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'Breaking Bad' season five, episode 11: Fathers, sons, 'Hamlet'
Jesse and Brock. Jesse and Gus. Jesse and Mike. Jesse and Hank. Jesse and his own real father. Jesse and (even) Gus. And finally, of course, Jesse and Walter.
It could be argued that the story of "Breaking Bad" isn't after all the story of Walter White, but the story of Jesse Pinkman - and his long fruitless search for the one relationship that will ultimately define him, as a human being and as a man: His search for a father (and in Brock's case, fatherhood.).
And so we come to "Confessions," the latest episode of "Bad" as it wraps its run in a month or so, and - as my few readers know - I am foregoing the usual "recap" method here and instead focusing on themes. "Bad" has a web of them, and they are woven throughout all five seasons - with each episode mirroring to a greater or lesser degree a prior episode from an earlier season, which amplifies the theme and gives it deeper meaning. (Check out, for example, last season's "Salud" for a fuller reading of "Confessions.")
Last week I did cars - of vast importance to this series. Today: Fathers and sons. Quickly the plot:: Jesse has poured gasoline all over the White household as he prepares the final revenge, kinowing full well that Walt has lied to him repeatedly, most notably over the ricin cigarette - long story - that was originally going to be used to kill Gus, but which Jesse thinks (later disavowed, by the way) may have caused Brock's near-death experience. Brock: The young son of the woman Jesse briefly fell in love with... and whom Jesse intially thought that Walter had tried to poison to get him to turn against Gus Fring (he learns the truth Sunday).
But back to the theme of fathers and sons: I've long believed this series is more about Jesse than Walter, or at least as much about Jesse, who has sought - and failed to find - order in a father relationship.
Remember: Jesse is not a bad person, but a good person maniupulated by a bad person to do bad things. That person was Walter - his substitute father.
To the "Hamlet" connection. As you know, Hamlet's father was poisoned by his uncle, Claudius, while he slept in the garden at Elsinore. The old boy crept over, and poured something called herbane in his ear - a derivative of stinking nightshade...
High school students the world over for generations have puzzled over the usual method of dispatch - in the ear? And of course many have landed on the usual theory: That the "poison" is but a metaphor for words, which can also poison the mind and the soul. Hamlet plots his new "father's" death by faking madness - and then he himself is ultimatley killed by Laertes with a poison-tipped sword, in retaliation for the death of his sister and father...
Yes, Jesse is Hamlet, or maybe Laertes. Or both...
My configuration here is probably not new - I'm sure it's been raised elsewhere - and just about every TV writer (at least in drama) in the history of the medium has attempted to deploy that knotty notion of fathers and sons, by channelling "Hamlet," into their work. "Sons of Anarchy" fairly screams the theme out...
But my point is this: Fathers and sons are a dominant theme of "Bad," and how Walter has bastardized the very notion of fatherhood - poisoned it, destroyed it, and whole lives in the process. Recall that he has never once told a word of truth to his own son, Walt. Jr., who was once so incensed by his father's manipulations that he changed his name to "Flynn." (Hardcore fans even know that there's a question as to whether Walter is the real father of Walt Jr....)
In some ways, Walt. Jr. has a more relevant father-son relationship with Hank - who could never be a father himself. And in some ways, Walter is a "better" father to Jesse than to his own son (whom he onced called "Jesse").
And who was Walter's own father? A piece of his biography that we never really learn - as though he sprang into life without maternity or paternity.
"Breaking Bad" this past Sunday: Fathers and sons, and the bonds that tie them...and destroy them.