Breaking Bad’s Biggest Victim Isn’t Who You Think It Is

AMC's critically acclaimed series Breaking Bad has Walter White descend into madness when he becomes a drug dealer. His originally noble reason for doing so -- to save his family from financial hardship because he has cancer -- devolves into more sinister plans as the series goes on. Similarly, Walt's relationship with sidekick Jesse Pinkman (who will appear with him in Better Call Saul, adding them to the list of Breaking Bad characters who've graced the spinoff) falls apart. Jesse becomes a consistent victim for Walt to prey upon, with Walt using Jesse's weaknesses against him and otherwise manipulating him into doing what Walt wants.

Jesse isn't an innocent bystander in Breaking Bad. He does actively participate in crimes, and he's also Walt's way of getting into the drug trade, because Walt was once Jesse's teacher. His criminal history may prevent audiences from seeing him as a victim, in the same way that some viewers don't perceive Skyler White as a victim because of the way the show presents her. But Jesse consistently suffers at Walt's hands throughout the series, with little respite or other people to turn to.

breaking bad jesse and walt

After the characters go through some traumatic events together, Breaking Bad slowly reveals more about Jesse's personal life. Jesse's parents don't understand him and are disappointed in how he's turned out. They have little patience with him while idolizing his little brother. The audience doesn't get much explanation for this dynamic, but the limited interactions between Jesse and his family are very telling about why he is the way he is. How can Jesse expect a better life for himself when what's supposed to be his strongest support system doesn't exist?

Although Jesse wasn't supposed to survive beyond Season 1, the character was so interesting that creator Vince Gilligan kept him around. Unfortunately, that means Jesse's life progressively becomes worse as he sticks with Walt. Walt begins to bully Jesse, realizing that he can easily take advantage of him and use shame as a tactic to make Jesse bend. Picking on Jesse gives Walt confidence even though Jesse is still just a teenager. Every time Jesse loses something, Walt is there to either tell him he deserves it or to comfort him and tell him he'll fix it. This creates a toxic cycle that becomes almost impossible to break.

Breaking Bad Walter White Jesse Pinkman

Walt's influence even extends into Jesse's other relationships, most notably with Jane Margolis in Season 3. Although Jane is also pushy and controlling, she she still cares for him in an authentic way. Jesse has a chance to make his own path through this relationship, but Walt comes in once again and ruins it for him by watching Jane die of an overdose when he could have done something to help her. Jesse's so distraught by this fact that he runs away and has to be rescued by Walt -- which ultimately solidifies their unhealthy dynamic. Walt is the savior while Jesse is the victim.

In Breaking Bad's last two seasons, there are moments of Jesse openly displaying the fact that he simply lives in survival mode. He's a slave to Walt's various emotions, and he desperately looks for direction and strong father figures. Even when Jesse tries to save himself and change career paths, he's forced into situations where he must kill to survive. He looks completely traumatized every time the show has him shoot someone. He's forced to do so multiple times, filling him with even more shame and regret over his continued survival.

During the final season, justice is somewhat served when Walt finally rescues Jesse and gives him the option to kill him. But that one grand gesture doesn't erase the years of pain and suffering Jesse had to go through (either directly or indirectly) because of Walt's choices and the influence Walt had on his life. Any ambition Jesse had and his hopes for a normal life were repeatedly shattered, and it's not until the follow-up movie El Camino -- when he's finally on his own -- that he has a chance to pick up the pieces.

To watch the continued downfall of Jesse Pinkman, watch Breaking Bad on Netflix.

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