For a good chunk of “Confessions,” I had to wonder if Breaking Bad was entering its Death Note phase.
For those unfamiliar with the comparison, Death Note is a 12-volume Japanese comic series (manga), later adapted into a television anime and pair of live-action films, which depicts an intense battle of wits between its two central characters – brilliant teenager Light Yagami, making use of a supernatural power to kill criminals around the world, and L, the genius detective tasked with finding him – as they strategize and maneuver to discover the other’s identity. The series bears little to no similarities to Breaking Bad, but when Walter White sat down in front of the camera in tonight’s episode to give his ‘confession’ (and clearly intending to set an elaborate, crazy plan in motion in the process) I could not help but think of Death Note, and how the remote mental struggle between Light and L escalated to a point at which Light’s best option was to execute the most complicated, multi-faceted gambit possible – which, like Walter White recording a confession, involved manipulating the truth and risking his image and safety all for a greater, more nefarious purpose.
Death Note is iconic for those sorts of mental gymnastics routines performed by its characters, and Walt’s big move here – to record a confession in which he displaces the blame for his actions on Hank, made credible precisely because of how many actual events from the life of the series it utilizes – would feel right at home in that story. Walter White has planned or executed crazy, wildly complex plots before, of course, but for a myriad of reasons – many having to do with the sheer ruthlessness of the mind-game Walt chose to play with Hank in that video – this maneuver felt different. Bigger. More audacious. More mythical, the kind of insane gambit one would only take after executing many increasingly insane gambits before (like the train heist, recounted as full-on mythmaking by Todd in the episode’s opening scene). It felt, in short, like something out of the heightened reality of a series like Death Note, and to see such an impossibly grand display of psychological warfare go down on Breaking Bad was nothing short of exhilarating.
And once those floodgates opened, and Walt’s spectacularly performed gauntlet-throw played out before our (and Hank’s and Marie’s) eyes, I found myself wondering if this scheme was intended only to make Hank back down, or if, in the fashion of Death Note, this was merely Step 1 of a 40-odd-part plan, ending in Walt gaining absolute dominance and freedom. I even found myself questioning my perception of the two future scenes, where a seemingly defeated Walt returns to Albuquerque for one last showdown. Was that actually an extension of Walt’s exposure, or a part of this bold, drastic plan gone horribly wrong? Certainly, either outcome appeared likely – if this season was to be a battle of wits and will between Walt and Hank, each man unwilling to back down and with that recording representing the first major offensive step, anything seemed possible.
But then a certain long-neglected character re-entered center stage in a big way, and I realized – like Walt will soon come to learn, if he hasn’t already – that a plot as elaborate as the one I had started envisioning could never come to pass, because Breaking Bad is not, much as it has appeared to be these last two episodes, the story of Walt vs. Hank. That is certainly an element of the series, and a crucial one at this late stage, but if the arc Breaking Bad could be boiled down into one confrontational relationship, Hank would not be the one on the other side of the ‘versus.’
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