Boy, that escalated quickly.
Tonight's episode, "Confessions," centered on Walt's two biggest enemies: Hank and Jesse, who have each been deeply wounded by Walt, and are each seeking to take him down. When Hank's "enemy of my enemy is my friend" pitch in the confession room doesn't work on Jesse, he's forced to double back and try to figure out how to make the case without his star witness.
When Walt stops Marie from ensnaring Walter Jr. (or Flynn, as she's calling him again), Walt, Skyler, Hank, and Marie finally meet together at a taqueria to hash out a possible solution. Though Skyler continues to walk Walt's party line — "it's in the past" — Hank and Marie make it clear that they're not about to let this go. Marie suggests that Walt kill himself. Hank says Walt deserves worse. It is altogether less chummy than the family barbecues the two couples have shared before.
Then Walt delivers to Hank and Marie a copy of his smoking gun: His so-called "confession tape," which is a masterpiece of manipulation. He opens the video recording with the same words that he spoke at the beginning of his last video, which opened Breaking Bad's pilot episode: "My name is Walter Hartwell White. I live at 308 Negra Arroyo Lane, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87104."
The similarities end there. Walt's video in the pilot was one that he insisted wasn't a confession, and something that was intended only for his family. "Skyler, you are the love of my life," he said at the time. "Walter Jr., you're my big man now."
How things have changed. The video Walt makes in "Confessions" is the opposite of the video from the pilot episode — a video designed expressly to be shown to law enforcement officials, and a video designed to attack members of his family. In a single, riveting narrative Walt manages to pin all his crimes on Hank, weaving an elaborate story that's perfectly calibrated to recast his brother-in-law as a ruthless drug lord who used his DEA connections to establish a vast meth empire.
It's frightening how plausible Walt's story sounds — more plausible, on its face, than the story we actually know to be true. Walt uses everything: His ride-alongs with Hank, Hank's attack on Jesse, the money he donated to Hank's medical care, Gus Fring's cozy relationship with the DEA, and even the bruise Hank gave him in the season opener, "Blood Money." "I can't take this anymore," says Walt. "I live in fear every day that Hank will kill me. Or worse, hurt my family. All I could think to do was to make this video and hope that the world will finally see this man for what he really is."
Walt's video, convincing as it sounds, probably isn't enough to take Hank down. But it would certainly buy him enough time to make his next play — even if that "next play" is just dying of cancer.
Walt's so-called confessional video is the episode's show-stopper, but there's another elaborate story he weaves in "Confessions" that turns out to be far more important: The story he tells Jesse — a story about the hypothetical life Jesse could have by moving away and starting over — in an effort to get him out of Hank's reach in Albuquerque without having to kill him.
There's an undeniable seductiveness to Walt's pitch: Move away, get a job, meet a girl, start a family, and pretend that none of the nightmarish things he's seen ever really happened. "If I could, I'd trade places," Walt says. "A whole lifetime ahead of you, with the chance to hit the reset button. In a few years, this might feel like nothing more than a bad dream."
I don't think many viewers would object to seeing Jesse get out of Breaking Bad unscathed, but we already know better than that — it's far too late for any kind of escape. Let's not forget: Walt did attempt to hit the reset button, quitting the meth business to spend the rest of his days as a "dying man who runs a car wash." It didn't work.
Jesse can't escape what he's done, either. As he stands in the desert, watching a tarantula crawl by — the same kind of tarantula captured by Drew Sharp shortly before he was murdered by Todd — it's obvious that Jesse's life will be filled with reminders of what he's done no matter where he goes. (Not that everyone carries the same regrets: Todd's fond reminiscence of the train heist mostly centers on his awe of Walter and the "total stuntman stuff" he got to do.)
It's a relief to see Jesse call Walt out on his manipulation — his phony "whole concerned dad thing," his decision to kill Mike — and tell Walt that he knows the real reason Walt wants him gone. But as Hank comments at the beginning of the episode, Walt really has done a number on Jesse; when Walt responds to the outburst not by going Heisenberg on Jesse, but by hugging him, Jesse ends up doing what he wanted all along and agreeing to skip town for the greener pastures of Alaska.
But just when it seems like Jesse might get away, one last piece of the past comes back to haunt them: The ricin cigarette and subsequent poisoning of Brock, which Jesse finally traces back to Walt. The ricin cigarette plot has never quite played for me; as desperate as Walter was, and as ruthless as we know him to be, it's never really made sense that he managed to poison Brock while on the run from Gus. (Earlier this summer, Vince Gilligan finally explained how Walt pulled it off, and the story is as vague and unfulfilling as I worried it would be: "My writers and I would always tell ourselves the story of the evil juice box man," said Gilligan, explaining that Walt had snuck into Brock's school and crushed the poison into his juice box. "It would have been tricky timing, but he was a very motivated individual at that point.")
The way that Jesse uncovered Walt's plot is similarly circuitous and fuzzy. Saul calls up Albuquerque's mysterious vacuum repairman/person vanisher — but not before admonishing Jesse for lighting up a joint in his office. When Jesse realizes that Saul had Huell lift his weed stash before leaving the office, he realizes that Huell could have lifted his cigarette pack, too, which enables him to tease out the entire plot. In a rage, Jesse abandons the idyllic "new life" Walt chose for him in favor of a new life that hinges on destroying Walt. I would have liked to see Breaking Bad find a less contrived way to have Jesse uncover Walt's actions, but it's hard to argue with the final scene, which sees Jesse breaking into the White house in an attempt to burn it down.
Unfortunately, Jesse's rage-fueled decision to go nuclear on Walter may come at the cost of the infinitely more strategic revenge that Hank has in mind. Over the past few episodes, Breaking Bad has officially morphed into a series about a heroic DEA agent attempting to bring down his criminal brother-in-law. We no longer want to see Walt get away with his crimes, and we have no desire for him to succeed in his desperate and increasingly ruthless efforts to cover his tracks.
Walt's biggest remaining enemies are Hank and Jesse, and if they teamed up, they could probably take him down. But they're each after a very different kind of revenge. Hank wants to see Walt exposed; Jesse wants to see Walt destroyed. We'll see who gets to him first next week.
Read more Breaking Bad recaps:
Breaking Bad recap: Buried money, buried secrets, and buried motivations
Breaking Bad premiere recap: "Blood Money"