“What do I have to do to make you believe me?” The mock incredulity with which Walter White poses that question to his brother-in-law, and now nemesis, Hank Schrader, is bathed in crocodile tears, but as with the two men’s tense exchange in Hank’s garage at the start of Breaking Bad‘s final run, there’s a hint of menace just under the surface? Walt doesn’t ask Hank if he can believe him: He has to. And when Walter White has to do something, nothing gets in his way.
Since cashing out of the meth business, Walt has tried to sell his former business partners, his wife, and not least himself, on the idea that he can sever who he is from who he was — that he can have, as Saul promises Jesse in “Confessions”‘ tense final act, “a whole lifetime ahead of you — a chance to hit the reset button.” But like that damn soda-machine latch, the doors Walt thinks he’s shut behind him keep opening up.
Perhaps that’s why, after his tense, guacamole-infused confrontation with Hank at a painfully upbeat Mexican restaurant, Walt decides to go on the offensive, leaving Hank with a “confession” that artfully makes Hank complicit in Walt’s criminal past. Just as Walt, in his own mind, is always motivated by exigent circumstances — he had no choice but to kill the men he’s killed, or to poison a child — so in his fictional version he’s forced by Hank to lead his life of crime. Even the money Walt paid to help Hank recover from his gunshot wounds becomes part of his ammunition; that money, like the bills Jesse threw from his car, was steeped in blood.
In confession to his son, Walter Jr., that his cancer is back — a moment of tenderness sullied by the fact that Walt is using the information to drive a wedge between Walter Jr. and his aunt — Walt tells him that the doctors found “a little shadow on my lung.” In “Confessions,” as in last week’s “Buried,” the imagery of light and dark is overwhelming, especially in the scene where Walt records his bogus confession. As he sits on his bed to face the camera, he steps from light into darkness, reminding us, once again, that this is that path he has chosen and continues to choose, not one that was forced on him. Michael Slovis, who directed the episode and has served as cinematographer for most of Breaking Bad‘s run, shows us Walt’s video out of focus, zooming in so we can see the pixels making up the blurry image. His face floats in black, making him look oddly like a guest on Charlie Rose.
Walt can make up stories, as his innocently murderous groupie, Todd, does in the episode’s cold open, jazzing up the story of Heisenberg’s train heist but neglecting the part where he murdered an innocent boy. And he can get people to believe him. But sooner or later the parts won’t fit, and the details — Jesse’s missing cigarette, or Skyler’s impromptu walk into her swimming pool — will give him away. Walt named his alter ego for the scientist who formulated the Uncertainty Principle, but he’s forgotten to factor it into his plans.
Donna Bowman, A.V. Club:
[O]ur admiration for Walt the badass schemer, wriggling out of the noose and leaving it around someone else’s neck, sours quickly as the video plays. He lays it on as thick and smarmy as curdled buttercream frosting, and as he turns on the waterworks and plays up his victimhood, we’re feel as sick as if we’ve been force-fed straight from the mixing bowl.
Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture:
The juxtaposition of Walter White’s first videotaped confession in the pilot (which was all truth) and this one (which was all lies) would seem to answer the question of whether there’s still good in Walter. This was his last chance to break good, and he didn’t take it. At least he thought about turning himself in last week’s episode. That’s something, right? It isn’t? Oh, well.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix:
The fake confession begins the same way as the video Walt made in he opening moments of the pilot, with him listing his full name and address. But the man who made that original tape no longer exists. He was genuine and hapless and vulnerable in a way that Heisenberg has no need to be. The Walter White in the video sure seems sincere — anyone who didn’t know the truth would be near tears hearing the despair in his voice as he talks about contemplating suicide — but it is a fiction.
Tim Goodman, Hollywood Reporter:
[M]y favorite under-the-radar moment was when Walt told Walter Jr. about the cancer. He played the harp of Walter Jr.’s heart yet again — less to share knowledge than to keep him from going over to Marie’s. So, he’s manipulating his own loving son. The success of that deed was reflected in a very brief shot of Walt’s face — he pulled it off. And there was satisfaction. By manipulating his son, Walt averts a scene with Marie while also “sharing” knowledge with Walter Jr. under the guise of not keeping secrets.
Walt is a great character who has many horrendous qualities, the most maddening and enduring of which may be his insistence on sticking with a manipulative lie to the very end — the episode’s called “Confessions,” though he does anything but offer one throughout. He’s had a lot of practice in lying to himself, after all.
Maureen Ryan, Huffington Post:
Walter White may have done a lot of terrible things, but driving Jesse Pinkman to the point where Jesse abandoned his own future in order to burn down Walt’s life may be the worst of his crimes.
Walt always pushed Jesse too far, and this season, we’re finally see Jesse wake up to Walt’s manipulations. The only time there was a light behind Jesse’s eyes in the interrogation room with Hank was when Hank brought up being sick of Walt’s lies. If Saul hadn’t burst in, what else might have been said by either of them?
Jesse always knew something was up, from the moment Brock’s results came back with Lily Of The Valley instead of ricin. And that seed of doubt has festered and picked away at Jesse’s psyche until he unraveled into his own fugue state.
Aaron Paul has been saddled with a character that’s little more than human debris for over a year now and yet he still finds smaller and smaller ways to shatter; it’s remarkable. It’s also worth noting: for all the grief that fans give Skyler, isn’t Jesse trapped in a similarly frustrating, equally abusive cycle?
Even now, as Jesse articulates exactly what Walt is doing to him (“Can you just stop working me for like 10 seconds straight?”) he still can’t help but collapse into Walt’s arms for a hug when the older man offers him emotional support. Despite all the terrible things Walt has done, and made him do, Jesse still needs him, if only because Walt has taken away everything and everyone else he cared about.