Walter missed the birth of his daughter, but he managed to sell over a million dollars worth of crystal meth. When he is hesitant to share the proceeds, a battle of wills ensues between Jesse, Jane and Walt.
Let’s not beat around the bush – in this episode, Walt is complicit in the untimely death of Jane, perhaps the single worst thing he ever does in Breaking Bad. However, before that shocking moment is an extremely interesting character study of Walter that deserves an in-depth discussion.
In the show so far, Walt’s family has often been portrayed as an obstacle to his life of crime, people he has to avoid or deceive in order to accomplish his goals. In this episode though, we are shown that Walt loves being a father – he understands fatherhood in a very specific and limited way, but it is a role he likes to perform.
Perhaps the best example of this is the dinner scene by the pool. Walt has been fussing over the baby and excitedly talking with Hank about child-proofing the pool, but his enthusiasm wanes when he learns that Skyler is not planning on being a stay-at-home mother. Consider the following facts:
- Walter will probably be dead before Holly enters elementary school.
- His wife lacks work experience but may soon become the sole breadwinner.
- He doesn’t particularly like his job as a chemistry teacher.
Walt quitting and spending as much time as he can with his kids while Skyler goes out to work makes so much sense yet he refuses to even consider this possibility. In a previous review, commentator KingKat described Walt as “old school patriarchal” and that is exactly right – Walt sees family as a hierarchy with the father on top, surrounded by people dependent on his approval and largesse.
This is reinforced through Walt’s interactions with Jesse. Walt decides that it is his responsibility to protect Jesse, refusing to hand over any money until he is sure that Jesse has conquered his drug addiction. This act fundamentally changes their dynamic – Walt has now embraced the role of “surrogate father” to Jesse, otherwise why would he care if his partner lives or dies? I must stress that this relationship is not based on love or understanding – the episode deliberately contrasts Jane’s connection with her father Donald1 and the much more authoritarian style used by Walter.
For his part, I do think Jesse wants Walter in his life, even though he recognises that the relationship is not healthy. When he telephones in a panic because he thinks someone stole their meth, Jesse begs for a response, even if it is just Walt shouting at him – he needs that emotional connection, no matter how hurtful the other person is being. That is why Jane is such a disrupting influence – she can provide Jesse with the acceptance he craves, eliminating the need to work with Walt altogether. The writers said that they treated the situation as a love triangle and that was an excellent decision. It helps highlight how Walt and Jesse depend on one another, even though their relationship is unstable and can be broken up by a determined outsider.
This brings us to the final scene of the episode. Walt has been blackmailed by Jane into handing over hundreds of thousands of dollars – he no longer has any leverage over Jesse but he wants to try one last time to talk some sense into him. Letting himself into their apartment, Walt is saddened to find Jesse and Jane in bed together, unconscious after injecting heroin. What happens next was the subject of bitter debate among the writing staff.
Initially, Vince Gilligan wanted Walt to inject Jane with an extra dose of heroin, causing a fatal overdose. The other writers didn’t like this idea, so Vince suggested that Jane would start vomiting while on her side – Walt would then push her onto her back, knowing that this would kill her. That was also unpopular, so they finally settled on the version that was broadcast – Walt accidentally knocks Jane over and decides not to intervene when she starts to choke.2 This ensures that Jesse will remain under Walter’s influence.
I feel that this is a fitting conclusion for the episode. Jane’s death is tragic and upsetting, but it wasn’t the result of some grand scheme concocted by Walt. Instead, it was his fear and hesitancy that killed Jane – the traits most responsible for the failures and unfulfilled potential of his life. It wasn’t becoming “Heisenberg” that made Walt a bad person – he was always capable of this kind of cruelty.
Odds and Ends
- Walt Jr. sets up a website (SaveWalterWhite.com)3 to help pay for his father’s surgery. At the time, this was still a relatively new thing to do – the earliest recorded use of the word “crowdfunding” was in 2006.
- Saul continues to grow on me. After Walt goes on a rant about “cyber-begging” and how he hates accepting charity, the lawyer quips that “there’s no deep-seated issues there” – the man is perceptive if nothing else.
- I haven’t discussed Krysten Ritter’s performance much in this review, but she does an excellent job portraying a vulnerable young woman, alienated from her father and struggling with addiction. Ritter wrote an essay for Vulture discussing her time on Breaking Bad, which you can read here.
- Cranston prepared for his final scene with Ritter by making a pros and cons list on whether Walter should save Jane’s life. One of the pros was that Jane could have been Cranston’s own daughter, and he had a vision of his child choking to death while filming the sequence – those are real tears on his face.
- In the episode Fly (Series 3, Episode 10), Walt talks about the odds of meeting Jane’s father on the night she died and how it makes him doubt that the universe is truly random.
- This won’t be the only time Jesse’s allegiance to Walt will be tested – both Gus and Hank will try to persuade him to turn against his partner in crime.