25
Aug
2013
Breaking Bad: Season 5, Episode 11
Confessions
Jordan
When a great television show nears its conclusion, it makes the imminent ending resonate from its every moment. Breaking Bad has always been a show where anything could happen, yet for a show that so perfectly maintained the feeling that no twist was completely outside the realm of possibility, it has a shockingly low body count in its central cast. No one who was a cast member in the pilot has died to date, and most of the major characters who met their end had their fate telegraphed well in advance. It was always clear Gus was going to have to die to complete Walter's ascension, Jane was set up from the start as Jesse's doomed love, and even Mike's end was clear well before it happened. What's amazing about this final stretch of episodes, and really, about the show as a whole, is the way it manages to keep the tension ratcheted up, and indeed, to ratchet it ever higher, without resorting to a lot of standard plot twists.

These final episodes are playing with our notions about the show, and with our strong desire for an ending that will satisfy us. They aren't playing the sort of games The Sopranos played until its final frame, though. Breaking Bad is continually making clear that this story will end, and reminding us in ways both subtle and explicit that this end means nothing is off the table, not even the things it has kept out of play to this point. So much has happened in the show to date that it can be easy to forget how much could happen in the last five episodes, how much story this show has saved up for the final stretch. What will happen is anyone's guess (and I'm not here to play prognosticator, at least not until the Notes section), but what the show continues to make clear is that virtually anything can happen. Except, perhaps, a happy ending.

"Confessions" draws its title most explicitly from the video Walt makes and gives to Hank after their confrontation at the Mexican restaurant (a blackly comic interlude of the sort this show does exceedingly well). The way the video duplicates Walt's introduction from the pilot is a clever bit of circular storytelling of the sort I like to see as a show wraps up, except one thing has changed. One thing is different, and that alteration tells us everything this episode needs us to know about Walt. In the pilot, Walt followed his introduction of himself with the sentence "This is not an admission of guilt." Now, he follows it with "This is my confession." When he said the first, he was a terrified man on the verge of suicide, a chemistry teacher wracked with guilt and desperately unsure of what the next thirty seconds would bring. When he speaks now, he is in control, a dying man who knows he can beat death, a kingpin who thinks he knows every possible move on the board. In that first video, everything he said was the truth, even if he was carefully editing it to obscure the exact details of his guilt. In the newest video, everything he says is a lie, but he does not quiver or shake. He has not a shred of doubt or compunction. In fact, all of the emotion that we see is a show for the camera. When the show began, Walter White had trouble with lying, bumbling when he covered things up to Skyler, and just wanting to unburden himself in what he thought would be his final moments. Now, Walter White is incapable of telling the truth, unable to stop "working" everyone around him. His first video was a tearful goodbye to his family; now he doesn't even see the people around him. He only sees pieces on a game board to be moved about as he sees fit.

Throughout "Confessions," we watch Walt run plays on everyone around him, and for the most part, at least for the moment, we see that they work. The most devastating of these is his deception of Walter Jr., a young boy who only wants pancakes and a cool nickname, who has instead become a bargaining chip in the struggle between the Schraders and the Whites. When Walt reveals his cancer is back, he's telling the truth (at least, insofar as we know. The cancer may be much worse than he lets on to his son here, but he is honest about the fact that its back), but he's doing so for the emotional impact he knows it will have. He is manipulating his son to make sure he doesn't go to see Hank and Marie. And our man Flynn is putty in Heisenberg's hands. He plays Hank and Marie at the restaurant, even though Hank has proven himself immovable. SO, he threatens to play the DEA, and it turns out Hank may move more easily than he let on. He plays Skyler with an unconvincing lie about the latch on the soda machine so he can retrieve a frozen handgun. And he plays Jesse like he has been from day one.

Walt's speech to Jesse is unbelievably patronizing, even coming from him, and that he lays it on as thick as he does proves just how untouchable he thinks he is. He tells Jesse it would be best for him to get a fresh start. He tells him to get a clean slate with the help of Saul's friend the vacuum cleaner repair guy. And even though Jesse knows Walt is lying, even though he confronts him and asks Walt to stop playing him and just be honest, Walt doesn't drop his act. He just hugs Jesse, and through the sheer will of his manipulation, he manages to get what he wants without having to lay anything on the table at all. It isn't that most of these people believe Walt's lies. Jesse, Hank, and Skyler are all pretty apparent in their disbelief. Its that no one challenges Walt, or, when they do, sticks to their challenges in the face of his trump cards. He has everyone in his life backed into corners. He's force feeding them vinegar, and making both parties pretend it tastes like sugar. This is the darkness at the core of Walter White, a man so terrifyingly evil he cannot possibly look inward. So he remakes the world to fit his lies. For most of the run of this show, those lies have been believed to Walt's betterment. Those lies have saved his life multiple times, they have made sure he has survived to fight another day. Those lies remade him and the world around him. But the castle Walt has built on that mountain of lies is on a shaky foundation. No one is believing them anymore, and while they aren't exactly in a position to do much about that yet, many of them are preparing to do things that will topple Walt's kingdom and send him tumbling down into the muck.

Jesse buys Walt's lies because he has to, and he is prepared to give the man what he wants, even as he got nothing, not even an omission that he was serving Walt's interests more than his own, in return. But then something happens. Jesse discovers the one thing that would make him incapable of buying into Walt's version of events, the one thing that brought him close to murdering Walt in the past. When he finds Huell lifted his weed, and looks at that crumpled up packet of cigarettes in his back pocket, everything crystallizes. He realizes he's seen this trick before, and his whole world clicks into place. Jesse can't get in that innocuous red minivan. He can't disappear. He's seen the face of the devil himself, and he knows what to do. For all of his faults, for all of his mistakes, Jesse Pinkman is a good man, and when faced with the devil, he cannot turn tail and flee. He has to stay and fight.

And so he bursts into the White home with a can of gasoline, fresh off his visit to administer a brutal beating to Saul, who has gotten no better at concealing secrets when he is directly threatened. Like many a reluctant hero before the final act of a story (think Han Solo in A New Hope), Jesse was about to exit stage left. But a crisis of conscience sent him back. The foe he faces has him outmatched. Walter is a man with a plan, even if he is currently desperate and knocked off his game. Yet that gives Jesse at least a potential advantage. Given time, Walter White will turn any situation to his advantage. But keep him on his toes, keep throwing chaos in his direction, never let the dust settle, and you may stir Walter White to the breaking point.

Grade: A-

Notes:

-The cold open shows us Todd is not too great at confidentiality. My guess is neither are his associates. This bodes poorly for Mr. White, whom Todd names freely and often in his war story.

-"Why don't you just kill yourself, Walt? That's what you're saying, right? That this whole thing ends when you die? Well, maybe you should do it then. Maybe you should just die."

-Hank's reaction to the reveal that Walt paid his medical bills is perfect. He was too caught up in things before, but now he is completely incapable of explaining the situation and coming out looking clean.

-"Jesse, will you let me help you? I don't like seeing you hurt like this."

-"Maybe it's time for a change...just get out of town. Don't look back."

-"In a few years, this might all feel like...nothing more than a bad dream." "Would you just, for once, stop working me?"

-"Some people are immune to good advice."
Tags: Breaking Bad
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