Breaking Bad: Jesse Pinkman

If Walter White is a natural born criminal who didn’t find his true calling until he was fifty years old, then Jesse Pinkman is the exact opposite of a natural criminal. He’s more than the opposite of a criminal, he’s completely unsuited to be any kind of criminal, big time or small time. Whereas Walter White has a heart of stone and stomach of steel to do the necessary but immoral, just the mere thought of physically threatening or hurting someone makes Jesse Pinkman nervous. Jesse’s brain is made of jelly and has no stomach for the life of a criminal or outlaw. He is your typical rich white kid who’s seen too many mob movies and thinks the whole ‘lifestyle’ is one big game of drugs, booze, cash and women at his beck and call.

Jesse Pinkman is only fit to do one thing and that is to follow the life of privilege his parents prescribed for him. He is of average intelligence and like all privileged white boys, he takes everything for granted and nothing seriously. He lacks basic common sense and reasoning skills and it stems more from lack of trying rather than from lack of aptitude. He is impulsive and compulsive. He acts before he thinks and he is terrible under pressure. Not a good combination for someone who wishes to live the life of an outlaw or criminal. Besides being terrible under pressure, he is also useless in the face of adversity. Any setback large or small will send him into bed with a pipe where he is out of commission for days at a time. When a junkie couple owed them money, he went to their dilapidated pig pen to collect money and when a stolen ATM machine fell on the guy and cracked open his skull; Jesse took to his bed and got high, saying the sound of his brains splattering on the ground gave him trauma. One of his dealers got shot by rival dealers because he encroached on their territory, that dealer being a good friend of his, he took to his bed again, this time high on heroin supplied by his girlfriend. Granted, these are very traumatic events, but it’s part and parcel of the life he chose.

The best course of action for him would be to graduate from high school, keep his nose clean since he’s got no aptitude nor stomach for shenanigans legal or illegal, and attend college, preferably at one of his parent’s endowments and obtain some benign but useless degree like business management, finance or marketing and after graduation go work for his father or one of his father’s associates. It was the life that his parents wanted for him, but he had other plans.

Jesse is a bitter disappointment to his parents. In season 1, when he stumbles into his parent’s backyard after one harrowing and frightening day in the life of a drug dealer, it was expressed that they’ve given him more than enough chances to clean up and make an honest living. He had run out of chances with them and he is not to be accepted back into the fold until he truly cleans up and go straight. They let him stay a few days there, he was on good behavior, he didn’t use drugs. He attempted to bond with his much younger brother who is only in middle school. That Jesse’s parents, who now put all their hopes, aspirations, attention and love on his younger brother is not lost on him. It hurts him deeply that his parents have written him off, but then he lacks the initiative or dedication to turn his life around. He wants his parents to love him and accept him as he is now, he wants his cake and eat it too. Though he uses drugs copiously and often, he’s not at the stage of an inveterate junkie, he’s capable of going for days without using drugs. In one telling scene, where the Pinkman’s maid while cleaning Jesse’s bedroom, found an unsmoked joint of marijuana in his bedroom. The maid alerts Jesse’s parents, Jesse is promptly ejected from his parent’s home and told to never return. It is revealed that while he was outside waiting for his taxi to arrive, his younger brother came outside to say goodbye to him and thanked him for taking the fall for him. His younger brother planted the marijuana joint in his bedroom knowing the maid would find it and tell his parents. It’s unsure what his younger brother’s motivation was, maybe he wants to be the center of attention of his parents and wanted his older brother out of the way. Either way, the Pinkman’s younger golden boy is not so golden or perfect. Jesse took this on the chin and left his parents house with sadness in his heart, mostly towards his little brother, with whom he thought he was close.

When Walter White found Jesse, he was on the verge of quitting the meth business, but Walter White drew him back in with blackmail. Jesse was at that crucial time where his window of turning his life around is disappearing. If he continues down this path, he’ll mostly remain a criminal and as someone who lives outside of the law. While he still can turn things around, he is pushing thirty, and to start at the bottom of the legitimate employment sector, without a college degree, earning minimum wage flipping for sale signs at the side of road isn’t something he can countenance after he’s made so much cash so easily.

According to Walter, Jesse’s greatest flaws are he “never learned to think”, does not have the fundamental “rudimentary skills to follow basic instructions” – as evidenced by the dead body crashing through the second floor of his home because the body dissolving acid he used will eat through the bathtub, drywall, wood, nails, everything but not plastic. Jesse, in his typical knucklehead manner, assumed that if a plastic container can dissolve that body, then it must alright for a ceramic bathtub too. This was only the beginning. There was the time where he left the keys of the camper in the ignition in the middle of the New Mexico desert and then draining the battery. When they attempted to jump the battery with the generator, he got gasoline  on the outside of the generator where it promptly blew up while he was trying to start it, and the cherry on top – Jesse put out the fire with the only fresh drinking water they had left when there was a fire extinguisher. They could have died in the desert if not for Walter White’s near genius chemical mixing skills.

Because Jesse has been cast out by his family, he inadvertently sees Walter as his surrogate father. He still addresses Walter as “Mr. White” even though he is no longer his high school chemistry teacher. He wants very much to impress Walter and he’s craving a “good job” or a “well done” from Walter. And Walter wants to give him that validation he craves, but Jesse, for lack of a better word, is just too stupid at times to see the error of his own ways. Every time a Jesse related mishap happens, he never takes responsibility for it, he always blames Walter, the weather, his dead aunt, everyone and their grandma except the man in the mirror. Another classic trait of a overprivileged white boy.

But Jesse’s greatest flaw isn’t his own stupidity, his greatest flaw in relation to the line of work he’s chosen is his natural and inherent kindness. The truth is he can’t hurt a fly. He has a soft spot for children, he sees his little brother in them. He took care of his ailing aunt while she was dying from lung cancer, lived with her at her house until she died. To repay him, she let him live in her house rent free, the same house where a dead body fell through from the top floor. This boy is in the wrong line of work mixing with the wrong kind of people. The type of dealers he hires and associates with are the nice dealers, ones who aren’t capable of being ruthless, similar to himself. To be a drug dealer, you can’t afford to be nice or you’ll be worked over. Jesse never got this memo, and if a few ounces or even a pound is missing from the profits, he’s willing to look the other way than to go hunt down the missing loot – much to the ire of Walter.

Walter’s relationship with his own son Walter Jr is more complicated. Walter Jr was born with cerebral palsy. He needs crutches to get around, has a very mild almost undetectable speech impediment, but has no cognitive or intellectual impairments. Walter Jr, with the loving devotion of his mother and father lives a very independent life. He has friends and a social life and is well loved by everyone. But you can tell Walter treats his son with kid gloves. He loves his son very much but because of his physical vulnerabilities, he holds back in treating him as though he would treat a child who had no special needs. He never really challenges Walter Jr the same way as he challenges Jesse. He never busts the chops of Walter Jr like he does to Jesse. When Walter Jr makes a mistake, he doesn’t take him to task on it, he kind of nods and smiles and pats him on the back. Walter never shared his passion in chemistry with his son. He never ‘showed’ his son what he was good at, like many fathers love to show their sons what their passions and hobbies are. There is a distance there. With Jesse, you can see Walter letting loose his masculinity in a way he wouldn’t at home. Though he has a fully red blooded fifteen year old teenage boy in the house, Walter acts as though he lives in a houseful of women. In one respect, Walter is glad his actual son isn’t Jesse, but he has a relationship with Jesse that he doesn’t have with his son. Walter Jr is very much like his father in character (the good bits), he is deliberate and methodical, smart, he is well mannered, respectful to his parents and elders and well behaved, nothing like the entitled and spoiled Jesse.

For all of Jesse’s failings, one might wonder why a highly intelligent, methodical and ruthless man would want anything to do with an imbecile like Jesse as equal partners, especially in such a high risk business like narcotics distribution. Ironically, the reason lay in his weaknesses. Walter can “trust” Jesse and that is because Jesse is sentimental and fundamentally a kind person, for all of his faults he’s never endangered Walter’s personal safety (well, the desert incident notwithstanding). And secondly, Jesse does what Walter tells him to do because Jesse is weak willed, eager to please a father figure and just all around obtuse and in need of being led.

2 thoughts on “Breaking Bad: Jesse Pinkman

  1. You will see Jesse develop as time goes by. He comes into his own in later seasons.

    But even in Season 2 he has some redeeming qualities. He went into the junkie’s house to save a kid (if I remember correctly).

    Like

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