This post contains spoilers through the third episode of the fourth season of Breaking Bad.
One of the things I’ve found interesting about Breaking Bad, and one reason I don’t always like the characters, though I think they’re realistic, is that I think some of the key players in the story aren’t very good at thinking things through.
Take Skylar and Walt this week. Walt is shocked and annoyed to find out that Gus has had security cameras installed in the lab, and then doubly irritated when Jesse is entirely matter-of-fact about the new development, telling Walt he always assumed the place was bugged. His nonchalance leaves Walt sputtering, “I don’t like it. Violation of the workspace,” even though it’s fairly logical that if you’re running a large criminal enterprise and the man you’ve hired to run it is very good at fabricating explosives and chemical poisons, and he’s discussed killing you with one of your other employees, you might want to keep an eye on him. Similarly, Skylar panics when Walt buys a $320 bottle of champagne to celebrate them wresting the car wash where Walt was once so humiliated away from its former owner, worrying that the splurge will reveal that they have an income source other than the one they’re supposed to have. “I’m not asking you to apologize. I’m asking you be smart,” she tells him. “I mean, look at Watergate.” But of course, the thing that’s going to look obvious and weird to their neighbors isn’t the $320 bottle of champagne: it’s the $800,000 small business, unless they can keep their ownership of it awfully quiet.
Similarly, Hank and Marie are tearing themselves apart over little things. Hank, it seems, can’t resist tearing Marie apart whenever she tries to do something considerate for him, ripping her for bringing him Fritos instead of Cheetos and complaining that the magazine she’s brought him on the football draft is useless, since it’s two months away. Then, when she’s caught shoplifting from houses on the market she’s cased by pretending to be someone, anyone else, a new divorcee with a pre-school aged son, a wife of a high-powered man on the verge of retirement, a woman with a brother in the Peace Corps, Hank wants to know why she’s doing this to him, unable to see or acknowledge how vicious he’s been to her, that maybe she’s doing this to herself, to have some control of her own pain.
Only Jesse seems to have a sense of what’s going on around him, and the extent to which he’s directly responsible for it. As his house party descends further and further into chaos, bloody scratches on a man’s back, insane paintings on the wall, twitchy rantings from the guests, Jesse’s running an uncontrolled experiment exploring how far you can create hell on earth. When he throws a stack of money in the air and sits down to smoke a cigarette and watch his guests degenerate further, there’s a real sense of moral reckoning. Jesse’s been incredibly quiet this season, doling out words like the have the value that money has clearly ceased to have for him. And I think that’s why I like him. Unlike Walt and Skylar who are trying to build a paradise in a madhouse so they don’t have to see it for what it is, Jesse knows their whole enterprise is insane. What form that reckoning takes, whether it’s Gus’s boxcutter, guns in the hands of children, someone like Tuco’s fists, or simply the inevitability of the law if Hank finds his way back to himself by catching Walt, the end is nigh.