Be A Man
So now we know how the White house gets trashed. I just hope that after his arson escapade, Jesse turns himself in and becomes that crucial witness in the case against Walt. If last week focused on the women in the show, this week really took up the male relationships – so I want to say a few words about Jesse, and leave the Hank stuff and the dvd confession for one of you to take up.
The scene between Walt and Jesse in the desert was just stunning! We’ve all been waiting so long for Jesse to call Walt out on his father-figure bullsh*t, and that he waited so long to do so made the payoff even sweeter. I know you guys (or, at least, some of you) still, at least kind of, think Walt’s doing what he’s doing “for his family” – whatever that might mean. At this point, I just don’t buy that at all! I think his core motivation is the preservation and extension of his own power. At one point, that preservation might have been to stockpile cash for the kids – but now I think it’s all about ego and his own need to prove to himself, as well as those around him, that he’s the top dog or, as Hank puts it, he’s trying to “be a man.” The parallel between Walt’s manipulative, lying, fatherly conversation with Walt Jr. and then later with Jesse only solidifies this interpretation in my mind. My predictions – or, at least, my sense of what would feel like a satisfying balance to the moral arc of the show – have both ‘son’ figures being Walt’s undoing. Jesse has to turn him in and Walt Jr., I’m sad to say, I think has to die for Walt’s sins. I read somewhere once that Gilligan wants to construct a universe in which good and evil are eventually balanced, so the fact that Walt always escapes the consequences to his actions means a huge payback must be coming his way. Calling a hit on Jesse feels like the last straw in his build toward evil, one that means Walt can’t get away with it but will need to be punished within the narrative of the show. And I don’t think that just getting caught or even dying would fit the bill. I think his death can’t be natural (cancer), but needs to be some sort of patricide for it to truly hold the moral weight necessary for the show to finish well. One son betraying him, the other suffering for his sins – that’s the only ending that feels devastating enough at this point to reach some sort of balance in the story.
What struck me most in that desert scene though was just how deluded Walt is. To be convincing, which he was (it’s just Jesse wasn’t convinced), he has to, on some level, believe what he’s saying. It seems Walt really does think the slate can be wiped clean, that a “fresh start” is possible after all this. Sure, he was still planning on swapping out Jesse’s cigarettes with a little poison (that’s what happened there, right?), but it seems Walt really believes there’s a reset button somewhere to be pressed. This is perhaps his greatest self-delusion of all…and perhaps he imagines his death from cancer will be that reset. But wow, I loved watching the difference between Walt’s inability to allow any of what he’s done to register either in his psyche, his self or on his body and Jesse’s utter physical undoing under the moral weight of his actions.
Curious to hear your thoughts!
First off, Natalie, I want to clarify a plot point. I don’t think that Walt was trying to poison Jesse with a cigarette. Saul had Huell steal Jesse’s weed out of his pocket because he was worried about that scaring away the guy who was going to give Jesse a new life. When Jesse realized what had happened, he pieced together that Walt had poisoned Brock. Jesse’s original suspicion about the missing ricin cigarette in season 4 was that Huell had taken it when he had patted him down. Realizing that Huell could so easily pick his pocket made him come to the conclusion that he must have done it before. Jesse had been willing to ignore (at least to some level) all of Walt’s other heinous acts, but poisoning Brock is something that he can’t ignore.
I’m pretty sure that’s what happened, but maybe I read it wrong. Can anyone else chime in on this?
Also, while we are talking about plot points, I don’t think that Jesse is actually going to light that fire in the White house. In the flash forward from the premiere episode of this (half) season, the house did not look burned at all. It was abandoned and run down, but not burned up. I think that Walt (or possibly Walt Jr., which is interesting to think about given your analysis, Natalie) will arrive any second before he strikes the match (or lighter).
Since you had some really good analysis on some of the smaller parts of the episode, Natalie, I will take on the biggest plot point moment, which is the confessional tape. Maybe I’m bad a predicting what will happen on shows (I don’t think I’m great at it, and I honestly try to not speculate too hard because I like being surprised) but my jaw dropped during Walt’s “confession.” It seemed like a classic Breaking Bad moment of leading you one way and then turning the whole thing on its head. I never truly believed that Walt would actually make a real confessional, but I still kind of thought he was going to actually say the truth on the tape. I loved so much about the actual confession tape. I loved the call back to the pilot, “My name is Walter Hartwell White. I live at 308 Negra Arroyo lane, Albuquerque, NM 87104.” In the pilot, Walt says, “This is not an admission of guilt.” In this episode, he says, “This is my confession.” I loved the poor framing of the video, the terrible lighting, and the super pixelated graininess. And, Bryan Cranston knocked it out of the park (like he always does).
One last thought: I really liked Walt and Skyler’s dialogue to other people. They used such passive language that must be infuriating to Hank, Marie, and Jesse. Here are a few lines they used:
“We feel your concern is misplaced.” – Walt
“You deserve to know what’s happening.” – Walt
“I don’t like to see you hurting like this.” – Walt
“Thank you for your honesty.” – Skyler.
Take those lines, throw a beige turtleneck and simple grey cardigan on top, and you have a creepy, yuppie couple pulling the strings behind a meth empire. I love it.
How ‘bout some table-side guacamole?
Thanks so much, Bryan and Natalie, for this awesome conversation. I love your analysis and think it is right on. In fact, I have little to add. But when has that ever stopped me from jumping in?
I agree that Jesse ran away because he realized how easy it was to pick his pocket and pieced together the Brock poisoning, just as Bryan suggests. I do think it is up in the air exactly what was going to happen when Jesse got in that van. Overall, I am inclined to believe that Walt really did want Jesse to make a “new start” (which, as you point out Natalie, is a complete fiction). He has saved Jesse so many times and there is a way in which Walt’s idea of his own success has always been tied up with keeping Jesse safe (and well-controlled). But Walt is such a two-faced liar it is not out of bounds, is it, to wonder if there was some ulterior motive going on? If maybe the man in the van really was great at making people disappear permanently? I don’t know that we’ll ever know for sure, but the fact that as a viewer I didn’t know what to think for sure is surely a sign that none of us really know the limits to Walt’s depravity as he grasps at power.
And on that front I agree completely Natalie: Walt has always been motivated by wounded pride/ego and power lust. The story about providing for his family has always been something of a cover, even to himself. Except to the degree that “providing for his family” is a huge part of what drives Walt’s wounded pride and power lust! If you watch the very first episodes of the whole series, way before Walt is the monster we see now, you can see that what is really eating at him is his own comparisons with Hank and Elliot. He was not the “big man” he believed he was destined to be and he is tired of being seen as weak or in need of protection. What really drives Walter to agree to cook meth that first time is Hank promising to take care of his family. You can see the shadow of Walt, Empire-ruler, cross over earlier-Walt’s face. Once he opened that part of his personality (soul?), the sleeping beast has been running the show. So yes, I would argue that all along the real motivation is his own pride/ego and his own lust to accumulate and maintain his power (you were getting at this last week, right, Bryan?). But, if you will allow me, think about how power works for Walt:
1) Power for Walt is largely still measured in terms of his geeky, chemistry days: he wants to be the smartest man in the game. I honestly believe that Walt would spend every last penny of his money to outwit/outplay Hank. It is not, in the end, about money or safety: he wants to win. And winning means being smartest, most in control. He could have, at many moments, disappeared. But in a way, Walt is getting what he always wanted: for Hank to know just how much he’s been playing Hank.
2) Which brings me to my point from last week: power is expressed in this show in the most intimate and mundane family relationships. Think about it: at the end of a six season show about an international drug empire, who is Walt confronting? His brother-in-law. The drug cartels and rival drug gangs have fallen to the wayside. The ultimate power struggle is between two men who have been playing suburban oneupsmanship for years. The fact that Hank didn’t take it to the DEA just reinforces how much this is a personal battle – about masculinity, intelligence, class.
I will close by saying that the focus on Jesse’s cigarettes was a beautiful reminder that at the opening of this season-half we watched Walt extract the ricin from his abandoned house. Who, in the end, is that for? And I also loved your thoughts on how Walt, Jr. might enter in to all of this (since last night was his first real appearance), Natalie. And your analysis of the passive (aggressive) tone and color palette of the Whites, Bryan, was fantastically on point!
Some people are immune to good advice,
Sorry for the delay in chiming in. You’ve all pretty much covered everything I wanted to say, especially Kathryn, who has captured my view to a large degree. Just like, say, Fringe filtered inter-dimensional war through the family, so Breaking Bad is filtering a certain American landscape and trade through family. And, yes, you’re exactly right, Natalie and Kathryn, that family is a self serving ruse.
I suppose the only thing I’d add is that Hank is showing himself to be the other side of Walt’s coin: he also really wants to win. I’m not really a betting person, so I don’t have too many predictions for the future, but I suspect Jesse will not be helping Hank, no matter how much he’ll want to get Walt. In many ways, Jesse has turned into the most interesting character on the show (not in the sense that others are uninteresting, but in the sense that he most closely parallels us as spectators): his emotions are largely our emotions as we vacillate between creepily and usually inadvertently rooting for Hank while at the same time hoping he gets caught. This also leads me to the confession…I’m not sure yet exactly what I want to say about it, except that, to me, there is something important in the fact that it was a video confession and that we watch Hank and Marie watch it; these levels of voyeurism are, I think, doing something important here, but I can’t quite put finger on it (and the point you raise, Bryan, about the lightning and so forth are surely important here). What do y’all think?