Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
For an episode titled Confessions, the characters on this week’s Breaking Bad stay relatively clammed up. At this point, everyone in the show except for Holly is guilty of something, but nothing you thought would be revealed this week is.
Hank tells no one at the DEA about his knowledge of Walter’s illegal activities and Jesse gives Hank no information to help his investigation. When Walt sits down with Junior for what seems like it might be a talk about his criminal activities, he tells him instead that his cancer’s returned in a successful ploy to keep him from talking to Marie. And maybe most revealing of all of this non-confessional theme is the opening teaser in which Todd tells his uncle about Heisenberg’s great train robbery while leaving out the part where he murders a 13-year-old kid, describing the heist as perfect and witness-free.
But the episode isn’t without its profound revelations for some characters. Despite its inconsistent presentation, Confessions does more to move the story along than last week’s Buried. Now, Hank has a genuine obstacle in his investigation of Walt. We know Todd and his gang are moving into New Mexico with the huge tank of methylamine (which is being pulled along the highway in plain view). Most importantly of all, Jesse’s allegiances are totally up in the air. He is officially out of Camp Heisenberg.
The way things are shaking out, the principle actors – Hank, Jesse, Saul, Walt, and Todd – are not neatly filing into alliances for a final showdown. They have all become independent movers with loyalties all their own.
Unfortunately, the episode is quite a bit weaker than the first two of the season. It is weaker right from the start. While the opening teaser with Todd’s gang is fine, if a little overlong, Hank and Jesse’s conversation is nowhere near as dramatic as last week’s cliffhanger teased. All the scene ends up establishing is that Jesse knows that Hank knows. They make no deal and the whole interview is interrupted by Saul’s entrance after only a couple minutes. There are consequences to the conversation, but they come much later. Obviously the show’s writers are under no obligation to meet audience expectations, but my disappointment at the anticlimactic scene is hard to suppress.
Part of what makes Confessions weak is the more far-fetched plot threads. Last week I mentioned that the show is typically very good at justifying its characters’ actions, and last week’s episode held true to that principle. Confessions falls somewhat short of that standard.
For one thing, Hank seems to know a little more than he should in the scene with Jesse. While he knew of Jesse’s connections to both Walt and Heisenberg before he even knew Heisenberg and Walt were one and the same, his assumption that they’re partners is both a little presumptuous and a betrayal of a belief expressed by Hank earlier in the series that Jesse was not likely a major player in the Heisenberg operation. Of course, finding the kid with millions of dollars changes that assumption. But he also seems to understand that Walt and Jesse are having a little “trouble in paradise.” Hank is a very good cop with excellent intuition, so it’s not out of reach for him to draw these conclusions; he just moved to them a little quicker than the show usually depicts, apparently putting it all together in the few minutes it took him to drive to APD and almost perfectly deducing the exact nature of Walt and Jesse’s relationship.
I’m also not especially impressed by how Jesse came upon his very important revelation. The whole thing with Huell stealing Jesse’s dope felt a little contrived. Jesse’s behavior in Saul’s office is bizarre. The gravity of what he’s about to embark on seems to be setting on Jesse as he prepares to meet Saul’s vanisher, so why he wants to hold onto a little bag of weed in the first place is hard to understand. I know he’s a loose cannon and that placing more emphasis on his drug habit is an attempt to highlight that, but it still seems a stretch. Huell is also tough to imagine as a master pickpocket; call me a skeptic. It’s all just too convenient and too obvious of a plot device to take seriously. The way Jesse stands by the side of the road and suddenly knows for sure because his weed is missing is even thinner than the Leaves of Grass book Hank found.
But how he found out matters less than that he did find out. Jesse knows now that Saul, on Walt’s orders, had Huell steal the ricin cigarette from Jesse’s pack so Walt could poison Brock and blame it on Gus. Before finding out, though, Jesse meets Walt in the desert to discuss options for how to navigate Hank’s investigation. Jesse’s been onto Walt’s game for several episodes now and calls him out for “working” him. This scene, in which Jesse pleads with Walt to be direct and upfront, culminates with one of the most bizarre hugs I’ve ever seen.
In my review of Blood Money I pointed out that Walt has been treating Jesse the same way he did Skyler throughout the first half of the fifth season. He treats both Jesse and Skyler as though their loyalty is a given; he affectionately embraces them even as they’re telling him what a monster he is and how he’s made their lives a living hell. But Jesse is not Walt’s spouse. He’s seen up-close what the man is really capable of. Even after Walt begs for Jesse’s trust, Jesse remains convinced – correctly – that Walt killed Mike. Walt can’t hold Jesse hostage the way he can Skyler.
What’s interesting about the scene is that Walt really seems to care about Jesse. Obviously, his suggestion that Jesse leave town is to suit his own purposes. But murder has never been off Heisenberg’s list of options. He needs to tie up the Jesse loose end and would rather do it non-lethally. It’s small consolation, but it’s a sign that for Walt, Jesse, like Hank, is off-limits. The desert tarantula crawling around is certainly an homage to the tarantula from the train heist episode, in which a 13-year-old boy is shot, but it won’t be possible to interpret its symbolism until we find out what Walt and Jesse are going to do with one another.
One of my favorite moments from the episode is its other very important revelation. Namely, Hank finds out for the first time that Walt paid for his medical treatments after the cartel’s attempted assassination. While I think Walt’s gambit with the phony confession is a little farfetched and probably a bad idea, using the fact that he’s given Hank nearly $200,000 against him is brilliant. This scene illustrates for me the true genius of the show’s writing. People often assume the entire show is figured out and elaborately schemed from the very beginning. On the contrary, the writers just have incredibly good memories. They live and breathe in this universe. Events unfold in a way that is not spectacularly coincidental but an organic progression. The Whites paying for Hank’s medical bills seemed so insignificant before; now it’s absolutely crucial.
The scene at the taquer a where Walt hands Hank the phony confession is unusual for the show. It seems straight out of a 90s sitcom; never before has there been so many extras doing something so normal as eating in a lively restaurant. Any time there are a large number of people assembled on the show, it’s usually an awkward party, a bunch of criminals, or a roomful of cancer patients. Thanks to the waiter, the incredibly tense scene tries to also be most of the episode’s comic relief. It doesn’t really work.
Breaking Bad is normally very good at making the audience feel what the characters are feeling. Often, everything in a scene builds to a similar emotion. If someone is about to commit a murder, there will be tension and dark lighting and moody music. Instead of that, Confessions is filled with tonal dissonance, not the least example of which is the taquer a scene. Elsewhere, though, the show is more successful. When Skyler is concerned about their phony confession and Walt tells her, “We’re fine,” the lighting is such that he is almost completely hidden by darkness. Clearly, they are not fine.
By now, the show has several new meme-worthy tropes to go along with Junior’s love of breakfast. Hank does entirely too much whispering, particularly in the first scene with Jesse. It reminds me of last week’s hard-to-understand scene with Walt and Skyler in the bathroom. I had to rewind the episode to watch several of Hank’s lines multiple times so I could hear what he’s saying. Enough already with the whispering; I recognize that people do whisper and much of the dialogue is not the kind of thing anyone would scream, but it’s frustrating to have the volume turned all the way up and still not be able to understand a word. Additionally, every phone conversation with Walt and Saul seems to just be Walt saying, “Saul, listen… Saul, just stop… Saul, listen to me… shut up… I’ll be there… Saul!” Either Saul needs to learn to stop interrupting or Walt needs to learn to listen.
Like Buried, Confessions ultimately felt too short. Both episodes ended right as they started to pick up steam, right as they seemed to be setting up a wow moment. In this case, Confessions ends with Jesse dousing the White home with gasoline after beating a confession out of Saul and Walt on his way – with a gun – to intercept him.
What helped make Blood Money such a strong episode was that we got to see Walt and Hank’s dialogue. If it had ended instead with Hank’s garage door closing, it might not have been nearly as satisfying. Given the anticlimactic resolution to last week’s cliffhanger, I’m a little nervous about how this week’s cliffhanger will pan out. Will Walt get to his home in time? Will he kill Jesse? Is Walt Jr. in his room listening to his headphones oblivious to what’s going on in the living room?
Most importantly, why can’t I know the answers to these questions this week instead of having to wait until next? This isn’t an idle gripe; my favorite episodes of Breaking Bad are those with self-contained stories. They give you a chance to reflect on what just happened in addition to wondering what will happen next. Almost every episode ends on some kind of cliffhanger, but the last two episodes ended with an unfinished scene.
Still, frustrating as it is, I know I’ll be back to see how things shake down with Walt and Jesse. Breaking Bad is good enough at subverting audience expectations that Walt’s revolver might not even be meant for Jesse. I don’t know who else it’d be meant for, but I believe Walt wanted things to end peacefully with Jesse when they met in the desert. We’ve known for more than a year that the show is heading to Heisenberg on the run. It could be that Jesse is one match away – or Walt one bullet away – from setting that scenario in motion.
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