Is Jesse Still Old Yeller? The Show’s Creators Still Seem to Think So.

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Sept. 27 2013 6:51 PM

Is Jesse Still Old Yeller? The Show’s Creators Still Seem to Think So.

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Left: Photo still of Aaron Pinkman courtesy AMC. Right: Photo still of Old Yeller© 1957 Walt Disney Studios. All rights reserved.

Forrest Wickman Forrest Wickman

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. 

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(Major spoilers ahead.)

Twelve episodes into the final season of Breaking Bad, there’s a scene in which Saul, worried that Jesse has gone AWOL and is going to bring Saul and Walt down with him, proposes a solution to Walt:

We’re wondering if maybe this isn’t an Old Yeller type situation ... Old Yeller was the best, most loyal dog that ever was. I mean everybody loved that mutt. But one day he showed up rabid, and little Timmy, for Old Yeller's own sake, had to uh, well I mean you saw the movie.

The episode is aptly named “Rabid Dog,” and the dog who has to be put down is, of course, Jesse. At the end of the episode, Walt eventually comes around to the idea, and by episode 14, he has Jesse with a gun to his head and orders Jack to pull the trigger.

Jack doesn’t, of course—the besotted Todd talks him out of it—but it’s worth noting that the “rabid dog” analogy didn’t end the moment Jack refuses to pull a Little Timmy (or, as he’s called in the movie, Travis). In fact, the show’s creators have continued to drop hints that Jesse is like Old Yeller, and, perhaps, that he still needs to be put to sleep.

In fact, it continues the very next time we see Jesse. Todd has him cooped up in a warehouse, to cook meth, and he’s stuck on a tether that runs along the ceiling. Perhaps you didn’t think of this as a “dog run,” an enclosure within which dogs can roam free, under supervision—just like the “dog run” Travis uses to keep Old Yeller in the book—but the episode’s writer did. The episode’s director, Rian Johnson, explained as much in his director’s commentary:

This is a really specific idea that [writer] Moira [Walley-Beckett] had, the idea that he’s actually on a dog run, continuing the rabid dog theme with Jesse.

Walley-Beckett even emphasized this in an interview about the episode with Entertainment Weekly:

Poor Jeese. He’s on a dog run.
Jesse_dog_run

Photo still courtesy AMC

Walley-Beckett isn’t the only maker of the show who’s slipped in clues that Jesse is still that rabid dog. Johnson goes on to say that one of the few additions he made for “Ozymandias” was to include a stray dog in the final shot of the episode, to represent Jesse:

That was one of my few pitched contributions to it, just because he’s leaving behind a stray dog. … He’s leaving Jesse behind.
Ozymandias_dog

Still courtesy AMC

It might seem like a throwaway detail, but Johnson doesn’t think so. When he decided to tweet out one of his storyboards from the episode, he chose this one:

Even when Jesse is down in the hole, he’s kept on something that looks an awful lot like another chain leash.

Jesse_leash

Photo still courtesy AMC.

The last time Breaking Bad used this kind of dog imagery, it didn’t turn out well for the dog. In the seventh episode of the fourth season, titled “Problem Dog,” Jesse himself uses a dog metaphor, to describe how he put down “problem dog” Gale Boetticher:

A couple weeks back, I killed a dog. … I put him down. I watched him go. … He wasn’t sick, he was just a—I don’t know—problem dog.

Of course, maybe this is all only a red herring—only a way to make us think Jesse is about to be put to sleep. Just like the bells that toll (for Jesse?) when Walt calls in the hit at the end of “Rabid Dog.” Or that DEA mug, earlier in that episode, positioned as if to spell out “DEAD.” I’ll leave the last word to director Rian Johnson:

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