certainly encouraged the audience to think he was in mortal danger.

* I’d like to think that Walt’s confession is someone in the writer’s room’s way of saying they wish the series had gone that route from the beginning. Other shows might have.

* Aaron Paul could probably win an Emmy based on the desert scene alone. Phenomenal.

* Which dinner was more awkward: This episode’s double-date or Jesse’s meal with Walt and Skyler earlier in Season 5?

* Saul: “Some people are just immune to good advice.” Or in the Breaking Bad universe, practically everyone.

* I counted no fewer than 11 confessions in the episode: Todd leaving Walt a voicemail about the meth coup, Todd describing the details of the methylamine train heist to his uncle and Herc from Friday Night Lights/Devil from Justified, Hank informing Jesse that he knows Walt is Heisenberg, Saul letting Walt know that Jesse tried to throw away all his money and was arrested, Walt admitting to Walt Jr. that his cancer has returned, Hank telling Marie that he didn’t let his colleagues know his theory about Walt, Skyler informing Hank and Marie that Walt is done cooking meth, Walt’s video confession, Marie admitting to Hank that she knew Walt and Skyler had paid for his hospital and therapy bills, Jesse telling Walt that he knows Walt is working him, Saul confessing that he had Huell lift the ricin cigarette from Jesse on Walt’s behalf.

Many thanks to Jim for allowing me to cover for him this week. He’ll be back with you all for next Sunday’s episode.