Jesse Pinkman’s famed expressions may include “yeah, b*tch” and “yo, b*tch,” but this insect-loving meth manufacturer is also the most compassionate character on Breaking Bad. Throughout the show’s five-season run, Jesse (played with stupendous range by Aaron Paul) develops into a multifaceted and stirring protagonist.
However, this well of compassion is accompanied by preposterous levels of trauma, as Jesse sheds his youthful exuberance in the face of loss, abuse, and manipulation (much of which is perpetrated by Walter White). Here are the 10 most tragic aspects of Jesse Pinkman’s narrative, including death, captivity, and even a wooden box:
His Unsuccessful Attempts To Break Free Of Walt
Throughout the series, Jesse engages in several attempts to escape Walter’s perpetually toxic power trip; however, through a combination of manipulation, coercion, and force, his former chemistry teacher forecloses all possibilities for freedom. After Jesse ends up in the hospital because DEA agent Hank (Dean Norris) beat him to a pulp, he summarizes Walter’s contagious toxicity.
Rejecting the chemistry teacher’s pleas to continue working with him, Jesse declares, “Ever since I hooked up with the great Heisenberg. I have never been more alone. I have nothing. No one.” This painfully self-aware admission makes his continuing partnership with Walter especially heartbreaking.
In season two, Jesse forms a heartfelt and incredibly intense bond with tattoo artist Jane (Krysten Ritter), the first of two serious relationships that end in sudden death. The lovebirds connect over their offbeat personas, affinity for art, and challenging histories with drug use; Jesse’s overwhelming capacity for love is on full display as he shares some of the show’s sweetest moments with Jane. However, a couple of factors problematize this relationship, including the fact that neither one of them have overcome their drug problems.
Previously addicted to heroin, Jane begins using again — with Jesse along for the ride this time. On the disturbing night of her death, an unconscious Jane overdoses with Jesse asleep in their bed; Walter witnesses and opts to do nothing because Jane stood in the way of his plans. This event is one of Jesse’s most tragically pivotal experiences on Breaking Bad; he never stops mourning her death and becomes increasingly traumatized as the series progresses.
The Coerced Murder Of Gale
If essentially murdering Jane wasn’t enough, Walter continues to pile on the trauma. In season three’s finale, he orders Jesse to murder Gale Boetticher (David Costabile), an earnest chemist hired by Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) after a falling-out with Walter and Jesse. Gus plans to replace Walter with Gale, and thus, this fresh-faced meth manufacturer constitutes an obstacle to Heisenberg’s grand rise.
Granted, Walter is about to be murdered by Gus’s righthand man Mike (Jonathan Banks), but Jesse only finds himself in this situation because of Walter. Before killing Gale, a tearful Jesse begins trembling with palpable devastation in his eyes. Gale pleads, “You don’t have to do this,” and perhaps he’s right — if only Jesse, like everyone else, could escape the grip of Heisenberg.
Todd’s Murder Of Drew Sharp
In season five, Jesse, Walt, and Todd practice their ingenious plan to steal methylamine off a train, and a young boy (later identified as Drew Sharp) rides up to the tracks on his bicycle. Todd kills the boy to avoid any possibility of discovery, even though the child probably knows nothing about their impending heist. Jesse, of course, screams “No!” but is unable to stop the murder and subsequently carries all the traumatic weight of this event.
After Walt, Mike, and Todd dispose of the evidence, Todd attempts to make conversation with Jesse and remarks, “Sh*t happens, huh?” The appalled Jesse responds with a swift punch to Todd’s face. Bravo, Jesse.
After his kidnapping by the white supremacist gang in season five, Jesse attempts to flee the compound and is punished in the most horrific fashion. Taking him to his former girlfriend Andrea’s house, the kidnappers force Jesse to watch as Todd (the brilliantly collected Jesse Plemons) kills her.
Beforehand, Todd tells Andrea that it “isn’t personal” — how comforting! In the nearby car, Jesse bangs himself against the door and wails “No!,” understanding all-too-well what is about to transpire. After Todd kills her, Jesse begins to sob loudly and uncontrollably with grief. Both of his serious romantic partners have lost their lives to psychopathic figures in Jesse’s world.
A Fraught Relationship With His Parents
Jesse’s parents are, from his perspective, unsupportive and unwilling to reckon with their oldest son’s litany of struggles. In one particularly heartbreaking moment of season two, Jesse’s mother kicks him out of his deceased grandmother’s house and tells him that “the time for talking has passed.” Jesse desperately attempts to defend himself, exclaiming, “You’ve decided to what, I don’t know, make your eldest son homeless? Wow! Great family, Mom!”
She then slaps him, asking aggressively, “Why are you like this? Why?” and telling him to turn his life around. To Jesse, kicking your son out of his only living arrangements is not the best way to demonstrate compassion… This pattern persists in 2019’s El Camino: Jesse’s parents tell him to turn himself in and bring the cops to his alleged location. Meanwhile, Jesse has a sober (if generous) perspective on their relationship, declaring on the phone, “You did your best. And whatever happened with me, it’s on me, ok?”
In season four, Jesse is shaken when Andrea’s son Brock becomes deathly ill (although, thankfully, he survives). The ever-so-manipulative Walt comforts Jesse during this ordeal, despite the fact that he poisoned Brock with ricin and then pinned it on Gus… so Jesse would continue helping Walter spar with the original meth kingpin.
Right on the cusp of escape from Albuquerque in season five, however, Jesse has an epiphany about Walt’s role in the poisoning and abandons his plan to leave town.
His Discovery That Walt Contributed To Jane’s Death
Jesse is burdened by his trauma from Jane’s death throughout the entire series, and it is magnified even further when Walter reveals his prominent part in the loss. In a cruel moment of vengefulness, he tells Jesse during the season five episode “Ozymandias,” “I was there, and I watched her die . . . I could have saved her, but I didn’t.”
As the revelation washes over Jesse (who is about to be kidnapped by the white supremacists), he looks as defeated as ever, staring tearfully at the ground while the supremacists drag him away. This moment is made especially horrendous by Walt’s motivations; he has the audacity to feel betrayed by Jesse and desperately wants to devastate him.
For several months in season five, Jesse is held captive by Todd and a white supremacist group who force him to manufacture meth for them. This captivity is explored further during El Camino‘s stirring flashbacks, in which Todd fosters an eerie relationship with Jesse and forces him to help dispose of a dead body.
In one of the film’s most devastating scenes, Jesse takes Todd’s gun out of a glove compartment and attempts to escape; however, Todd convinces him to drop the gun by gently offering to order a pepperoni pizza. Jesse’s hopelessness in captivity is painfully evident, perhaps a combination of trauma and the fact that Brock will surely be murdered if he escapes.
His Unactualized Passion For Woodworking
Jesse’s fleeting passion for woodworking is revealed in a group therapy session during season three, when he recollects his construction of an elaborate wooden box that he later traded for weed. Jesse describes it in extensive detail, explaining, “By the end of the semester, by like, box number five, I had built this thing. You should have seen it. It was insane. I mean, I built it out of Peruvian Walnut, with inlaid zebrawood . . . It was perfect.”
In the series finale, a dream sequence depicts Jesse creating a wooden box and appearing absolutely enamored with it, although viewers are soon brought back to the terrible reality of his unfreedom. Here’s to hoping Mr. Driscoll will pursue woodworking in Alaska.