If there's one thing Breaking Bad and the White family has mastered, it's the subtle art of the painfully awkward, excruciatingly tense family dinner. Whether it is Walt and Skyler sitting angrily across the table from one another while Jesse tries in vein to cut the tension by commenting on just how delicious the store-bought green beans are, or a nerve-racking birthday morning where Junior insists his mother mark the occasion by forming a 51 on his father's plate with bacon – which results in Walt commenting on the merits of "sacrifice" and "Family teamwork."
Unsurprisingly, things aren't much different when Walt and Skyler ask Hank and Marie to meet them at a local Mexican restaurant to, you know, discuss the whole Heisenberg thing and maybe clarify any recent suggestions that certain DEA agents should "tread lightly" over a bowl of freshly prepared guacamole and a pitcher of ice-cold margaritas. Naturally, given the Whites' penchant for making a little time around the table wind up being as solemn as a funeral, things don't go too well, as Marie continually insists that Junior come live at Schraderhaus and Hank tells his brother-in-law that being a man means coming clean about his wrongdoings, cancer or no cancer.
And like the cancer that has recently resurfaced in Walter's lungs, 'Confessions' takes a look at the tendency these characters have to relapse into previous conditions and behaviors, and how that recidivism defines them in moments of turmoil or confrontation. Hank comes at Walter straight, giving him no option but to confess to his crimes and to face the music like a man. That's precisely how Hank sees the world, how he approaches his job and the criminals he pursues and, with a little bit of due diligence, sees them thrown in prison.
Walt, meanwhile, comes at everything and everyone completely cockeyed; his whole plan to provide for his family after being given a terminal diagnosis was to cook meth with a former student and then he wound up the kingpin of an empire he'd never dreamed of building. So, naturally, his move is to offer up a confession wherein he implicates his primary accuser of being the mastermind behind the whole thing because, at the end of the day, the evidence that Hank has on Walt is no more damning than any Walt has on him. And if Walt's confession were to ever surface and be scrutinized by the DEA – and it would be – the one hundred and seventy-seven thousand dollars in medical bills that were paid out to a critically injured Hank Schrader by one Walter White is far more convincing than a copy of Leaves of Grass signed by the man formerly believed to have been Heisenberg.
It's a strategic blow that hits Hank well below the belt, but lets him know that the ball is in his court, because, after all, he is family and we know how important family is to Walt. And the episode brilliantly illustrates that importance by having Walt offer up his son as the reason Hank should just back off. Walt's all but promising that he'll soon be dead and the world may just be a better place without him, but no one should tarnish the memory Junior has of his father, as that might just ruin the young man. It's a merciless play that capitalizes on Walt's knowledge of just how much his children mean to Hank and Marie, and how bringing down Heisenberg would also bring about the end of this ultra-dysfunctional family unit. In the end, it's left to Marie to inadvertently plant the seed of ending it all (or making it look that way, perhaps?) as a way to save those that he loves. And that, of course, ties into the near-future timeline and the larger theme of how everything seems to move in a circular fashion and all misdeeds seem to be revisited upon those who commit them.
But the most interesting aspect of this low-key, yet somehow frantic episode is in how Gennifer Huchtison (who's credited with writing 'Confessions') overtly plays with the concept of Walt as a misguided parent by making sure his two surrogate sons – Jesse and Todd – have a brief moment with their shadowy father figure. Todd is all smiles recounting his misadventures in hijacking a methylamine shipment (and glossing over the killing an innocent child), and even calls Walt to let him know how he's moving up in the world. But it's Jesse, who has been so quite over the past two episodes, who erupts, ready with violent-retribution-by-way-of-gas-can, after nearly being talked into a new life somewhere by Walt and Saul.
It's only at the last moment that Jesse pieces together the missing ricin cigarette and how, for all his fatherly concern, for all the warmth that was in that dad-like embrace in the desert, at this moment, family is just another tool for Walter to use, to ensure that when the end comes, it's the ending that Walter White envisioned and no one else.
Breaking Bad continues next Sunday with 'Rabid Dog' @9pm on AMC. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Ursula Coyote/AMC