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'Breaking Bad': Mr. White or Mr. Pinkman?

And so ends the fourth season of "Breaking Bad" but before you read another word, massive spoiler alert forthcoming . . . like right about now: Do not read this post if you haven't seen last night's episode. Mosey along, and catch it on DVR -- not that what I'm about to say has that great a bearing on last night as opposed to general observations about this season, and beyond.


OK, warning dispensed, and let us peruse the final shot -- of a Lily of the Valley plant, non native to New Mexico, I believe, which will surely occur to Jesse at some point. Brock, in other words, was poisoned by Walter White.


The fifth, and final season, would thus appear to be a showdown -- between Walter and Jesse: An OK Corral conclusion that will see the death of one or both, with the hand of Hank involved in some very profound way. That's the obvious read, but knowing producer and creator Vince Gilligan's propensity for surprise, that is almost certainly an erroneous one as well. But the lines are drawn. That much is clear. 


The fourth season saw -- I think -- a fundamental shift in perspective and emphasis. Almost imperceptibly,  "Breaking Bad' moved its lens from Walter to Jesse, who became the beating heart of the entire series. As was inevitable from the choices he has made, Walter became Gus Fring -- and Gus became dead, which surely foreshadows the end of Walter as well. 


Gus, of course, broke bad as well in his youth, and watched his lover -- and surely that was his lover -- take a bullet in the head poolside by Salamanca -- Mark Margolis -- all those years earlier.  Salamanca, who ended up in a nursing home stateside, was thus to become Gus's Achilles' heel: His one great mistake. Gus would visit Salamanca for one reason -- mental torture -- and that betrayed the only true emotional pulse in Gus's entire frame. He wasn't really motivated by money, or power, or sex, or chicken batter. He was merely a brilliant businessman who had undertaken a very specific and illegal business, which required unutterly brutal and vicious responses to business problems. With Gus, it truly was never personal, but only business.


But Salamanca, again, was his one blunder, and it was a blunder of the heart.
Walter will make the same blunder. His fate awaits.


But what about Jesse? I think at one point this season the series became more about him, less about Walter. Jesse became "Breaking Bad's" lifeforce, and Walter it's tragic Richard II. I'm not sure when or where this happened, but it did,  and Mike best said it when Jesse aked what Gus saw in him.


In a word, said Mike, he saw "loyalty." 


Great shows and great tragedies need at least one character an audience can root for, and Jesse has now become that -- the everyman of "Breaking Bad," and now, its hero. The word "hero" is used loosely, of course, because Jesse is hardly heroic, but he is flawed, and his flaw, as Mike so eloquently put it, is his loyalty, which is something everyone can identify with. Loyal to Mr. White. Loyal to Gus. Loyal to Andrea. Loyal to her son Brock. 
Loyal to everyone except Jesse. 


Estranged from his family and himself, Jesse this season became the only fully human character in "Breaking Bad" -- a desperately flawed junkie who nevertheless is the only one who knows how to love another human being. Hank? His love is for rocks, or his other obsession -- Heisenberg. Skyler? She too became looped into Walter's deeply twisted world, and learned to lie with all the facility and ease of her husband. Skyler, in fact, became Walter -- like that brilliant scene when she convinced the IRS agent that she had screwed up the books because of her flaky incompetence.  Jr.? AKA "son"? He remains still too deeply in the dark to know fully what or who he is just yet. 


But then, finally, we are left with Jesse:  Who wanted to avenge the death of a child, and then avenge the near death of another, Brock. Jesse, who killed a man only to save another -- Mr. White. Who saved Gus and Mike that time at the cartel compound (after Gus had poisoned everyone) out of blind loyalty, and because of a filial attachment that could best be described as canine-like. 


Jesse, this season, despised himself for what he had become -- turning his own home into a filth-ridden flophouse because that is how he saw himself. 
This season belonged to Jesse, and belonged to him completely. The show has a beating heart, and it is his. Now what?


Was this a great season? I think the third was better, but sure, it was often magnificent. There were what I would call some "temporizing" episodes that seemed to serve no greater purpose than getting the show bridged to another week where something important did in fact happen. Some of the Bickerson story lines between Sky and Walter were to my mind the chief time killers that also managed to grate. Conversely, the few scenes between father and son were some of the richest in "Bad" history -- persuasive and affecting and deeply felt.


Finally, a word on Giancarlo Esposito, who became one of TV's truly great evil characters -- a clipped monster who neatly adjusted his tie even after he was dead. Esposito's arctic portrayal brought this character to life fully and completely: a Tony Soprano with an even more murderous soul. Dare I say an Emmy-winning one? I certainly hope so.

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