How much am I loving the utter confidence that this season has? One of my least favorite things in the past, particularly the first couple of seasons, on Breaking Bad was some of the attempts to be “arty” in the direction. It often felt like it was trying too hard and not contributing to the story. Now, however, the ambitious direction pretty much always works for me. I don’t know if they’ve just leveled up in terms of who they can hire or, now that they know where the story is going, they just have a lot more confidence, or what. But it’s working for me. The choice to show Walt’s reaction to the house before we find out why Jesse bounced before lighting it on fire was brilliant. The way that Walt’s frantic search for Jesse in the house and his pathetic attempts to hide everything from Skylar also worked really well.
The writing is also pitch perfect. The gasoline smell is obviously a big, smelly symbol of how Walt’s attempts to just leave the past behind are going to fail him, but unlike earlier attempts to create manifest symbols of Walt’s inability to control things as well as he’d like, particularly in “Fly”, this was played without too heavy a hand.
I can now say with 95% certainty that Walt will die. This is the episode where his story started to shift a little from farce to tragedy. All the comparisons to “Macbeth” flying around are largely due to the role Skylar played in convincing Walt to set up the hit on Jesse, but it’s a lot more than that. Walt basically found a small amount of redemption, if only by comparison, in this episode. We’re brutally reminded that no matter how awful Walt has been to Jesse, he still remains the only person that actually sees Jesse for who he is: a bright, compassionate person who lost his way. Everyone else sees Jesse, as Hank describes him, as a loser and a junkie whose life isn’t worth anything, in their eyes. Saul, Skylar, and Hank all separately express their strong comfort with or even desire for Jesse to be brutally murdered! Walt has a callous disregard for human life, but in the end, he’s the only person who believes Jesse has a right to live. Having gained a small measure of his humanity back, Walt is now going to have to die. That’s how it works.
In case that wasn’t obvious, there was a rather classic kind of “turn” that you see a lot in tragedy towards the end. Jesse’s justified paranoia causes him to misread the situation and his choices actually cause Walt to make the decision to kill him, when Walt had no desire to do that before.
The only question now is how. I applaud Breaking Bad—and I applauded Game of Thrones before—for reminding audiences that despite our obsession with “spoilers”, there are valid ways to keep a story interesting and even suspenseful even if you have a pretty good idea how things will turn out in the end. The tragedy is no less painful to watch even if you know the protagonist is a goner (though I suppose it’s easy enough for some in the audience to be ignorant or even deliberately induce ignorance of the signs that we’re watching a tragedy so that they’re genuinely surprised by the death of a Walter White or a Robb Stark). Breaking Bad calls its shot with the flash forwards, one of those devices I used to find kind of pointless but now think has matured to the point where it works. Instead of just being flashy for the sake of being flashy, it helps underline the larger point that how this ends matters less than how we get there.
Thoughts? What do you think Jesse’s supposedly brilliant plan is?