How 'Breaking Bad' broke Jesse Pinkman

(the following is a re-post. yadda yadda yadda. you get it.)

This is another one of my unnecessarily long posts about television. It is about Jesse Pinkman (don't click if you don't want spoilers obviously). I am tagging Aaron Paul because there's a small section I dedicate to talking about his kickass acting. If you're looking for sexy pictures of his cat puzzle I sadly can't help you.

In pretty much any circle Breaking Bad is an arguable favorite for best drama on television. The concept seems pretty solid and simple on the surface: Guy gets cancer, extremely adept chemist, goes along with his DEA brother in law to a drug bust and sees how easy it is, SELLS METH! It almost looks too goofy to understand as a drama, but this show goes deeper than the concept.

Furthermore, the show goes deeper than the life of Walter White (BB’s main character) himself! Walter’s partner, Jesse Pinkman (played by the outstanding Aaron Paul), is just as layered and unquestionably more damaged than Walter due to Walter’s reckless decision making.

Jesse Pinkman started out as a young and pretty much careless kid with nothing to necessarily lose by selling meth. As one of Walter’s old students he never paid any attention in class and took the first ticket out the door. Without much actual chemistry knowledge he decided to wing it on selling meth. Jesse’s life as a small time kingpin provided a nice amount of cash and notoriety. On the surface neither of these things seem like they’re worth dealing drugs, but to a kid that has no faith in himself and a long list of failed attempts at stable life, these accomplishments served more as pride than they did true worth.

The thrill of succeeding at something is probably what kept Jesse in the game. Sure, he wasn’t a big time dealer, and maybe he wasn’t maximizing his potential, but he was enough to be remembered. The idea of being on top of his own mountain instead of someone else’s was all he needed (evident by him constantly stressing to Walt that they didn’t need to screw with other dealers). Once Walter White entered the picture everything changed.

Walter has an obsessive personality. There could probably be some cases made that he not only borders on paranoia, but constantly lives in it (that’s for another post on another day). He knows that Jesse is naïve enough to take in and (more importantly) take advantage of. Wave a good number in front of the kid’s face and why wouldn’t he take it? Walt abuses Jesse from the moment he picks him up. He barks demands, doesn’t treat him as an equal, and only has him around because he knows he can’t just sell meth without a cover. None of this is right, but all of it is innocent until Walter gets the idea of expansion in his head.

As their business starts to expand things get a little more risky. Walter gets more confident, Jesse gets more skeptical, but they both get paid more so they go with it believing that they’ll find a way through. Walter is the brains of the operation only because he’s spent all of his time telling Jesse that he can’t think. Going from relatively harmless days of putting chili powder in the recipe to outright disposing of bodies and having secret meet ups with psychopathic dealers already scared Jesse enough. Trouble didn’t start toward the end. Trouble was already there from the beginning.

Walter’s treatment of Jesse didn’t really start to become an issue until Jesse was made aware that his life could actually be easier. There are times that we see Jesse being able to enjoy life. One of the biggest breakthroughs he had was with Jane. Now Jane got a bit aggressive toward the end, but Jesse wasn’t able to leave his vices at the door with her. For all we know Jane was his first true experience with love and he wanted to have his cake and eat it too. In one of the rare instances Walter was making sense to him; Jesse ignored him for a woman that was too much like him to help him see straight. Jane’s untimely death might have been the best thing to ever happen to the kid. Jesse got to see the evils of his vices and the joys of caring about someone.

Not everything was roses after Jane. Jesse went back into a spiral, but thanks to what I believe is some of Walter’s genuine affection for the kid, eventually got out of it. It’s hard to tell where their relationship is most of the time. Walter treats Jesse like crap, but both of them realize that each other is all they have at this point.

After they fail at getting their own operation going successfully; Walter gets hooked into Gus’ ring and Jesse still tries to play the stubborn card. While Jesse doesn’t do that bad on his own, he attracts attention, and eventually that plan goes belly up as well. This breaks into what seems to be the major character altering moment for Jesse. Jesse kills Walter’s lab assistant Gale per Walter’s instruction and his fragile state can’t take it. Jesse’s had previous trouble in handling guns. The gun just symbolizes too much weight in the situation and puts that pressure on him that he never wanted. Jesse isn’t a guy for violence (hell we don’t even know if he’s one for trouble), but his deeds have put him in this spot.

After Gale’s death he knows that he’s in too deep now. There’s nothing that Jesse can do to stop what’s going to happen and he goes with whatever his superiors can manage to convince him of. In the midst of his issues with Walter, Gus, and Gus’ establishment Jesse seems to find another woman he has actual interest in.

His life with Andrea isn’t any more perfect than anything else that’s gone on, but she makes him happy without dragging him down. She doesn’t want anything more than who Jesse is and isn’t afraid to tell him that she will not accept any danger to her or her family. When Jesse and Walt kill the guys associated with Tomas, Jesse isn’t proud as much as he is ashamed of what he’s become. This isn’t that kid that dozed off in chemistry class. This isn’t the guy that made meth with chili powder cooked in. Hell, this isn’t even the one that packed into an RV with his former teacher to make more quick bucks at a safer rate. This person that Jesse Pinkman has turned into is an entirely different one than he imagined himself to be.

 All of the manipulation took such a toll on him that he went out and almost killed Walter because he thought that Walt poisoned Andrea’s kid. Jesse is passionate. He’s loyal, fierce, stubborn, and all the while still naïve. He couldn’t help but believe what was being sold to him because it was so easy to see. Why wouldn’t Walter be jealous that he’s being groomed to take his spot? What would Walter have to lose by seeing this kid die? As loyal as he is to Walt, he has one of the biggest soft spots in the world for children, something that doesn’t often get pointed out in the show. Jesse doesn’t want these kids to come up ruined by the world like he’s been and seeing one that he’s formed a true relationship with sick drove him over the edge.

Of course, being the master of manipulation that he is, Walter used Jesse’s loyalty to his advantage by convincing him that Gus was the one to poison Brock. Gus seemingly had as many reasons as Walt did to push Jesse over. If Gus could get Jesse to be furious at his partner, Jesse would kill him, thus giving Gus an easy out in this situation. One thing that Jesse didn’t necessarily take into account was how far Walter would be willing to go to get him on his side again. Walt knows how Jesse feels about kids, how loyal he is, and how much of a shady character Gus appears to be. Walter used this situation to get Jesse to fight his battle for him. Is this an intelligent move? Of course it is, but what’s going to happen when (what one can only assume) Jesse finds out that Walter was actually the one to pull the strings here? The guy has already been through enough, hasn’t he?

Now, for a moment I’d just like to say that Aaron Paul (the actor that portrays Jesse Pinkman) has done one of the best jobs in a drama series on television. Bryan Cranston gets a lot of love for becoming this insanely complex and crazy character, but I think that Aaron does just as much of a noteworthy job with what he’s given. They’re both insanely well written tales of men that have altered our perception of them through the years this show has been on the air. Bryan has gone from this lovable father, husband & teacher ( everyone!) to an evil criminal mastermind with no regard for human life aside from his own. Yes, this is crazy, and it makes you wonder how you cheer on a protagonist that has become his own antagonist, but credit is due to Aaron as well.

Jesse was really dumb at first. He didn’t know anything and we couldn’t connect with him as much outside of his wonderful use of the word BITCH (trust me I have a thing for complex potty mouths). As the story has progressed though Jesse has become one of the most sympathetic figures on TV. You can’t look at this guy and NOT hope that he finds a way out and turns it around. Aaron’s ability to sell Jesse’s shattered spirit whenever he’s in a tense situation, his effervescent glee when he’s actually happy, and overall intensity and confusion when someone questions his character is what makes this show stand out. You have two characters that started out at polar opposite ends of the spectrum and they.still.are.

Walter and Jesse are at different points than when we started Breaking Bad. Jesse’s been universally loved by the BB fandom from what I’ve seen, and I think if a lesser actor played him we wouldn’t get such a reaction. Aaron’s done fantastic work with his character and it’s amazing to see how realistic his emotions are. When Jesse cries I feel a little dead inside. It’s hard not to see who this man is and how he just wants to be something with his life and feel any hatred toward him. Breaking Bad started as a story of Walter White’s redemption, but now I honestly see it ending as a story of Jesse’s.

The Tale of Heisenberg

Debra Morgan: An exercise in humanity