What I find fascinating about the recent season portrayals of Walter White as the consummate abuser is how perfectly the show captures how hard it is to pry yourself from the sticky fingers of a manipulative, abusive narcissist. Every time you feel you’ve pulled away from him, he finds some way to exert control, often enlisting other people to do his dirty work for him. He will pull any stunt or ruin any life. Even his acts of “caring” are generally about reeling you in even more. You’ll notice how much the favors he does people create debts that they often cannot decline to repay.
In this episode, there were two big favors that were just, it turns out, expressions of Walt’s desire to control everyone around him. The first was in the past. Leave the maudlin attempts to sell the “confession” on his DVD aside. The real kicker is the one Hank picked up immediately: The money. By giving Marie a huge chunk of money to pay Hank’s medical bills, Walt bought himself insurance against Hank ever ratting him out. And, like the deft manipulator he is, it wasn’t enough for Walt to simply tell Hank about the money directly. No, he had to have a big, dramatic reveal to maximize the fallout within Hank and Marie’s marriage. It’s a classic divide-and-conquer strategy, deftly played. His message is not only that he can control Hank’s professional choices, but also that he can invade his marriage and make that a living hell, too.
The other favor was a future one. (Good screenwriting!) Jesse, of course, sees right through Walt’s attempts to paint the new identity thing as a favor to Jesse. But, as usual with toxic abusers, it’s not that simple. Despite the naked attempts at manipulation, Walt’s threat underlying it all makes it pretty much impossible for Jesse to say no. I was reminded of how so many domestic violence victims stay even when they realize their abuser’s kisses are all for show, they also know that leaving means he’ll stalk and maybe even murder you. Jesse gave himself over to the hug the way an abuse victim gives herself over to the kiss and hug after a beating, because at that point, you might as fucking well. It’s not like putting up last minute resistance is going to buy you anything.
I was also reminded of the way some abuse victims are forced to move far away, erase all their contact information so that their abuser can’t find them, get a new job, etc. It’s so unfair, but sometimes it’s the only thing that can keep you alive. That Walt himself offers it as a solution is just damn good drama.
Of course, the will to self-determination is not so easily deterred. If you think about it, Jesse’s realization that Walt poisoned Brock changes nothing. He knew Walt was a bad guy and that getting far away from him was his only chance of survival. None of that has changed. But the realization of how deep Walt’s manipulations go awakened in Jesse a desire to regain control—even if it’s at the expense of his own survival.
Obviously, the house is not burned down. We know that from the flash forward. So what do you guys feel happens next?