The Orange Couch, Episode 3 of Breaking Bad: “Hazard Pay”
We didn’t forget the latest episode of The Orange Couch! We try and are usually good about getting it up the next day, but some times it doesn’t quite work out. But I think you’ll like the way we broke down this latest episode of Breaking Bad. We’re approaching the episode like a whodunnit, except in this case, it’s a who’ll-do-it. We run down the list of possible suspects and make a case for them, one at a time.
Watch the video and vote for who you think will figuratively (or hell, literally) pull the trigger in comments!
Outside of what’s examined in this video, I have to make a note of Walt’s increasingly adept lying and emotional manipulation. I feel like Vince Gilligan has been quietly reading feminist blogs talking about domestic abuse and specifically gaslighting.
Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse in which false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory and perception. It may simply be the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred, or it could be the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.
Some times gaslighting is an end in and of itself; the abuser enjoys being able to dictate reality for the victim, and enjoys watching them self-doubt and flail around helplessly, unable to reconcile what their eyes and ears tell them and what this person they trust is telling them. Or, and this is probably way more common, gaslighters are trying to manipulate people for their own ends. Gaslighting is different from simple lying. Pretty much everyone lies from time to time, but it’s rarely with the intention to get the other person to unlearn to trust their own perceptions and rely on you instead to do their thinking for them. This article lays out some examples of gaslighting, and you’ll note that the gaslighters are doing more than simply lying, but they aggressively try to reframe the interaction so that the victim feels that their feelings and perceptions are “wrong”—so wrong that the gaslighter basically implies that the person should stop trying and let the gaslighter tell them what to think and feel. Much different than lying, and in fact, lying is often a survival technique for the gaslighting victim. (For instance, the woman who was told she didn’t really love her husband if she couldn’t perform magic and make out-of-season wild salmon appear on her dinner table. She didn’t do it, but buying farm-raised and passing it off as wild could have given her a few minutes rest until her husband came up with a new, impossible test to “prove” her love.)
There are two main people that Walt is trying to control through gaslighting. Jesse is the one he’s running the most successful con on. Walt portrays himself as generous, giving, and in control to Jesse, distorting Jesse’s ability to see that Walt is vindictive, stingy, and actually not a good decision-maker. Take, for instance, the way that Walt pulled a high level gaslighting by planting “evidence” that Jesse was reckless with the ricin, when we all know Jesse was very careful with it. This had the desired effect of causing Jesse to question his own judgment, become more helpless, and give more power over his life to Walt. At the end of this episode, Walt pulls another classic gaslighting trick of going really weird and threatening Jesse, but doing it in a way that establishes plausible deniability. That way, if Jesse comes back at him, he can play the victim, claiming he didn’t really threaten Jesse, and Jesse’s just paranoid.
A favorite tactic of the gaslighter is to fling so many accusations at the victim, after the victim resists abuse, that the victim ends up apologizing even though they did nothing wrong. Walt is so assured now of his ability to redefine reality for those he wishes to control that he skipped over the drawn-out process of acquiring a tearful apology from Skylar, skipping right—and chillingly—to the phase where the abuser magnanimously “forgives” the victim, casting themselves as the wronged party and distorting the victim’s perception of reality. Skylar is suffering from well-known effects of gaslighting, such as depression and tip-toeing around the gaslighter instead of confronting them for fear of getting into an mind fuck argument where the gaslighter is tossing out distortions and challenging the victim’s perceptions. (That’s why she understandably didn’t stand up to him when he moved back in without asking; he’s so far gone he’d probably rewrite the entire history of how he left in the first place.) Still, this episode was about how Skylar has quietly stopped letting it work. Walt can tell her the sky is purple all he wants, but Skylar is waking up and seeing that it’s blue. That’s what the Scarface scene was about: Walt would like you to see him as a warm family man, but as the little box in the living room unwittingly reveals, he’s a soulless monster. And probably always has been.