Anyhow, a TV series being able to draw to a close on its own terms is a relatively new phenomenon, but at such a time it becomes important to refocus in on what the show has always been about. “Confessions” serves as a reminder of the Big Picture ideas that Breaking Bad has been explored since its inception: masculinity, honesty, and the financial desperation of the supposed “middle class”.
Walt has long passed the point where he can justify his actions based on desperation or just trying to provide for his family (as a man does, according to Gus Fring). That doesn’t jive with proclamations about being in the Empire Business, and besides he’s collected the $737,000 he calculated he needed to secure his family’s future back in the S2 premiere about 50 times over by now. He has so much money, burying it in the desert seems like the most practical way of handling it. No, Walt continues to do what he does because he wants to feel like a man, like he’s the one in charge of his fate, even if it is to be horrible. He wants to be the one who knocks, regardless of whether the guy on the other side of the door did anything to deserve what comes next.
Walt puts more effort and nuance into his lie to Flynn about where his shiner came from, using only the softest touch necessary to get him to avoid the Schraders for a night so that he and Skyler can concoct an insurance policy against them that makes the issue of using your cancer to manipulate your son into avoiding information about your international meth/murder ring look downright quaint. That “confession”…damn if it isn’t the most impressive, fiendish, elaborate lie of the series. It’s a jaw-dropping scene when it is revealed, and acted with sickening gusto, with Walt playing broken, morose victim to the hilt even as we know him to increasingly view himself as the master of the universe.
To take a derail into acting for a minute, aside from the impressive displays the character of Walter is putting on this week, it should be noted that the entire regular cast is on fire this entire episode. Okay, RJ Mitte is still just struggling to find a new spin to put on asking what’s going on, but Cranston and Paul are knocking things so incredibly far out of the park that it can be easy to overlook how great Odenkirk is at playing Saul both in his element (in the interrogation room) and in distress (when Jesse storms the office), or how good a submission episode this would be for Dean Norris, even if it only consisted of the 10 minutes between when he steps into that day-glo Mexican monstrosity and when he and Marie react to the video.
But that’s all circumstantial, and could probably be fought off in a he said/she said court battle. Not saying that Hank would get to keep his current gig, but I don’t see him doing jail time based on those parts of the story alone. The real nails in Hank’s coffin come from his own dishonesty and financial desperation. I wouldn’t say that Hank has “broken bad” in the way that Walt or even Skyler has, but it is interesting that he and Walt’s positions have flipped around to the point where it’s Hank who has been backed into a corner by prohibitively expensive medical treatments. But of course it’s dishonesty that has tightened the noose. Marie’s in trying to navigate around Hank’s pride, and Hank’s in refusing to expose Walt until he can bring him in on his own terms. These are eminently understandable decisions given the context in which they were made, but they provide just the threads that a master of the lie form like Walt needs to complete an utterly damning mosaic of Hank Schrader: Criminal Mastermind.
Wait, a methsaic! Is it too late to change that to methsaic? Because that’s totally like a pun on methamphetamines.
Collateral Damage – One innocent janitor loses his job and goes to jail on a bullshit marijuana charge. Hank had to kill a guy, even if he was an insane, degenerate piece of filth who deserved to die, giving him fairly severe PTSD. Combo was killed dealing for Walt. Jane’s father’s life is utterly ruined. 167 passengers on two planes are dead. Skyler is forced to become an accessory after the fact (or take down her son, sister and brother-in-law with Walt). 3 broken Pontiac Aztek windshields. Jesse’s RV is destroyed. On their mission to kill Heisenberg, the Cousins kill 9 illegal immigrants and their coyote, an old woman with a handicap-accessible van, a grocery-shopping bystander, an Indian woman and the Reservation sheriff that investigates. Also they shoot Hank multiple times, forcing him through a long, painful physical therapy process. Andrea’s kid brother is murdered by Gus’s dealers due to trouble Jesse and Walt stirred up. Jesse murders Gale, crushing him with guilt and destroying his hard-fought sobriety. Gus murders Victor to send a message to Walt and Jesse. Three Honduran workers get deported (or maybe worse). Walt purposefully wrecks a car, straining an already-injured Hank’s neck in an unspecified fashion. Ted Beneke breaks his neck fleeing from Heisenpire goons. Brock is poisoned and nearly dies. Tio blows himself up, but no one’s weeping for that vicious old fucker. The staff of an industrial laundry is out of their jobs. Dozens (hundreds?) of criminal prosecutions are compromised when the guys wreck the APD evidence locker. Hank’s boss gets pushed out of his job for his failure to apprehend Fring or Heisenberg. Herr Schuler, Chau and a low rent hitman get offed as Lydia scrambles to cover up Madrigal’s connection to Fring’s drug empire in the wake of his death. Walt manipulates Jesse into breaking up with Andrea. Mike’s lawyer is arrested, depriving his favorite banker of sweets. Hank has that last great pleasure of a middle-aged man, a quiet, leisurely excretion, ruined by one of histories greatest monsters. Walt’s tutelage of Todd and enabling of Lydia lead to their murder of Declan and a half dozen of his guys. Jesse beats Saul for his role in Brock’s poisoning.
Heisenberg Certainty Principle – “I beat this once. And there’s no reason to think I won’t do it again.” Walt’s talking about his cancer, except he’s not.
Best Lie – Walt’s “confession” video is obviously a four course, diabolical, kaiju-sized bear trap of dishonesty. But I want to single out the offhand way Walt responds to Hank accusing him of running a drug empire with an almost exasperated “there’s no drug empire.” I hope someone has already edited that to be followed immediately by “I’m in the Empire Business,” in full Arrested Development-style.
Official Walter Jr. Breakfast Count: 15. And here I was dead certain that Jess would look up from splashing gasoline all over the floor of the White house to see Flynn staring at him over a bowl of Raisin Bran Crunch. I could still see that being the opening next week.
We Are Done, Professionally – Walt tries to send Jesse on a real trip to Belize, but Jesse puts together some pieces and decides he wants to say goodbye to Mr. White first. Saul will probably be closing all his files marked “Pinkman” pretty soon.
It’s The Little Things – The new spin on the signature time lapse shot, of an interior with the cops fruitlessly interrogating Jesse. Walt’s running the five steps from his car to the door of the car wash before stopping to compose himself. The tarantula in the desert (and it only now occurs to me that tarantulas have a way of scaring the crap out of people, despite being essentially harmless to humans, making for an apt reminder of Drew Sharpe). Walt fretting with Skyler’s concealer to mask his shiners from Jr. The smorgasbord of bold, clashing colors on Saul’s, shirt, striped tie, and Wayfarer ribbon. Skyler mumbling “thank you for your honesty” to a customer who returns a couple bucks in extra change. The Hello Kitty phone returns! Everything involving Trent the Waiter, who gamely tries his usual upselling technique, with no way of knowing that this is the absolute last 4 top that would be interested in watching someone lovingly handcraft a distinctive, brightly colored concoction for their consumption right there at the table.