I’ve previously discussed the virtues of Breaking Bad, but in short, I believe it’s one of the best shows on TV right now, and one of the best TV shows of all time. Time and time again, we’ve seen that when talented TV people are given the opportunity to become showrunner on cable networks, what they produce can often be astonishing (Damages, The Shield, Mad Men) and this show is no exception. Here’s hoping that Vince Gilligan has a long career ahead of him after this show, which, as brilliant as it is, admittedly feels like it won’t last forever (Gilligan has previously stated it’ll probably last around five seasons or so).
[Spoilers for Season 2 of Breaking Bad ahead]
While Bryan Cranston’s Emmy-winning turn as Walter White is riveting and deserving of all its accolades, I’ve also been very impressed with Aaron Paul as Jesse, the drug-dealing f*ck up who ends up aiding and abetting Walt in his quest to become the most notorious drug lord in the Southwest. The show started with a relatively relatable premise: Walt is dying from cancer and must do anything, including cooking and selling drugs, to make enough money to ensure the survival of his family. But as Walt’s cancer has gone into remission and Walt has become more and more ruthless, it’s Jesse that ends up carrying the emotional weight of the story. He’s the one that you empathize with. He has become the human in this partnership, while Walt has become the monster.
In Season 2’s penultimate scene, Walt is blackmailed by Jesse’s girlfriend, Jane, into giving up Jesse’s portion of their profits. But Jane is also a negative influence in other ways, enabling Jesse’s downward spiral into drug addiction and self-destruction. So after a pep talk (unwittingly given at a bar by Jane’s father), Walt goes over to Jesse’s house to work things out with Jesse, only to find Jesse and Jane sleeping side by side. Walt tries to wake him up but ends up knocking Jane onto her back, where she begins to vomit and choke. In a chilling scene, Walt watches her slowly die, convinced that he’s doing the right thing for himself, but also for Jesse.
In the finale, Jesse wakes up to discover that Jane is dead, and believes that he was the one that caused it. This, of course, has the opposite effect of what Walt intended; rather than spurring Jesse to pull himself together, Jesse regresses further, seeking drugs and company in the suburban equivalent of a red light district.
Walt, still feeling responsible in some way, seeks him out. In this powerful scene, Walt finds Jesse drugged out beyond his mind, sprawled on a filthy mattress in a crackhouse:
Jesse doesn’t know that Walt is to blame, and takes the responsibility upon himself. “I killed her. It was me…I loved her. I loved her more than anything.” It’s tragic and heartbreaking, and it gets at that universal element of the human condition: When we destroy something we love, when we take an active part in our own undoing, nothing else is important. Nothing else matters. The future becomes a desolate wasteland, from which we have no escape
In one of the season’s final shots, Jesse has checked into a rehabilitation clinic in a completely catatonic state. As viewers, we understand that he might physically get better, but mentally and emotionally, he is devastated. There is no way he will ever recover from this, the knowledge that he has snuffed out that thing which meant the most to him.
A mistake of that magnitude deserve nothing but a punishment of that magnitude. When you have nothing else to live for, why go on living?