'Breaking Bad': The hero complex
August 15th, 2011
12:35 PM ET

'Breaking Bad': The hero complex

Sunday’s episode of “Breaking Bad” placed three central characters on the circuitous path to becoming a hero as the show examined the very definition of the word.

And by the time the episode ended, each of those characters ended up in a much different position, whether or not they themselves even realized it.

In one of the series’ best opening sequences (and they’ve had some outstanding ones), Walt was maniacally making his way to Gus’ office to stop what he (and everyone) thought was Jesse’s imminent death. For those brief minutes, it was the Walt of yore: that selfless and unhinged man who gladly faced danger in order to save those he cared about.

The moment was short-lived. No longer trying to be the hero, Walt regressed back to the spiteful man bumbling around the lab. He was helpless without Jesse, and helpless to save Jesse.

The bright side to those lab scenes with Walt "Austin Powers"-ing the forklift was that they proved Jesse does actually contribute in some way to the meth-making process, beyond just weighing the stuff. Walt truly needed Jesse in there. (OK, maybe not Jesse specifically, but definitely a second person. Who might as well be Jesse.)

As for Mr. Pinkman, he started the episode as a lost cause on his way to a sandy, shallow grave. Ready to defend himself, he threatened Mike’s good ear and fashioned a Wolverine claw made of keys, which is probably the most-wielded and least-used weapon in the modern world. (Seriously, how many times have you walked down a sketchy street alone at night and pulled that Wolverine key move in your pocket? Never? I’m alone on this one?)

Anyway, it turned out Jesse was just tagging along on a business road trip with Mike to keep him out of his giant house-shaped toilet. Jesse, however, thought the ride-along was some kind of tryout to be Mike’s security detail, so he stood watch over the car in the most tough-looking stance he could muster, which was just so adorable.

After a great montage of their trip (which was funnier than any trailer for “Due Date”), Jesse valiantly fended off a couple of armed thugs trying to jack their cash. Thing is, the foiled heist was staged by Gus in order to give Jesse a feeling of self-worth. So Jesse thought he was a hero (his words), and that made him feel more needed and valuable than anything Walt has said to him in recent weeks.

Say what you will about Gus, but the dude knows how to manipulate his underlings. Grotesquely murder a colleague in front of them when they need reprimanding, fake an armed robbery when they need an ego boost. That’s Management 101 right there. (By the way, does anyone else wish there was more Gus this season? Just because Walt isn’t allowed to see him doesn’t mean we, too, must be deprived of his presence.)

Let’s get back to Non-Hero Walt. He sealed the deal on the car wash with Skyler, and then, um, “sealed the deal” with Skyler, so he wasn’t at risk of losing his mojo anytime soon. And when Walt is full of mojo alcohol at a family dinner, we know where that’s going: a monumentally uncomfortable face-off with Hank.

As Hank gushed over Gale’s intellect, Walt was seething. So he suggested to Hank that the Great Cooker may still be out there, all but daring Hank to find him out. Apparently, Walt would rather sit in a prison cell as a meth-cooking genius than sit silently while a dead guy took credit for his product. At the beginning of the episode we were gleefully rooting for Walt the Hero, and by the end we were shaking our heads in disgusted amazement at Walt the Antihero. That is what a good show does.

Meanwhile, Hank was ohsoclose to connecting Jesse to the Gale shooting early in the episode, but figured there was no point in taking time away from his mineral collection for a dead Heisenberg. By the end, thanks to Walt, Hank was showing his old joie de vivre, again determined to be the hero who brings down the blue meth scourge of the Southwest.

So in the “Breaking Bad” universe, who will win out, the hero or the antihero? Ya know what, Saul Goodman probably wins out, let’s be honest.

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Filed under: Breaking Bad • television • TV recaps

soundoff (9 Responses)
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  3. Wilky Smooth

    Just finishing up the first season, but cant stop myself from watching the new episodes. This show is amazing and real. I love it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 17, 2011 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  4. recheckfacts

    Good article but who could forget the ending where Hank pulls out a Pollo Brothers wrapper?!

    August 16, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Evel Knievel

    Is "Breaking Bad" when you drop a deuce and don't get a clean break and then you spend half an hour wiping only to have to wipe again 2 hours later?

    August 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Melissa

    Thank you, a great analysis. Breaking Bad is genius, letting us realize the echoes of the former everyman stand-up guy Walt can still be heard, but inside the stillness between echoes, his soul is becoming harder & darker, overshadowed by greed, ambition and pride. I too want more Gus, it is just a guilty pleasure to love the guy. All the scenes with Gus are more twisted and compelling as he is both a sociopathic killer and disciplined businessman with the demeanor of a brilliant and cultured librarian. Gus is proof the devil comes in many forms and wants nothing less than everyone's soul.

    August 15, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Liz

    I agree with Nancy....and yes, I have used the Wolverine claw thingy. I do think that the next character in line to be a hero (of sorts) will be Mike. Yeah, Jesse got on his nerves but then he saved his life, or thought he did, and I don't think Mike will forget that. The look that Mike gave Gus when he (Gus) exited the car in the last scene makes me think he's got his own agenda, and it does not include killing Jesse. He may just save Jesse's life in return, and end up in Walt's camp.

    August 15, 2011 at 2:38 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Chachi

    I wholeheartedly agree with @Nancy. It is almost not necessary to watch the show. These recaps seem to capture everything. Well done.

    August 15, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Nancy

    This is one of the most insightful and best written recaps that I've ever read.

    August 15, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |

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