- Jane Margolis’ death in Breaking Bad resonates with audiences more than a decade later since it marks a point of no return for Walt that leads to his transformation into a dark villain.
- Jane’s death devastates Jesse Pinkman and sends him down a tragic path of guilt, drug use, and vulnerability under Walt’s manipulation.
- Walt’s hand in Jane’s death also triggers a chain reaction that leads to a devastating plane crash and the deaths of over 160 people.
Breaking Bad is a groundbreaking television drama that’s been over for more than a decade, but it continues to influence and inspire the medium’s serialized storytelling. There are so many elements that make Breaking Bad a “lightning in a bottle” production, including the series’ masterful casting of Bryan Cranston as the infamous protagonist, Walter “Heisenberg” White. Walt builds a staggering criminal empire over the course of five seasons, which also results in many lives being lost along the way. It becomes increasingly difficult to sympathize with Walt’s decisions, and Breaking Bad brilliantly conditions its audience to gradually turn against its main character.
Walt’s callous actions are present right from Breaking Bad’s first season, but for many, it’s his involvement in Jane Margolis’ death that marks the character’s point of no return. Jane’s death happens relatively early in Breaking Bad’s run, in the series’ Second Season. However, this casualty ripples throughout the rest of the series and still stands out as one of Breaking Bad’s most brutal moments.
It Sends Jesse Down a Dark Path
Breaking Bad’s First and Second Seasons are largely focused on Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s scrappy relationship as they emerge as major forces to be reckoned with in Albuquerque. These two get pulled into darker circumstances once they align with Gus Fring, but their work in the first two seasons teases possible exits for the characters before they’re fully in over their heads. Breaking Bad’s Second Season introduces the first major obstacle in Walt and Jesse’s relationship that pulls the two in opposite directions. Jesse forms a tender, earnest relationship with Jane Margolis, a former heroin addict who relapses during her time with Jesse. Jane and Jesse’s relationship is brutal since these two flawed, weak characters simply want to find happiness, forgiveness, and freedom in their lives, but they can’t figure out how to do this without narcotic dependencies. Jesse feels genuine guilt over Jane’s return to substance abuse and how these two enable each other, but the rose-tinted goggles of romance delude these two into thinking that they’re invincible.
This relationship takes a heartbreaking turn for the worse when Jane learns about Jesse’s working relationship with Walt and the hefty payday that they’re set to bring in. Jane resorts to blackmailing Walt, which creates a tenuous situation where she and Jesse are ready to flee Albuquerque – perhaps to New Zealand – with their large amount of cash. Walt pays a late-night visit to Jesse with the hopes of talking some sense into him, but he instead catches Jane in the middle of a heroin overdose. Walt has the option to turn Jane’s body and prevent her from choking on her own vomit, but he chooses to let her expire as he watches her die.
It’s a gutting moment that clearly affects Walt, but it causes much greater turmoil in Jesse. Jesse, unaware of Walt’s visit, blames himself for Jane’s death and heads down a dark path as a result. Jesse grows emotionally distant, turns to heavier drug use, and he becomes a loose cannon who wouldn’t last long if not for Gus Fring and Mike Ehrmantraut’s intervention. Jesse eventually finds a new sense of purpose, but he never stops thinking of himself as a bad person and that he’s responsible for Jane’s death. It’s guilt and pressure that Walt could relieve Jesse of, yet he doesn’t since it ultimately leaves his partner more vulnerable and pliable.
It’s a Villainous Turning Point For Walt
Jane’s death is devastating when it comes to Jesse. However, its ripple effect also helps Walt grow into the dark villain that he comfortably embraces by the end of the series. Walt does have to take lives in Breaking Bad’s first season, but they’re all life or death scenarios that he’s able to rationally justify. Jane’s death and Walt’s role in it is the first time that he lets someone “innocent” die for his own selfish gain. Jane being out of the picture means that he doesn’t lose Jesse. On some level, Walt wants to prevent Jane and Jesse from leaving because he’s convinced that they’ll use their money on more drugs and eventually wind up dead. Walt’s prediction is likely right, but he still doesn’t have the right to make this decision for them or to let Jesse shoulder that pain. Walt doesn’t talk much about Jane’s death after the fact, but his ability to “play God” over her makes it much easier for him to stoop to greater lows and acts of manipulation as Breaking Bad continues.
For instance, Walt’s ego and villainy push him to the point where he freely poisons a child, Brock, in order to manipulate Jesse and turn him against Gus Fring. This is the moment that most audiences completely turn against Walt, but he’d never be able to make this moral concession if not for previously causing Jane’s death and learning how to rationalize this guilt. Each of these actions tie Jesse closer to Walt and leave him with less means to escape. Jane’s death is despicable on a basic level of human decency, but it also begins the tightening of the noose around Jesse’s neck and guarantees that he can’t get out of Walt’s orbit. The worst thing about Jane’s death is that Walt’s silence on the matter is initially used to make Jesse compliant. However, Walt finally reveals the truth to Jesse in the final season’s legendary episode, “Ozymandius.” Walt reveals the truth to Jesse purely as the ultimate way to hurt his partner and forever burn the bridge between these two. Walt systematically figures out the worst moments to hide and reveal Jane’s full story so that it best services his needs.
It’s a Classic Example of the Tired “Fridging” Trope
Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul are both full of deaths and these criminal-centric series would otherwise feel inauthentic. These are characters who immerse themselves in dark territory, which unfortunately means that characters often have to pay the ultimate price. That being said, television’s “fridging” trope is when female character deaths are gratuitously featured as a way to motivate other male characters. These varieties of deaths can still have purpose and be justified, but they must be careful to not solely reduce these female characters as tools to motivate the rest of the cast. Breaking Bad’s Jane is one of the first standout female characters and it remains some of Krysten Ritter’s strongest work. Ritter instantly pops as Jane, and it’s easy to see why this supporting character gains so much screen time in Breaking Bad’s Second Season. She even makes a few appearances after the fact, through flashbacks, because of her impact on the series.
There’s certainly another world where Jane remains in the picture, either as Jesse’s permanent partner or a cautionary tale of the one who got away. It’s difficult to accept that Jane becomes an example of fridging, especially since Breaking Bad does try to be fair and respectful of its female characters. Jane’s death is Breaking Bad, staking a claim early on that Jesse can’t find romantic happiness. The series later resorts to the same trope in its final season with Jesse’s new romantic partner, Andrea. Andrea’s death stings even more, but it’s possible that Breaking Bad wouldn’t have reached this place without first setting the precedent with Jane.
It Inadvertently Causes the Wayfarer 515 Plane Crash
Jane’s death is a haunting example of fridging with respect to Jane, Jesse, and Walt. That being said, this one character’s death causes a chain reaction that leads to more than 160 deaths after the fact. Jane is the daughter of Donald Margolis, an air traffic controller, who returns to work too quickly after his daughter’s death. Donald believes that work will be a welcome distraction to his consuming grief, but he turns out to be too overcome with loss to properly focus on his job. Donald’s interfering grief causes him to fail to register an imminent air collision. The Wayfarer 515 plane crash is the result, which leads to 167 casualties, and it’s the 50th worst aviation disaster at the time that it occurs. Breaking Bad’s Second Season continually teases this violent end result, but it’s particularly chilling that Walt’s inaction with Jane leads to 168 other deaths (since Donald himself later takes his own life).
It’s a strong example of how simple actions can have radical consequences. Walt’s decision to let Jane die doesn’t just hurt his friend, but it causes hundreds of deaths, all of which have their own families and chain reactions of grief to consider. Breaking Bad even cultivates the thematic image of the burnt bear’s judgmental eye, which follows Walt through much of the series, as a reminder of his complicit nature in this avalanche of loss. The Breaking Bad universe has since featured bigger and more tragic deaths, but Jane’s fatality continues to resonate due to what it represents, the chain reaction of grief that it causes, and what it later makes possible for the dark drama series.
A chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer turns to manufacturing and selling methamphetamine with a former student in order to secure his family’s future.