Prior recaps can be found in here.
Even racist mass murderers respect the badassery of Hal Needham. That was my big takeaway from the cold open this week. I’m sure that Todd’s message will return as a factor somehow, but otherwise the scene seems primarily there to remind us of what we know about the train robbery and make explicit a plot point that didn’t really need explanation. It’s not a bad scene, and it does reinforce Todd’s imminent failure as a chemist (the better to spur the Nazis into forcing Jesse to cook for them) but I doubt anyone would have been confused if they just showed up in Albuquerque next week. Still, it does serve as the first of several recaps of earlier events in the series, wherein the teller whitewashes out their own culpability. Todd simply omits the child-killing coda to his tale of outlaw derring-do. Saul insists that he wouldn’t have gone along with the poisoning plan if he had known Walt’s full intentions. And Walt, well, we’ll get into that more later, but his retelling manages not just to skirt the blame, but shift it to an entirely innocent party. So I suppose the opening is interesting, but it still pales in comparison to each and every fraught, purposeful scene to come in the shortest goddamn hour of the week. Plus, I wondered why they wouldn’t have that scene take place in the same diner where Walt stops to pick up the M-60. I guess just because Arizona and New Hampshire lie on opposite sides of ABQ.
Anyhow, a TV series being able to draw to a close on its own terms is a relatively new phenomenon, but at such a time it becomes important to refocus in on what the show has always been about. “Confessions” serves as a reminder of the Big Picture ideas that Breaking Bad has been explored since its inception: masculinity, honesty, and the financial desperation of the supposed “middle class”.
Walt has long passed the point where he can justify his actions based on desperation or just trying to provide for his family (as a man does, according to Gus Fring). That doesn’t jive with proclamations about being in the Empire Business, and besides he’s collected the $737,000 he calculated he needed to secure his family’s future back in the S2 premiere about 50 times over by now. He has so much money, burying it in the desert seems like the most practical way of handling it. No, Walt continues to do what he does because he wants to feel like a man, like he’s the one in charge of his fate, even if it is to be horrible. He wants to be the one who knocks, regardless of whether the guy on the other side of the door did anything to deserve what comes next.
Hank has different ideas. He tells Walt that the only way out of this mess is to “Step up, be A MAN, and admit what you’ve done.” One of the subtler arcs of the show has been the steady reversal of Hank and Walt’s positions, vis a vis masculinity, as the series has gone on. In the first season, Hank was a swaggering alpha douche who would wrestle the spotlight away from his brother-in-law at his own birthday party without a thought, and Walt was the meek sliver of a man who didn’t even require a fully attentive handjob on his birthday (and don’t get me started on the improper sidearm technique).
But as Walt sought to assert himself in increasingly callous and eventually hugely destructive ways, the trauma heaped upon Hank served to gradually uncover that underneath the bluster, there was actually a caring and upstanding man. There’s a point in “One Minute” (which is starting to get some serious competition for my favorite hour of the show here in the home stretch) where Hank tells Marie “I’m not the man I thought I was,” and that’s “not who I’m supposed to be.” This is just before he elects to come clean about his beating of Jesse and take his punishment. Like a man. To Hank, honesty is an inherent component of masculinity.
But Walt, he doesn’t just lie, he lies big. Is there any problem so large that it can’t be solved by an extended, faux-emotional, explosively-hypocritical monologue? “Confessions” seeks to test that, and to be fair, Walt should be pretty confident in the tactic’s efficacy. It is, to quote one of the more paradoxically honest men on the show, an option that has worked very well for him in the recent past. It wasn’t that long ago that he brought Jesse around from pointing a gun at his head to helping him suicide bomb a nursing home. First of all, Jesus, when you actually type that out… But mainly, I can see how that turnaround, and his bringing Jesse back into the fold after the beating from Hank caused him to swear up and down he wanted nothing more to do with the Great Heisenberg, would cause Walt to be a bit lazy and transparent with his latest idle “suggestion” that Jesse call the up the Vacuum Man and skip town. He wasn’t particularly subtle when he planted the idea of breaking things off with Andrea last year, either. And it does actually work anyway, if only because Jesse is too weary to do more than insist that he drop the folksy paternalism.
Walt puts more effort and nuance into his lie to Flynn about where his shiner came from, using only the softest touch necessary to get him to avoid the Schraders for a night so that he and Skyler can concoct an insurance policy against them that makes the issue of using your cancer to manipulate your son into avoiding information about your international meth/murder ring look downright quaint. That “confession”…damn if it isn’t the most impressive, fiendish, elaborate lie of the series. It’s a jaw-dropping scene when it is revealed, and acted with sickening gusto, with Walt playing broken, morose victim to the hilt even as we know him to increasingly view himself as the master of the universe.
To take a derail into acting for a minute, aside from the impressive displays the character of Walter is putting on this week, it should be noted that the entire regular cast is on fire this entire episode. Okay, RJ Mitte is still just struggling to find a new spin to put on asking what’s going on, but Cranston and Paul are knocking things so incredibly far out of the park that it can be easy to overlook how great Odenkirk is at playing Saul both in his element (in the interrogation room) and in distress (when Jesse storms the office), or how good a submission episode this would be for Dean Norris, even if it only consisted of the 10 minutes between when he steps into that day-glo Mexican monstrosity and when he and Marie react to the video.
But it would also be ignoring Betsy Brandt, who is phenomenal in the restaurant scene, and surprisingly lands the ultimate dramatic gutpunch. I love how she can’t bring herself to even look at Walt until she drops her cold, hard, eminently practical suggestion on him. Advising someone else to commit suicide is sort of a ludicrous suggestion on its face, but really, if Walt were to off himself it would solve most of the problems for everyone else at that table. He, of course, has other ideas, revolving around a special edition, “director’s cut” of the “not a confession of guilt” video that opened the pilot.
In this version of history, Walt was conscripted into cooking on behalf of his greedy, violent brother-in-law, who had decided to work the other side of his badge and scoop some of that gold from the streets. This is evil because it foists the blame for all of Walt’s misdeeds onto a completely innocent family member, but it’s genius because of how many true details he was able to work in bolster the frame of the lie. Hank did take Walt on a ridealong just before the blue meth appeared, and did take the kids from their terminally ill father’s care, which are easily verifiable. He did have an enmity with Gus Fring that led to the other man to send the twins after him in the parking lot. Walt did create the bomb that killed Gus.
But that’s all circumstantial, and could probably be fought off in a he said/she said court battle. Not saying that Hank would get to keep his current gig, but I don’t see him doing jail time based on those parts of the story alone. The real nails in Hank’s coffin come from his own dishonesty and financial desperation. I wouldn’t say that Hank has “broken bad” in the way that Walt or even Skyler has, but it is interesting that he and Walt’s positions have flipped around to the point where it’s Hank who has been backed into a corner by prohibitively expensive medical treatments. But of course it’s dishonesty that has tightened the noose. Marie’s in trying to navigate around Hank’s pride, and Hank’s in refusing to expose Walt until he can bring him in on his own terms. These are eminently understandable decisions given the context in which they were made, but they provide just the threads that a master of the lie form like Walt needs to complete an utterly damning mosaic of Hank Schrader: Criminal Mastermind.
Wait, a methsaic! Is it too late to change that to methsaic? Because that’s totally like a pun on methamphetamines.
The “confession” appears to be an utter checkmate on Hank’s ability to hurt Walt. But then Saul had to get cute with having Huell lift Jesse’s sack of weed. Obviously, Jesse is not going to get very far setting fire to the Whites’ house, which is stripped out but not burnt out in the flashforwards, but the ramifications of his finally realizing what went down with Brock have 5 more weeks to play out, and if he and Hank do not end up working together in some capacity, I’ll be a disarmingly polite meth-monkey’s racist shitbag uncle.
Murders – Emilio, Krazy 8, Jane, two of Gus’s dealers, Gale Boetticher, Gustavo Fring, Tyrus, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, two other Fring goons, 14 year-old arachnophile Drew Sharp, Mike Ehrmantraut, Dennis the Laundry Manager, Dan the lawyer, 8 more of Mike’s guys
Collateral Damage – One innocent janitor loses his job and goes to jail on a bullshit marijuana charge. Hank had to kill a guy, even if he was an insane, degenerate piece of filth who deserved to die, giving him fairly severe PTSD. Combo was killed dealing for Walt. Jane’s father’s life is utterly ruined. 167 passengers on two planes are dead. Skyler is forced to become an accessory after the fact (or take down her son, sister and brother-in-law with Walt). 3 broken Pontiac Aztek windshields. Jesse’s RV is destroyed. On their mission to kill Heisenberg, the Cousins kill 9 illegal immigrants and their coyote, an old woman with a handicap-accessible van, a grocery-shopping bystander, an Indian woman and the Reservation sheriff that investigates. Also they shoot Hank multiple times, forcing him through a long, painful physical therapy process. Andrea’s kid brother is murdered by Gus’s dealers due to trouble Jesse and Walt stirred up. Jesse murders Gale, crushing him with guilt and destroying his hard-fought sobriety. Gus murders Victor to send a message to Walt and Jesse. Three Honduran workers get deported (or maybe worse). Walt purposefully wrecks a car, straining an already-injured Hank’s neck in an unspecified fashion. Ted Beneke breaks his neck fleeing from Heisenpire goons. Brock is poisoned and nearly dies. Tio blows himself up, but no one’s weeping for that vicious old fucker. The staff of an industrial laundry is out of their jobs. Dozens (hundreds?) of criminal prosecutions are compromised when the guys wreck the APD evidence locker. Hank’s boss gets pushed out of his job for his failure to apprehend Fring or Heisenberg. Herr Schuler, Chau and a low rent hitman get offed as Lydia scrambles to cover up Madrigal’s connection to Fring’s drug empire in the wake of his death. Walt manipulates Jesse into breaking up with Andrea. Mike’s lawyer is arrested, depriving his favorite banker of sweets. Hank has that last great pleasure of a middle-aged man, a quiet, leisurely excretion, ruined by one of histories greatest monsters. Walt’s tutelage of Todd and enabling of Lydia lead to their murder of Declan and a half dozen of his guys. Jesse beats Saul for his role in Brock’s poisoning.
Heisenberg Certainty Principle – “I beat this once. And there’s no reason to think I won’t do it again.” Walt’s talking about his cancer, except he’s not.
Best Lie – Walt’s “confession” video is obviously a four course, diabolical, kaiju-sized bear trap of dishonesty. But I want to single out the offhand way Walt responds to Hank accusing him of running a drug empire with an almost exasperated “there’s no drug empire.” I hope someone has already edited that to be followed immediately by “I’m in the Empire Business,” in full Arrested Development-style.
Official Walter Jr. Breakfast Count: 15. And here I was dead certain that Jess would look up from splashing gasoline all over the floor of the White house to see Flynn staring at him over a bowl of Raisin Bran Crunch. I could still see that being the opening next week.
We Are Done, Professionally – Walt tries to send Jesse on a real trip to Belize, but Jesse puts together some pieces and decides he wants to say goodbye to Mr. White first. Saul will probably be closing all his files marked “Pinkman” pretty soon.
It’s The Little Things – The new spin on the signature time lapse shot, of an interior with the cops fruitlessly interrogating Jesse. Walt’s running the five steps from his car to the door of the car wash before stopping to compose himself. The tarantula in the desert (and it only now occurs to me that tarantulas have a way of scaring the crap out of people, despite being essentially harmless to humans, making for an apt reminder of Drew Sharpe). Walt fretting with Skyler’s concealer to mask his shiners from Jr. The smorgasbord of bold, clashing colors on Saul’s, shirt, striped tie, and Wayfarer ribbon. Skyler mumbling “thank you for your honesty” to a customer who returns a couple bucks in extra change. The Hello Kitty phone returns! Everything involving Trent the Waiter, who gamely tries his usual upselling technique, with no way of knowing that this is the absolute last 4 top that would be interested in watching someone lovingly handcraft a distinctive, brightly colored concoction for their consumption right there at the table.