Once again, we return to the Meth-influenced, Shakespearean world of Breaking Bad. Today we are going to talk about one of the more interesting characters that help form the core of the series, Jesse Pinkman, played by the talented Aaron Paul, bitch! (That’s a reference to the show, so I’m allowed to say it.)
Jesse was a student of Walters back when he was a middle mannered Chemistry teacher. Jesse finds an old test that Walter had marked up… one where he told his student to “apply himself.” This is a recurring theme within the show: Doing the best that you can. Even if it is a murderous drug overlord. But Jesse will repeat this mantra, and early on he even throws away several “good” batches of meth in order to do better. By the end he’s proud of the fact that he can produce meth at Walter White/Heisenberg quality.
Sidenote: This post is going to talk a lot about being a great meth kingpin/drug lord. I could say, “don’t try this at home” but instead I say watch the show and see if it really glamourizes drug use. I’m going to guess “no,” unless your idea of glamorization involves brutal murder and constantly looking over your shoulder.
Jesse’s Shakespearean influence on the show is extremely important. He’s our gateway character. He’s the one who first takes “meek” (those quotes will be explained next week) quiet Walter White and throws him into the world of Meth. Now look at that choice of words carefully. He throws Walter White into the world of Meth. Not the killing, darkness, or harder drugs. Jesse is a victim of Walter’s ambition, and sort of a gauge for the audience. Jesse represents just how far Walter has fallen.
When we first meet Jesse he is sneaking out of a house while the DEA is conducting a drug bust, looking for “Captain Cook” a local Meth producer. Jesse (in addition to having a personalized license plate) enjoys marking his Meth with chili powder, something that brands him. When he and Walter start working together, Walter is initially against any type of marking their Meth, other than making it mega-pure. Jesse agrees, reluctantly. Of course, until an accident forces them to use a different chemical, making the meth blue, then it’s all about making sure the meth remains blue, thus showing a reversal in the characters.
Here’s where Jesse’s character connects with Walters: his life is worse off once Walter gets involved. Yes, Walter is able to produce meth that is wonderful. But nearly everything else takes this, let’s face it, small time meth producer deeper and deeper into a world where he probably wouldn’t go. Thanks to Walt, he murders, he starts doing harder drugs, his girlfriend dies (some could argue is murdered)… Jesse is a tragic character, and one of the more tragic characters on television.
I’m not arguing that Jesse is blameless. When we meet him, he’s a drug dealer and an addict. He’s not going to win any humanitarian awards. But there are times when he genuinely tries to turn his life around, but keeps getting sucked back into the world of Walter White. At one point he’s making millions of dollars off his drugs, and that doesn’t make him happy. (That dynamic will eventually be switched as well. The despicable line said by Jesse that the audience was drawn to hate will eventually be repeated by Walter.)
Breaking Bad is very much the story of the man Walter White, a character unlike any other on Television. I’ll be getting to him. But Jesse… Jesse is our character. If this were any other television show, and not one so rooted in Shakespearean influences, Jesse would be the main character of the show: A drug addict who gets involved over his head and turns his life around. I’m interested to see where they are going to take this character. He has the same flaws as Walter. But he seems more willing and able to overcome them. Shakespeare-wise, this is the type of character who survives to tell the story as a cautionary tale. But we’ll have to see.