Four episodes into Breaking Bad’s fifth season and we now know that Gus Fring was not only the bridge of support for so many in the Madrigal network, but Walter White (Bryan Cranston) killing him exposed so many others involved. Still, Walter’s ego has grown to unimaginable levels and blinded him to the world crumbling around him. So many more possible links to him have been exposed and with a bloodhound DEA agent for a brother-in-law, it’s only a matter of time before Hank pieces it together.
Walter has forced the hands of money launderer and shady lawyer and launderer, Saul Goodman and dirty jobs specialist and Madrigal caretaker, Mike Ehrmantruat to help in his new operation. Walter’s original motives are a distant memory. It’s no longer money that motivates him, nor does security for his family. Yet, creator Vince Gilligan has managed to keep everyone in the dark on how this final season will end, even his cast and crew. Aaron Paul, who plays fellow meth cook, Jesse Pinkman, Bob Odenkirk (Saul) and Jonathan Banks (Mike) all weighed in to give their perspectives and opinions on Walter White and this unpredictable season.
“There are moments in the show where you think, that Walter could quit right now, and do whatever,” Odenkirk said. “He could go back to high school. So we don’t know what he’s going to do. It’s all a question of whom he is inside and the choices he makes. He does have these moments in the course of the plot where he could quit. You see him and you go, ‘STOP!’”
“I think about R.J.’s car, when he’s supposed to return it, and he just goes fucking crazy for no reason, but he does have a reason, he’s angry. He’s got this rage inside him from that story about his business partners and the one guy stole his girlfriend. He was kind of the genius behind it but didn’t want any fucking money. (We find out) he’s got a little more rage than a normal person.”
“This season Walter goes to such a different place,” Paul said. “The entire tone of this season is just so unsettling. The entire season is unsettling, creepy and eerie. Walt wants to be the king, he wants more power.”
I asked all three men if Season 5 felt like there’s quicksand and everyone is in it. In the middle is Walter pulling everyone down, sucking all of their characters down with him–that there is no getting out of the quicksand.
“I do know this, and I can’t jump ahead too much,” Banks teased. “It’s really important for my character to go back to the third season where Mike said, ‘No more half measures. If you’re going to kill somebody, kill them dead. You don’t wound them.’ I think Mike makes a real mistake when he doesn’t follow his own rules. So we’ll see if he makes a mistake this season.”
Banks could be talking about at least two scenarios that we know of. He could be referring to killing Walter when he first heard wind of Gus’ murder and then there’s Lydia (Laura Fraser) of Madrigal Electromotive GmbH, whose life he spared before agreeing to help Walter. Or maybe it’s a new player or all of the above?
Paul then replied, “I think he’s definitely taking us down (Jesse and Mike). But this season is the first where you see Saul a little nervous, but he’s comfortable in his own skin.”
“Yeah, he’s got enough distance from all the crime,” Odenkirk added. “He was obviously afraid of Gus, and then that gets cleared up. Walter’s also changing, which is the core of this whole series. He’s conscious (of what he’s doing), and the ability to give a shit about anyone else has just disintegrated. It’s gone. Which is why Vince can’t do that show for more than 16 episodes because the man is losing his humanity.”
“As far as taking people down, Walter White is totally becoming a guy who would do that, whereas before I think he would hesitate. He likes Jesse. He really loves Jesse on some level but even that has been brutalized.”
And this is where a small debate begins between the actors, and it showed more than anything that they’re fans of the show like those watching at home. It illustrates to Gilligan’s point that everyone has their own ideas and opinions of where the story will and should go. They know to a certain degree what’s going to happen over the course of the next four episodes, but not necessarily the last eight.
Paul: Walter just knows how to manipulate everybody. He has everybody on strings.
Banks: I don’t think he loves Jesse at all.
Paul: What are you talking about?
Banks: You’re talking about Walt?
Paul: Yeah. You don’t think Walt cares about Jesse?
Banks: I don’t think he cares about anybody.
Odenkirk: Ohhhhhhh, I think he looks at Jesse like a son.
Paul: He has Jesse in the palm of his hands and he knows how to control him. He’ll use anything he can get his hands on, to control him. Jesse’s striving to guide him in a direction, he’s looking for a fatherly figure in some way. That’s why I think he gets super close to Mike, he just wants to be told what to do in a way. He might deny it, but it’s true. I think Jesse absolutely cares for Walt. It’s a butting head-love-hate relationship though.
Banks not letting his point go: “To control him.” That’s hardly caring about.
What Banks may be referring to is how apologetic viewers can be for Walter. That it’s easy for viewers to stand behind and shrug off Walter’s incomprehensible acts because he is our protagonist. He’s manipulating his family, he’s toyed with Jesse’s happiness, and his actions are leaving a trail of blood and corpses, while destroying and potentially exposing the most well-run criminal operation. Only in television can a man like this be celebrated.
Odenkirk compared Walter’s appeal to the Off-Broadway play, ‘Tribes’ where the father is likable at first, whose opinions and argumentative nature makes him endearing at first. “Then you realize that he’s just a shitty guy because he’s torturing all of these kids and is abusive to his wife with his loud opinions and neediness.”
Banks couldn’t help but bring some real perspective to the table. “I’m old enough to be everybody’s father here, everybody,” said Banks who wanted to qualify what he’s seen in his lifetime. “I know specifically of parents if their kid was hit by a car and lying on the side and go ‘Oh my god, son (or daughter), are you okay?’ and in the same breath go, ‘could somebody take care of this?’ That ain’t love. They’ll tell themselves it’s love, but it ain’t love.”
When thinking about what Walter’s become, whether or not he still feels love for anyone but himself, Banks added this commentary, “A sociopath feels no guilt in their actions and what they do. Now, I’m out of my league to say (if Walter is there) psychologically–
Odenkirk turns to Banks and asked, “Do you think Walter’s becoming a sociopath?”
“I think he becomes a sociopath,” Banks thought aloud. “Back in “No Mas,” in the gym auditorium when he justifies the plane crash; where he says, ‘Well, there has been worse crashes.’
And that is something they all nodded and agreed upon. That was indeed a major turning point, a surreal and crazy, public declaration where Walter changed for the worse. As aloof and somewhat funny, startling scene as it may have seemed when it first aired, we can see its place in this crossing over to the dark side.
Who can stop Walter? Can he be stopped? Who else will he take down with him? The first five minutes of the season leads to endless speculation. Even though their hands are now cemented in Walter’s next phase of becoming a crime lord, it’s hard not to empathize with Jesse, Mike, and Saul increasingly, the more evil and detached Walter becomes.
“No one is a hero and no one a pure hero or a pure villain,” Odenkirk said. “Everyone’s in hotter water, and to your point about the quicksand is really a good one–that’s how it feels to me when I think about Saul. This guy is pulling me down and I cannot get out. My character’s a little cowed, he’s backed up.”
“I can only speak for Mike, who lost his soul a long time ago,” explained Banks. Mike’s wildly aware that there are places in this country where there’s 68% of the emergency room admissions that are methamphetamine related.”
“He may not be able to save Jesse, but he’d like to protect Jesse. I think Mike still sees there’s a hope somewhere for this kid. That’s very sentimental. For Mike, Jesse’s one person (his granddaughter is the other) who he wants something good for. [Pauses] I don’t want to use the word “decency” for Jesse, but that’s the word that comes to my mind.”
So where exactly does that leaves Jesse, who was introduced to us as the lowlife and Walter’s unlikely gateway into cooking meth? Today, Jesse fails in comparison to the monster working beside him. Many believe that it will be Pinkman who needs to be the hero, to flip the tables and take the “king” down, before Walter can destroy everyone.
“We’ll see. We have definitely crossed paths for sure. In past seasons Walt made him nervous, but especially in this season, Jesse feels like he’s walking on eggshells throughout. We’re all a little worried about this guy and where do loyalties stand? Shit is just going to get crazy!”
From global operations to bug exterminators to Skyler wishing the cancer would come back, the fifth season is merely scratching the surface of that craziness that Paul is teasing at. In the end, whatever happens, whether it’s a cast member awaiting his or her fate, or a fan at the water cooler, Banks concluded, “You’ve got to live with what Vince gives you.”