'Breaking Bad' episode 511 - 'Confessions': Up in smoke

aaron-paul-confessions-breaking-bad.jpgThe past two episodes of "Breaking Bad" seemed to show a Walter White who retained a little bit of the regular-guy humanity we saw at the beginning of the series. His admission that he screwed up in allowing Hank to connect the dots to Heisenberg, in particular, felt like a man coming to terms with the fact that he might be headed for a bad end.

Coupled with the fact that his cancer had returned, these small points of contrition made it appear as though Walt was ready to accept his fate.

Well, never mind all that. Sunday's (Aug. 25) episode, "Confessions," shows Walt at his most monstrously manipulative -- which is saying something, given his history. The video that gives the episode its title and his fake-concerned speech to Jesse in the desert inflict deep psychological wounds on their targets. It's irredeemable behavior -- but also tactically smart thinking: If Walt really does want either to get away clean or set up Skyler and his kids for the future, he has to both put Hank in a bind and make sure Jesse is out of the picture.

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He cannot, however, control everything. The episode ends with what could very well be a great big shoe dropping on Walt, all thanks to a little unplanned detail and his assumptions that everyone else is always a few steps behind him.

The way Walt goes about his strategy, though, brings out some of the worst aspects of his character. He's driven by a huge ego and both a surpassing belief in and desperate need to show that he is always, always the smartest person in the room. Could he have appealed to what Hank already knows -- that his career is likely over once he brings Walt in -- and gotten to the same end? Probably. But he twists the knife with a "confession" video that paints his brother-in-law as the mastermind behind the meth operation* and revealing that he and Skyler paid Hank's medical bills after the cousins shot him. It's easy to forget that Hank was still in the dark about that last fact, so it has a suitably devastating effect on him and Marie when he learns it.

(*What's great about the video, from Walt's standpoint, is that if you take away the big lie that Hank was running things, everything else he says is basically true. He doesn't fudge much about the running of the business.)

Could Walt just as easily have admitted to Jesse that yes, he needs him to disappear rather than trying to play the father figure once more? Absolutely, he could have. But after Jesse's impassioned, emotionally draining speech to do just that*, Walt only ratchets up his mind games by coming over to give Jesse a long, there-there sort of hug. Jesse doesn't exactly return the embrace, but he doesn't recoil either -- he's just too tired to fight at this point.

(*We may well have seen Aaron Paul's Emmy submission for next year. After barely being in last week's episode and remaining semi-catatonic for the first half of this one, he turns in riveting work here.)

Jesse does agree to get out of town with a new identity, pausing in Saul's office to fire up one last joint before he goes. Saul objects on grounds that the guy who arranges these things needs his subjects clear-headed. Jesse packs his remaining pot away anyway, and fishes for a joint to calm his nerves as he waits for his pickup. Except it's not there. A pack of cigarettes is, though, and Jesse quickly puts together that Huell -- who brushed up against Jesse as he was leaving Saul's office -- must have lifted the pot. And also lifted the ricin cigarette Jesse intended for Gus back in Season 4. Which means Jesse knows Walt poisoned Brock.

Jesse's righteous rage is something to behold. Because it was so long ago in air time (though not the show's timeline), it was starting to look like Walt might get away with it. But the missing joints for him is what the "W.W." in "Leaves of Grass" was for Hank -- except Jesse doesn't need to worry about building a chain of evidence, his career or anything else. He can go straight to dumping gasoline in Walt's living room. So why is it I'm kind of scared for Jesse?

We've seen from the flash-forwards that the Whites' house is still standing some months hence, so Jesse must not succeed in burning it down. Thinking about what prevents Jesse from finishing the job we see him start in the final scene brings to mind all sorts of bad scenarios for the character, ones I'm not fully ready to think about yet.

Other thoughts on "Confessions":

  • What to make of the phone call Todd places to Walt in the opening scene? Doesn't seem like the smartest move on Todd's part, does it? It goes unremarked on for the remainder of the episode, but the past few episodes have been very much about past actions catching up with Walt. It's hard not to think the phone call won't come back around in the next five episodes.
  • Internet, please get on a "Dean Norris does incredible acting just with his face" supercut, please and thank you. Norris has been great these past few episodes, but where Hank was once a more bombastic character, lately his work has been so subtle and understated that it's been amazing to behold.
  • The waiter at the Mexican restaurant is going to be all, "You won't believe this table I had tonight" when he gets home.

What did you think of "Breaking Bad" this week? What do you think Jesse will end up doing -- beyond what we've already seen -- with what he now knows about Walt?
Photo/Video credit: AMC