This post contains spoilers through the August 26 episode of Breaking Bad. I’ll be on vacation and may not have the ability to watch next week’s episode, though if I do, I’ll blog it.
Earlier in this season of Breaking Bad, Jesse asked Walter White if a meth empire was really something to be proud of. At the beginning of this episode, Walt’s belief that it was gave him a powerful tool to extract respect from the kind of men he once feared. By the end of it, he was beginning to realize the limitations of the thing he is the best at.
“I’m the man who’s keeping it,” Walt told Mike’s contact. “Yours is just some tepid, off-brand generic cola. What I’m making is Classic Coke…Do you really want to live in a world without Coca-Cola?…You’ve got the greatest, no, the two greatest meth cooks in America right here…You all know exactly who I am. Say my name…I’m the cook. I’m the man who killed Gus Fring.” All of these things are absolutely true: Walt’s meth is powerful, and pure, only he can make it, many people want to buy it, and he is a killer. But while Walt’s narrowed his universe to match that set of facts, and to construct circumstances in which those facts override all other considerations, not everyone has decided to join him there. If he’s Satan, he’s rebelled without being sure of his legions in his war on God, and conventional morality, and Grey Matter.
There’s Skyler, who is collaborating, but not shutting up. “Walt. What is this?” she asks him when he and Jesse come to stash the chemicals at the car wash. “Why are you hiding it here?…Who are you hiding it from? From the police? Or someone else? Someone who would kill for it?” Walt tells her to go back into the office, but her appearance there is marked by a subtler and more potentially important exchange: the first moment when Skyler and Jesse have been in agreement. “Hey, Mrs. White,” Jesse tells her, including her in the courtesy he’s always extended to Walt. Noticing her looking at the truck, he reads the name of the company: “Vamanos.” “I wish,” Skyler tells him, relying on a literal reading of the word. I’ve long wanted to see an alliance between Skyler and Jesse, who are both deeply entangled in Walt’s affairs, both increasingly angry at him, and who, between them, could paint the most complete portrait of Walt’s affairs of any characters who remain living.
But if that’s to happen, Jesse will need to extricate, root and branch, the hold Walt has on him. And as their bond slipped this week on the way to the events that must surely sunder any sympathy Jesse has for his former teacher, Walt resorted to an accusation even uglier than the ones that he’s made about Skyler. “Look at you. What have you got in your life? Nothing. Nobody. Oh, wait, yes. Video games and go-karts,” Walt told Jesse. “And when you get tired of that, what then? And how soon will you start using again? Look. Look I know how upset you are about what happened to this boy. I am just as upset as you are…Do I have to lock myself in a room and get high to prove it to you?” That Walt’s turned cooking meth into Jesse’s program of recovery is a sickeningly beautiful example of his inversion of conventional morality.