Breaking Bad, Season 5, Part 2

This Week, Every Single Breaking Bad Character Was Tested
Talking television.
Sept. 2 2013 4:30 PM

Breaking Bad, Season 5, Part 2

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This show is messing with my sense of morality.

Betsy Brandt as Marie Schrader in Breaking Bad.
Betsy Brandt as Marie Schrader in Breaking Bad

Photo by Ursula Coyote/AMC

What hit me about this episode was the way in which each of the main characters was tested. The strings of the plot are tightening into a noose for Walt, Skyler, Hank, Jesse, and Marie, and along with the suspense of the writers’ next moves, I’m in moral suspense about each of them, too. Somehow, this show still has the power to surprise, even though we’ve lived with these characters and their flaws for dozens of hours.

Emily Bazelon Emily Bazelon

Emily Bazelon is a Slate senior editor and the Truman Capote Fellow at Yale Law School. She is the author of Sticks and Stones.

Like you, Matt, I was chilled by Hank’s willingness to sacrifice Jesse, if that’s what it takes to get Walt. He failed the overarching moral test in that moment, didn’t he? I know the dog imagery was supposed to be all about Jesse, but Hank reminds me increasingly of a pit bull, teeth literally bared. He is so intent on getting those teeth into Walt’s neck that he’s lost sight of everything else. That’s why he asks no questions about who pulled off the jailhouse killings of the 10 witnesses—he doesn’t care. I don’t really understand how Hank got Gomez to go for questioning Jesse at his house, while Marie serves the coffee. But I went with it because Gomez injected a note of police procedural reality into Hank’s vendetta. And also because for a minute there, I thought Hank would go completely crooked and—in fear of Walt’s diabolical video—kill Jesse himself. Instead his desire for vengeance against Walt won out.

Marie has the same obsession. Since she’s not a DEA agent, she can only fantasize about doing violence to Walt. But she is right there, in tandem with her husband. “Is this bad for Walt?” she asks, when Hank asks if Jesse can stay in the guest room. As soon as she hears that the answer is yes, she’s ready to go along with a plan her usual fussiness would never allow. (Nice touch for Jesse to wake up to a family photo of Walt as Santa Claus.)

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In some shows, Marie’s support for Hank would be the high-ground version of Skyler’s aiding and abetting of Walt. Marie would be the good wife, and Skyler would be Lady Macbeth. But not on Breaking Bad. To me, the husband-wife relationships are in tandem with each other. Skyler broke bad for good in this hour when she hissed at Walt to protect his family by taking care of Jesse. But I don’t think Marie is meant to be morally superior. She’s not driven by a higher purpose. She’s angry Skyler lied to her, but she’s not framing their battle in terms of right and wrong, is she?

The only person who’s doing that is Jesse. Now that he knows the truth behind Brock’s poisoning, he is ready to turn on Walt. (Here’s a great primer on exactly how his revelation happened, in case you, like me, need a refresher.) What horrifies Jesse isn’t the personal betrayal, though that’s there. It’s that Walt poisoned a child as a “move,” as Jesse puts it—purely as a matter of strategy.

I’m with Jesse all the way. Maybe he could have found inner peace in Alaska, but I’d rather watch him best Hank and Gomez by coming up with the better strategy for getting Walt. At the same time, the writers don’t let Jesse pass the morality test with a perfect score either, I don’t think. After all, by cooperating with Hank, he’s become the snitch he never wanted to be. Or is it a sign that Breaking Bad is messing with my head that I’m in any way questioning a decision to help the cops to catch the world’s most murderous meth cook?

I’m not sure. But I do know that I want Walt to go down. He cut out from under himself his one remaining shred of moral ground when he called Todd to ask him to kill Jesse.

So, your plan is to do his plan?

Emily

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