The relationship between Walter White, a chemistry teacher with cancer, and Jesse Pinkman, a young drug dealer, remains one of television’s greatest of all time. Over the course of Breaking Bad‘s five-year run, the pair develop an unlikely relationship that grew due to the mutual needs being met by one another.
While Jesse is constantly searching for acceptance and his place in the world, Walt seeks acknowledgment, admiration, and someone to follow his lead, which he finds in Jesse. Though their relationship frays over time, it nevertheless forms the emotional crux of Vince Gilligan’s nuanced world. Beneath the hate, manipulation, and ego lies a peculiar father/son dynamic, and here are some of the best examples of it in chronological order.
Their First Agreement
In Breaking Bad‘s pilot episode, Walt initially remembers Jesse as just a slacker student who refused to apply himself. Jesse remembers Mr. White (as he affectionately calls him) as the “stick up his ass” teacher who flunked him. Once their partnership forms, however, their bond quickly percolates.
In the first episode, Walt and Jesse are stuck with a problem: where to cook? Walt suggests Jesse’s house, which Jesse vehemently declines. Jesse then suggests an RV, which intrigues Walt. Jesse goes on to explain where and how they could use it, to which Walt agrees. It would be the first of many times Walt learns that Jesse is smarter than he lets on.
Soon after Walt and Jesse’s near-death experiences with Krazy-8 and Emilio, they meet Tuco Salamanca. Jesse reluctantly agrees to meet Tuco at Heisenberg’s urging, and, after doing so, Tuco violently steals their meth and assaults Jesse.
Walt visits Jesse in the hospital and witnesses the beating he took. Feeling responsible for Jesse’s condition, he goes to Tuco’s headquarters to get the money owed to them. He blows up the building and earns Tuco’s respect. Walt gives Jesse his half, as well as an additional $15,000 for Jesse’s suffering.
Some bonds are strengthened and sealed through traumatic experiences, and that’s almost certainly the case for Walt and Jesse. Their dealings with Tuco go very south when they witness the meth-addicted kingpin beat one of his own men to death.
After kidnapping Walt and Jesse, Tuco holds them hostage in a house in the desert. Walt attempts to poison Tuco in order to escape, but he fails. Tuco takes Jesse outside to execute him, but Walt intervenes, distracting Tuco long enough for Jesse to turn the tables and escape. They run away and prepare their alibis together prior to returning to Albuquerque.
The surprise sequel movie El Camino was released in 2019 and details the events Jesse faces after he escapes from captivity in Breaking Bad‘s finale. Along the way, viewers are treated to flashbacks of moments in Jesse’s life that provide emotional context to the choices he’s making moving forward.
In one particular flashback, Walt and Jesse eat lunch at a diner following the events of Season 2’s “4 Days Out.” Thinking Walt has little time left, Jesse reassures him that his family will receive their money. Walt then begins discussing Jesse’s future, encouraging him to consider college and praising his abilities. He then comments how lucky Jesse is that he didn’t have to wait his whole life to do something special.
A Fateful Encounter
It’s ironic that Jesse and Walter Jr., Walt’s biological son, never cross paths in the show. This actually invokes a sense of sadness in realizing that Walt seems to outwardly show more love and affection for Jesse than he does his own son. He demonstrates this after being blackmailed by Jesse’s girlfriend, Jane. After delivering the $400,000, Walt retreats to a local bar and unknowingly strikes up a conversation with Jane’s father, Donald.
The two men muse over their respective “families,” with Walt referring to Jesse as his nephew, and discuss the frustration each feels in being unable to impart sense into them. Donald emphasizes how important it is to never stop loving them, though, something Walt takes to heart. He leaves the bar prepared to try once more to reach Jesse in the hopes of saving him from a premature death.
Getting Jesse Treatment
Following Jane’s death, Jesse spirals deeply into depression and drugs. Walt goes looking for him and learns he’s holed up in a drug house. Despite the risk to himself, Walt enters the run-down house to rescue Jesse, who has passed out on the floor. Walt attempts to wake him up, pleading “look at me, son.” The strung-out Jesse awakens and begins sobbing uncontrollably, embracing Walt in a tight hug as he mourns Jane’s death.
Walt then puts Jesse into a treatment program, paying for everything out of his own pocket. He visits Jesse on occasion and offers him encouragement, telling him his money is ready for him upon his discharge. After getting clean, Walt picks Jesse up from the treatment center and offers him a place to stay.
Walt very rarely opens up to others and tells the whole truth, which he surprisingly does in the season three episode “Fly.” The titular fly Walt is obsessed with catching is simply the catalyst for the boiling pot as Walt delves deeper and deeper into paranoia throughout the episode.
Jesse recognizes Walt isn’t sleeping and slips sleeping pills into his coffee. This instigates an unburdening of Walt’s soul, as he professes the perfect moment he should have died from his cancer: the night Jane died. Taking it a step further, he then reveals the conversation he had with Donald and apologizes for Jane’s death. In his most vulnerable state, Walt seems to actually want to make things right with Jesse and with himself.
“You said no half measures.” To Walt, it’s all or nothing when it comes to the partnership he shares with Jesse. After Walt intervenes with Jesse’s first plan to poison the two dealers who killed Combo, he prevents Gus from taking any retaliatory action against Jesse. This leaves an angry Gus to warn Jesse that Walt is his only friend in their operation.
Walt hopes his intervention will sway Jesse from enacting personal justice, but, after the dealers murder Andrea’s brother Tomas, Jesse prepares to face them personally. In a tense showdown that features some of composer Dave Porter’s finest work, Walt arrives out of nowhere just as a firefight is about to break out and shockingly runs over the dealers with his car.
Even when Walt’s evil ego isn’t too far away, he’s still able to initiate a genuine heart-to-heart moment. Jesse’s burgeoning romantic relationship with Andrea catches Walt’s attention and he asks Jesse how things are going during a cook in season five.
Offering support and advice, Walt even opens up about his own relationship with Skyler and how it’s affected his work/life balance. Though he admits that Jesse and Andrea’s relationship could potentially affect him, he tells Jesse he’s earned the right to decide for himself what’s best. Unfortunately, Walt’s ego re-emerges at the end of the episode when Jesse tells him he broke things off with Andrea to protect their business and Walt ignores him to discuss money.
Jesse Fully Applies Himself
The last real positive moments between Jesse and Walter occur towards the beginning of season five. As Jesse becomes Walt’s equal as a meth chemist, he also solidifies his character arc from a drug dealer without a life path to a criminal with a heart of gold.
Jesse orchestrates the hilariously memorable “magnets!” break-in, takes the lead on setting up the new lab, and plans the thrilling train heist with Walt in “Dead Freight.” The heist would ultimately mark the end of Jesse’s rose-colored view of the criminal world, however. Todd’s murder of Drew Sharp calls Walt’s true intentions into question and becomes the final straw for Jesse. In a tense confrontation, Jesse walks away from Walt and the money, establishing he knows exactly where his limits are and what he’s willing to endure.