Chemistry vs. Alchemy: A Breaking Bad Recap for the Episode “Confessions”
Spoilers abound, as always.
When Breaking Bad begins, Walter White is racing an RV full of highly-toxic gas toward some unknowable destination. He stops the RV, puts on his cleanest dirty shirt, and pulls out a video camera.
"This is not an admission of guilt," he says as he spills out his feelings to his family and his unborn daughter. It’s a confession that the confessor swears is not a confession. “There are going to be some things you’ll come to learn about me in the next few days. I just want you to know that, no matter how it may look, I only had you in my heart.”
I wonder if, in this moment, you’re witnessing Walter White’s only dance with the absolute truth in the course of this entire series.
It doesn’t show up very often. In fact, I can only really think of one episode where Walter isn’t lying through his teeth for most of the action. And even then, as he and Jesse chase a fly around their lab, Walt still doesn’t come clean about being there to witness Jane’s death due to “drowning”.
And Walt continues his love affair with the lie in last Sunday’s episode, “Confessions”. In it, he sits at the edge of his bed, Skyler manning the handi-cam, and spills his guts. Only, not really. His confession, in this case, is not a confession. It’s a blackmail message, a shot across Hank and Marie’s collective bough. In it, Walt paints Hank as the mastermind of the Heisenberg drug empire. It would be a flimsy notion, except for the fact that, yes, Hank and Marie did keep Walt and Skyler’s children for three months. And, yes, Hank’s surgeries and recovery/rehabilitation were all on Walt’s dime. Marie knows there’s a link. Hank now has reason to let off the gas. Walt’s lies have bought the family a little more time…
…but they’ve also come back to haunt him, as Jesse learns what really happened to Brock.
Walt doesn’t like the truth. Odd, for a scientist, the people who seek the baseline truth in all of our lives. Scientists are supposed to hold that certain values are constant, that the seeking of knowledge is of paramount importance in life. Chemists especially. They seek out the building blocks of life and of matter and energy. They know which bonds break and which ones strengthen. They’re obsessed with knowing. Walt’s obsessed with making it all up.
Is Walt a chemist? Or is he an alchemist?
Alchemy is a pseudo-science, one that pushed thousands of obsessives to try and turn lead into gold and to find everlasting life. Alchemy isn’t pure science - there’s a lot of religion and “magic” wrapped up inside of it. But Alchemy did spur many a scientist down the road toward an understanding of chemistry and mathematics. Isaac Newton was a part-time alchemist. Some say his study of alchemy helped push along his study of gravity. Englishman Robert Boyle, widely considered the first modern chemist, got his start in the mirky world of alchemy. Hard to believe so many brilliant men and women were introduced to science by way of magic. The search for eternal life. The desire to turn lead into gold.
Walt is, in so many ways, looking for eternal life. While his cancer has returned and his options are likely few, he knows that his time as Heisenberg will cement his name in the history books, at least in the DEA archives. That video of Bryan Cranston reading “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley means more now than ever. “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
As for turning lead into gold? Walt’s already done that. He’s taken his heavy, lifeless, leaden existence as sniveling, cowardly Walter White and turned it into a multi-million dollar enterprise. He’s got more money than he will ever spend, or have time to. He’s secured his family’s future as best he can. Death’s no threat. And everyone’s afraid of him.
Everyone except Jesse.
Jesse’s brush with Hank ends quickly and quietly. Jesse could give up Walt for good at that moment and doesn’t. I talked last week about Jesse’s place in the deck as the wild card and, boy oh boy, does that card suddenly take on a whole new value this week. At one moment so vulnerable, so dedicated to keeping Walt out of harm’s way and finally breaking free of the evil that he’s done and in the next, out of destruction.
Huell takes Saul’s cue to steal Jesse’s pot out of his pocket. This simple act helps Jesse connect the dots between Brock’s poisoning and Walt. Hell-bent on revenge, Jesse sets off with Saul’s pistol, Saul’s car, and a giant jug of gasoline and douses Walt’s living room and dining room. The camera cuts to black and we’re left to wonder…is this the end?
Jesse burning down Walt’s house isn’t in the foreseeable future. The house is still standing in the most recent flash-forward, it’s just been vandalized and shut off from the world. So what lies will Walt concoct to keep Jesse in-pocket? What words could possibly bring Jesse back around or make him blow the match? Nobody’s better positioned to destroy Walter White than Jesse is. Nobody. Period. Hank doesn’t know the whole story. Neither does Marie, nor Skyler, nor Todd, nor anyone else. So how can Walt turn that ship around to their mutual satisfaction?
Will that strong embrace in the desert mean anything to Jesse? What exactly did it mean to Walt? Was Walt thankful that Jesse was willing to go away? Was he sad that he’d destroyed Jesse’s life and nearly killed him a half-dozen times through his negligence? Is he hugging the son he’s neglected for so long, the boy he failed in their days together in the classroom and their time in that poison-filled RV?
Is Walt holding on to the one bit of magic that helped him make his empire a success?
Whatever magic the alchemist has left, he’d better start using it now.
Not for nothing:
- That meeting in the Taqueria was really great. The bubbly, vibrant background music and the enthusiastic waiter were an interesting offset to the lava flowing underneath.
- Todd and his Pruncle (that’s “Prison Uncle” to those of you just joining us) sure are crossing back into New Mexico…
- My Internet pal David (robofrakkin) has a very interesting theory about the target of Walt’s Death March. Having reviewed his evidence, I’d say this is a pretty good guess. Go read it and learn more.
- My pals and I are taking bets on how long it takes Walt, Jr. to figure out what’s happening. Does Marie tell him? Does Hank? Does Skyler? Hank has no compunction about kicking down the door of the White’s household and taking Walt out in cuffs in front of his long-suffering son and wife.
- No, really, find me an episode where Walter doesn’t tell a single lie.
- Steve Gomez has a role to play in the whole Walt-Hank War, I just don’t know what it is. Does he try and reel Hank in a little?
- I felt bad for Saul this episode until I realized that, hey, he asked for it.
- If Aaron Paul doesn’t win some decent hardware for his portrayal of Jesse Pinkman this year, the system will have failed us.
(Art by me this week. Not my best, but I was working fast.)