Sep 2, 2013

Is Everyone on Breaking Bad Fucked?

By Josh Oakley

Image: Best Movies Ever
Last night’s Breaking Bad, “Rabid Dog” slid the moral compass of almost every character even further down a slope that should have ended long ago. Nearly every main character is given a scene in which they divulge just how mangled their souls have become, from the indifference to another human’s death to the joy of imaging inflicting pain on a former loved one. Breaking Bad has never been an optimistic show, but “Rabid Dog” toed the line of nihilism, only pulling back in the possible counter-argument of the final four episodes. This is one of the best episodes the show has pulled off, and one of the better pieces of television from 2013. The dread is palpable, as it often is in Breaking Bad, but here the emotional pull was greater than ever before. We see these people we have spent years with jumping into a chasm they cannot easily retreat from. This all begs the question: is everyone on Breaking Bad fucked?

Hank:
We’ll get to the big guns of Jesse and Walt in a second, but let’s first look at the man who, in any other show, would be the protagonist. Over the years it has become increasingly easy to fall on Hank’s side, when he hasn’t been screaming at Marie about his minerals. That viewer loyalty is tested in “Rabid Dog” when Hank admits that he couldn’t give two shits about the fate of Jesse Pinkman. Jesse has remained sympathetic, driven to evil deeds by Walt’s guidance rather than a tainted heart. Hank’s lack of care for Jesse is fair (we only love him because we know this corruption and have seen the kid’s goodness), but it still stings. And, even if Jesse is just a junkie informant, Hank’s flatness is cold. I don’t believe that Hank has been completely done in by his drive for catching Walt, but it would be hard to recover from such a break in familial loyalty. And all of the concern over Hank’s soul ignores that fact that Walt has made a call to Todd’s uncle. Yes, this hit is likely for Jesse, but if Walt is willing to take out his surrogate son, who knows how far he has fallen from just episodes ago when he refused to entertain the notion of offing Hank?
Is He Fucked?: Most likely. There’s a chance that he succeeds in taking down Walt, but Heisenberg has come from behind numerous times. And even if victory is Hank’s, his psyche will likely be permanently broken, and his career shattered.

Marie:
Marie remains one of the more pure characters in the show, but the scene with her therapist reveals that vendetta courses through her veins. Betsy Brandt has been delivering a breathtaking performance this season, and her delivery at the close of that scene fed her dissolving state. Now, her emotions are completely justified, more so than for almost anyone else, but they’re still there. This is a woman who likely never considered violence by her own hand, let alone towards a family member. Now she demands to stay in a house with a druggie punk and fantasizes about wicked actions. I don’t think she’ll die (her death wouldn’t really represent anything that couldn’t be said more powerfully with another’s demise), but if she lost her husband, the consequences could be much worse than her own expiration.
Is She Fucked?: Probably to some extent. But the shell she’s constructing for herself, while fairly badass, could also lead to terrifying places.

Skyler:
Hey, speaking of layers that people build in order to survive the cruel world that Walt has inflicted upon them, it’s Skyler! Like Hank, Skyler calls for the death of Jesse, but her ground is much easier to understand. She’s never really liked him, and has only ever viewed him as a companion to her husband’s misdeeds. Also, the kid tried to burn her house down. Seasons ago Skyler stepped in as the actuality of Walt’s claims of “doing it for the family”, and her suggestion of taking Jesse out largely fits that. That doesn’t make the moment any less chilling though. Oddly enough, she should be able to relate to Jesse if given a chance (that will never come), given that Walt has wrecked them in similar ways. Skyler has the same convictions she did a year (and a half?) ago, but Walt has forced the motives to change. This isn’t to say the character lacks agency, but rather that her agency has been so heavily manipulated it’s difficult to parse out what she has decided and what has been decided for her. Skyler remains a likely target for anyone seeking revenge against Walt, but Walt has already done most of the job for whoever that may be. Her defense mechanisms are understandable, but twisted, resulting in a warped version of someone who is merely trying to do right by her children.
Is She Fucked?: Yes. She will lose her life, her husband, a child, or her soul by the end of the series, and potentially more than just one of the above. She is not coming out of this unscathed.

Walt:
And she has her husband to blame. Here’s one of the more interesting variations on the question of punishment. Walt already commits horrendous acts, and doesn’t really have any personal moral consequences for such actions. There are few things that still affect the man. The only outcomes that I can imagine punishing Walt, in his eyes, are the loss of his family, or losing the game. Walt’s hubris has helped him to defeat any number of pretenders to his throne, but if Hank were able to best him it may actually rattle the kingpin’s self-worth. But more than that (maybe?) would be the death of an immediate family member. There are a number of theories that support Walt killing Holly, Walt Jr., or Skyler. I don’t disagree with this on principle – this is an evil man who wants to succeed. But I do think he has love for his family, buried somewhere within his broken body, and that could be exploited. Then again, given all that Walt is done, what exactly would losing look like in his eyes? The answer is likely horrific.
Is He Fucked?: The past tells us no, but my gut says yes. He was done too much for karmic retribution to ignore his guiltiness. At least I hope so.

Walt Jr.
Though maybe I don’t hope so. The death of Walter means an insurmountable emotional wall for Walt Jr. to climb over. The scene in “Rabid Dog” with father and son, poolside, sharing a hug, is the closest the show has ever gotten me to tears. It was a wickedly powerful moment, informed by the tragic gulf between what Flynn believes, and what we know to be true. Walt Jr. loves his father, and there’s only a number of ways this can end up: Walt dies, and Jr. loses his father; Walt Jr. is killed one way or another; Walt Jr. learns of the treacherous acts his father committed.
Is He Fucked?: The writers have purposefully moved Walt Jr. into a position that seems inescapable. I hope to god I am wrong, but there seems no way out for the boy who loves breakfast.

Holly:
As I mentioned above, many have predicted the death of Holly White. I’m not saying that the show won’t go there, but I doubt. This is likely an emotional prediction, based on the fact that I will never fully recover from the death of one of the White children.
Is She Fucked?: I really don’t believe so, but much of the internet disagrees with me.

Jesse:
Nobody cares about Jesse. I do, and you likely do as well. Unfortunately for his sake (though fortunately for us) we don’t reside in the universe of Breaking Bad. Two of the main characters, mentioned above, have already admitted their desire or apathy in Jesse’s death, and Walt’s call to Todd’s uncle at the episode’s close seems to bring that number up to three (and, all said and done, I’m guessing Jesse is low on Marie’s “people to care about” list). The only people still on his side are Badger and Skinny Pete, but they’re too busy discussing landmark science fiction television to help Jesse out (so what reference are we thinking for series finale? Farscape? Firefly? A dispute over the end of Battlestar Galactica?) Jesse is seen by all as a screw-up, a pawn in Walter’s game that can be played by anybody to their advantage. The only hope, a light struggling to get out, is the smile in his face when telling Hank that he has a new plan. That grin, of course, concerns the taking down of a former father figure, but hey, I’m grasping at straws here.
Is He Fucked?: My roommate disagrees, but I don’t see many options for the man formerly known as Cap’n Cook. Though, if Aaron Paul’s performance was enough to save him from death in season one, his work at this point should get Jesse a beach house in Malibu. Or at least a wife and kid. Tragically, all he likely needs is something that simple, yet unattainable.

Saul, Huell and Gomez:
Are They Fucked?: Probably not, at least not in my fan-fiction version of Saul’s spin-off, where the three buy the hotel seen in “Rabid Dog”, after Gomez finds out he’s Huell’s cousin, naturally. While we’re at it with wishful thinking for the survival of characters, the name of the program? The Suite Life of Walt Jr.

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