Let’s talk about what it means to be a man.
Because from its very pilot episode, Breaking Bad has been a show about that concept. Does being a man mean knowing how to use a gun or assert yourself? Does it mean providing for your family? Does it mean being the toughest guy in the room?
This second episode of the half season starts out with one of our men on a playground–suggesting that he is actually still a child. Jesse was mostly absent from this episode. He didn’t have a single line of dialogue. But the episode opened on Jesse (with two killer overhead shots) to establish him as the “other” now.
It may appear to some that this episode drew a hard line between Walt (plus Skyler) and Hank (plus Marie). When we return to the seconds following their epic showdown, each man gets a low-angle shot, positioning him as a person of power on the screen. They are filmed like men in a Western–the manliest of men. Hank clicks the remote at his side almost like a gun, and then garage door shuts ominously between them, a wall that will never again be breached.
And yet, “Buried” did a lot to show the similarities between Walt and Hank. Their strongest tie is their pride, their ego, their need to assert that they are the alpha male. When Marie tells Hank that he should go in and tell the DEA what he knows about Walt, he insists that he has to have proof to save face. “At least then I’ll be the one who caught him,” he mutters. Hank’s object is not to catch Walt. Hank’s object is for Hank (and Hank alone) to catch Walt, to humiliate and punish him for thinking he was the lesser man all along.
Walt, similarly, begs Skyler to let him turn himself in and have her keep the money for herself and their children. He tells her doesn’t want to have done all of this for nothing. His empire and his legacy–which basically equates to his money, now–is of the utmost importance to him. It is his identity now, just as Hank’s career as a DEA agent is his identity and hinges on his ability to catch his brother-in-law. We have two men whose identities and pride are in opposition with one another.
Which brings me full circle to Jesse Pinkman–the child on the playground. He is broken to the point of being completely uninvested in his own life. The policemen interrogating him about his car full of cash (the same pair who once questioned him about Brock’s poisoning) try to goad him into talking by asking where he got the money. Did he win it playing cards? If they had that kind of money, the cops say they would certainly be talking about it. That’s what men do.
But Jesse has no pride at this point. He is impossible to goad or wind up. He does not have the ego of Hank or Walt. And that’s why the fight between the two comes down to Jesse Pinkman–he is their tie breaker, and he’s playing a different game entirely. Jesse’s allegiance at this point, I suspect, will come down to whichever side will ease his unbearable pain. For all of his wrongdoing throughout the last five seasons, he is as emotionally innocent as a child. The man that wins Jesse is the one who can save that innocence.
Lastly, I’ll ask you to notice how different the women of the show are now. While Hank assumed that Skyler was a prisoner of Walt’s monstrosity (he even says, “You’re done being his victim”), Marie knows her sister well enough to know that she is no victim. Skyler has been complicit in this for a long time, and Marie realizes this very quickly. Their fight is not about pride, but about morality. Skyler thinks she was right to protect her family. Marie knows Skyler’s willing complicity in Walt’s actions has damaged their family beyond repair, and she slaps her for it.
Each woman has a personal conversation with her husband about how to go forward. Skyler tends to Walt, who has passed out on the floor, and Marie tears up at Hank across the kitchen table. But Marie is crying because she’s afraid for her sister and that her husband could possibly end up hurt at the end of this. Skyler keeps her cool and suggests that her husband should stay quiet so that she can keep the money.
Oh how far we’ve all come since season one.