When viewers of Breaking Bad last saw the character of Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) at the end of the show’s third season, he was pointing a gun at a man’s face.
And then he pulled the trigger.
That was the stunning conclusion to a string of episodes that ranked among the most intense for a show already renowned for being one of the most compelling on television.
And as the fourth season of Breaking Bad gets underway, the situation, the stress and the stakes are only being ramped up even more.
It’s taking its toll on everyone concerned too, whether it’s the central character of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a chemistry teacher who initially started ‘cooking’ methamphetamine to provide for his family after being diagnosed with cancer, only to embrace the criminal lifestyle, or Jesse, the drug-using former student who first taught him the ins and outs of making and selling meth.
As Paul points out, the show has undergone a dramatic and unexpected shift since those early episodes. Whereas once it seemed Jesse was the bad influence, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that it’s the other way around.
“When Breaking Bad began, it seemed as if Jesse was just this meth head but so many shades of grey have crept in,” said the actor.
“He’s a good kid. He messes up but he’s got a huge heart and a good soul. And you want to slap him in the face to snap him out of it or hug him and tell him everything is going to be OK.
“At the same time, Walter initially seemed so mild-mannered and now he’s becoming some kind of serpent! Meanwhile, Jesse is becoming the moral centre of the show. It’s so unusual, which is very much in keeping with Breaking Bad.”
Not many shows would have their moral centre shoot a man in cold blood, that’s for sure.
But it’s indicative of how Breaking Bad’s central relationships have developed over time that Walter is able to persuade Jesse that the killing is the only way to save themselves from certain death at the hands of Gus (Giancarlo Esposito), the cold, calculating drug lord with whom they’ve found themselves enmeshed.
“Walter has really turned Jesse’s world upside-down,” said Paul. “Once they started going down this dark rabbit hole together, it’s been a constant struggle for both of them in their own ways. And Jesse is really torturing himself this season.”
Paul admits that playing someone so tormented can be gruelling (“Some days are a little rougher than others,” he smiled) but the end result is worth it.
“I truly believe Breaking Bad gets better as the years go on,” he said. “I love the first three seasons but in my opinion the fourth is the best so far. It’s my favourite so far. It’s much heavier, much more intense, and it only gets darker as it goes. It’s definitely a wild ride.”
And to think it’s a ride he nearly missed out on. After all, Paul reveals, Jesse was originally not meant to survive beyond Breaking Bad’s first season.
“Yeah, Jesse was actually going to die at the end of season one,” he said.
“He would have taken Walter White into this world, shown him the ropes, and then he would have been killed and Walter would have been left there alone.
“But once we shot the pilot, it was decided that a whole different route with the dynamic between Walter and Jesse would be taken. Thank God!”