Monday, August 26, 2013

Breaking Bad 511: Confessions

Part of me wished, after seeing this episode, that it'd been divided into two episodes. A lot of big things happen, causing a lot of movement in the plot and characters, and of course, there's some selfishness on my part in wanting the lengthy conclusion of this series told in more than just eight episodes. After thinking about it a bit, though, I'm completely satisfied with the pacing and realize that it seemed like a lot (and will in every episode following this, I expect) because there's absolutely no filler - every scene is not only very critical to the story, but also incredibly intense. And I wouldn't have it any other way; 511 was nothing short of amazing.

I wondered if "Confessions" should have been titled "Manipulations", instead, as there's a lot of the latter going on, this week. Hank tries (and fails) to convince Jesse to be an informant, Walt working Walt Jr., Walt working Jesse, Whites vs. Schraders...SO MUCH TOMFOOLERY. There are certainly enough confessions to warrant the title as well, though, whether forced or voluntary, true or false.

More than said confessions, however, I feel what will receive more scrutiny in this episode is the plausibility of paths/actions taken by Hank and Jesse. In Hank, we see a D.E.A. agent who's proven to be fairly good at his job (though he may not have always gotten credit for it) fumble the biggest discovery of his life (Walt = Heisenberg) so badly that he's now being implicated as the drug kingpin he was chasing for a year and therefore unable to move on turning Heisenberg in. Walt's video, on its own, is completely brilliant and plausible, and you marvel at how every piece of the story so far matches this Hank-as-Heisenberg alternate reality, just as much as it matches the Walt-as-Heisenberg one. What's in question is, how on earth could a smart guy like Hank screw up the investigation when it mattered most, essentially painting himself into a corner?

I know not everyone will buy Hank's shoddy approach to the case in this season, but I buy it. In the past three episodes, Hanks interactions (with Walt in the garage, with Skyler in the restaurant, with Jesse in the interrogation room, with the Whites at a guacamole-less table) have been frazzled, sometimes frenzied, and not well planned, opposite to the steady, in-control manner we're used to from him, especially when he's on the job. What's different now from before this season is that family's involved, and despite the amount of time he's had to let his discovery of Walt sink in, he's clearly beyond shaken by it (keep in mind, we've had five seasons to adjust to the Mr. Chips to Scarface transformation - Hank has not). It appears as though he's been put on "pause" for now, though we don't know where he went when he abruptly left work (my guess is to track down Jesse before he sets fire to the White house and find him a more willing informant).

The other plausibility issue at stake is whether or not we buy Jesse discovering the truth about the ricin on his own. The general argument against this plot point, I suppose, is that he's Just Not That Bright. Eh, fair enough. When you look at the history of the ricin story, though, it becomes plausible enough, at least for me. Some may not remember that Jesse initially did suspect Huell of lifting the ricin from his pocket; he was convinced otherwise by Walt, of course, and thus didn't end up shooting his badass chemistry teacher. Flash forward to now, when he realizes Huell stole his's natural for him to remember the other recent time he lost something and suspected Huell as the culprit. He grabs his cigarettes, and that visual combined with the brief memory of not knowing where the ricin went - like I said, not everyone will buy it, but I did. He was never completely sold on the Brock poisoning story, in the first place, and so it just took putting a few small pieces together for him to figure out the truth.

Something that a lot of BB viewers probably don't accept is that it tends to venture into elements of the surreal. Gus's death scene and the plane crash come to mind - they're not entirely impossible, but they are a little...out there on the feasibility scale. That's understandably not everyone's cup of tea, but I've always loved it - it's just one of the many creative choices that make the show great. And when plausibility issues like these come into question, I, as a viewer who's always accepted the surreal mixed in, have an easier time believing where the writers are taking us. There are shows that will introduce plot twists for the sake of convenience to the larger story, and I've never felt Breaking Bad does that. Every move they make is made with so much forethought and attention to detail that I'll likely continue to be nothing but impressed, no matter how it ends.

The scene where the three amigos meet in the desert is probably my favorite from this episode. I've found myself, at various points in the show, wondering if a very small part of Walt really does love Jesse, and while this scene squashes any notion of that (love is obviously a lost cause, when even Walt's hug is manipulative), I was still asking the question in my head. And maybe that's because I very desperately want to believe the love is there, somewhere. That just makes scenes like this all the more difficult to watch, as it's clear Walt has kept Jesse around all these seasons because as he's clashed with so many enemies and members of his family, Jesse remains the only person who's malleable enough to do what he's told. And hey, maybe that's also where the notion comes from - Jesse has, of course, saved Walt's life on occasion, so surely some love exists on Walt's part? Whether you believe or don't believe, THAT HUG, YOU GUYS, THAT GOD DAMN HUG.

The only possibly genuine part of Walt's speech was his jealousy-flavored, "You have your whole life ahead of you, you're so damn young," bit. I wouldn't go so far as to say Walt felt regret for ending his life with all this - he merely wishes, perhaps, that he could be around to start fresh and enjoy the money he made. Can't have it all, I guess?!


- The ending didn't give us too much more direction on where things are going, the way I see it - the flash forward we've seen shows the White house severely damaged, but it certainly doesn't look fire damaged. As I said earlier, I don't see Jesse setting it on fire. He probably gets some Heisenberg graffiti on the wall before Hank shows up and, this time successfully, convinces him to inform on Walt. OR MAYBE HANK DOES THE GRAFFITI. It remains lots of fun to speculate on the endless possibilities.

- The character movements were so well executed in this episode (like chess pieces, battleships, insert your game piece of choice here, because I'm not a game person and have no idea what I'm doing with those metaphors), and it's been really fun and interesting to watch them all start to shift on their own morality scales, around the show's anti-hero. In the first episode, Hank and Skyler were on the move, while Jesse was at a standstill. Skyler's locked in her position by the end of the second episode, while Marie and Hank move. In "Confessions", Hank and Marie are brought to an alarming halt (for the moment, anyway), and it's very much Jesse who makes his move, practically brought back to life from his catatonic state by a desire for vengeance (hurting children has become an obvious trigger for him, as someone who's always identified with and felt sympathy for their innocence). The writing has to be tight, in order for these movements to come across so flawlessly, and the writers more than deliver this.

- I have so much fangirl love for the throwbacks to season one in this episode, especially as the first two seasons remain my favorite to watch. As dark as the show has gotten, I love that a simple shot of Walt using makeup to cover his black eye equally as badly as Jesse did in season one can still make me grin like an idiot. Of course, Walt's taped confession also reminds us of his taped confession in the first episode - except the confessions themselves are vastly different from each other. In the first tape, he's every bit Walter White,  while the second one, aside from being completely fabricated, shows Heisenberg as Walt...Walt-as-Heisenberg-as-Walt, I guess. Jesus, Bryan Cranston is amazing.

- I was surprised by how hard it was to watch two scenes in particular - Saul getting beaten and Walt's manipulation of Walt Jr. to get him to stay at the house. As much as I love Saul, he was never a standout favorite character of mine (what sleazy lawyer would be?!), so I was taken aback when Jesse beat him and ALL MY FEELS happened. Maybe because we so rarely see Saul in the middle of the "battle", it's extremely jarring and hard to watch when it happens...but I was admittedly heartbroken to see it. The Walt Jr. scene is more understandably difficult to digest. All of Walt's abuse towards Jesse is, by far, worse than what he does to Walt Jr. in this scene, yet it really is more awful to see him manipulate his own son this way - a son more innocent than every other character on the show. Walt Jr. hasn't appeared much in this half of the season, but this scene hurt to watch and makes one hope he comes out of this unscathed (though even if he does, those close to him won't, and he will inevitably be traumatized from whatever end comes).

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