Breaking Bad Review: “Confessions” (Season 5 Episode 11)

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That character would, of course, be Jesse, and the greatest pleasure of “Confessions” – another episode that improves upon its predecessor, and is simply bursting at the seams with master-class material – lies in seeing Jesse realize just how completely at odds he and Mr. White have been for so long, and how utterly damaged and manipulated he has been along the way. And just as Jesse comes to understand that everything boils down to him against Walt, the audience starts to see that in the grand scheme of things, the struggle between Walt and Hank is comparably insignificant. Whatever mind-games Walt may have had in store beyond that DVD – and whatever retaliation Hank, in turn, could have planned himself – matter little, because Jesse is the most important catalyst in all of this, and Jesse isn’t going to go into battle with calm, collected strategy. Breaking Bad is not Death Note, and if Walt thought protecting himself was as simple as mentally outmaneuvering his DEA brother, he was gravely mistaken. In Jesse, he has created and then neglected his most unstoppable foe, someone dangerous not for wielding literal power, but because Jesse is a force of pure emotion, a challenge that, once set into motion, cannot be reasoned, threatened, or psychologically bullied out of the picture.

Walt is not the only one who has neglected Jesse’s significance – so has Breaking Bad as a whole since the start of Season 5 last year, and here, in Aaron Paul’s most significant showcase since season 4’s End Times, the purpose for Jesse’s long marginalization is made clear. Jesse was moved to the sidelines precisely so that Walt might underestimate him, allowing characters like Hank and Skyler to more clearly enter the forefront, and for the arc of the series, as a result, to adjust around these other supporting players. I doubt Vince Gilligan and company ever intended for the audience to forget Jesse’s significance – Aaron Paul was practically on even footing with Bryan Cranston in terms of screen-time and dramatic attention by Season 4, after all, and his precipitous drop in prominence last year did not go unnoticed – but the point had to be made that Walt did, at a certain point, start to forget just how much Jesse knows, just how emotionally motivated he can be, and just how much anger he stands to unearth if certain truths ever came out. The show did that by moving Jesse to the sidelines for a good stretch of time, so that when we get to this episode, and Walt has not yet done something about his biggest loose end, and responds to Jesse’s mental collapse and arrest by taking a clear ‘half-measure’ (as the late Mike Ehrmantraut would have put it), such negligence seems germane to the arcs of both characters. If things are going to blow up in Walt’s face just as he seems to have regained control, with Jesse serving as both gunpowder and spark, Walt has to be distracted, and he has to be caught off guard by Jesse’s sudden-onset wrath.

Jesse’s re-ascension to the top of the supporting cast starts at the very beginning of the episode, in that spectacular interrogation room stand-off between him and Hank. While Hank approaches this potential gold-mine of information much better than he did Skyler last week – he is calm and collected, and has a clear, thoughtful strategy for how to get Pinkman talking – Jesse is a dead-end, and that serves as a nice bit of foreshadowing for what will happen later in the episode. It is clear, observing his words and expressions throughout the scene, that Jesse holds on to grudges deeply, and while the all-consuming vengeful fury he felt against Hank in Season 3’s “One Minute” has dissipated into a less passionate, more sardonic hatred – “Why don’t you try to beat it out of me. That’s your thing, right?” – Jesse bears far too much ill-will towards Hank to ever give him information, even if that may, at this point, be in his best interest (I don’t know if Jesse would be eligible for immunity given that he murdered Gale point blank, but short of skipping town, cooperating with Hank and serving as key witness in the take-down of a major international drug empire certainly couldn’t hurt).

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