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Well Played, Vince Gilligan. Well Played

By Dustin Rowles | TV | June 14, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | June 14, 2010 |

Given “Breaking Bad’s” commercial and critical success for AMC, and the fact that it’s essentially launched the network’s original programming slate, I didn’t think there was much doubt that the show would be picked up for a fourth season. What I didn’t know was that the fourth season wasn’t officially picked up until yesterday. There were apparently a few issues to iron out about the $3 million per episode budget. That means, of course, that when Vince Gilligan wrote last night’s finale, he wasn’t absolutely certain that there would be a fourth season, which — in retrospect, after having seen the final seconds — scares the hell out of me, the notion that “BB” could’ve ended its run the way it ended last night’s episode.

It would’ve worked as a great, but unsatisfyingly ambiguous, ending, as it would’ve demonstrated the completed transition of Jesse Pinkman, from troubled but naive drug-addicted teenage fuck-up to fully developed, drug-manufacturing murderer (and fuck-up). We knew that Walt had it in him, as we’ve seen over the course of the series — he lost his reluctance to murder when necessary for himself, his family, or Pinkman, in the first season when he killed the guy in the basement. But Jesse has always maintained a little morsel of innocence underneath, an inability to pull the trigger. But he did it last night; he fucking did it. He’d been pushed so hard into a corner that he had no choice. While I think that if it were between his own life and Gale’s, Jesse would’ve chosen Gale’s, it truly demonstrated Jesse’s hidden affection for Walt that he’d pull the trigger to save Walt (I’d like to point out, however, that it’s not a certainty that he shot Gale — Jesse did move the barrel of the gun away from Gale’s face at the last second. That may have been a camera trick, to impress upon us Jesse’s completed loss of innocence. But who is to say that Gus’ thug had not appeared behind Gale? Though, in either respect, Jesse still pulled the trigger, and someone undoubtedly died).

It was an intense and bleak hour-long finale (and it might have been even more intense had I not known that a fourth season was official), and it was one that didn’t feature Marie, Hank, Walt, Jr., or Skylar, except for the prologue in Skylar’s case. All my speculation about Walt, Jr. biting it during his driving test was for naught— at least for now — another brilliant Vince Gillian red herring. The prologue — a flashback to when Walt and Skylar bought their house — was brilliant in its duality. Showing this scene between a pregnant Skylar and Walt from nearly 20 years ago felt like the perfect set-up for ratcheting up the emotional devastation of either the death of Skylar or Walt, Jr. As it turns out, the real reason for that prologue was to demonstrate something else: That Walt’s thirst for success — his want for more — had always been there, it’d just been beaten out of him by 20 years of career failures and marital emasculation. However, manufacturing meth is not just a means to supporting his family after his death anymore; it’s his second chance. His second chance at the greatness that eluded him the first time around after his business partner fucked him over. It’s clear, by the end of the episode, that Gale represents Walt’s first life, and as Walt’s first business partner did to him, Walt had to do to Gale: Take him out of the picture and take all the glory for himself. The old Walt let himself metaphorically get shot in the head; this time, Walt — via Jesse — is the one doing the shooting.

Of course, the “glory” that Walt has inherited is simply another round of problems. He’s saved himself, and Jesse, for the immediate future, because Gus needs him (hence the somewhat out of place scenes with the cartel — to demonstrate how badly Gus is backed into a corner, too, and how badly he needs someone to continue producing the meth, so that Gus can keep his foothold). But next season — there’s a whole new set of complications, not least of which will be Walt working for a man he knows wants him dead. That should be an interesting working relationship, as the more leverage that Walt gains — and the closer he gets to an equal footing with Gus — the more Gus wants to snap his neck.

I’ll save the plot synopsis of last night’s episode — if you’re reading this, you’ve no doubt already seen it — but I would note my favorite scene last night was the one where Walt was facing certain execution. I should’ve known that Walt had some kind of plan, because he’s never begged for his life before and I simply couldn’t imagine a scenario — after all they’ve been through — where Walt would give up Jesse. It was so out of character that I almost felt cheated until I realized that it was a brilliant ploy to set the execution of Gale into motion.

There was something else, too, about last night’s episode: The way that Saul also risked his own life to not give up Jesse’s real location despite the fact that Saul is a total sleazebag. What is it about Jesse that Walt and even Saul want to protect? He’s a fuck-up, and no matter how many chances he’s given, he always seems to fuck it up again. But then, many of us seem to have that person in our lives, don’t we? How many of us have fuck-up siblings or friends that we bail out time after time after time, knowing that a week, a month, or a year later, we’ll just be bailing him out again? There are certain fuck-ups that have that effect on us, and Jesse is the perfect example of a good-hearted fuck-up we can’t help but want to save (“FNL’s Riggins is another example).

I can’t believe we have to wait another nine months to see how this plays out. Until next season folks. Well played, Vince Gilligan. Well played.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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