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Breaking Bad: Father Confessor and a Walt for All Seasons

Walt takes every scrap of his blowhard brother-in-law's hubris and uses it to pummel Hank


"My name is Walter Hartwell White. I live at 308 Negro Arroyo Lane, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87104. This is my confession."

With those words, everything on Breaking Bad changed. Appropriately titled "Confessions," last night's episode was all about the burdens we throw off—and the ones we pile on—when we resort to honesty. Hank wanted Jesse to rat out Walt, Jesse wanted Walt to drop the faux concern and admit his murderous endgame, Sal didn't want to but was forced to cough up the truth about the ricin cigarette, and in the show's pivotal scene, Walt finally unburdened himself.

In his DVD "revelation," Walt explains in chilling but brilliant detail the saga of his downfalls: It was Hank who convinced him to become a drug peddler. It was Hank who took away his children when he threatened to leave. It was Hank who used $177,000 of drug money to pay for physical therapy. It was Hank who gave Walt the black eye when he tried to get out.

If this whole meth kingpin thing doesn't work out, Walt should consider a career in the theater. Or as a chess grandmaster.

Hank thinks he has Walt in a corner? Think again. The milquetoast former chemistry teacher has taken every scrap of his blowhard brother-in-law's success, hubris, and condescension and is using it to pummel Hank. As he should. In Breaking Bad's elaborate Revenge of the Nerds fantasy, Hank is the low-grade bully and Walt, the erstwhile underdog. Does it matter that along the way, the good guy has become more brutal than his tormentor?

At the heart of "Confessions" lies Walt's chameleonic ability to transform himself into whoever he needs to be, whether he's strategically revealing to Walt Jr. that his cancer has returned or playing the concerned patriarch to Jesse. The true mark of Walt's sociopathy isn't his willingness to engage in murder, it's his transformation into a homicidal Zelig who's increasingly incapable of experiencing genuine emotion. The nearer Walt gets to his personal promised land, the less able he is to enjoy its rewards. He is the consummate actor—an instigator of destruction and a macabre jester—skilled at mirroring feelings he can no longer access. The business has taken its toll on Walt. While it has awakened his ambition and stoked his masculinity, it has been systematically narrowing his emotional wavelength to a spectrum that runs only from blood red to true black.