People resist when they’re told they need to watch Breaking Bad because it’s a great TV show. When something is critically acclaimed and labeled essential, catching up with it can sound like a chore. But what keeps fans of the show coming back (and what has caused the viewership of this extremely serialized drama to grow year after year) isn’t the obligation to watch what’s been canonized. No, we count the minutes until the next episode because watching Breaking Bad is fun. And no part of Breaking Bad is more fun than the moment when our hands fly to cover our mouths because we cannot believe what we just witnessed. Watching Breaking Bad is fun because Breaking Bad is audacious. And as our breath is taken away by a giant magnet or a shot from a fly’s POV or a post-apocalyptic-looking flash-forward, as we scream with mingled delight and dread, we are responding to that. To the show’s freedom and confidence, delivered with a gleefulness that mirrors our response.
That audacious moment in “Confessions” comes when Hank and Marie watch the DVD that Walt and Skyler deliver after the two couples fail to come to a resolution over improbably festive Mexican-themed menus. At first we don’t know why Walter records what he calls his “confession,” sitting there on the bed where the twins once waited for him to finish his shower, calling it “the only way” when Skyler asks if he’s sure. Then when he cuts the dinner date short and slides the disc across the table, we’re pretty sure it’s not his actual confession. What it is, though—that’s the audacious reveal. Some might call it “ownage.” But our admiration for Walt the badass schemer, wriggling out of the noose and leaving it around someone else’s neck, sours quickly as the video plays. He lays it on as thick and smarmy as curdled buttercream frosting, and as he turns on the waterworks and plays up his victimhood, we’re feel as sick as if we’ve been force-fed straight from the mixing bowl. Sure, the “confession” is mostly a message to Hank, an insurance policy, a warning sign: tread lightly. But it’s also a rivetingly disgusting piece of performative overkill. “All I can do,” he sobs pitifully, “is make this video and hope that the world will finally see this man for what he really is.” That takes your breath away, sure. But it’s because the boldness of turning the truth inside out—the innocent into the guilty and vice versa—reveals new depths to Walt’s moral bankruptcy. Slice open Walter White (and at this point I’m almost hoping someone does), and it’s lies all the way down to his shriveled, empty heart.
“Confessions” is all about Walt’s infuriating, mendacious monologues, it turns out. His first audience is Walter Jr., who turns down a seemingly innocent invitation from Aunt Marie in order to stand by his dad after Walt masterfully underplays a little father-son talk about how his cancer’s back (“I just don’t want to keep things from you: Yesterday I passed out very, very briefly”). Then he tapes the traditional “If you are watching this tape, it’s because I’m dead, murdered by my brother-in-law Hank Schrader” message, bathed in crocodile tears (“To keep me in line, he took my children”). And for a curtain call, he patronizes Jesse with an interminable spiel about how it might be best for Jesse’s personal growth to have Saul call the vacuum-cleaner repair guy so he can get away and make a fresh start. “I really think that would be good for you. Clean slate!” he enthuses with his put-on avuncular bonhomie. “If I could I’d trade places. A whole life ahead of you with a chance to hit the reset button."
And that’s when everything changes. The hinge on which this half-season turns starts to move at the moment Jesse speaks up and asks to be treated like a human being, instead of like a cog in Walter White’s grand megalomaniacal system of bullshit. “Just ask me for a favor!” he yells. “Just tell me you need this!” It probably takes the pit of meaninglessness and despair into which Jesse has fallen to drive him to finally say this out loud. He knows, and we know, that Walter’s pandering to his supposed desire for money or freedom is a dead end. But it also means that when he breaks down sobbing in Walter’s arms, we’re not sure whether we’re seeing a reconciliation—maybe even something genuine from Walter, for the first time in this episode.
Oh, wait. Nope. He’s just adapting to the role Jesse asks him to play, the one where the bond has kicked in and squeezed a little truth out (to paraphrase Albert Brooks). Because after he’s done whatever it takes to get Jesse out of the way, the whole thing will be over and done with. The omissions and commissions will be moot. None of it will matter anymore. If there were any real bond left, the kind that almost moved Walt to reveal the truth about Jane in “Fly,” then Walt would at least contemplate making a clear breast of it. Of course he’s gone way too far to ever tell the whole truth, which in itself is an indication of his wholly instrumental view of Jesse’s existence. But if there’s any hesitation, any regret, in that embrace, I couldn’t see it. And certainly when he stands in Skyler’s office door—completely in shadow, a figure who is a threat even when he’s offering protection—and says “We’re fine,” no one’s under any illusions about what he means. Not “I’ve made it right,” but “It worked.”
When Jesse reaches in his pocket for his weed and finds only a crumpled cigarette box, then realizes in a flash of insight (parallel to Hank’s epiphany on the john) that this is not the first time Huell has lifted something from him, we’ve long been ready for the adrenaline surge of seeing him active and angry. Watching him set off toward town and leave his ride behind, then beat Saul bloody for his part in Walter’s manipulation of Jesse’s emotions, is thrilling after these long weeks of catatonia and indifference. But it’s equally satisfying to see Walter jolted off his smug throne of imperial invincibility. He reverts back to the cowering, scrambling, transparently desperate mode that characterized his months spent seething in the superlab. The scene where he screeches up to the car wash, spends a scant millisecond composing himself before feeding Skyler a half-hearted line about how “the latch on the soda machine isn’t… latching,” then all but sprints to retrieve his gun from the machine’s undercarriage before making another lame non-excuse and darting out, is played for comedy as much as thrills. Walter’s too scared to be careful, too reckless to build his elegant framework of lies, and if we’re not cackling about the poetic justice of his cracked façade, we’re wondering how Skyler keeps from punching his manic face when he starts spewing his transparent fountain of crap.
So here’s where we stand. We may not always know what Walter’s going to do, but we know exactly why he’s going to do whatever it is. Jesse ends this episode in a paroxysm of rage, drenching the White homestead in gasoline; will his incendiary emotions ice over into something colder and more calculating—into a plan instead of a reaction? And then there’s wide-eyed Todd telling his war stories to an uncle who seems unlikely to have Mike Ehrmantraut’s professional loyalty to the woman who hired him. Jack might be the wild card in this deck, forcing the hands of the feuding players back in the ABQ.
- Burt Reynolds’ (actually stunt man Buddy Joe Hooker’s) jump out of a helicopter in the 1978 Hal Needham film Hooper, referenced by Uncle Jack (“Like Hooper!” he exclaims as Todd describes leaping off a moving train) not only depicted a record-breaking stunt free fall (232 feet), it was at the time a record breaking stunt free fall (232 feet).
- That’s Slim Rhodes’ “Gonna Romp And Stomp” playing at the end of the cold open, as Todd and the White Power Generation roll their precursor cargo back into Heisenberg country.
- Who do you think chose the restaurant where Skyler and Walt meet Marie and Hank? I’m betting it’s Walter’s idea, with the premise that his in-laws are less likely to throw a fit in a family-friendly place, in the middle of a crowd. I wonder if he anticipated being interrupted by Trent and his cheerful upselling (“How about that guacamole? We make it right here at the table!”).
- It’s Team Sand versus Team Midnight at the Mexican restaurant, with Marie in black, Hank representing for Schrader purple and Skyler in a beige turtleneck to match Walt’s cream shirt and grey cardigan. Later Gomie comes into Hank’s office wearing a purple shirt, only to be met with belligerence. Hey Hank, I think you’re missing a potential ally there.
- And so Hank finds out that Marie took money from Skyler for his extra physical therapy. For him, that $177,000 is “the last nail in the coffin,” the entanglement that ensures he’ll never be able to explain the truth about his relationship with Walt.
- Give a customer too much change one time, it’s a mistake. But when we hear Skyler exclaim over the exact change the next customer gives her, one might suspect that Skyler’s trying to get rid of the extra cash she’s supposed to be laundering through that register. A bit slower than chucking bundles of money onto random porches, but it does attract less attention.
- “Goodbye Jesse Pinkman, hello Mr. Credit To Society.”
- “Why don’t you just kill yourself, Walt?”