By Josh Oakley
“Confessions”, one of the better episodes Breaking Bad has ever produced, takes the notion that the show employs ratcheting tension and laughs at what came before. There’s the calm followed by the brilliantly deployed roadblocks to the inevitable, culminating in one of those inevitabilities. That scene, with a bloody Saul on the ground, Jesse armed with a gun, and secrets oozing out in a terrifying manner seals the rate at which this season is jettisoning the status quo for those consequences long overdue.
Almost all of the material preceding that gasoline works just as beautifully, beginning with a cold open that purposefully doesn’t reach a resolution tonight. Todd, with his uncle and their associate, sit at a diner as the child-killer regales his buddies with the tale of last season’s train heist. Todd is so very proud of his accomplishments, seemingly unaffected by the murder he committed following the robbery. He sees the events as a cool story, with a detachment that rivals Walt for sheer sociopathic behavior. The three then set off for New Mexico, seemingly to encounter Walt, who won’t answer Todd’s calls. Though the scene is not a flash forward, it functions as such, informing the viewers of what is to come rather than what is currently there.
Thank god, though, because the “there” is plenty tense on its own. After some well done, quieter scenes (Hank asking for Jesse’s aid to no avail; Walt telling his son about the cancer’s return), we arrive at the restaurant. In any other context this is the pivotal scene, featuring four powerhouse performers sitting in a circle, out-acting each other with every line. Marie’s “just kill yourself” is the emotional crux here, showing how quickly (and justifiably) she has snapped against a man she considered family just days ago. The contrast between what these people’s relationships were to what remains of their bonds is nicely emphasized via the upbeat nature of the setting played against the dour realities within the confrontation.
This is where the episode begins to spiral, circling towards a never-ending pit that no one may step back from. There’s no resurfacing from the video that Walt shares with Hank, where the former threatens to implicate the latter in all of the criminal behavior of Heisenberg. More than that, Walt claims that Hank forced him into the drug trade. One of the most damning pieces of evidence is the fact that Walt paid for Hank’s medical bills after the battle with the Cousins. This is news to Hank, and Marie flattens as she confesses taking the money (which she thought was from gambling). The beauty here stems from Hank’s response, absent of the vitriol seen earlier in the episode. He seems defeated, almost confiding in Marie how screwed they truly are.
Herein lies the mastery of Heisenberg, and all great liars. The falsehoods contained within Walt’s empty “confession” are colored by truths, from the medical bills to the black eye obtained from his brother-in-law. Walt knows how to lie by telling the truth, something he has done throughout the show’s run. He takes it upon himself to muddle the real and the inaccurate into a grey area that he can glide through, never looking back. He does this to Walt Jr. early in the episode, admitting his cancer while withholding his criminal activity. By tapping into genuine emotion and facts, he can manipulate himself into seemingly believing he’s delivering the whole truth. And even when he remains unconvinced, he swallows those around him whole by trapping them with things he can prove, never needing to provide certainty for the remainder of his stories.
In the desert, Walt works to convince Jesse to leave town: “[You have] a whole lifetime in front of you, with the chance to hit the reset button.” This too is a half-truth; through Saul’s connection Jesse can escape to a new town with a new name. But Jesse will never forget what he’s been through; he simply cannot erase the emotional consequences of what he has done and what those around him have done over the past year. He does not share Walt’s ability to brush off murder and loss. But Jesse does resign himself to this new life, with even a glint of hope in his eye as he considers a fresh start in Alaska. Then the bloody pieces fall into place.
As Jesse realizes his weed has been lifted, his brain hits a spark and bursts into flame. Huell’s actions shuffle into Jesse’s brain, and perhaps the last chunk of his innocence is stripped away (yes, this happened long ago, but this is the peeling off of the new skin on a wound). This brings us to Saul’s office, where a character often utilized as comic relief (or plot device) is quickly brought into the realities of his own actions. Though Saul has been an accessory to the crimes of our characters, here he is forced to face what he’s done, if only for a brief moment. Jesse’s pummeling of Saul is a shocking moment, maybe the most surprising of the episode because of this. While he may still make it out of the show alive, he now wears the mark of what he has done.
The title of the episode almost mocks the viewer, delivering anything except a pure admission of guilt: Walt’s video only further strangles Hank and Marie; Todd’s story is devoid of any sense of wrong-doing; Jesse tells the police, and Hank, nothing; Walt lies keeps realities from his son; Jesse discovers the truth about Brock for himself, getting conformation from Saul that he didn’t really need. The fire that the gasoline threatens is not set, and may not be (though this would explain the dark, burnt-ish hues of the house in “Blood Money”’s flash forward), but the most important consumption is that final straw between Jesse and Walt. The truth about Jane, toyed with in “Fly”, may have had heavier consequences (and may still come out), but this is not only the harm of someone Jesse loved, but a child: the former Cap’n Cook’s achilles heel. There is no chance of repair between the two former partners at this point, only the question that “Confessions”’ cut-to-black alludes to: now that the truth has been released, how far will Jesse go to serve his desired justice? I’m unaware of the answer, but I do know that Walt’s lies forced Walt Jr. to stay home, a home now doused in gasoline. And as all know, the innocent can pay the price for the lies of the wicked.
- Having Walt Jr. pick up the phone in the muted background while Walt applied makeup was a good way of subtlety building tension. This episode really played with every volume of anxiety.
- Saul, speaking the truth: "Jesus, it’s always a desert."