Will Jesse Die On Breaking Bad? The Great Debate
By now you've probably had time to compose yourself after Sunday's harrowing Breaking Bad, and maybe even prepare yourself for next week. Even with only two episodes left in the entire series Breaking Bad still has a lot of questions left to answer, and most of them about the fates of our central characters (save, RIP, Hank). Walter White has been brought about as low as possible, but we know he'll return to New Mexico with a machine gun and a mission… and we have to guess that, one way or another, Jesse will be involved in whatever Walt has planned.
But will the show end with Jesse's salvation, or just his further damnation? Sean and Katey stand on opposite sides of the debate about Jesse's fate, so of course, they've hashed it out. Will Jesse die at the end of Breaking Bad? Pick your sides in our debate below.
KATEY: Sean, Walter White is back in Albuquerque, armed with a machine gun and ricin. Most of us guess that both are intended for the gang of neo-Nazis who have Jesse imprisoned, and maybe for Lydia. But none of that determines the fate of the show's second-most important character, Jesse. I cannot imagine a Breaking Bad that ends with Jesse dying-- it conflicts with everything I believe about the morality of the show. You think Jesse HAS to die. Why don't you just go ahead and stomp all over my heart and tell me why?
SEAN: First, let me clarify. In no way do I WANT Jesse to die. Like you, I view him as our portal into this dark, depressing, hopeless story of moral decay. For a while, Jesse was painted as the victim, as Walter's puppet. But Jesse isn't without fault. He participated in Walter's drug trade. He cooked meth. He killed Gale. He's not the innocent lamb who needs salvation, which is what I think you are making him out to be.
I agree with you that initially, I believed Walter was coming back from Witness Protection to take down the Neo Nazis -- and Lydia -- who had taken over his business. But recent events, particularly between Walt and Jesse, have changed my mind ever so slightly. The big one was Walt telling Jesse about Jane. This was done for no other reason than to hurt Jesse. Walt blamed Jesse for bringing Hank into the desert. Earlier, Jesse referred to "Mr. White" as the Devil. There is NO love lost between these two men. They no longer are the partners we envisioned. They are mortal enemies, whose sole focus is brining each other down.
I think Jesse has one more card to play. I think he'll tell Uncle Mike and crazy Todd about what Skyler knows. And I think the Nazis will eliminate the White family, forcing Walter to return and eliminate EVERYONE he ever associated with. Jesse included. But you see a happy ending. How?
KATEY: I don't see a happy ending, exactly. I don't think that's possible, and I don't think Jesse will ever really be able to accept happiness given everything he's done. As you point out, there's a serious amount of blood on his hands. But Jesse has also suffered more than any single character on the show, and is acutely aware and incredibly sorry for everything bad that he's done. He's already endured the worst punishment possible, and while killing him would maybe be a relief in some way, it would also be really narratively unsatisfying.
Yes, as Walt says in the pilot, Breaking Bad-- like chemistry-- is the study of change. We've watched Walt go from an amiable teacher to a terrifying drug kingpin, and Jesse from a naive goofball to a scarred, calculating refugee. But Walt's story has hit its climax, when he retired from the drug business and was relaxing by the pool, right before Hank found him out. Jesse hasn't had that climax-- his story has been the opposite of Walt's, a curve plummeting downward and bottoming out right about now. To end his story in a way that feels satisfying, he has to somehow go up from here.
And finally, I go back to Vince Gilligan's own words: "It just makes sense to me that bad people should get punished and good people should be rewarded." Jesse has been punished, but he is also a fundamentally good person. And I can't imagine the show ending his story on a note of pain.
SEAN: You might be right. But there is one other recurring theme of BB that I think applies to Jesse. Every character, at multiple points, has been given the chance to walk away. To escape ... not Scott Free (for there always was emotional baggage that the character would have to take with the exit), but to at least be free of the madness Walter has inflicted. Hank is shown the DVD and told, in no uncertain terms, leave this alone and we'll move on. He can't, and so, he dies. Skyler and Walter decide multiple times to walk away, to stop the drug trade, but circumstances pull them back in. And Jesse is staring at the red van, ready to whisk him away to a new life. Yes, he realizes in that moment what Walter and Saul did. But he still could have left. Should have left. By deciding to return, to engage Hank and attempt to bring down Walt, I think Jesse sealed his fate. He committed the Cardinal Sin that has doomed virtually every BB character since the show began. He was shown an exit, he stared through the door to his escape, and he turned his back on it. And I think it will cost him his life.
Any hope of salvation, or a satisfying ending, died in "Ozymandias." I think that Vince Gilligan is burning the entire thing to the ground over the course of the next two eps, and I don't see Jesse surviving the fallout. But you say you have a new theory. I'd love to hear it!
KATEY: Man, you have really embraced the darkness of this crazy show, and while I admire you for it, I still don't think that "bad people get punished" applies to punishing the audience. But as for my theory, it's a slight one. Remember that dog that runs across the road just after Walt steps into the red van? It's not a stretch to guess that dog is foreshadowing for Jesse. Just a few episodes ago Saul was referring to Jesse as a "rabid dog" (the episode's title) who needed to be put down. And one of Jesse's strongest episodes was "Problem Dog," in which he used that metaphor to talk about Gale in his rehab group.
Jesse has been associated with dogs-- and babies and other cuddly things-- for a long time. And I think that dog trotting across the road, free to roam, is a nod to what Walt's "unfinished business" really is. After some months as Mr. Lambert, to actually reflect on how Jesse was not responsible for killing Hank, Walt will be able to return and do the last possible good thing he can do, which is freeing Jesse.
SEAN: Ha! You do know Aaron Paul Tweeted "Dog on a leash" during Sunday's episode, right? So there's something there, for sure.
KATEY: Yes! Exactly. That dog didn't wander across the road by accident.
SEAN: Right. Nothing on this show is an accident. And I'm with you. My initial reaction to Jesse being spared by Todd was so that Walter could rescue him in the finale. I was on your page initially. But "Ozymandias" was such a brutal, dark episode, it opened my eyes to the fact that things might not end so smoothly for Walter. And they shouldn't. I guess it boils down to how far Gilligan and his crew are willing to push this (and us). Because you talk about good people being rewarded. But the few good people on this show -- Hank, Gale, Marie, Gomez -- they are not getting off Scott Free. In fact, they are all being punished ... often with their lives. Say Walter saves Jesse. You can't believe Jesse will "forgive" him? That bridge burned weeks ago. So what would happen? How could Walt saving Jesse be the end of this show? They HATE each other.
KATEY: No, I definitely don't think Jesse will forgive him. If Walt does manage to rescue Jesse, it will be fraught-- and Jesse might even fight it, and it will not end with the two of them hugging and wandering off together. It will be much darker and more complicated than that. But just like Walt's awful phone call to Skyler was both horrible Heisenberg and a way of saving her... I think he owes something similar to Jesse. A way to exonerate him while using the most terrible parts of his personality.
SEAN: It's not an easy task. And yet, if the show has proven anything over these past six episodes, it's that it has a crystal clear focus on the path it wants to take. And I'm truthfully going to be OK with either decision. In Vince I Trust.
KATEY: If Jesse does in fact die, I will have to reconsider a lot of how I felt about the show, since as I said at the top, that doesn't fit with what I think of as Breaking Bad's moral universe. At the same time... you're right. It's been so satisfying up to this point that I have complete faith they'll stick the landing, regardless of how it happens.
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