Bad guys are supposed to get their comeuppance. Criminals are supposed to make amends for what they’ve done, and when they don’t, karma’s supposed to kick in. So what happens when all bad deeds go unpunished? Where’s the incentive to act in a moral way?
That’s a question that Jesse’s asking himself in this week’s episode, “Problem Dog,” but it’s also one we might ask ourselves as fans. Over the past few seasons, Breaking Bad has become a satire on the idea that one’s actions have consequences. So often, Walter White decides to be bad, and he gets rewarded for it. When Skyler discovered that Walt was selling meth, he didn’t lose his wife—he gained a partner in crime. When the Mexican cartel wanted to kill Walt, they ended up shooting Hank, which only helped keep Walt safe from the cops’ watchful eye a little longer. Why should Walt feel bad about not feeling bad if everything’s so good?
By contrast, Jesse has become the show’s conscience. He believes that, despite what his motives are, he should remain accountable for his choices. “We can’t change the past, what’s done is done,” says the group leader at Jesse’s meeting, and that idea is supposed to keep people in recovery from feeling so ashamed of their actions that they start using again. But ironically, according to that no-fault logic, Jesse shouldn’t feel bad for selling them meth. Or for shooting an innocent man.
Part of Jesse wants to get judged for what he’s done. Confessing that he’s killed a “problem dog”—a funny way to refer to Gale, who followed Walt around like a puppy—Jesse pushes the group’s leader to condemn him for killing Gale. “So no matter what I do, hooray for me because I’m a great guy? It’s all good?” he demands. “No matter how many dogs I kill, I just do an inventory and accept?… What a load of crap!” But it’s not just the lack of blame that’s bothering him. It’s a problem-dog-eat-problem-dog world out there, and Jesse needs someone to give him one good reason not to kill Gus.
Interesting that the face on Jesse’s t-shirt looks a lot like Jesus (thanks to readers who pointed out that it’s actually Steve Aoki) because Jesse wants very much to atone for his sins. If he doesn’t, Gale will just keep rising from the dead and chasing him, like the zombies in that video game. No wonder playing Rage hits so close to home for Jesse: the graffiti-ridden walls in the game look much like the walls inside Jesse’s own house, which explains why he’s so eager to paint over the scrawl. What’s done is never really done, but a good paint job might help him pretend like he’s starting over.
Walt, on the other hand, would prefer that Jesse stick to the Old Testament’s way of thinking: an eye for an eye. (It’s fitting that the face on Jesse’s shirt has no eyes at all.) It’s vengeance that Walt uses to convince Jesse that he should kill Gus. After all, Gus was the one who got Jesse’s girlfriend’s little brother killed. But deep down, Walt’s not really so concerned with justice. He treats real life like Jesse’s video game: winning is his only goal. In Rage, the mutants aren’t necessarily “bad guys,” but gamers kill them in order to survive. That’s also why Jesse shot Gale, and why Walt believes he should kill Gus. There’s no right or wrong for Walt. There’s just dead and alive.
NEXT: What Walt’s joyride says about where he’s headed