In the beginning of the episode 14 of our final season of Breaking Bad, we are taken back to simpler times. Walt is in his tighty-whiteys and iconic green button-up shirt; Jesse is stupidly about to light a cigarette in an RV filled with methamphetamine fumes. It’s their first cook. Both Walt and Jesse are just novices in what is to come of their drug business. We see Walter lie for the first time about his double life, his alter-ego; he tells Skyler that he is stuck at work and she buys it without a question.
The writers chose this flashback in order to create parallelism, but they are also offering viewers a chance to say goodbye to the memory of early, un-evolved characters. Like chemistry itself, Breaking Bad is about transformations. With one more episodes left, fans who have been following the show from the very beginning might have easily forgotten that times were less grim, characters less broken. It’s worth it to take a look and see how and why some of the most profound pro/antagonists spiraled down so magnificently. Looking back as early as the first season of Breaking Bad, we are able to witness a slow progression for its’ main characters as they tragically slip from the top to rock bottom. Up first, Jesse and Mike.
We are officially introduced to Jesse when Walt sees him jump out of a DEA infested meth house. He’s in his underwear, he nonchalantly falls from the roof, and he drives away in his car with the license plate: “The Capn”, a nickname that instills power and authority in Jesse. Although scrawny and crass, Pinkman is the most morally pure character in Breaking Bad; Jesse doesn’t truly care about the money, and he certainly doesn’t care about power. Pinkman’s true love is for doing drugs on his couch and eating Cheetos with Skinny Pete and Badger; the moment Walt threatens to turn him in (unless Jesse agrees to cook crystal meth with him), is the moment Jesse begins to lose control and sense of who he is.
Walt, who has the cunning ability to sniff out a person’s weakness and use it against them, utilizes Jesse’s addictions and naivety to his advantage. In the second season, Jesse becomes involved with his land-lord/neighbor, Jane Margolis and when Walt sees Jane starting to become encroach on their partnership, he allows her to die from a heroin overdose in order to keep Jesse on (his) track. This death, along with Combo’s, Gale’s, and the little boy’s who happened to witness the infamous season 5 train heist completely shatters Jesse.
The game becomes too large and too messy for this character. By the second part of season 5, we are left with a broken and hopelessly lost shell. He has been beaten down, manipulated and used by Walt. At least twice Pinkman has been referred to as a “dog”: once as a “rabid dog” and another as “Old Yeller” and the last time we see Jesse, he is literally chained up. By the time he realizes he’s been played by Mr. White, it’s essentially too late to rebel against him by himself. Thus, he gives in to Hank Schrader.
Mike Ehrmantraut’s defining moment which effectively pins him against Walt and foreshadows his own death is when he describes the death of a woman he could have saved by killer her husband, but didn’t, due to “half-measures”.
Like Walt, Mike is a family man. He has turned to the drug business for the sake of his granddaughter and supports her with his blood money. Unlike Walt, Mike is, oddly enough, redeemable. He is not entirely an evil archetype, but a man who breaks the law for the “right” reasons; his actions are not prompted by greed or thirst for power. Unlike Walt, Mike never targets or involves any innocent bystanders. Unlike Walt, Mike has no problem executing individuals if ordered to so because he is desensitized and grounded by his own rules and standards. He doesn’t play dirty. He is straightforward and level-headed.
However, Mike breaks his own rules, and this leads him to his downfall. Although Mike despises Walt and comes close to killing him, he never actually does. Ultimately, his character understands doing business with Walt goes against his principles, he does so anyway. He mistakenly puts too much trust in a man he initially does not trust at all. Instead of killing Walt, the most damage he does to him is punch him in the face. This “half-measure” weakens Mike’s impenetrable character and he becomes the first person Walt kills single-handedly.
Both Jesse and Mike, once independent contractors so to speak, fall victim to Walt’s manipulation. The two characters are dynamic and strong-willed in their idiosyncratic ways, but somehow along the way, lent their weaknesses to a man much darker than they are. For the rise and fall of Skyler White and Heisenberg himself click here.
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(Image courtesy of AMC)
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV