THE CIRCLE OF LIFE
Mandala translates to ‘circle’ in Sanskrit, a symbol of universal balance and spiritual enlightenment. In the context of the show it represents the inevitable cycle of events and their consequences, what comes around goes around, as this episode fittingly appears to fold back on itself (Read this great article from A.V. Club on the Shakespearean, clockwork mechanics of the show).
- “It’s like she’s here already…” The episode opens with Combo’s death and ends with Holly’s birth. There’s a twisted karma-esque essence to it, as if Walt missed the birth of his daughter specifically because he didn’t even care to remember who Combo was (“Which one is he?”). Also noteworthy that in 5.09 while going through the case files, Hank notices a photo of Combo when he was a kid, as if in a way indicating that he was essentially a clueless kid who got caught in the crossfire. Fittingly, in his death another child is born; balance restored.
- Another instance of the resurrection theme could be traced in Walt and Gus starting their fruitful-turned-distressful partnership. After marking his territory in 2.10, Walt essentially left a portion of his former dignified self in the crawl space and stepped further into the darkness. Meeting with a deceitful mastermind like Gus, brings out the monstrous qualities in him; in other words, Walt needs to be resurrected as Heisenberg in order to get Gus’s attention. Later we see Ted’s birthday, in accordance with the theme of rebirth, as the complicated relationship between him and Skyler is truly initiated from this point on. Walt’s surgery is also arranged in this episode and then in 2.13 tragic irony strikes as his rebirth (complete with a fresh goatee!) is juxtaposed with the Wayfarer incident death toll.
- The cyclical nature of “Mandala” shines in later seasons, as Walt and Jesse go through basically similar yet more devastating experiences: such as children becoming the real victims of their criminal activities, as this episode opens with Tomas on his bike circling and then shooting Combo on orders, while in “Dead Freight” we see basically the same scenario play out with Drew Sharp, except that he’s the one who gets killed in the end.
- Notice how throughout the episode certain shots place characters against cancerous opposing forces that spread like, fate sealers or rather elements that encompass their lives (at the moment or in a prolonged state) and eventually bring about their metaphorical demise: Walt is sitting across a lung model, indicating his cancer and the purpose of the whole scene visually, as he’s going through the lobectomy. Then again his cancer returns in 5.08 to haunt him. The liquor bottles symbolically overshadow Jesse, as addiction eventually kills Jane (well, putting Walt’s role aside.) and marks a turning point in his life. Ted is of course obscured by his company as the IRS trouble rises later in the show. The dealers’ car targets Combo (notice the color contrast), and finally Gus and Walt face each other through the looking glass, forming an alliance probably doomed from the start.
- We had previously talked about the matter of two-sided recovery chips: Jane comes full circle in this episode when she throws 18 months of sobriety away and relapses into addiction in an attempt to sympathize with Jesse and fortify their romantic bond. And Jesse fails to pull a Rewindo after Combo’s death, therefore reverts to Hoverman, tries Jane’s special recipe and literally puts a cushion of air beneath his body! The way Jane describes the feeling more or less sounds like some sort of out-of-body experience, if not anything else: “There’s a chill. Don’t freak out, it passes. And then you’ll see…I’ll meet you there!” You could say they are both committing suicide without even knowing it at this point. Only Jesse was lucky that Jane made sure he didn’t sleep on his back.
- Speaking of the euphoria that follows a momentary death, notice the lyrics of “Enchanted” (by The Platters)” which is played during Jesse’s first heroin experience: “Living is a dream […] It’s really grand when you stand hand in hand with your lover, and thrill to the wonders of night. And days too will amaze you and soon you’ll discover your dreams run to dreams in continuous flight.” – Tragically, Jesse and Jane’s innocent dream ends on a nightmarish note, with Jesse having to face the grim aftershock which drastically alters his whole life philosophy in Season 3. “Love is ecstasy, it’s divine to be enchanted when your dreams are slanted through a lover’s eyes.” The drug temporarily prevents the guilt from devouring him. So Jesse gets high, literally, and touches upon divinity for an instant, until the consequences of the Blue Sky business bring him down to face the lifeless body of his lover.
Next: Observation Leftovers…