I have plenty of praise to go around for the critically acclaimed television series Breaking Bad, and every last of my complements is undeniably well-deserved. These praises include, and are not limited to, the series’ incredible attention to detail, the gripping performances of the cast and crew, and the expertly executed morbid comedy. However, at the forefront of my highest praise for all of Breaking Bad is the unmatched character depth and relatability of the show’s two main protagonists, Jesse Pinkman and Walter White.
Now, outwardly, a cancer-ridden meth cook and his high school failure former-junkie partner are not a pair that many can (or want to) relate with. However, the show’s writers do a remarkable job of crafting these characters intrinsic humanity. They ensure that the driving emotions and motivations of the duo can still find common ground within an audience far removed from any similar situation. Emotions such as grief, hatred, greed, and paranoia dominate the two main protagonists, and these emotional impacts become defining characteristics that shape out the entirety of the series. In Breaking Bad, these characteristics are everything. They carry the show, making the characters both dynamic and interesting, and they are the driving forces behind the series’ greatest scenes. These scenes include Walter’s insanity emerging as he lays laughing in his crawl space, his hubris dominating as he demands the declaration of his name, or his aggressiveness surging as he makes it abundantly clear to his own wife that he brings the danger to others, not them to him.
However, my favorite scene in all of Breaking Bad actually does not involve Walter White at all. Rather, it revolves around Jesse Pinkman in season 4, episode 7, titled “Problem Dog.” Throughout the series, Jesse seamlessly became the character with whom I invested the most of my own emotions. To me, Jesse was the character who time and time again displayed the most humanity throughout the situations which necessitated him having none, whose morals were mostly aligned, yet whose actions still remained separate. Jesse always seemed to border on reaching his own potential- he would climb over mountains of mistakes until there finally seemed to be an opportunity to achieve, to live a normal life, and time and time again the opportunity would disappear due to his own transgressions.
In perhaps his greatest setback throughout the series, Jesse murders Gale, a relatively innocent man, and is subsequently engulfed by an unshakable guilt and self-hatred. His intention was to protect his and Walt’s own lives, but regardless, his actions eat at him. Jesse quickly comes to the realization that he is less deserving of life than the man he killed, and he resorts back to self-abusive reflection and reckless behavior.
Jesse goes into a sort of fugue state for multiple days, and eventually, being unable to sustain his own guilt, finds his way to a church. He attends one of his former therapy sessions, where the theme is one of self-acceptance, and where any action can be forgiven if you simply admit your own mistakes and move on. Jesse tells the group about his murder metaphorically, referring to Gale as a dog that he put down, and explains that even though “the dog” never hurt anybody, he killed it regardless. One member of the session gets upset with Jesse, something that he clearly feeds off of. He desires disapproval and chastisement- he wants someone to tell him that they actually don’t accept his actions.
Jesse is frustrated with his constant escape from consequence. He repeatedly commits wrongdoings and is somehow never punished. This leads him to continue his usual operations, which he realizes only hurts more people and ruins more lives. Even though his intentions are never to harm, he continues to find himself in situations where there seem to be no other options. He needs someone to stop him, he needs someone to punish him and prevent him from hurting more people because the weight of his conscience is breaking him apart. When he feels he still isn’t being reprimanded enough, he even goes so far as to admit that he only attended the therapy sessions in the first place so that he could sell crystal meth to recovering addicts.
Aaron Paul, the actor who played Jesse Pinkman, puts on an unbelievable performance in this scene, with his expressions and vocal execution at their very best. Throughout the scene, the camera peers upwards at Aaron’s distraught face, implying that even in his moment of his weakness he still views everyone else in the therapy session as below him. As the scene progresses it only gets better, and as Pinkman breaks down more and more, Aaron delivers the most powerful emotions he’s displayed on screen yet. However, the scene is still my favorite for much more than this. I believe that it’s Breaking Bad’s best scene not only for its deep and reflective subject matter, not only for Aaron Paul’s peak performance, but also for the genius of its easily missed underlying structure, with the scene set up as a complete antonym to religious confession.
Jesse attends the therapy session in the basement of a church, putting him further from the idea of God, rather than closer. The components of religious confession are all present, but they function in manners opposite to the norm. Jesse is not a man seeking acceptance, but instead is seeking denial from those around him. He speaks not to a priest, but to a collection of drug addicts and sinners. He leaves his confession not with gratitude, but with spite and anger. He is not forgiven, but is rather told directly that his actions are not accepted. It’s clear that Jesse does not believe he is a man worthy of absolution, but rather a man worthy of death. His goal was never one of forgiveness, but rather an affirmation of his wickedness.
Jesse was so fed up with his escape from consequence that he sought it himself. He leaves the church not a cleansed man, but still a broken one. The show acknowledges that confessions don’t erase your sins, and they don’t save the people you’ve harmed. It doesn’t steer away from the bleak reality of trauma and self-hatred, and it expertly portrays these emotions through the harsh downfall of one of its most beloved characters. All in all, Jesse Pinkman’s confession is an encapsulation of what makes Breaking Bad the best series of all time, and for that reason, is my favorite scene of the show.