If you are not completely caught up with Breaking Bad, do not read any further. There are spoilers to everything ahead… including the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa’s body and location of the island from LOST. Those last two aren’t true… but there are Breaking Bad spoilers ahead.
“It can’t all be for nothing.”
Granite State, the penultimate episode to one of the greatest shows in television history, is a largely somber, contemplative affair in comparison to the previous episode that found Walter White’s every plan that he set from the beginning, evaporate in the desert heat. The original goal: Cook a bunch of meth to make as much money as possible without causing any harm to his family before he dies of lung cancer. Simple enough… until it wasn’t.
Along that path, Walter White discovered the limits of his empathy and compassion and just how far his pride and raw intelligence could take him. That pride took him down a path littered with dead bodies, an unbelievable amount of lies, and the remnants of what was once a happy easy going family. He went from put-upon father doing his best to do right by his family, to the isolated kingpin, lonely and hopeless in a cabin tucked into the New Hampshire woods having to pay $10K to a man just to spend an hour with him. At least in prison he would have company… but that would mean losing all his money, and ultimately, his pride would never allow it.
This episode seems to be the first in this second half of the fifth season that could be described as “slow”. I would call it more of a set-up episode for what is likely to be an explosive series finale. After the previous episode that moved at a break-neck speed, Granite State was a welcome respite… and it allows for the passage of time necessary to bridge the gap between what has been happening and that original flash-forward of a slightly aged and gaunt Walt collecting his M60 and the ricin.
The episode opens with Saul meeting up with the vacuum repair guy, played to perfection by the great Robert Forster, as he plans to disappear into a new identity in Nebraska. Unfortunately, Walt is still there in waiting, and Saul has to spend a few more days with his client before heading out into his new life. Walt tries to pull a Heisenberg on Saul by demanding that they still have work to do, but is halted mid-rant by a coughing fit, revealing the depth of his illness… and just how shallow his power truly is at this point. Walt is not longer the man driving the plan… he is simply another fugitive awaiting his turn to disappear.
Will we see Saul again before it’s all over? I don’t think so… we’ll just have to wait to see his spin-off series… Saul Goodman before he became involved with Walter White.
Meanwhile, Todd and Jack have been busy tidying up any and all loose ends. They ransack the Schrader’s home in search of Jesse’s confession tape (although leaving behind the DVD with Walt’s “confession”), and Todd makes a plea to continue cooking now that they have Jesse. Jack wants to call it quits… they now have tens of millions… but Todd insists, “No matter how many millions you got, how do you turn your back on more?” For the greedy, that’s a difficult argument to go against… but for the lovesick, as Jack rightly catches on to, it’s only an excuse for Todd to spend some more time with Lydia.
This is the point where the first of many creepy scenes occurs. Skyler, hearing noises in the house, finds a few men in black masks standing over Holly’s crib. One of these men, Todd, calmly asks Skyler whether or not she is going to tell the police about Lydia. It’s that calm, disconnected from any human emotion, that makes Todd the most frightening character currently in the show. There is a something horribly sociopathic about this guy… and we as viewers recognized it immediately when he showed up, as did Jesse.
Todd and Lydia then meet up in the same diner that she and Walt used to meet. He seems to consider this a date… she is still all business and demands that they sit at separate tables, back to back. I loved how she balked at every step along the way when Todd suggested they stay in business… until he mentions having produced a 96% batch of meth… and then, she perked up.
Do you think her lack of reaction to Todd picking lint off her jacket had more to do with Todd, or more to do with her just daydreaming and thinking of the profit from a 96% batch and what that means for the future of their operation? I think she was simply daydreaming and didn’t even notice Todd… but perhaps she realizes that he has a crush on her and is playing it up. If she is… that’s a dangerous game. If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned… imagine what a Todd scorned might look like? I’m reminded of that line from Jaws when Quint is describing a shark’s eyes… “he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be living… until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then…”
So… how over the moon were you when Jesse escaped? I found myself screaming at the screen… “Run! Run!” Alas… Jesse attempt was foiled, and we get to the other super creepy Todd scene. A lovely little chat with Andrea, then pop… nothing personal. He makes 96% pure meth, and all he gets is some ice cream and the chance to watch his ex-girlfriend get shot in the head… makes your day seem a whole lot better, doesn’t it?
Let’s finally dig into Walt a bit. Ed, Mr. Disappearing Guy, brings Walt up to his new home in the woods. He shows him the lay of the land, and points out that his wood burning stove can be used to cook with as well… yay! No television, no cable, no phone, no satellite… and he informs Walt that there is a nationwide manhunt searching for Heisenberg, and his photo and name are plastered everywhere (which explains that look on his neighbor’s face when Walt returns home). If he were to leave the 2 acres that he bought for himself, he will be caught… so Ed warns him, if he leaves, Ed will no longer bring his monthly supplies and he will truly be left to his own devices.
Walt considers leaving. He has proven over and over that he simply does not like being told what he can or cannot do… but he stays… knowing that he could jeopardize everything, but specifically his family. We jump forward a bit… perhaps three or four months, and Ed is making his monthly delivery. He fills Walt in on the happenings, that his house has been fenced in by the city after looky-loos made it somewhat of a tourist destination (bit blase of an explanation for the condition of the house mystery), and that Skyler has taken her maiden name and is working part time as a taxi dispatcher. In addition to the news, he also brings Walt an IV bag with his life-saving chemo drugs… and the ease with which they set up the drip shows us how much time has passed… but when Walt asks him to stay a bit longer, and eventually offers him $10K to stay for another 2 hours, we see that for as much as the one is relying on the other… Walt is just a job for Ed… but Ed is all Walt has now… and to see Walt in such a low and pathetic place is simply heartbreaking… and then I remember that I’m sympathizing with a monster, which then makes me a monster, which then causes me to ball my fist and shake it in the air screaming, “Damn you Vince Gilligan!! Damn you!!”
After they have their conversation about Ed giving his money to his family if he finds him dead, and Walt makes it clear that he is still unwilling to lie to himself… Walt works out a way to reach his family… only to have Walt Jr. rebuff his attempt to deliver some money, and yells at his father to simply die already. He sidles up to the bar, orders a drink… and boom… there on the boob tube, Charlie Rose interviewing Gretchen and Elliot!! Two people I never expected to see again… and here they are on national TV, distancing themselves from Walter White… and minimizing his role in their company, and their fortunes, that much more… and as we know… Walter White is a man of pride, and they just thumbed their nose at it.
Walt goes to a pay phone (which must be rare anywhere these days), calls the DEA, tells them he is Walter White… and walks away.
Damn… one more episode to go. Will Elliot and Gretchen be the recipients of the ricin? I’m still thinking that M60 is for Todd and the gang. Or, will the ricin become Lydia stevia substitute for her tea?
There was so much sadness, so much pathos, in every scene this week. To see Walt cut so low… to watch Jesse enduring yet another death connected to his dealings with Mr. White… to see Skyler’s fear at finding men in black masks standing over the only innocent in this situation… to know that there is only one hour and fifteen minutes left… it’s a difficult thing to face… and it’s never been such a joy to be so miserable.
I think we’re kind of mutually good,
Cornelius J. Blahg