Breaking Bad Recap: The Study of Change
In the Breaking Bad pilot several years back, Walt lectured to his high school students that chemistry was “the study of change.” This week’s episode offers up a master’s degree in that subject, so completely does it highlight the ways in which Walter and Jesse have transcended themselves – in ways good and bad – since the series began. And then there’s that OMG scene… and that other OMG scene… It’s a rough one. Let’s review the major developments that take place in “Confessions.”
MEET THE NEW BOSS | The episode opens with Todd on the phone outside a diner, leaving a message for Walt. Due to a difference of opinions with Lydia’s formerly alive meth-lab runner Declan, he says, there’s been a “change in management,” and he thinks Mr. White should know. At a booth inside, he regales his uncle and his uncle’s pal with a retelling of the great train caper from earlier this season. The older men eat it up like a breakfast burrito, then the talk eventually turns to Todd running Lyd’s lab. “I got this,” he promises them, and they head back into New Mexico.
THE MASTER AT WORK | In the interrogation room where we left them last week, Hank has important intel for Jesse regarding Heisenberg. “See, I know he’s my brother-in-law Walt,” Hank says, which sends Jesse’s eyebrow into the stratosphere. Still, Jesse is Jesse, so he replies, “Eat me.” Undeterred, Hank notes that Walt lied to him and used him for a year. “Maybe you understand that feeling,” he says. But just then, Saul busts in and sends the DEA boss out of the room so he and Jesse can have a little lawyer-client time. Jesse tells him to chill out. “I don’t chill out right now because things have gone nuclear,” Saul replies.
And he doesn’t even know the half of it. Walt is interrupted trying to cover his bruises with Skyler’s foundation (a goofy moment I loved for the way it called to mind the bumbling, clueless Walt of Season 1) when Flynn says he’s going to Marie’s for some computer troubleshooting and dinner. Walt flies out of the bathroom just in time to catch his son and tell him that the cancer’s returned. (RJ Mitte’s face crumbles so believably upon hearing the news. Nice.) Walt vows to fight and asks the kid to stay positive, then sends him on his way – but an upset Jr. isn’t going anywhere, just like Walt knew would happen. (Side note: Of all of the emotional manipulation that goes on in this episode – and there’s plenty to choose from – this one made me the maddest. Even if I could forgive you for the way you handle Jesse later, Flynn/Walter Jr. is your own kid, Walt.)
Later, Skyler presses the record button on a video camera in their bedroom (not like that, pervs). Walt sits in front of it, gives his name and address and says, “This is my confession.” (Nice, tweaked nod to the pilot there, Breaking Bad.) Soon, he and Skyler are meeting Hank and Marie at the taqueria. Makes sense; fresh guac makes everything a little better.
Still playing the put-upon everyguy, Walt asks, “What do I have to do to make you believe me?,” and Marie honestly shocks me – and the rest of the table — when she suggests, “Why don’t you just kill yourself, Walt?” Woah, Marie, don’t hold anything back! Hank – who, by the way, has looked like a :/ emoticon throughout the conversation – growls, “Step up, be a man and admit what you did. There is no other option.” At that, Walt gathers his things and his wife and leaves, sliding a DVD toward his brother-in-law as he goes.
CONFESSIONS, PT. II | When the Schraders pop the disc into their home player, Walt’s evil genius shows itself yet again. Yes, the recording we see him make earlier is a confession – but it’s a fake one that claims Hank is a meth kingpin (!) who has forced Walt to be his chemist for the past year (!!). Knowing that the most believable lies have kernels of truth, Walt weaves actual events into his narrative, but changes the context to suit his needs. The cancer diagnosis, the DEA ride-along, Gus Fring – Walt mentions them all, but claims Hank masterminded everything from the meth empire to Fring’s murder. (Bonus points, Cranston, for the way you delivered “I guess you call it a hit” as though Walt had never, ever considered uttering such a phrase.)
“I wanted to go to the police, but I was frightened,” Walt says, selling himself as a victim. The only real emotion in the entire performance comes when Walt talks about the three months Flynn and Holly lived with the Schraders, but the rest is crocodile tears and flat-out fibs. It’s actually quite beautiful, how incredibly franched up this entire thing is. “I can’t take this anymore,” he blubbers, adding that he hopes “the world will finally see this man for what he is.”
Marie panics, but Hank knows the recording is just a threat. At the moment, he’s more concerned with the mention Walt makes of the $177,000 the Whites paid for Hank’s medical bills. It’s the first time Schrader has heard anything of the sort – and when he realizes that Marie accepted the cash so he’d be able to have the treatment that helped him walk again, he is despondent. “You killed me here,” he tells her. “That’s the last nail in the coffin.”
CRYING SHAME | Warning: If you are at all affected by Pinkman-in-emotional-peril scenes, the next few minutes will end you. Saul brings Jesse to the desert for a meeting with Walt. Well, it’s been nice knowing you, Jesse! After he learns that Jesse didn’t tell Hank anything, Walt takes his protege aside and suggests a change. “Will you let me help you? I don’t like to see you hurting like this,” he says, bringing up an associate of Saul’s who helps people assume new lives. Walt’s soft-voiced and avuncular, tossing in a (completely fake) good-natured chuckle and shake of the head. “If I could, I’d trade places. A whole lifetime ahead of you with a chance to hit the reset button.” (Side note: Though the likelihood of Jesse having a happy ending under an assumed name is about as likely as my parents’ story that our poodle Muffin went to live on a big farm when I was a kid, I can’t help but hope that maybe the former punk will eek his way out of this and get better.)
But Jesse’s done. “Would you just, for once, stop working me?” he asks tiredly. “Drop the whole concerned dad thing.” The younger man grows more and more upset – and Aaron Paul is on fire — as he commands Walter to just say the truth: He needs Jesse to go away to make sure that things work out for himself. “Just tell me you don’t give a s—t about me and it’s either this,” he says, his voice breaking as he sniffs back a total breakdown, “it’s either this or you’ll kill me the same way you killed Mike.”
So now that’s out there. And as Walter slowly walks toward Jesse, it seems like maybe this is the end for the pitiable Mr. Pinkman. But Walt – in yet another skillful manipulation – embraces Jesse instead. Jesse resists at first but then sags against his former mentor and fully gives himself over to a crying jag, which Walt weathers as he cradles the younger man’s head in his hand.
CIGARETTE BURNED | So Jesse agrees to a fresh start somewhere else, and Saul makes the call. But just as a car is about to whisk him off to his new life, Jesse realizes that Saul had Huell pickpocket some weed out of his pockets. And that revelation leads to – “The ricin cigarettes!” he screams as he beats Saul bloody in his office, having chosen not to get in the van. “He poisoned Brock and you… you helped him!” (Side note: I thought I’d feel good when that bit of deception finally came to light; instead, I just feel more scared for Jesse than ever before. Anyone else with me?)
Saul confesses at gunpoint, then immediately dials Walt as soon as the weapon-toting Jesse leaves the office. Heisenberg’s car screeches into the carwash driveway, then he takes a moment to pull himself together before spinning some stupid cover for Skyler about why he has to open the soda machine — real reason: to retrieve a gun he hides in there — and then quickly take off — real reason: whether he’s looking only to defend himself or to take someone out is a little unclear, but it’s definitely going to involve Jesse and it probably won’t end well. Walt, you probably don’t have to say anything to your wife, anyway; she looks about one glass of chardonnay away from another stroll in the deep end of the pool.
Cut to the White house, where Jesse careens into the front yard in his car, then jumps out with a canister of gasoline in his hand. (Uh-oh.) He kicks in the door (not good), thoroughly out of control (not good can’t watch), and begins spilling fuel all over the house (not good not good can’t watch please someone take us to the credits?) Phew.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!