El Camino: A Breaking Bad Story is almost here, and to celebrate, we’re going back to the underbelly of Albuquerque. All this week and next, we’re looking back at our favorite Breaking Bad moments and looking ahead to the new Netflix film. Today, we’re reminiscing about favorite Jesse Pinkman moments. Read on and don’t be an asshole, mofo.
Jesse’s (and Too Short’s) Favorite Word
Justin Verrier: “Bitch” is the “aloha” of Pinkmanese. It can be used to express awe (like, say, about the magic of magnetism), or it can be used as a term of derision (like, say, comparing your associate to Hitler). In this scene from Season 3’s “Sunset,” we get the latter, and also so much more.
By this point in the show’s run, we have 30-plus episodes of “bitch”; according to this video, Jesse has used the term exactly 25 times before. We know “bitch” is coming. We expect “bitch.” But this one lands better than most because it plays with that very expectation—Aaron Paul delivers the Cyrano’d legalese like he’s in an oral exam back at J.P. Wynne High, pauses ever so slightly, then gives the people what they want. The best part, though, is the reactionary work from both Bryan Cranston and Paul. It is Jesse’s most unnecessary “bitch,” but among his greatest.
Finding Humanity in a “Digital Animal”
Miles Surrey: Jesse Pinkman’s legacy is always going to be some variation of “[Insert word], bitch!” and rightly so. (Even if the early looks for El Camino give the impression he’s going to look and act more like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant.) But it wasn’t just the moments of levity on Breaking Bad that made him one of the most transfixing characters of television’s Golden Age, it’s how the series shifted so that the viewers’ sympathies—which once lay with Walter White, a man trying to provide for his family after a terminal diagnosis—eventually turned toward him. Let’s face it: Jesse was kind of insufferable/very punchable at the start of the series.
There isn’t a better juxtaposition than how both characters reacted to the consequences of their work—and the innocent people who got in the way. They both did morally reprehensible things; only Jesse, the closest thing Breaking Bad had to a moral center, was truly affected by them. After Jesse shoots Gale in the Season 3 finale, that guilt manifests in a haunting sequence early in the fourth season where he parties for literal days, and upon everyone vacating his trashed home, blasts Honey Claws’ “Digital Animal” in a futile attempt to silence his inner demons:
At the risk of stating the very obvious: Our dude fucked up a lot of the time. But it’s a testament to the character—and Aaron Paul’s phenomenal, layered performance—that with every costly misstep, we’d still root for him to get back on his feet.
The Real Captain’s Car: Jesse’s Toyota Tercel
Michael Baumann: The cars of Breaking Bad were an extension of the characters to an extent that few other shows in TV history have even attempted to match. But Walt’s Pontiac Aztek sucks up so much attention that Jesse’s wonderful red Toyota Tercel wagon just gets lost in the shuffle. I adore this car. It’s a 1980s econobox, but by the 2000s its angular styling was different enough to make it interesting without necessarily standing out. It’s outmoded and beat up, but incredibly practical: four-wheel drive, with the fuel economy and drive-to-the-moon-and-back durability of a Toyota of that vintage. And while the Tercel is by no means large, the fact that it’s a wagon instead of a sedan gives it oodles of interior space. That’s perfect for a meth cook who’s constantly moving from home to home, who can fit most of his worldly possessions in a couple duffel bags. It’s small and quirky, but sneakily sensible and reliable. Like I said, a perfect extension of its owner.
Ben Lindbergh: Jesse may not have all the answers, but he isn’t afraid to ask questions. You may remember such sagacious, philosophical queries as “Are we in the meth business or the money business?,” “What good is being an outlaw when you have responsibilities?,” and “Hey, you girls want to meet my fat stack?” But his peak as a questioner comes in Breaking Bad’s memorable bottle episode, “Fly,” when he tries to lull Walt to sleep with a story about a possum that once lived under his aunt’s house. In the process, he ponders one of life’s lingering mysteries:
“Since when did they change it to opossum? When I was comin’ up it was just possum. Opossum makes it sound like he’s Irish or something. Why do they gotta go changing everything?”
Walt wouldn’t respond, but I’m here to help. Which came first, opossum or possum? And why are we still using that extra o?
The North American opossum and the Australian possum—named after the opossum—are different marsupials. In North America, though, the opossum goes by both words. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first recorded mention of opossum, which was borrowed from Virginia Algonquian, dates from 1610. As Pocahontas’s pal John Smith noted two years later, “An Opassom hath an head like a Swine, and a taile like a Rat, and is of the bigness of a Cat,” which substantially agrees with Jesse’s description (“totally freaky, like, alien rats”). Possum didn’t come along until 1613, and the OED lists it as a “variant or alteration.” Jesse had it backward; opossum came first.
One might think that the shorter, snappier word would have caught on quickly and driven opossum extinct. Yet as Google’s Ngram Viewer—a search engine that charts the frequencies of certain words or phrases in printed sources between 1500 and 2008—reveals, the two fought for supremacy for hundreds of years, and opossum had the upper hand for decades at a time. Even 19th-century nativists’ anti-Irish sentiments couldn’t curb its use.
Lately, though, opossum has finally fallen behind. I can’t tell you which word is more common in Albuquerque, but Jesse would be happy to hear that on the internet, possum easily outpaces opossum.
That concludes our etymology lesson. If Jesse had just done his research and shared it with Walt, he wouldn’t have needed pills to put him to sleep.
Finding What He’s Searching For
“It’s got that thing where the blacks are, like, you know, really, really, really black.”
Andrew Gruttadaro: At the end of “Negro y Azul,” Jesse Pinkman shows Jane, his landlord turned friend turned maybe-more-than-that, his new TV. Of course it’s the only thing he’s actually bought for his new-ish apartment—which means he only has two picnic chairs to sit on—and of course he hasn’t set it up right, leaving them staring at a blue screen that simply says “Searching…” But none of that matters. As he recoils in a mix of frustration and embarrassment, she decides to open up, and reaches down to grab his hand as the song from which the episode gets its name begins to play and the credits start to roll.
We all know what happened soon after this, and how badly the relationship ended altogether. But for Jesse, a person whose life has been so defined by tragedy and loss, it’s nice to remember the better moments, even if they are so few. For these few minutes, Jesse had found his counterpoint. For these few minutes, he was happy.
Cutting Through the Fallacies
Sean Yoo: The three greatest words uttered in Breaking Bad were not “Say my name,” but rather “Fallacies, fallacies, fallacies.” The Jesse Pinkman moment that shines brightest is when he sings that song during the fourth episode of Season 2. To give some context, Jesse has been kicked out of his aunt’s home by his parents and asks his former bandmate if he can crash on the couch. Jesse sings the lyrics to “Fallacies” in front of a toddler, shortly before his friend’s wife comes home and kicks him out. Hard to blame her, especially since the lyrics to the song are “Black is the color and beauty is the game / The beasties come to get me but I don’t feel their pain.” Definitely not appropriate for kids.
Thankfully, the creators of Breaking Bad made a short film about Jesse’s band, TwaüghtHammër, which gave us a new view of our budding rock star’s world. You learn in the video that, according to Jesse, he created the band and is the lead singer, drummer, producer, and chief songwriter. Friend and bandmate Brandon “Badger” Mayhew denies these claims, saying the band was conceived when he and Jesse did whippets together at Anthony’s house, and even calls him out for not being in the music video. Jesse also discusses his struggles with being a drummer and lead singer—something he and Kevin Malone from The Office have in common—while comparing himself to that fat guy from Genesis (Phil Collins). Regardless of who started the band, the legacy of TwaüghtHammër remains intact, and like Jesse said, “If you are a fan of the Albuquerque alt-emo-thrash-metal scene, then you’ve probably grooved to our songs.” Now, the question is whether we’ll see a band reunion in El Camino. Let’s pray we get a live rendition of the song “Clawing Toward Agony.”
A Criminal Lawyer
John Gonzalez: For all the time Walt spends trying to teach Jesse—about chemistry and managing the fallout of their often-bloody actions—their drug empire would have died a premature death had Jesse not outlined early on exactly how the outlaw underworld works. When Badger gets popped in a drug deal in Season 2, Walt realizes that if the cops put one hot light on him it could bring down the entire nascent blue-meth-dealing operation. While they sit in Jesse’s car in a strip mall outside Saul Goodman’s office, Jesse explains that if Walt wants “exponential growth, sooner or later guys are going to get busted.” And when Walt lobbies for them to retain “a real attorney,” Jesse sets him straight with memorable advice so good and lyrical it would make Jay-Z jealous: “When the going gets tough, you don’t want a criminal lawyer. You want a criminal lawyer.” The kid was right—and as formal introductions to iconic characters go, it doesn’t get much better.
Learning Some New Business Terminology
Jack McCluskey: There is a lot you could say about Jesse and Jane, about how people can lift each other up and pull each other down. But it was clear from the beginning the two had chemistry. In Season 2, Episode 5, Jesse is desperate to find a place to live, so he comes clean about his parents kicking him out and promises he’s a good guy (questionable) and a hard worker (in a way). After Jane says she needs two more months’ rent, nonrefundable, as a “DBAA fee,” Jesse agrees immediately—though he clearly has no clue what she’s talking about. She gives him a wry smile and shakes her head, and he cops to not knowing what it means. “Don’t be an asshole,” she says. “I live next door.”
Cut to the onboarding session for Jesse’s new drug-dealing crew, complete with lofty corporate-speak (“This is the ground floor, gentlemen. How far you go is up to you”) and snacks (bargain cola and bite-size pretzels). This scene speaks volumes about our young meth purveyor, who is clearly trying on a new role and seeing how it fits. He’s learning on the job, laying out to Badger, Combo, and Skinny Pete a lofty vision for both decorating his new apartment and pushing product. Then he decides to put the new phrase he’s just learned to good use.
“So, uh, you’ll be hearing from me,” he says. “Now I got mad volume. So you move it quick, you move it right, there is always more.”
He claps his hands, excited.
“OK! DBAA, mofos. All right? Apply yourselves.”
The contrast in those two phrases—one that elides the curse word in it, the other a short form of an extremely offensive epithet—and the mild exhortation that follows is perfect Jesse, and perfect Breaking Bad.
There’s That Word Again
Danny Heifetz: Jesse often drops the word “bitch” casually, but his most memorable lines are when he has heavy feelings. Anger (“I wanted to leave them on the counter, bitch”), fear (“Where’s my money, bitch?”), exhaustion (“Gatorade me, bitch”), forcefulness (“You ain’t seeing the basement, bitch”), and even indifference (“Roll me further, bitch”). This scene is different.
YEAH, BITCH! MAGNETS!!
It took five seasons of Breaking Bad before Jesse yelled the word because he was happy. It turns out joy is magnetic too.
Digging a Hole to Somewhere
Justin Sayles: I want nothing more for Jesse than for him to feel useful. Problem is, his boss/ostensible father figure is a sociopath. Sure, Jesse screwed up a lot (seriously, you left the keys in the RV’s ignition?), but no one deserves to be spoken to like this, even in meth land. So it’s a joy to watch Gus and Mike finally make Jesse feel like he was worth something, even after they previously wanted him dead. It begins with Jesse passing Gus’s test in Season 4’s “Shotgun,” as he saves Mike from two hired “robbers.” But Jesse truly shines in “Cornered,” when he shows just how deep he’s willing to dig into his past experiences.
Mike brings Jesse to stake out a house where two users are peddling some stolen blue crystal. While Mike wants to wait them out, Jesse knows from first-hand experience that they need to do something. “You may know this whole P.I., sit-in-the-car business, but I know meth heads,” he says. He grabs a shovel, walks to the yard, and starts digging. Sure enough, our new friend Tucker comes out.
“What are you doing?” he asks.
“Digging,” Jesse responds.
“You know why.”
He tosses Tucker the shovel, distracting him just long enough to allow Jesse and Mike to recover the product after dispatching with Tucker’s partner inside. Later, we learn that Gus was impressed by Jesse’s actions. When Jesse asks why Gus gave him another chance, Gus pays him one of the highest compliments he possibly can: “I like to think I see things in people.” Maybe Jesse can begin to see something in himself, if he’s willing to dig a little.