Breaking Bad Episode 212 “Phoenix”

212indexThis is a huge episode. So much happens. Birth and Death, coupled. It’s so emotional. Watching it again, even though I already knew what would happen, it still made me cry. Powerful stuff.

I was thinking about how this episode starts out all fast and loud, and ends in slowness, quiet. And yet it’s the end that’s full of drama. It’s almost the opposite of the norm. Usually tension builds as events heat up and speed up towards the most dramatic moment. In this episode, it’s the opposite arc, the tension rises as the pace slows and the volume lowers from a scream to a whisper.

Walt made his choice, drug deal over being there for the birth. When Walt gets to the hospital, he discovers that Ted was there when he wasn’t. But Walt, I believe, loves his new baby. There has been a lot of love this season between this family, despite all the deceit and lies and the people in positions that oppose each other. As bad as Walt can be, and his heartless side has shown a bit this season, I don’t think that his love for his family, in his own mind anyway, has wavered. Just morphed in ways.

This is also an episode where Walt and Jesse’s father-son relationship comes into focus. They are at odds about the money, and it’s one of those great Breaking Bad moments where both sides have valid points. Jesse earned his half of the money. He cooked his ass off out there in the desert just like Walt. And it’s not really Walt’s business what Jesse does with the money. But then again, Walt has a valid concern that Jesse will kill himself with endless heroin if Jesse gets the money. I think Walt cares about Jesse and doesn’t want him to go down that path, and realizes that he needs Jesse.

Although, now that I think about it, if Walt really believes he’s out of the business, does he need Jesse the way he used to? Are his actions towards Jesse motivated more by care, even love? Or does he, deep down, think that he’ll be back in business and therefore need Jesse to do what he tells him (as he explained to Gus in the previous episode). Someone to trust.

The fight between Jesse and Walt in the chemistry classroom is epic.

Walt showing his newborn his fat stacks of drug money and cooing, “Daddy did this for you,” is more than a little creepy. But these interactions with his kids set up things for later on. Walt Jr has done this amazing thing by starting the sweet, sweet SaveWalterWhite.com and Walt has a hard time with it. He doesn’t want charity. It’s sort of heartbreaking how earnest Jr is in making this website to try to make money for Walt’s cancer surgery.

In Saul’s office, Walt’s biggest concern with Saul’s hackneyed ideas to explain his huge new income–found a bag of money, random relative died and left him six figures–isn’t that they’re unbelievable, which on a practical note, should be of big concern, but that he earned this money and doesn’t want it to look like it came from anyone else. He’s adamant. Saul comes up with a solution, which Walt predicts (had he already thought of funneling his money through Jr’s site, maybe for a hot second?) but finds a way to make it believable through the savant in a basement in Belarus. Walt really doesn’t have any other choice, because anything other than telling the truth means Walt can’t take the credit. It seems a little demoralizing to Walt to accept this workable solution.

Meanwhile Jesse and Jane are on a really dark path, and their world seems to be about to crumble when Jane’s father finds them and all the drugs. This scene has one of my favorite lines in all of Breaking Bad. Jane says, “We talk about rehab every night. It’s his idea.” Whoever wrote that is a freakin’ genius because it’s so perfectly pathetic and sad and realistic to what someone in her position might say, sort of trying to protect Jesse and convince her father that she plans to get clean, without realizing that saying they talk about it every night actually reveals just how much help she really needs, how far she is from actually getting help.

Does Jane love Jesse? T212aindexhis was a recent topic of discussion on the AMC Breaking Bad forum. My take is that she does. Throughout the whole scene she is trying to protect him, trying to make her dad like him even. And look what she says later, after they get the money, after she talks about how they really should get clean, that it doesn’t matter where they go, as long as their together. I think Jane loves Jesse but I think she might love the drugs more. They say that when a person has an addiction, the addiction is always the first love, the true spouse, the favorite mistress. As much as she loves Jesse, he’ll probably never truly come first. Then again, Jesse has his own favorite mistress named crystal. Two tragic addicts in love.

And Walt. What a horrible decision he’s faced with when he goes to Jesse’s apartment to try to talk sense to him after Jane’s father (unbeknownst to Walt) tells him to never, ever give up on family. Walt takes that advice to heart. He considers Jesse family, whether he likes that or not. And he goes to try to help him somehow. And of course, despite what Jesse and Jane said about getting clean, flushing all the drugs they had, there they are passed out in a heroin stupor. It just goes to show that he was probably right, that now that they have the money, they’ll probably spend it all on smack.

Two previous scenes set up Jane choking on her own vomit. The first is when Walt and Marie swaddle baby Holly and they prop a towel behind her in case she spits up. Later, Jane makes sure Jesse is on his side for the same reason. When Walt comes in and sits on the bed to try to talk to Jesse, Jesse and Jane are both on their sides. It’s not until Walt shakes Jesse that Jane rolls onto her back. Without Walt there, she might have rolled over anyway. She might have died of an overdose, eventually. But she might have lived through that night.

This has to be the most intense decision Walt has faced so far. He goes to save Jane, then stops. This isn’t like Krazy-8 or Tuco. Those two were directly threatening his life. Jane is a young, troubled woman, and a different sort of threat. Jane has blackmailed him into giving Jesse his share of the money, and intimated that he can’t be sure she’ll never turn on him again. In a very self-serving way, it might make his life a little easier, allow him to sleep a little sounder with his family and new baby, with Jane out of the picture. And if Walt thinks he does need Jesse, in a very cold and calculating way, it serves him once again to get Jane out of Jesse’s life. And Walt has that self-serving, cold, calculating side.

But I also think, as twisted as this is, that part of the reason Walt doesn’t save Jane is because it will be best for Jesse, because maybe this is the only way to try to pull him out of the dark spiral he’s in. Because Walt wants to save Jesse, for Jesse’s sake. I think that’s mixed in there with any calculations about his own self-interest. I think Walt partly lets Jane die out of fatherly love for Jesse.

After all, Walter White has some unconventional ways of protecting his family.

212bindexAnd it hurts him. Walt does a really cold-hearted thing, a thing that might not be as easy to rationalize as getting rid of previous enemies. His inaction is almost bigger, and I think it’s the hardest thing for Walt. I don’t think Walt feels cold-hearted or detached. He’s crying. It’s the complexity of all of this coming together that really gets me. There are so many layers of motivation, of contrasting emotions that make up Walt. He is all these different people–the doting father with the new baby girl, the man who lets a girl die, the man who got cheated (as he sees it) out of his rightful career and wants revenge, credit and respect, Heisenberg–all in one man.

But the storm, is it over now, or just beginning?

~Emilia J

Next Episode: ABQ

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