Monday, August 26, 2013

Breaking Bad Season 5, Episode 11, “Confessions”

Finally! Finally, Jesse the ticking time-bomb has been activated. It would not have been very satisfying for Jesse to have gone away quietly into the (Alaskan) night, never having learned what Walt did to Brock and/or Jane. Ever since we discovered Walt poisoned Brock (or ever since Walt let Jane die), Jesse’s discovery of Walt’s depravity has been like a shoe waiting to drop. While Jesse might be disillusioned with Walt, sick to death of Walt’s attempts to manipulate him, and strongly suspect that Walt killed Mike, Jesse still has not yet had a good enough excuse to turn on Walt, and certainly not a good enough reason to betray him to Hank, whom Jesse still loathes (Jesse has not, evidently, forgotten about the beating Hank gave him).

However, Jesse is given all the excuse he needs to go after Walt by the conclusion of this week’s episode. Saul sets up a meeting between Jesse and a fixer Saul knows who gets people new identities, but has Huell lift the bag of marijuana Jesse has in his pocket, as Saul is afraid the fixer won’t take Jesse if he spots the pot (and we actually get to see Huell’s sticky-fingered pickpocket skills in action this time around). Just before Jesse meets with the fixer, he reaches into his pocket for a joint, and discovers the bag is missing. When he reaches into his other pocket and finds a pack of cigarettes, the lightbulb flickers to life above his head, and he realizes what happened to the ricin cigarette two seasons ago (even if he doesn’t have the details exactly right – Walt didn’t use the ricin to poison Brock, but used it instead to make Jesse suspicious of Gus). Jesse connects the dots, and the other shoe finally drops, landing in a very loud, explosive thud. He bursts into Saul’s office full of righteous fury, fueled by the considerable amount of pent up resentment he has for Walt. Rage is by far the predominant emotion Jesse’s feeling, but I think there might also be some relief and little bit of eagerness mixed in there as well; finally he has a good excuse to vent his frustration over being manipulated, and his first impulse isn’t to talk to Hank, but to burn down Walt’s house.

Jesse's house in "Open House" from season 4.
It’s an especially fitting initial act of vengeance. Unlike Walt, Jesse has always had a tough time insulating himself from the moral repercussions of his life as a drug dealer, and that difficulty has been reflected in the distress to which he’s subjected his house over the past few seasons. After killing Gale, for instance, he throws a huge, never-ending party to distract himself from his guilt, and the house eventually devolves from the scene of a party to a den of squalor, a graffiti-covered haven for addicts. So it is fitting that Jesse’s first impulse upon figuring out that Walt was indeed behind Brock’s poisoning is to attack Walt’s home, because Walt’s house is his family haven, a physical representation of the façade Walt has used insulate himself from the repercussions of his actions as Heisenberg. Jesse is going to try to tear down that façade in the loudest, most violent way possible (although we know from “Blood Money” that the house is still standing in the future, so for some reason, he won’t go through with it. Perhaps he stumbles upon Walt Jr.). Like Hank's discovery and Marie's confrontation with Skyler, Jesse's wrath is another satisfying dramatic payoff that has been years in the making; hopefully it will spin into just as satisfying repercussions next week as well.

In other developments, Walt’s confession scheme is pretty brilliant. He’s truly become a master manipulator. We see evidence of it early in the episode, when he convinces Walt Jr. to stay home rather than going to Marie’s and Hank’s for dinner (and potentially be turned against Walt and Skyler). The story he tells Walt Jr. about how he got the bruise on his face is almost true: his cancer is indeed back, and he did indeed pass out, which possibly could have scratched up his face. The best lies are the ones that are nearly true. The same goes for Walt’s videotaped “confession.” So many of the details are true that the story is nearly right: Walt’s motivation to cook meth; Walt’s working for Gus; Gus sending the cousins after Hank; Walt paying for Hank’s medical bills (the most damning piece of evidence, as it’s easily corroborated); Walt’s building the bomb to kill Gus; Walt’s kids staying with Hank and Marie; Skyler’s horror upon learning what Walt had been up to, and Hank’s punching Walt and leaving a mark on his face are all correct details, but Walt distorts the contexts. His confession makes Hank out as Heisenberg: a brutal extortionist and Mafioso, business partners with Gus Fring, and then head of a meth empire after Gus's murder. It’s a brilliant ploy, one that completely de-fangs Hank and scotches any threat he might have posed to Walt and Skyler. Or it would have, perhaps, if Jesse had not suddenly found the motivation to destroy Walt’s life as violently as possible. Once again, I’m left eagerly anticipating next week’s installment.

Other thoughts:

- Walt’s confession reads like an alternate universe version of what the show could have been had it been less about Walt and more about Hank and Gus, or had Walt truly been the weak man he pretended to be for so long. Certainly, it would have been compelling, perhaps nearly as much as the actual Breaking Bad, although the center of the show would have shifted considerably. No longer would it be the story of Mr. Chips becoming Scarface; instead it would have become a show much more like The Sopranos, one where Hank most likely would have been the most fascinating character, a morally despicable family man.

- This week in beautiful Breaking Bad imagery: the fast motion in the interrogation room, which nicely conveyed Jesse’s subjectivity. The cops might as well be gnats buzzing around Jesse’s head. Also great: the shot of Walt rolling up to the car wash after Saul calls him to tell him Jesse’s on a rampage. On the left half of the screen, Walt slams on the breaks, leaps out of the car, runs to the front door, stops to compose himself, and then enters, while on the right half of the screen, Skyler calmly deals with a customer the entire time. It’s a great measure in contrasts, and it’s all done in one take.

- With Jesse now out for Walt, Walt needs to watch out for Skyler as well - his truce with her is predicated on her and their kids' safety. Take that away, and Walt loses Skyler as an ally. Walt knows it too, thus is subterfuge with the Coke machine.

- This week’s episode featured a camera attached to the canister of gasoline as Jesse storms into the White household. It joins the pantheon of other object-affixed cameras from episodes past (including the shovel-cam and last week’s barrel-cam).

- Nice touch: the first shot of the episode is an extreme close-up of Todd lighting a cigarette. It’s somewhat emblematic, considering Jesse finally learns the truth about the ricin cigarette this episode.

- Todd is the sweetest, aw-shucks psychopath. Loved his message to Walt at the start of the episode.

- Even Todd knows that the train heist from the first half of the season makes for a great story (minus his murder of the boy, which Todd leaves out). It seems to impress his relatives; I wonder if it will inspire them to contact Walt with their problems in the future, or if they get caught, whether one of them will spill the beans about the heist (thus providing Hank with evidence).

- Other thoughts on the interrogation scene: I like that Hank is able to see through Jesse’s bluster. Now that he knows about Walt, he looks into Jesse’s eyes, sees the damage Walt has done, and discovers (much to his own surprise, I think) that he has sympathy for Jesse. When Hank asks Jesse if Jesse wants to talk, Jesse whispers, “Not to you.” It’s a wonderful way for Jesse to twist the knife with Hank, because it implies that he is willing to talk, and that he does share Hank’s goal of putting Walt away, but that he’s not going to give Hank the satisfaction accomplishing it. It’s like Jesse’s holding a toy just out of Hank’s reach.

- When Marie nags Hank about not having told anyone at work about Walt yet, Hank says he’s still pursuing leads, but it’s all bluster. Jesse was Hank’s last hope for evidence.

- Trent, the restaurant waiter, is comedy gold, but this scene would have been great even without him. What I found most shocking was Marie coldly telling Walt that the price of all of this going away would be for Walt to kill himself, and then for Hank to say he would never let Walt off so easily. There was never any way Walt and Skyler would have been able to salvage the situation and return to the days where the four of them happily ate and drank out on Walt and Skyler’s patio, but Marie’s suggestion really drove home the extent of the rift between them. There isn’t really any way of coming back from that.

- How great was the scene in the desert between Walt and Jesse? Once again, Walt the master manipulator is at work. And it works here too, just like with Walt Jr. and Hank and Marie. Even though by now, Jesse can see through Walt’s bullshit pretty well, Walt still gets Jesse to agree to leave town. Poor Jesse. He really just wants Walt to level with him and treat him like a person, rather than a puppet, but Walt is incapable of it. At the very least, Walt’s hugging Jesse seemed genuinely remorseful. It’s likely the last moment of peace between these two, which is consistent with the rocky relationship they've had throughout the entire series. They've oscillated between begrudging allies and reluctant antagonists at least a dozen times.

- Poor Gomez. When he tells Hank he either needs to know why Hank has assigned DEA men to follow Jesse, or Gomez will need to pull them, Hank tells Gomez to pull the tail. Gomez looks disappointed; clearly he had been hoping Hank would clue him in, and didn’t expect Hank to cave so easily. Hank’s been cowed by the threat of Walt’s false confession.

- Walt keeps a gun in the bottom of a Coke machine, and the thing is covered in a thin sheet of ice. What good is an emergency precaution that takes 5 minutes to become functional? Better than nothing, I suppose.

- Nice sound design in the desert meeting between Walt, Jesse, and Saul. The sound of a plane soaring over head can be heard in the background of many shots. It’s a nice aural detail that emphasizes how they really are in the middle of nowhere.

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