Breaking Bad is as addicting as Heisenberg’s blue crystal. The distinguishing feature of the show is in the hands of the characters, more so about how their moral compasses are askew, whether it is out of circumstance or by nature. While Skyler, Hank and Mary remain on the lower spectrum of immorality in the show, on the antipodal end sits Walter and a host of macho morally reprehensible villains mostly comprising drug lords.
However, in my opinion, the most interesting character in terms of transformation and symbolic representation is and will always be Jesse Pinkman.
Initially Jesse was meant to be a no-good high school graduate who took the wrong turn onto a misguided path filled with meth, pot, oversized hoodies and incredibly baggy jeans where he must have also picked up his profane vocabulary. The writers and creator Vince Giligan had intended for Jesse to be killed in the first season finale but after watching Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul’s on screen chemistry, they decided against it. That was perhaps the best decision that had ever been made for the show because Jesse serves as a moral compass, representing its instability in the face of adversity.
Not only is he a refreshing presence on the show, simultaneously comedic yet dark but he serves the crucial role of reflecting Walt’s transformation through out the series. While Walt loses himself as the seasons progress, Jesse desperately seeks to do good, to rectify his wrongs only to be swallowed up in the world of methamphetamine production by his partner.
At some times, it can be questioned why Walt even needed Jesse after a certain amount of time but it was more out of the need for familiarity in consistently unstable situations that fueled Walt to keep Jesse around. While some argue that Walt did indeed care about Jesse on some level, that transient paternal instinct to protect Jesse vanishes as his self-centered ambitions take the wheel: money, meth…and murder.
Yet as much as I loved watching Jesse’s transformation on the show, I cannot say he was a victim, as many seem to think. Perhaps it was Aaron Paul’s performance but Jesse in no way was innocent. He was certainly influenced and coerced into making ill decisions but nonetheless his hand was not forced…except perhaps in killing Gale, the turning point for his character in the series. Whatever innocence and plausible deniability Jesse could use as a safety cushion was killed the minute he pulled the trigger, the gun being a metaphor of not only physical death but that of innocence( in terms of murder) in the one pulling the trigger.
It is an understatement to say that Jesse loses everything. Before Walter came into his life with his business proposition, he was just a junkie without any aspirations or long term goals. He says so himself, after Hank beat him to a pulp:
“I am not turning down the money! I am turning down you! You get it? I want NOTHING to do with you! Ever since I met you, everything I ever cared about is gone! Ruined, turned to shit, dead, ever since I hooked up with the great Heisenberg! I have never been more alone! I HAVE NOTHING! NO ONE! ALRIGHT, IT’S ALL GONE, GET IT? No, no, no, why… why would you get it? What do you even care, as long as you get what you want, right? You don’t give a shit about me! You said I was no good. I’m nothing!..”
Little did he know how bleak his future would be. Brutally beaten up by Tuco, Hank and many others, verbally abused by White and losing both women he loved, Jane and Andrea, not to mention her son whom he had become attached to and being caged like an animal, are enough to destroy a person. The writers of this twisted show certainly made it a point to kick Jesse when he’s down till he’s lying on the ground shattered.
Where did it all go wrong? The plot line and story arcs in Jesse’s journey on the show reads like a series of unfortunate events but if asked to pin point Jesse’ s hamartia, I’d have to say it would be his weak spot for children. This is clearly demonstrated in the episode Peekaboo in the second season as well as his interest and concern for Brock, causing conflict in his existent partnership with White. Had he been emotionally cold and more callous like others in the meth business, he would not have been faced with the same extenuating circumstances. Jesse’s inclination to be kind and do the right thing, ironically, destroy him in the end.
Personally, it is his tragedies that make Jesse more interesting. Not in a sadistic way, his emotional and physical trauma bring a needed element to the show, demonstrating that trying to turn things around is futile when you’re already in too deep. If anything Jesse teaches you a lesson that the choices you make influence the rest of your choices. The sequence of choices in turn makes you who you are and sometimes it is too late to reverse the order and circumstances brought on by the sequence.
Aaron Paul’s performance is commendable, giving Jesse heart where one would think it lacks. It was heart breaking to watch the way he reacted to Andrea and Brock’s death, in a car gagged and tied, powerless to act but forced to watch the horror. I think it is safe to say that that moment justifies anyone in believing he deserved every single Emmy he had ever won.
While Aaron Paul has enjoyed critical acclaim for his portrayal of the character, I am left wondering about Jesse’s ambiguous fate. I hope he kept driving. I hope he found a way.