The temptation of Jesse Pinkman

Mr. White – he’s the Devil

Jesse Pinkman, a young man with a talent for carpentry, is searching for some meaning in his life after being rejected by his parents. He wanders out into the desert, where, for 62 episodes, he is continually tempted and tormented by the Devil, posing as a new father figure.

The primary temptation – and the underlying reason why the Devil appears to Jesse in the first place – is to turn “rocks (crystallized methamphetamine) into bread.” And this, the Devil assures him, will eventually lead to the two of them having “dominion over all Earthly kingdoms.” (Matthew 4:1-11)

Unfortunately, on this occasion, Jesse does not follow teachings of Jesus and inform the Devil that: “One does not live by bread alone.” Instead, he is seduced by the promise of riches and proceeds even further down the road to damnation. By Season Two, it seems that Jesse’s soul is already lost.

Well, we’re set. Boys are ready. Gonna make some mad cheddar, yo. [Walter White looks at Jesse] Cheddar, Mr. White. Fat stacks. Dead Presidents. Cash money. We’re gonna own this city.

Tellingly, the Devil, is unimpressed.

Walter: We’re not charging enough.

Jesse: What?

Walter: Corner the market, then raise the price. Simple economics.

At every turn, the Devil either belittles Jesse, telling him that he is an idiot, not applying himself, and not trying hard enough, or cajoles and bullies him into staying the course when Jesse has doubts. And whenever Jesse foolishly listens to the Devil, bad things happen:

    • Jesse tells the Devil that it is far too dangerous to ask Tuco Salamanca to distribute their product but the Devil insists. Jesse goes to meet Tuco who beats him so badly that Jesse is hospitalised for several days.
    • After Skinny Pete is held up by Spooge and “Skank,” Jesse tells the Devil that breakage is unavoidable in the drug business, but the Devil refuses to accept any losses and tells Jesse to deal with the problem. This leads to Spooge getting his head crushed by an ATM.
    • Jesse is traumatised by the incident and just wants to escape but the Devil twists the tragedy to his advantage, creating an image of Jesse as a ruthless crime boss.
    • Jesse wants to spend the day at an art gallery with Jane – a decision that could have opened up new horizons and new possibilities for him, and them – but he is tricked by the Devil into a four-day cook in the desert that nearly gets them both killed.
    • Jesse tells the Devil that they should stay out of other gangs’ territories. The Devil insists on expansion and, as a direct result, one of Jesse’s closest friends, Combo, is killed by a rival gang.

Jesse descends into a drug-fuelled spiral of self-destruction after Combo’s death. And at this stage, the Devil could have easily just let him go but he refuses to abandon his protégé. The Devil sends Jesse to rehab and, after agreeing to work for Gus Fring, demands that Jesse be his partner in the underground super-lab, rather than Gus’ own highly qualified chemist.

The Devil understands that Gus is a dangerous adversary – equally diabolical and treacherous. And, in Episode 44, Gus does temporally get the upper hand, securing Jesse’s loyalty and forcing the Devil out of the business. In desperation, the Devil poisons Brock, the young son of Jesse’s new girlfriend Andrea Cantillo, and convinces a distraught Jesse that Gus was responsible for the crime. In anguish, Jesse agrees to help the Devil get rid of Gus.

Incidentally, Brock Cantillo is the one character in Breaking Bad who instinctively recognises the true nature of Walter White. On the three occasions that they are in the same room together, Brock silently glares at Walter or studiously ignores him. Walter picks up on the hostility and is understandably nervous.

As the series progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that Jesse’s primary motivation is not actually to “make mad cheddar, yo.” What really drives Jesse is the desire to protect little children like Brock. In this regard, Jesse, who is himself essentially just a big kid, does follow the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 19:14: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” On numerous occasions during his ordeal, Jesse selflessly tries his best to shelter the little children of the desert:

    • When a joint is discovered at his parent’s house, Jesse takes the blame, sacrificing himself for his younger brother.
    • When retrieving the meth stolen from Skinny Pete, Jesse’s over-ridding concern is for the junkie couple’s little boy.
    • When Jesse learns that the drug gang that killed Combo had used Andrea’s kid brother, Tomas, for the hit, Jesse vows revenge.
    • When Todd kills the boy on the motorbike at the end of the train robbery, Jesse is so wracked with guilt that he tries to give half his “blood money” to the dead boy’s parents.
    • Jesse had hoped to give the other half of the money to Mike’s granddaughter, Kaylee, after it became clear that the Devil had killed Mike as well. After Saul explains the impracticality of such a plan, Jesse just throws the money away.

Towards the end of Season Five, the Devil tells a dangerously unstable Jesse that he needs to get out of town and disappear for good. This is framed, once again, as being for Jesse’s own good but it is obvious that the Devil does not want him falling into the hands of the DEA. Jesse acquiesces but, just as he is about to get into vacuum cleaner salesman Ed’s minivan, he has a revelation. He finally understands that it was the Devil, and not Gus, who poisoned Brock. Jesse flies into a rage and is about to burn down the Devil’s home when Hank intervenes. Jesse agrees to help Hank get Walter White but only after giving Hank and his partner Steve Gomez a fateful warning:

You two guys are just guys. OK. Mr. White – he’s the Devil. He is smarter than you, he is luckier than you. Whatever you think is supposed to happen, I’m telling you, the exact, reverse opposite of that is going to happen.

In the final episodes of Breaking Bad, as penitence for his numerous sins, and in order to protect Brock Cantillo from further harm, Jesse willingly works as a meth slave for Todd and the Nazis, and even takes pride in his work, getting the purity of the final product back up to near Heisenberg levels. This of course is an insult to the Devil’s pride. He emerges from hiding in the Granite State to confront the Nazis and free Jesse from bondage.

In El Camino, after collecting the necessary cash, Jesse visits vacuum cleaner salesman Ed to arrange for his second and final disappearance. Ed reluctantly agrees and secures Jesse passage to a new life in Alaska. Earlier, we discovered that it was in fact Mike who suggested that Jesse relocate to Alaska. Mike was another cold-blooded murderer and alternative father-figure for Jesse. But unlike Walter White, Mike did have a moral compass and ultimately did have Jesse’s best interests at heart, not just his own.

In a parting gesture before beginning his new life, Jesse gives Ed a letter addressed to Brock, the last child he tried to save in his old life. Wearing a white sweater and surrounded by pristine white snow, Jesse ascends “north to the future” and into the “last frontier.”

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