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12 Tragic Facts About Breaking Bad's Jesse Pinkman

"Breaking Bad" is a story about transformation. For the show's protagonist, antihero Walter White, it's less about his transition from mild-mannered science teacher into drug kingpin than his metamorphosis into the ego-driven manifestation of seething rage he embraces when he morphs into Heisenberg. And through all of it, his former student, cook partner, and mentee Jesse Pinkman serves as the show's conscience, struggling to preserve his own humanity under intolerable circumstances.

Although Walt originally gets into the drug business to make money for his family, the only person who truly seems to connect with him during his Heisenberg years is Jesse, even if the relationship is an exercise in abuse for the younger cook. Although Jesse finally gets a quiet ending in Alaska when all is said and done, the road to get there is a rocky one — blue rocks, to be exact. Hop into the RV, because we're taking a look at the most tragic details about Jesse Pinkman from "Breaking Bad."

Drug addiction is a constant struggle for him

As is so often the case with substance abuse, Jesse Pinkman struggles with drug dependence issues throughout his adult life — an unfortunate problem for someone who makes a living in the drug trade. His relationship with Emilio implies that Jesse likely began using drugs in his high school years, and he manages to get by as a functioning polydrug addict throughout most of the series, occasionally smoking weed or meth. But things take a turn for the worse when he and Jane begin using heroin together. Jane, who is a far less functional addict, shows him how to mix and inject a speedball. 

After their ill-fated courtship leads to her demise, Jesse manages to get himself clean. But that's not the only time he relapses during the show, with the bleak turn of affairs surrounding Gale serving as a serious trigger. Although Jesse is finally forced into sobriety while enslaved by Jack Welker, getting and staying clean is a lifelong journey for him — as anyone who has struggled to maintain their sobriety understands.

He is semi-estranged from his parents

The fact that Jesse Pinkman's relationship with his parents is a troubled one is to be expected, given his extensive long-term problems with substance abuse and legal troubles. Although it would be easy to assume that he comes from a troubled upbringing, Jesse's home life growing up was a privileged one. And as anyone who has firsthand experience with substance abuse knows, supporting a loved one with these issues can easily turn into enabling, so it makes sense that the relationship would be seriously strained.

Jesse grew up in a financially comfortable home with two parents, and there's no evidence in "Breaking Bad" that he was in any way abused. On the contrary, his younger brother Jake tells Jesse that his parents talk about him constantly. While Jake's overachieving suggests Jesse may have felt a lot of pressure to succeed, it's also clearly stated that his parents have reached the end of their rope. After finding a meth lab in his son's home, Jesse's exasperated dad Adam ultimately cuts him off out of concern over his influence on his younger brother, telling him, "Son, we can't stop you from ruining your life but you will not drag us down with you."

His other father figure isn't the greatest

No matter what the reasons for Jesse's troubled relationship with his parents were, there's no doubt that he was sorely in need of a caring father figure in his life. So it's that much more tragic that the father figure he gets is the sociopathic study-in-toxic-masculinity, Walter White. Although Walt is hardly deserving of his respect, Jesse continues to refer to him as "Mr. White" throughout their time working together. Although Walt seems at times to deceive himself into believing he's doing what's best for Jesse, he spends the duration of their relationship molding Jesse into Heisenberg Mark II.

After all of Walt's manipulation and abuse, when Hank beats Jesse within an inch of his life, the desperate Jesse tells Walt, "I want nothing to do with you! Ever since I met you, everything I cared about is gone." And yet all it takes to get him back on board is a kernel of validation from Walt, who quietly tells him, "Your meth is good, Jesse. As good as mine." And it's ultimately Walt's carelessness with Jesse's life and safety that gets him enslaved to the white supremacists.

The school system failed him

Sometimes, even the students with the most potential can get left behind in the school system, especially when no one understands that their needs go beyond academics. That's exactly what happened with Jesse Pinkman before fate brought him across his old chemistry teacher's path for a second time. Although Jesse clearly has a bright mind and is able to understand Walt's cook techniques down to the most minute detail, he struggled badly in school. Jesse's mother tells Hank that Walt "tried to motivate him" and "was one of the few teachers who cared," but Jesse still failed his class, likely because he was getting into trouble with friends and struggled to engage with the material. 

But despite what Mrs. Pinkman believed, "El Camino" suggests that Walt's opinion of Jesse's potential may not have been all that great. When Walt offers the suggestion that Jesse get his GED, an insulted Jesse replies, "What do I need a GED for? I got my diploma," adding, "Yo, you were standing right on stage when they handed it to me." As it turns out, Jesse had big plans after high school before he got sidetracked by the meth business: His mySHOUT page claimed that he attended DeVry University for data systems management and dreamed of going to Wheelie School in Las Vegas. If Walt had actually taken Jesse under his wing as a positive mentor, perhaps he would have made more of his life.

He struggles with basic life skills

Despite his obvious street smarts, Jesse struggles with some of the basic "adulting" skills that are necessary to thrive in life throughout "Breaking Bad." One of the most obvious of these is his lack of drive. His tenure with Walter White makes it clear that Jesse is a quick learner and a hard worker to boot. With his aptitude for hands-on work, it's easy to imagine Jesse working in a skilled labor role and moving his way up the managerial ladder. While many fictional drug dealers get into their line of work for power or money, Jesse seems fine with living a modest existence as long as he has a roof over his head and a gaming console.

He also relies heavily on unhealthy food choices and doesn't seem able to cook for himself, even admitting to Walter that he subsists primarily on nuking "a lot of frozen stuff," adding, "It's pretty bad." Outside of his fraught romance with Andrea, he never develops healthy adult relationships that are free of drug drama. And while he does manage to purchase a home at one point, he loses it and is only able to regain ownership through semi-nefarious means with the help of Saul Goodman.

He is repeatedly tortured and kidnapped

It's not uncommon for a fictional character to end up abused and tortured by the show's writers to a point that few mere mortals could endure, and in the world of "Breaking Bad," the target in question is almost invariably Jesse Pinkman. Shortly after Jesse reunites with his former teacher Mr. White, the plot visits countless physical and psychological torments upon the tortured character. His endless stream of miseries begins with a serious black eye in the desert after his orbital socket makes contact with a desert rock, and things only get worse from there. 

At one point, he gets thwacked in the head with a bottle by the meth-addicted wife of Spooge, knocking him out cold. He is abducted twice during his time with Walt and beaten to the point of hospitalization twice — once by Hank and once by Tuco ("I See You"). The extent of Jesse's torture by Jack Welker's white supremacist gang during his extended abduction is also later revealed in "El Camino."

Killing Gale damaged him

With all that Jesse is forced to endure during his time cooking with Walt, that he would be psychologically damaged is something of a given. But it's the first time he is forced to take a life that breaks Jesse's brain. The trouble with Gale begins when Gus Fring realizes what a liability Walter is, between his off-the-rails ego and his DEA brother-in-law. To mitigate this issue, Gus forces Walt to teach Gale his cook method while planning to remove Walt from the equation as soon as Gale has learned enough. Convinced the only way to save himself and Jesse, who is also on Gus's hit list, Walt coerces Jesse to take out their replacement first, even if they both personally have no issues with Gale.

Feeling out of options, Jesse does as he's told. Although he's seen Walt kill several people at this point including Emilio, Krazy-8, and Gus's henchmen, it's a seriously disturbing experience to execute the likable and utterly defenseless Gale while staring him right in the eye. It's a moment that Jesse replays over and over again in his head. Even if it's not the last life Jesse takes, it is the only time he is forced to kill someone he believes to be innocent in cold blood.

Seeing Todd kill a kid scarred him

Of all of the monsters that Jesse crosses paths with, perhaps none are more disturbed than the soft-spoken, pitiless Todd Alquist. Jesse first meets Todd when Mike Ehrmantraut hires him to help set up Walt and Jesse's mobile meth lab pest tent operation. Although at first, he seems helpful and eager to learn, it's soon apparent that there's something not quite right about Todd. Throughout the series, Todd kills and tortures others casually, effortlessly, and remorselessly, and yet at times, he seems almost polite. It's almost as if conventional ethics and empathy are completely foreign concepts to him.

This almost robotic demeanor is ultimately responsible for one of the show's most shocking scenes, when Todd kills the teenage Drew Sharp after the kid observes Walt and Jesse's train heist. The horrific moment arises when the young boy rides up on his dirtbike waving to the trio, as they look back at him stunned. A distraught Jesse screams "No!" as Todd steps forward, shooting the boy in the head. This murder is a bridge too far for both Jesse and Mike, and it ultimately marks Jesse's exit from the Heisenberg business.

He watched two of his girlfriends die

Although Jesse is hardly in a good place for forming a healthy relationship at any point during "Breaking Bad," his fun-loving, caring nature and desire to provide for those he loves would make him a good partner — if he were able to get his life straightened out. Unfortunately, he never manages to get clean and free of bad influences long enough to find out, and Jesse's personal demons lead to the tragic loss of not one but two of his girlfriends.

It's always dodgy when two fragile souls in recovery find each other, and that's exactly what happens with Jane Margolis, the 18-month sober tattoo artist and landlord he falls deeply in love with. They also fall completely off the wagon together after Jesse loses Combo, a situation that leads to Walter withholding his money until he gets himself straightened out. After the toxic flames concoct a plan to binge-use heroin one last time before moving on to start a new life with money from Walt, Walter finds the overdosed pair passed out and watches silently as Jane chokes to death.

His later relationship with another recovering addict, Andrea Cantillo, ends just as badly. Not long after their relationship is strained due to Jesse's revelation that he's cooking meth, Todd kills her in cold blood while a bound and gagged Jesse is forced to watch.

His friendships are unhealthy

Well into his adult years, Jesse has a handful of friends he met in his youth, including Badger, Skinny Pete, Emilio, and Combo. He's known Emilio since childhood, and yet it's Emilio who ties him up in the pilot episode. While Badger and Skinny Pete seem to be decent friends to Jesse, the fact that they're both also users and low-level dealers hardly bodes well for their future. 

And then there's Combo, one of Jesse's oldest friends, and a terrible influence on him. The troubled nature of their relationship first emerges when Jesse goes with Combo to juvie court after his friend is required to report there for a youthful prank involving baby Jesus and a Nativity set. Later on, it's Combo and Skinny Pete who get Jesse back into using, despite his initial protests. And Combo is the person responsible for Jesse and Walter gaining access to an RV to cook in, stealing one from his mother. While it should hardly come as a surprise that someone with such a reckless lifestyle would not be long for this world, it's still devastating to see anyone lose an old friend as Jesse does when Combo is shot. The fact that Combo is killed by an 11-year-old as a gang initiation makes it even more tragic.

He has hobbies he never gets to pursue

Although it would be easy to reduce a guy like Jesse to a drug dealer stereotype with no dreams or interests outside of manufacturing and selling meth, over the course of the series, he's shown to have a number of hobbies and interests. There's a sense that if he could break free from toxic influences and keep his nose clean long enough, Jesse could have become very skilled at some of them.

It's established early on that Jesse loves gaming. During his time in Albuquerque, Jesse can be seen playing "Sonic the Hedgehog," "Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing," and "Rage," as well as discussing "Resident Evil 4" and "Call Of Duty Zombies" with Badger. He rides a motorcycle, and at one point, he recounts to his therapy group how he lovingly crafted a fitted Peruvian walnut and zebrawood box in high school vo-tech class that he later traded for an ounce of weed. His mySHOUT page also reveals that Jesse has a background in martial arts, specifically a blue belt with shuriken certification in Jui Ryo Ki Kung Fu, as well as an interest in European motocross. And there's even a minisode devoted to Jesse's glory days playing in the alt/emo/thrash metal garage band TwaüghtHammër that shows a video of Pinkman playing drums as a kid.

He is really protective of children

One of the things that makes Jesse Pinkman's character so utterly tragic is just how kindhearted and gentle he really is. Jesse's soft spot for children is first seen in "Peekaboo" when he ends up at the home of the severely meth-addicted Spooge and his wife after Spooge rolls Skinny Pete at knifepoint, making off with an ounce of meth. Inside the filthy home, he finds Spooge attempting to break open an ATM they stole to repay him while he and his wife yell at each other, both ignoring their severely neglected but adorable preschool-age child. Jesse feeds and entertains the little boy as the parents fight, even putting the child in his bedroom when their yelling begins to escalate and carrying him outside with his eyes closed when Spooge's wife kills him.

The same compassion for children can be seen with six-year-old Brock Cantillo. Despite originally intending to sell his mother meth after an N.A. meeting, he changes his mind when he realizes she's a mother. He later develops a relationship with both of them, giving them money to get out of their dodgy neighborhood and playing video games with Brock. It's Walt's poisoning of Brock that eventually turns Jesse against him.