Burning Down the House: Breaking Bad Recap “Confessions”
“There’s only one solution: step up, be a man, and admit what you’ve done.”
AMC’s other greatest television series of all time, Mad Men, is often dinged for being too “on the nose” with its symbolism and repetition of themes. Breaking Bad has avoided the same criticism, but sometimes it too revels in being a shade too obvious. So it is with this episode, “Confessions,” in which almost every scene revolves around a character given a chance to tell the truth, with the choices they make defines who they are as we head with breakneck speed into the final five episodes.
We begin with an almost completely unnecessary cold open featuring Todd and the Nazis (who are opening Coachella next year, as I understand it) at a diner, fresh from their hostile takeover of Declan’s crew. Todd tells his uncle the story of his role in the great train heist that he pulled with Walt, Jesse, and Mike. To hear Todd tell it, the robbery was a great adventure planned by a genius (Mr. White, who Todd clearly still worships), with no loose ends left. Yes, no loose ends at all, Todd. The part of the story that he’s leaving out involves the liquefied remains of a young boy who had happened on that robbery, and who Todd had killed to make sure that there were no witnesses. Todd denies his chance to confess about his role in the killing, or maybe, chillingly, it’s not important to him at all.
This scene is important only for that reason—to remind us who Todd is and how he operates. It’s Jesse’s Plemmons’s longest speech in his time on the series, and it’s essential that we get to know Todd and the Nazis (EP available on Third Man Records) as characters, since they’re likely who future Walt is gunning for. The scene ends with a superfluous dramatic flair, as we see their truck heading back across the New Mexico border—where we assume they already live. It’s a symbolic reminder that the danger has come home to find Walt, but we already know that.
Of course, the more specific danger just limped its way into a confession room with Jesse Pinkman at the end of the previous episode—but Jesse also denies his chance for a confession. At least to Hank, who as Saul reminds us, beat the hell out of Jesse the last time they were in a room together. That’s who Jesse is—whether or not he would snitch on Walt, and he probably would at this point, he is also prone to revenge, whether it’s buying his parents’ house out from under them or gunning for Gus’s men after he learned they were using kids (and that those kids killed his friend Combo). So Jesse won’t snitch—not to help the man who put him in the hospital.
Jesse is fueled by his emotions, which sets him apart from the cool, calculating Walter White, who depends on his intellect to keep his ass out of the fire. Just watch the way that he wrangles Junior into staying home instead of going over to Marie and Hank’s house by telling his son that the cancer has returned. Now, that’s not a lie. The cancer really is back. But Walt is only using the information to place his most prized chess piece where he needs it to be.
Because Walter White doesn’t, and will never, confess to anyone. But the episode does tease us with an act break showing Walt sitting on his bed ready to tape a confession. “Are you sure about this?” Sklyer asks. “It’s the only way,” Walt answers. Of course, we will later learn, Walt hasn’t confessed at all, but has used the tape to frame Hank, spinning a plausible tale of extortion, violence, and greed. It is a genius stroke, and one that Hank didn’t see coming, but in the tape Walt mentioned yet another thing that takes Hank by surprise—the fact that Walt paid for $177,000 of Hank’s medical treatment, prompting Marie to confess (dammit, episode, enough already) that she took what she was told was gambling money and used it to fund Hank’s miraculous recovery. Hank realizes he’s been beaten. “That’s it,” he says,” that’s the nail in the coffin.”
And, in the desert with Jesse, Walt sidesteps another chance to come clean when Jesse finally calls him on his shit. Walt presents Jesse with a new opportunity, courtesy of Saul’s magical disappearing vacuum man, to start over. Walt waxes rhapsodic about how young Jesse is and how he could go somewhere new and be a new person, even start a family. But when Walt assures him that “in a few years, this will all feel like nothing more than a bad dream” Jesse snaps. For Jesse, this will never be over. “Can you just stop working me for ten seconds straight?” he asks, and begs Walt to drop the “concerned father” act and admit that he needs Jesse to leave town to cover his own ass, and that if he doesn’t leave he’ll kill him, just like he killed Mike. Walt doesn’t say anything. Instead, he walks over to Jesse and hugs the boy. Jesse breaks down, and why shouldn’t he? Even if, at this point, Jesse is beginning to put things together, he’s still been so thoroughly manipulated by Walt that he can’t trust his own mind. He’s just exhausted.
So Jesse makes ready to leave town. Saul gives him the money for the magic man (another layer of symbolism in this episode filled with sleight-of-hand). When Jesse lights a joint, Saul says the man won’t work with them if he suspects anything is suspicious—so give me the weed. Jesse refuses, and begins to imagine, with desperate hope, a life in Alaska, an environment as heavy with life as the desert surrounding Albuquerque is devoid of it. Jesse goes with Huell, Saul’s surprisingly nimble-fingered bodyguard, to the drop off point, but not before Huell (and you can actually watch this happen) picks Jesse’s pocket to grab the weed. At the meeting point, Jesse realizes it’s gone. And then something that, we can assume, Jesse has been mulling over for some time becomes clear.
Background is important here, because this is a story that was handled subtly in Season Four—and maybe a bit too subtly, because it’s easy to miss. In Season Four, Walt gives Jesse a cigarette filled with a ricin capsule to poison Gus Fring with. Jesse doesn’t do it, and what’s more, Jesse abandons Walt to work with Gus. So, to get Jesse back on his side, Walt has Saul and Huell steal the cigarette. When Jesse’s girlfriend’s son, Brock is poisoned, Jesse assumes it’s the ricin cigarette, and realizing that it’s been stolen, puts a gun to Walt’s head. Walt manages to convince Jesse that Gus is the only person capable of killing a child, and gets to Jesse to help him murder Fring. Later, Walt plants the cigarette back in Jesse’s Roomba, making him believe he had simply misplaced it. “How could I be so stupid?,” Jesse cried.
But now Jesse realizes that Walt has been lying all along—and that poisoning a child meant nothing to him. Jesse ditches the van that was sent for him and charges back into Saul’s office. He knocks Saul to the ground and demands the truth, and Saul, with a gun in his face, offers the only genuine confession of the episode, that he helped swipe the cigarette, but that Walt told him he was doing it to save Jesse (which is true—we’ve seen Saul chew out Walt for involving him in the poisoning of a child).
So Jesse Pinkman, creature of pure emotion, does the rational thing and kicks in the door of the White home, pouring gasoline all over the living room. Cliffhanger! Except, not really. We know full well that Jesse doesn’t succeed in burning down the house, because it’s still standing—albeit in rotted conditions—in the flash forwards. So what could Jesse accomplish? The thing that springs immediately to mind is Junior—how appropriate would it be for Walt’s other son, the one who’s taken the full brunt of his evil, to shatter his biological son’s illusions of his father’s greatness?
But the problem here is Jesse hasn’t really thought this through, and now he’s gone from “Problem Dog” to “Rabid Dog”—and there’s only one thing that can be done with a rabid dog.
Season Five, Episode Eleven