“What Up, Biatch?”: Why We Can’t Help But Root for Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman

Pop Culture

“What Up, Biatch?”: Why We Can’t Help But Root for Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman

Illustration: Arati Gujar

There was a time when I considered “What up, biatch?” as an appropriate way to greet my friends. It was 2014 and I was in the middle of my first-ever Breaking Bad binge. Obviously, my tactless greeting was inspired by Jesse Pinkman’s famous voicemail, “Yo, yo, yo, 148-3 to the 3 to the 6 to the 9, representing the ABQ. What up, biatch?! Leave it at the tone.” Evidence of his Peter Pan syndrome (or outright immaturity), this offhand audio clip gave the audience the perfect window through which to view Pinkman’s character: A façade of machismo, a flourish of ego, concealing an almost childish innocence beneath.

Fans of Breaking Bad will know that Pinkman’s voicemail changes to a much terser, jaded message by the show’s climax, to reflect how the character himself is broken down and remade into an almost unrecognisable avatar over the course of his time spent in the shadow of Walter White. Speaking of Pinkman’s father figure “Mr White”, perhaps the most pressing question for fans after Breaking Bad ended was whether he survived the shootout in the finale. The question of “Is Heisenberg alive or dead?” still looms, thanks to the fact that El Camino, the new Breaking Bad movie releasing on Friday, focusses on Pinkman instead. I couldn’t be happier, because after five top-notch seasons as second fiddle, and winning Aaron Paul three Emmys, Jesse Pinkman deserves his time in the spotlight.

jesse

I couldn’t be happier, because after five top-notch seasons as second fiddle, and winning Aaron Paul three Emmys, Jesse Pinkman deserves his time in the spotlight.

High Bridge Entertainment/ Gran Via Productions/ Sony Pictures Television

Apologies to fans of Saul Goodman, but Pinkman is the most compelling character left after the wanton slaughter of nearly all of Breaking Bad’s fan favourites in the hectic final few episodes, and should have been the first to receive a spin-off. Starting life as a character whom showrunner Vince Gilligan originally intended to have killed at the end of the first season, Pinkman (on the strength of  career-defining performance by a brilliant Aaron Paul) has come a long way to winding up second only to Walter White/Heisenberg (played by the one and only Bryan Cranston, in a genius-level display of the acting craft) – both in the fictional world of Breaking Bad’s meth dealers, and in the hearts of fans.

Some would obviously have been hoping for a Lazarus-like resurrection for Heisenberg in the inevitable Breaking Bad movie, but the choice to focus on Pinkman is a smart one. The entire intricate, meticulously plotted saga of Breaking Bad focuses on the transformation of the mild-mannered Walter White into the malevolent and megalomaniacal Heisenberg. But in the wings, Pinkman underwent his own equally transformative arc. The difference between Pinkman and White though, is that Breaking Bad left off the former’s storyline at a point where there was potential for more growth, while Walter’s came to its natural conclusion. As William Shakespeare wrote in Romeo & Juliet, “These violent delights have violent ends,” and White’s journey to the dark side could only ever end on a blood-soaked, regretful note.

While White’s character arc saw him pass the point of no return, Pinkman’s story was one of redemption. He went from being a drug-dealing lowlife slacker who provided the comic relief in White’s serious, cancer-stricken predicament, to the show’s moral compass, who raised the most frequent objections to the widespread destruction and death carried out in the name of building Heisenberg’s meth empire. It’s true that he also had a hand in the ultraviolence, but while we see White become increasingly callous about the harm he inflicts over the course of the show, each life lost adds to the burden on Pinkman’s conscience, until he ultimately renounces White in the final season.

Apologies to fans of Saul Goodman, but Pinkman is the most compelling character left after the wanton slaughter of nearly all of Breaking Bad’s fan favourites.

By the end of Breaking Bad, after having spent months as a meth cook/slave working for the neo-Nazis who abduct him (with White’s permission!), we have seen Pinkman hit rock bottom. There are points earlier in the show where we think his downward spiral has reached its lowest point – the death of his girlfriend Jane, his spiral into addiction after being forced to commit murder, the death of his other girlfriend Andrea – but it truly reaches its grisly culmination in the final episode, where a time leap reveals he’s spent months locked like an animal in a cage underground, a miserable existence of merely eating, sleeping, and cooking meth on demand. But even though his predicament is worse than it’s ever been, the trauma he’s suffered has turned him into a better person than he was before it all began. And that’s why it’s going to be more interesting to see what fate has in store for him in El Camino, rather than revisiting the tried-and-tested formula of Heisenberg cooking up Blue Sky.

In interviews after the conclusion of Breaking Bad, showrunner Vince Gilligan said of Pinkman, “I see it is that he got away and got to Alaska, changed his name, and had a new life. You want that for the kid. He deserves it.” Even Aaron Paul seems to want a happy ending for Pinkman, as he said in a 2014 interview, “I like to think that he’s living as a carpenter somewhere – somewhere in Alaska.” If anyone deserves an emphatic “happily ever after” at the end of their tale, it’s Jesse Pinkman. But we’ll have to watch El Camino to see if he finds it.

Comments

Translate (Beta) »