UNTIL PERFECTION (The study of change – Part 3)
The reaction ends. Walt pulls off the final tricks and wins the game with a handful of nothin’. As discussed in our review, there’s a flawless quality to “Felina”; Walt does the best he can to satisfy his sense of honor, to end it on a perfect note. There have been many reiterations of events throughout the show, with Walt and Jesse finding themselves in contextually similar situations. Walt and Jesse go through the cycle of solution and dissolution, growth, decay and then transformation. With the completion of each phase they come out as more damaged yet stronger beings until they’re finally as perfect as they can be in “Felina”. Is Walt the perfect evil? Jesse, the perfect survivor? Or the other way round?
- The notion of perfection brings us back to Jane’s comment on Georgia O’Keeffe‘s painting of a door in Season 3’s “Abiquiú” . Why would she paint the picture of a particular entity over and over again, and for that matter why would Walt go through the things Gus did or Jesse come across many kids who ends up being victimized as a direct result of their choices? “It was the same subject but different every time […] she saw something new every time she painted it. […] Sometimes you get fixated on something and you might not even get why. You open yourself up and go with the flow wherever the universe takes you.” – Jesse: “So the universe took her to a door and…[she] had to paint it 20 times until it was perfect…” – This fits Jesse’s recount of working on the wooden box until it was perfect. But of course as Jane corrects him, “Nothing’s perfect. […] That door was her home and she loved it. To me, that’s about making that feeling last.” (3.11)
- In 5.15 we saw how Todd broke Jesse and took everything away from him. Now in his endless hours of suffering, he dreams of the better times, when he worked to craft a splendid object into perfection. The memory is a frame-by-frame depiction of how Jesse described it in “Kafkaesque”: “So I wanted to get the [box] done as fast as possible. […] I finished it in a couple of days and it looked pretty lame, but it worked.” His teacher encouraged him to do better “Is that the best you can do?” – This fits Jesse’s character arc in the series: he lost his potential as a direct result of getting involved in the meth business, even before working with Walt. But then the irony is that, throughout all the hardships and troubles, Walt indirectly brought Jesse up into becoming a ‘better’ human being; the sole survivor when all is said and done. “So I started from scratch. I made another, then another. […] By like box number five I had built this thing. It was fitted with pegs, no screws. I sanded it for days until it was smooth as glass. Then I rubbed all the wood with tung oil so it was rich and dark. It even smelled good. […] It was perfect.” – But then of course, he threw away that potential (something Walt would advise him against in his manipulative manner, as in 5.07) when he traded the flawless box for an ounce of weed.
- Throughout this 2-year journey, Walt descended as a human being, betrayed all his values until being reduced to a shell of his former self and finally reemerging as the ghostly Mr. Lambert. He had to go through all this misery to finally feel at peace with his legacy. Turns out, he hadn’t sold his scientific contribution for nothing, it was all right there. There’s a scene at Schwartz’s’ new house where Walt looks around, touches the walls and checks the pictures, the wealth and fortune he could have had. This juxtaposes with the final sequence of the episode where he checks out Jesse’s lab with fascination as if all the fondest memories instantly go through his mind. He then touches the tanker and finally finds perfection, even absolution in his own way. Chemistry was always his home, his empire. The Gray Matter fortune didn’t matter, he needn’t break bad in the first place, because he was always a brilliant chemist. He created the perfect meth (“baby blue”), became one of the mightiest criminal masterminds of his time and did the best he could to stand up and restore his dignity in the face of the overwhelming destiny.
- “But I feel good…” – Of course, nothing’s perfect. Yes, Walt managed to get a small portion of legacy back to his son via the Schwartz couple, he gave Marie a chance to properly let go of Hank, and Skyler a chance to be free, set fire on his own empire so it wouldn’t be in the hands of Lydia and Jack, and rescued Jesse one last time. But this is just the illusion of satisfaction he took to his eternal grave, in fact, it all ended on a grim note for everyone. Jesse is saved, but he was tortured, broken and on top of that he was indirectly responsible for Andrea’s death and Brock’s misery. Skyler, Junior and Holly will forever live with shame under the shadow of Walt’s disgrace. But at least he felt ‘alive’.
- He was going to let Jesse die in 5.14 just as he’d watched Jane choke to death. But the wonderland gave him a second chance to save his spiritual son, the personification of his repressed conscience. Notice the similarity of Walt and Jesse’s potential and real final encounters:
- “Find joy in the little things” (1.05) – Speaking of Walt no longer finding glory in power and authority, the scene where he checks out Elliott and Gretchen’s new place mirrors a similar sequence in which he’s all fascinated with their fabulous study; with what he could have had in his home had he stayed in Gray Matter. But in the end he’s no longer affected by it as home is where he really lives; it’s chemistry and the fond (albeit tragic) moments he shared with Jesse:
- “Not 75, not 95…. 85! This is chemistry, degrees matter.” (3.07) – Under different circumstances, Walt naturally expresses the same obsessive fascination around lab equipment as he did in 3.05:
- “Live free or die” – Again, the ‘conscious’ universe of the show brings us juxtaposed imagery. Jesse breaks through the fence just like he did in 2.04, this time though, he’s filled with joy. The meth lab, what would have been Jesse’s eternal prison becomes Walt’s final resting place, his kingdom, symbolically where he gets to die and ‘pay’ for the time he caused Jesse to suffer. Jesse lives free, hopefully, and Walt dies on his own terms. In a way, Jesse becomes Walt’s best contribution to the world, the perfect disciple and a ‘better’ human being.
- Jesse’s car rage happened over and over again until it turned to sheer delight! This also reminds of the moments Walt truly felt “alive”. (Watch this awesome clip featuring Bryan Cranston‘s other famous character doing the same. ? )
- “There was some perfect moment and it passed me right by.[…] If I had just lived right up to that moment and not one second more, that would have been perfect.” (3.10) – These two jump cuts perfectly sum up what Walt and Jesse must have gone through as the memories of the old days came to haunt them, back when it was more or less ‘better’ in comparison:
- An already-wounded Walt gives Jesse a chance to make the perfect choice. And Jesse does so as he refuses to pull the trigger on his master, this time even with truly nothing to stop him from doing so:
- “Tell me you need this!” (5.11) – He’s no longer pushed around by the strings of the Devil in 4.12 who manipulated him into not shooting him and no longer forced to kill people like Gale to save themselves. Again, fitting the perfection theme, Jesse had to go through this scenario over and over again, like how the “RAGE” shooting experience in 4.07 resulting in perhaps countless level restarts, prepared him for the mission completion by the skin of his teeth in 4.10:
- The universe has taken us to several visually/thematically similar occasions where certain characters were held at gunpoint. Balance is restored when Walt pulls the trigger on Jack, avenging Hank, while not letting him finish his last sentence just as ASAC Schrader couldn’t. Interesting that in both scenarios Walt’s money pile is used as leverage by Walt himself and then Jack but ultimately comes to no good use.
- “You keep telling me that I don’t have it in me…” (1.03) – Once again karma strikes as Jesse strangles his evil captor, Todd. This brings to mind the scene Walt killed his cunning prisoner, Krazy 8 similarly, an event foreshadowed earlier in 1.02.
- “Red to red, black to black.” (2.09) – And speaking of the undying quest for perfection, Walt finally constructs the ‘robot’ Jesse was so eager to see come alive back in the desert!
Next: The Divine Curtain Call…