Review: Breaking Bad 5×11, “Confessions”

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Note: The following review, as you should probably expect, is filled to the brim with spoilers. If you care about that (though you probably shouldn’t), don’t read it. If you have seen the episode or don’t care about that, feel free to hit the jump and read on.

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[Update #1: 8/26/2013, 12:41 AM]

So it’s been a few hours since the episode ended. My initial reactions can be seen above, and I will leave them entirely intact, because that reaction is a significant part of this episode. I seriously contemplated not adding an actual review, because this is really the essence of Breaking Bad distilled into its most pure form. There’s a lot of symbolic work in the aesthetics and structure of the show. There’s a beautiful character study at its center. There’s a wealth of incredible performances that anchor the show and give it its potency. But ultimately the main attraction of the show, the real reason that anybody watches it, is for that moment. The “oh my GOD”, the moment where the only thing that can properly express one’s feelings is a hearty “WTF” (thanks Martin Freeman). The show’s constant and intense slow burn of escalating danger and pressure eventually culminates in that moment, where it ignites and explodes in the most spectacular fashion.

This episode, titled “Confessions”, is packed to the brim with that moments (those moments?) and each one delivers increasingly powerful emotions. The first is Walt’s “confession”, a masterstroke that lays out everything he’s ever done – with Hank as the mastermind. It’s a beautiful, beautiful moment that is constructed so perfectly to lower the jaws of everybody watching. Our confusion and curiosity as Walt sits on the edge of his bed to talk into a camera, and the displaced gratification as we’re first shown a restaurant scene with the White and Schraeder families, only make the reveal of Walt’s brilliance even more potent. He is able to effortlessly incriminate Hank irreparably – if it gets out, Hank is done for. No question about it.

The second moment is Walt, Saul, and Jesse’s moments in the desert. Walt’s speech to Jesse is seen straight through, and for the first time in a long time (ever? probably ever), Jesse straight up calls him out on it. It’s a tense moment as Walt stands there and slowly staggers forward. I know I’m not the only one whose eyes were frantically searching Walt for a gun or a knife or some other weapon – but instead, he pulled Jesse into a massive, fatherly hug. It was tense and relieving at the same moment – as we wonder what Walt is thinking and why he is hugging Jesse, we’re also relieved he didn’t kill him right then and there.

The final moment is Jesse’s final realization that Walt is the one who poisoned Brock. It, like so many revelations in this show, happens by mere happenstance. Saul’s frustration with Jesse’s marijuana use in his office leads him to instruct Huell to lift it out of his pocket, which – as Jesse goes to retrieve the marijuana later – leads Jesse to finally make the connection. He then goes back and confirms the truth by extracting it out of Saul, and proceeds to pour gasoline on the White house – followed by an agonizing cut to credits.

This episode is very much the macrocosm that is Breaking Bad in a microcosm. We see Walt’s manipulation come full circle: it’s highly effective, then less effective but acceptable, and then it utterly fails. And yet, as he does in the split second before he opens the glass door the car wash (one of my favorite bits of physical acting ever – absolutely perfectly framed, cinematographer, you deserve so much credit for that), we know that Walt will compose himself – somehow. This whole show has been about a push and pull of power and powerlessness, and this episode is precisely that. Walt neutralizes one threat with his brilliance, but sees another one appear through sheer coincidence.

…right? It was, in fact, coincidence that led Jesse to that revelation just before he got in the van to ride to Alaska and start his life over again? No. No it wasn’t. Yes, it was coincidence that he happened to have that revelation. But it was not coincidence that he had it then, in a way that kept him from going to Alaska. Saul told him, quite plainly, that the guy would not take Jesse if the latter was high when the former arrived.  And yet, Jesse reached for that marijuana. Jesse had made his decision even before he stumbled into that revelation. Coincidence is a great driver in this show’s plot – but let us not make the mistake of believing it is the sole driver. Jesse’s decision was made; it was simply validated by coincidence.

I could probably find more to say about this episode, but I’m going to leave it at this. It was a perfectly crafted episode of television, one of the very best that I have seen. This is easily one of the five best episodes of this series. A+

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