'Breaking Bad' reveals the sad joke of 'victimless crimes'

Jesse plays peekaboo with the little boy while waiting for the boy's addict parents to return in a scene from Breaking Bad.

Jesse plays “peekaboo” with the little boy in a scene from “Breaking Bad.”

As “Breaking Bad” winds down its fifth and final season, one of the most heartbreaking episodes (and that’s saying something) from the highly acclaimed AMC series comes in the middle of the second season. Episode 6, “Peekaboo,” finds Jesse (Aaron Paul) trying to recover drugs stolen from one of his dealers.

[Here’s a quick recap for anyone who hasn’t followed the show, which is very violent, gruesome and dark but is also a superbly written, acted and shot essay on morality, choices, pride, deceit, family and vice. Jesse is a drug-using high school dropout who cooks and sells methamphetamine. He is joined by his former high school chemistry teacher, Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Walter is looking for a way to secure his family’s financial future before he dies, and his chemistry wizardry produces a “better” meth product, which Walt and Jesse manufacture and sell—with far-reaching, horrific consequences.]

The junky mom calls to her little boy as Jesse demands they return his drugs and money in a scene from Breaking Bad.

The junkie mom calls to her little boy as Jesse demands they return his drugs and money in a scene from “Breaking Bad.”

Back to the episode at hand: Jesse finds the thieving junkies’ house and breaks in only to discover no one is home—or so he thinks. He has just settled down to wait when a 7-year-old boy (Dylan and Brandon Carr) emerges from a bedroom. When the boy announces he’s hungry, Jesse helps get him some food and plays “peekaboo” while they wait for his mom and dad to arrive.

The boy’s parents finally return home and are accosted by Jesse, who demands his missing drugs and money for the drugs the drug-addled duo have already used. The dad, Spooge (David Ury), tells Jesse they have his money in the backyard in an ATM they stole.

“FIDC [sic] insured, yo! It’s a victimless crime!” crows Spooge as viewers see the ATM heist that includes a murdered cashier. “I’m tellin’ you—victimless crime.”

With the ATM now inside the house, Spooge tries to smash it open with a sledgehammer while “Spooge’s woman” (Dale Dickey) pleads with Jesse for more drugs after he berates her about being a terrible mother.

“Give me one hit and I’ll be any kind of mother that you want,” she begs.

Jesse and Spooge continue to try to break into the ATM for several hours to no avail. The two junkies appear to be asleep later that night when the young boy comes back out to play “peekaboo” again with Jesse. “Spooge’s woman” takes advantage of a distracted Jesse and knocks him out with a liquor bottle, stunning the little boy.

After taking Jesse’s gun, money and drugs, the two addicts continue to try to open the ATM. Spooge tries to break in through the bottom by tilting the ATM against a chair and then laying on the floor and drilling in from underneath. “His woman” kills Spooge with the ATM after he repeatedly insults her. Victimless indeed.

Right before Spooge is killed, Jesse comes to, sees Spooge’s demise, and then grabs the ATM money as “Spooge’s woman” takes another hit of meth and is left completely wasted on the couch. After cleaning off his fingerprints from around the house, Jesse calls 911 and brings the little boy out to the front porch to wait for the police, pleading with the boy not to go back inside.

“You have a good rest of your life, kid,” a tearful Jesse tells the boy before running into the dark night.

Though a dramatization, this episode and the entire “Breaking Bad” series laughs at the idea of “victimless crimes” often promoted by advocates of public policy ranging from legalizing drugs to no-fault divorce. Prudent public policy maximizes individual liberty while recognizing the challenges of trying to live harmoniously in civil society.

The reality of this drama rings true because we are social creatures—none of us is an island. Our action, or inaction, ripples through society for better or ill. From the junkie mom, begging for just one more hit and then she’ll be the best mother you’ve ever seen, to the innocent little boy, whose upbringing will shape him for the rest of his life.

Let’s stop pretending we can isolate our choices and their inevitable consequences from vibrating through the broader fabric of our families, neighborhoods, cities, states, nations and world.