Let’s get to the airlock: The sacrifice of Vila Restal and Jesse Pinkman
I am certain that there is no direct link between the development of Breaking Bad and the British SF series Blakes 7. They are just two shows which I
I wrote before about the similarities between Kerr Avon and Walter White, and specifically how they descended into violent madness in their fourth seasons. I have also been thinking about the similarities between their suffering sidekicks: Vila Restal and Jesse Pinkman. Given the lack of direct influence, the similarities between the characters Vila and Jesse give me pause for thought. Perhaps the parallels arise from some underlying logic of story, or perhaps of personality.
Jesse and Vila have many similarities: sensual, prone to addiction, unambitious, lazy, emotionally perceptive, verbally quick, uneducated, insightful, libidinous, kind-hearted, forgiving, unassertive, and compliant. They are slightly built with small features.
They are keen to get rich quick. They are disinclined to violence. They are both petty criminals.
These submissive partners are called by their personal names. The dominant partners by their family names (Mr White and Avon). The other way round (‘Mr Pinkman and Walter’, ‘Kerr and Restal’) is unthinkable.
In four-bit MBTI terms Walt and Avon are INTJ, Jesse and Vila are ESFP.
Jesse and Vila preserve the qualities which the dominant partner has rejected or suppressed –kindness, empathy, pleasure and weakness. Avon and White in contrast embody the ruthless self-assertion which their sidekicks lack and yet need for survival. The dominant partners represent the missing locus of control.
The partnerships, unequal and unsatisfactory as they are, represent the need on each side to replace the absent parts of the self.
The Avon-Vila relationship is tested to breaking point in the iconic episode Orbit, third-from-last episode of season 4. A recurring motif in this episode is that Vila says he ‘feels safe’ when he is with Avon – reflecting the projection of survival-skills onto the other. Vila’s trust is utterly betrayed. Orbit is based on the famous SF short story ‘The Cold Equations’. At the climax of the episode, Avon attempts to sacrifice Vila by ejecting him from the air-lock of an orbital shuttle, in order to lighten its payload. Here they are getting into the shuttle at the start of the story:
AVON All right. Vila, let's get to the airlock.
AVON Well, who else? After all, you always say you feel safe with me.
However there are big differences between the two sidekicks. It is central to BrBa that Jesse and Walt love one another. This love might be a paternal/filial bond, a sexual attraction, or some other kind of bond born in adversity: probably it is complex. Avon and Vila do not have this type of intimate bond. Vila is frequently drawn to Avon (Orbit: ‘You know I like to stick with you, Avon, where it's safe.’) and Avon is strangely tolerant of Vila, but they do not have the intimate connection of Walt and Jesse, nor a prior history as teacher and pupil.
ETA: Though interestingly, only now it has occurred to me that the episode Orbit – and this really is a coincidence – presents a second dominant-submissive relationship which parallels that between Walt and Jesse: a grumpy amoral ex-scientist living with his former pupil, a beautiful boy (‘my golden-haired stripling’) though aged prematurely by experimental radiation. And in this relationship also, the dominant partner plans to sacrifice his sidekick. When I compare B7 to BrBa, the parallel (within the B7 episode) between the sacrifice of Vila by Avon and the sacrifice of Pinder by Egrorian is more obvious.
The second very significant difference between Jesse and Vila is that Jesse inhabits the ethical and even spiritual centre of the show. Vila in contrast is nobody’s moral compass. The ethical direction of B7 is provided by the rebel leader Blake, who is dominant rather than submissive. Avon’s relationship with Blake has some of the vulnerability and compulsion seen in White’s relationship with Jesse.
In other words in B7 the personal characteristics which Avon has suppressed are projected onto two figures – his leader and his sidekick – both of whom he is drawn to, and each of whom he eventually tries to kill. In BrBa the needs of Walter White are projected onto a single figure. So far White has acted with reckless indifference to Jesse’s well-being, and is simultaneously prepared to make any sacrifice or compromise to preserve his life.
In Season 5 White may come to kill the person he loves most, as Avon does in the final episode of B7, killing his externalised heart. Alternatively he may kill himself to preserve the projected better self. My guess is some horrible combination of the two in a futile ghastly sacrifice.