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Breaking Bad Recap: The Performance of a Lifetime

Skyler White (Anna Gunn) and Walter White (Bryan Cranston) - Breaking Bad _ Season 5, Episode 11 - Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

The confession in "Confessions" wasn't the one some of us had hoped for. Like so much that pops out of Walter White's mouth, it was a lie tailored to complement established facts: Hank, not Walt, was the drug-dealing mastermind behind the blue meth and all the murders associated with it, operating from a protected spot within the Drug Enforcement Agency. Everything in Walter's scenario seems plausible, especially the idea that Hank killed Gus Fring as revenge for the Twin's botched attempts to murder Hank in season three, and to consolidate his own power. Little details such as Walter creating Hector’s wheelchair bomb helped put it over. As Hank and Marie thought about it, they had to admit it was a scarily convincing story, one that even accounted for Walter paying for Hank's medical bills. If lies can be art, this one is Walter's masterpiece.

Like Hank's real case against Walt, Walt's phony case against Hank is largely circumstantial, but just as convincing, in some ways more so. Its presentation made for a clever mirror of the pilot, which began with a flash-forward of Walter panicking in the desert in his undies, confessing into a video camera. 

The push-pull between Walter and his alter ego Heisenberg has always been the core of the show, but while the struggle was intense and complex, with Heisenberg occasionally receding as Walter's guilt or anxiety came to the fore, over time we've definitely seen Walter being subsumed within Heisenberg. The "real" person eventually became a facade for the alter-ego making the decisions and pulling the strings. The juxtaposition of Walter White's first videotaped confession in the pilot (which was all truth) and this one (which was all lies) would seem to answer the question of whether there's still good in Walter. This was his last chance to break good, and he didn't take it. At least he thought about turning himself in last week's episode. That's something, right? It isn't? Oh, well. 

Will the "confession" be enough to make Hank back off? Let's hope so, because if it doesn't, Hank's dead. Despite Walter's protestation to Saul last week that he could never send Hank to Belize ("Hank is family"), the entire run of Breaking Bad has shown Walter crossing lines you hoped he'd never cross, from killing a drug dealer in his basement to letting Jesse's girlfriend Jane choke to death on her own vomit (a moment of treachery that Jesse still doesn't know about), and from there to poisoning a child, setting off a bomb in a nursing home, killing Mike in cold blood, and masterminding a string of prison murders. 

Heisenberg cried very convincingly on the tape. He reminded me of the old Walter, fearful and hapless. 

Jesse cried, too. I honestly thought he was dead in this scene. In fact, when the episode cut to a commercial after Walter hugged Jesse, I wondered if maybe that was the last we'd see of Jesse — that the show would deal with his death obliquely, and perhaps hold off revealing it for a while; that maybe we'd have to view Jesse's death the way Jesse had to view Mike's, from afar, without access to all the facts, wondering where he went and somehow knowing. (Jesse came right out and told Walter that he knew that he murdered Mike.) 

Luckily, that's not what happened. And it's here that we see what looks like an epiphany, one boldly conveyed without any dialogue to help the audience along. While standing by the side of the road, Jesse reaches for his bag of weed and realizes it's gone, then realizes that somebody must have taken it, and that the somebody had to have been Huell, under orders from Saul, who chastised him back in the office. Then he takes out his cigarettes. As he stares at the pack, he remembers the time Huell frisked him in Saul's office, right before Brock was poisoned. This memory in turn prompts Jesse to realize that Walt poisoned Brock and lied about it. When he stalks away from the pickup site, I don't think he's so much escaping his own fate as succumbing to vengeful fury. He wants to kill Walter. 

Jesse's rage in the last part of this episode is terrifying. As he storms into Saul's office and terrorizes him, then goes to Walter' house with a gas can, we get the sense of long pent-up rage finally erupting. He's through with lies. He's taking the fight to Walter. He wants to burn it all down. 

Odds and ends

* Powerful as it was, that cut-to-black after Jesse invades the White's home felt like a cheat. We know from the flash-forward that started "Blood Money" that while that house eventually is abandoned and vandalized, it does not suffer fire damage. Therefore somebody will stop Jesse from setting the house ablaze. Who's home at that moment, though? There were no cars in the driveway. Maybe there's one in the garage? I'm hoping it's Walt Jr. If he turned out to be the person who talks Jesse down from his precipice of rage, that would be funny and entirely appropriate. Walt Jr., is Walter's real son, Jesse his surrogate (or nephew). To the best of my knowledge, Walt not only hasn't met Jesse, but has no idea that such a person exists. (I’ve seen the entire series up to this point twice through. But if he has, please let me know in the comments.)

* The scene between Walter, Skyler, Hank, and Marie in the Mexican restaurant was excruciatingly intense but also hilarious, thanks to the cheerful music in the background and the clueless waiter interrupting the psychodrama.

* I was "happy" to see Todd again in that opening coffee shop scene, which presumably occurs right after the massacre in last week's episode, but I was disappointed in Todd for excitedly discussing details of the train heist with two fellow killers. I thought it had been made clear to everyone involved that the heist was top secret. I wouldn't expect everyone who took part to obey the "loose lips sink ships" admonition, but for whatever reason, Todd struck me as unlikely to jabber on like that. 

* The confession scene is a reminder that, while "show, don't tell" is often good advice, there's something primordially powerful about listening to one person tell you a story the old-fashioned way, by just sitting there and talking. Walter's confession was one of the great monologues in the history of TV. Episode writer Gennifer Hutchison made it sound rehearsed but not too stagey — Walter lost his composure after a certain point and disintegrated from there, as a real person might — and director Michael Slovis, the show's regular cinematographer, made it all chillingly abstract by picturing parts of it via extreme close-ups of Walter's pixelated face on the screen. Although Walter "broke down" on camera and made himself seem like a scared, helpless pawn of evil Hank Schrader, the scene ultimately made Walter seem overwhelmingly powerful and confident. Big Brother is talking to you. 

* Apropos of last week's recap, I want to share a comment by reader Robert J. Peterson: "I'm sure someone else has already said this, but it occurred to me that the last two digits in the coordinates for the money are 52 — the same numbers Walt spelled in bacon in the season premiere's flash-forward. He seemed to be spelling his age at the time, but I wonder if he was surreptitiously delivering the final coordinate of his dark fortune to Skyler somehow?" That's a fascinating theory. If true, it would also mean that the two-year timeline many of us presumed for the show is incorrect.

(Note: Originally, I wrote that I believed Walter meant to have Jesse killed. The minute this recap went up, readers began insisting that Walter wouldn't put the hit on Jesse, for one reason or another. I could be wrong in believing he would, but in thinking back over the run of the show, I asked myself how many times I thought Walt would not be capable of a certain kind of treachery, only to see him cleverly and decisively carry it out.)

Photo: Ursula Coyote/Sony Pictures Television/AMC