Breaking Bad 

Breaking Bad: Why Jesse Is Actually The Show’s Main Character

Though much of the narrative is framed around Walter White, we would argue that Jesse Pinkman is the true leading character in Breaking Bad.

Breaking Bad only had one title drop in its history: Jesse Pinkman wondered why his former chemistry teacher decided to “break bad” all of a sudden in the pilot episode. As they paired up against Jesse’s will to cook meth, they formed a dysfunctional father-and-son-like relationship. While Walt’s transformation from a passive doormat to a sociopathic drug lord often stole the show’s spotlight, Jesse was just as much a main character as Walt was, if not even more.

Jesse set countless events in motion. It’s also his reactions to traumatizing events and unpredictable behavior that often irreversibly changed the course of the plot. In those instances, Walt was there to correct the damage, while Jesse took the wheel. The ironic thing is that he was never aware of the power he held.

Jesse Is A Complex Character

Jesse in Breaking Bad

Jesse is often reduced to a high school dropout who says “B*tch!” a lot, but, as any fan of the show will know, he is actually a very complex character. While he might act tough on the outside, he is actually really kind and emotional on the inside. He is torn between those two parts of him, and, as the series progress, the audience starts to see more of his authentic self.

Jesse’s Indispensable Friends

Badger and Skinny Pete sit in a car with Walter in Breaking Bad

Jesse’s friends were vastly different from the rest of the characters featured throughout the series. They were nothing like Walt’s family, and nothing like the people who ran the drug empire. They didn’t amount to much in life, but they contributed a lot to the show.

If it wasn’t for Jesse, there would be no Skinny Pete, Combo, or Badger. They were some of the most likable and loyal characters in the show, which seems contradictory given their thuggish exteriors.

Jesse Brings Some Comic Relief

Jesse goofs around in the lab in Breaking Bad

From goofing around with the lab equipment to awkwardly small-talking with Skyler, Jesse could be a really funny character from time to time. Unfortunately, he grows more and more somber with every passing season until he is eventually turned into a shell of a person.

In the pilot episode, Walt was also a tragically comedic character. The scene in which he tries to kill himself while wearing tighty whiteys looked pretty absurd, but, as the stakes grew higher, he became too sociopathic to be a source of comedy.

Jesse Is The Audience’s Window Into The World Of Substance Abuse

Jesse Pinkman high in Breaking Bad

Take Jesse out of the equation, and Breaking Bad becomes a TV show about a bunch of middle-aged men who approach meth as a commodity that sells without ever revealing the consequences of the product on addicts.

Thanks to Jesse and his connections, the audience got a basic understanding of what the drug is like and the effects it can have on the mental health and socioeconomic status of users. One of the show’s most tragic deaths was the death of Jane Margolis, Jesse’s neighbor-turned-girlfriend who overdosed on heroin.

Jesse Is The Most Relatable

Jesse in his car in Breaking Bad

Compared to a sociopath like Walt, Jesse is the most relatable character. He clearly doesn’t have it in him to kill people the way Todd, Gus, or the Salamanca cousins do. He is a wounded young man who was rejected by his own family and is looking for somewhere to belong. He loves children, he deeply cares for people in his life, and he is often the only voice of reason.

Even though fans hate some of his personality traits, he is a redeemable character. He wanted out as soon as possible, which is definitely something most people would do, as well.

Jesse Paid The Highest Price In The Show

Breaking Bad One Minute Jesse Pinkman

Jesse was beaten up more than any other character. He was battered unconscious by both Tuco and Hank and tortured by the neo-Nazis. He lost Combo, Jane, and Andrea, and the latter was killed right in front of his eyes.

He saw Todd pull a trigger on a boy and saw the circumstances in which drug addicts live with their malnourished kid. After everything that had happened to him, Jesse was clearly suffering from PTSD.

Jesse Had A Moral Compass

Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman Breaking Bad

Without Jesse, Breaking Bad would consist only of corrupt individuals with no one to remind them of their wrongdoings. Every once in a while, Jesse’s moral compass changed the course of the entire plot. Even though he had to kill Gale in order to save Walt’s life, he just couldn’t live with himself after he shot him.

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Jesse couldn’t live with the things that he had done, while Walt was a master at leading a double life. In many ways, Jesse served as a vehicle for viewers to insert themselves into the show.

Without Jesse, There’s No Walt

Walt shows Jesse the flask

As Jesse told Walt himself one time, Walt needed Jesse more than the other way around. Jesse knew the ropes of the business and introduced Walt to the distributors.

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Walt wouldn’t get far if it hadn’t been for Hank, who took him on a ride-along, and for Jesse, his former student who was already in the meth-cooking business.

He Underwent The Most Profound Transformation

Jesse Pinkman inside Todd's cage in Breaking Bad

While Walt reached the final form of his psychopathy at the end of season four, Jesse was transforming from the first episode to the very last. At first, Jesse was an impulsive loudmouth, unable to listen or think before acting.

By the time the show was done, Jesse aged a thousand years. He has seen atrocities happen right in front of his eyes, which made him more somber, quiet, and distrusting. He entered the show a naive 20-something and came out a serious, traumatized adult.

His Arc Continued In El Camino

Aaron Paul as Jesse in Breaking Bad El Camino

Perfectly befitting the main character of a series, Jesse found his closure in El Camino. The story picked up right where Breaking Bad left off, with Jesse driving off from his imprisonment. He eventually made it to Alaska with the help of the vacuum cleaner salesman, just like he was supposed to in the middle of season 5.

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