SOLUTION, DISSOLUTION (The Study of Change – Part 2)
“It’s growth, then decay, then transformation.” – Walt’s prophetic lesson from the pilot takes greater meaning throughout the series, as Jesse and him go through the same cycle over and over again, each in their own way. Entering the growth phase they settle in new circumstances, grow accustomed to the changes and become stronger. But then, usually after a traumatic incident, comes the decay phase, when Walt and Jesse get overwhelmed by weakness, fear and helplessness. Now a transition is in order to mark the end of these two subsequent stages, in other words, a shift in scenery, a spiritual transformation which would allow these two to transcend imminent danger, or rather, death, and step into the newly altered, more demanding setting. For those of you gamers out there, think of it as leveling up inside a role-playing video game, and all the special perks and skills that come with it.
- We see Walt and Jesse going through this cycle ever since the beginning: They grow into partners in the very first episode, but then Walt killing Krazy 8 (1.03) halts the operation. They enter the decay phase in which Jesse is shunned by his parents (1.04), Walt refuses Elliot’s offer and finally accepts to go through chemotherapy (105 and 106). Then comes the moment of transformation, usually accompanied with death shots, in 1.06 when Walt chooses the alias Heisenberg and confronts Tuco (Remember that Walt’s symbolic deaths are mental yet Jesse’s tend to be physical).
- The cycle repeats itself again as Walt and Jesse begin to grow into self-sufficient cooks and make a profit (1.07), but then Tuco beating No-doze to death in front of them sends them back into the decay phase (1.07 and 2.01). This continues through the next episodes, but then Walt grows more confident in 2.03 and decides to go restart the business (transformation) which eventually leads to their territory expansion plan (2.07). But then following the fateful desert trip and his remission (2.09) Walt faces decay once again but ultimately molts into a deadlier version of himself at the end of this episode, leading him to meet with Gus, a mightier employer (2.11).
- Perhaps a thematic indicator of Walt’s transformation milestones would be the times he shaves his head and maintains the badass Heisenberg look. The first time he does that is in 1.06 as we witness his explosive reaction both literally and figuratively in Tuco’s office. Then in this episode we see him shave again just before marking his territory and subsequently negotiating with Gus (2.11). Other instances include the shower scene in “Cornered” after his famous “The one who knocks” line and the post-birthday shaving scene in 5.04 which is followed by the authoritative “nothing stops this train” monologue.
- The decay phase usually starts when Walt feels unable to function in his mental shell, hence decides to quit the business, as in this episode following his meeting with Jesse. But then something flickers, snaps him out of denial and pushes him right back into the world of crime. Another example would be the first four episodes of Season 3 in which he’s initially not interested in manufacturing, until the superlab and Gus’s speech motivate him to become the provider again (3.05).
- Interestingly, in the second half of season 4, Walt and Jesse’s metaphysical cycles seem to go in opposite directions; while with the help of Gus and Mike, Jesse grows into a valuable member, Walt shrinks in authority and is eventually targeted for life (We will cover the next iterations of the cycle in future installments.).
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