“Granite State”, the penultimate episode of AMC’s Breaking Bad, didn’t feature large scale desert shoot-outs, or knife fights between parents, but it still packed enough punch to hit the hearts of long time fans. The White family is in complete disarray, as is the case with any individual that got mixed up in Walt’s meth empire along the way. Things are looking grim for all parties involved as Walt’s Heisenberg-past starts catching up with everyone who had the misfortune of meeting him. The party is nearly over, and for a moment, even Heisenberg shows signs of defeat. With only one episode left, “Granite State” helped to move the pieces into position for the final game between Walter White and the world he created as Heisenberg.
(Spoilers below, proceed at your own risk.)
Better call Saul
The 15th episode of Breaking Bad’s final season begins with everyone’s favorite ambulance chasing lawyer having to use his own services to escape the fallout from Walt’s downfall. We get to meet the man behind the wheel of the mini-van who Saul uses to grant clients new identities, because as a result of his involvement with Walt, he too now has to erase himself from the world. This trend continues throughout the episode as everyone in Walt’s life suffers in some fashion thanks to his criminal doings.
The Vacuum Cleaner Guy (Identity changer specialist) informs Saul that he must spend time in his hidden bunker with Walt until he can find him a new location to start his new life. Saul is none too pleased with his new roommate, who, at this point is starting to act like a raving lunatic. Walt is definitely having a hard time dealing with the fact that he’s been out Heisenberged by the likes of Jack and Todd, so his mental state is frantic at best when Saul arrives to wait for his turn to be relocated.
In a surprise move, Saul, for the first time since he met Walt, actually tries to give him sound advice, and not some shady out that he’s provided Walt in the past. Saul is clearly through with Walt now that his life is in shambles just like the rest of Walt’s former associates. He begs with him to give himself up, to do the honorable thing for his family.
It seems that Walt’s plan to remove any blame from Skyler has failed, because Saul informs him that she’s in a state of disarray dealing with the fallout from Walt’s meth empire. She is suffering (made clear in a scene with lawyers grilling her about Walt) thanks to Walt’s decisions, and all of his plans that may have started as good intentions have ultimately backfired, hurting the individuals closest to him, rather than helping them like he initially intended. Saul makes it clear that Walt has failed, and that he’s a cancer to those around him, so much so that he leaves Walt partnerless in the basement of The Vacuum Cleaner Guy’s shop to think about his dire situation. For the first time since breaking bad, Walter White is truly on his own to deal with the mess he’s created.
Underground is where the home is
While Walt and Saul contemplate their futures underground Jesse Pinkman is left to do the same in his animal cage on the Nazi’s farm. While the evil doers (Jack, Todd, and crew) watch Jesse’s DEA confessions for entertainment the former meth dealer manages to free himself from bondage thanks to a paperclip that secured the picture of Andrea and Brock to the meth lab walls where Jesse was forced to produce Heisenberg’s infamous blue meth. Before he could break completely free Jack rushes outside to put a bullet in his head thanks to the information he revealed to the DEA about Todd. Todd, now smitten with Lydia, persuades Jack to let Jesse live so he can continue to cook blue meth, which in turn would keep Lydia in Todd’s life. Jesse’s life is spared, and he’s even given a bowl of ice cream for his meth cooking efforts.
Jesse, not content with his double helping of ice cream, decides to make another escape attempt, which was frightening and exhilarating to watch, and for a moment it looked like he’d be free of his captors. Unfortunately though, he’s caught scaling the fence, and in true Breaking Bad fashion he’s taught a brutal life lesson. Once again the trappings of being associated with Heisenberg rear their ugly head when Todd and Jack force Jesse to watch Andrea murdered in cold blood on the front porch of her home.
Aaron Paul gives an amazingly authentic reaction to this horrific event, which not only highlights the dire consequences of being associated with Heisenberg, but also the demonic levels that his captors are willing to go to while making a point. Jesse’s life is forfeit, he now belongs to Todd and Jack, which the eerily calm and collected Todd reminds him about when he mentions that Brock is still alive, threatening him into submission. Not only is Jesse’s life ruined thanks to Walt/Heisenberg, but now another family is broken thanks to the evil roots he established en route to getting into the “empire business.”
Propane tanks and road trips
The last half of “Granite State” forgoes the arid red desert location that has graced the series since season 1 in favor of the frozen tundra setting of New Hampshire. Smuggled away in the belly of a propane tanker, Walt has been brought to the far northeast part of the country to escape his Heisenberg past by The Vacuum Cleaner guy. He’s set Walt up in a secluded safe house of sorts that’s only reachable by a snowy mountain road. Here is where he instructs Walt to wait out his time in solitude, just to be safe and to ensure that he’s never seen. Most criminals on the run would have been thankful for a new chance at life, even if it meant living like a hermit, but not Heisenberg.
Within moments of being dropped off and left alone Walt ceremoniously dons the Heisenberg hat in epic fashion thanks to the brilliant cinematography that made it seem as if Walt were crowning himself. In Heisenberg mode Walt still believes he can achieve anything he puts his mind to, so he grabs fistfuls of his remaining cash and heads out in search of a way out of his exile. When he reaches the gate his cancer gives him a fit that makes him rethink his plan to Heisenberg his way out of New Hampshire, so defeated, he returns to his cabin to bide his time.
Months pass as is evident by Walt’s new beard and hair growth which has formed as he wastes away in his lonely cabin. His only interaction with another human comes in the form of The Vacuum Cleaner guy who makes monthly visits to restock Walt’s supplies, as well as to bring him word of the outside world. It’s clear that Walt’s solitary lifestyle has begun to effect his emotional state, which is more fragile than ever since donning the Heisenberg monicker. He’s so desperate for company that he offers his care taker $10,000 just to spend an extra hour with him.
This particular scene is quite sad, and an indicator that the actual Walter White may have returned. He’s broken both physically and mentally, and its clear that he’s at his wit’s end. He can’t support his family with his drug money, the sole reason he started cooking meth in the first place, and it kills him to know that he’s failed. His actions have brought shame down on Skyler and his son, and the guilt persuades him to leave his cabin in search of human compassion.
This comes in the form of a bar and a phone call to his son under the guise of it being a call from his aunt Marie. Walt pleads with Junior to understand why he did all of the terrible things he did, but the young White isn’t having it. The damage has clearly been done between Father and Son, and Junior makes it perfectly clear that he thinks Walt is a scumbag who has caused nothing but death and pain for his family.
This conversation seems to be the final nail in Walt’s coffin. So much so that he informs on himself to the police in a half-assed attempt to turn himself in while at the same bar he called Junior from. Walt places the call, leaves the phone off the hook so it can be traced, and proceeds to order one last drink from the bartender. While contemplating his fate Walt catches a Charlie Rose interview featuring his former partners at Gray Matter. While being grilled about their connection to Walt, a now nationally known drug kingpin, his colleagues make it clear that Walt had nothing to do with Gray Matter’s success outside of the name, which visibly awakens Walt from his guilt ridden stupor.
Heisenberg isn’t dead after all. He couldn’t stand the fact that he’s now become irrelevant thanks to the Charlie Rose interview and his colleagues’ dismissal of his contributions. He also hears that his blue meth has made a resurgence in the drug market, which coupled with the other slight to his ego, prompts Walt/Heisenberg to rethink his strategy to turn himself in. The last scene in the episode features the cops raining down on the bar where Walt made his concession call only to find that he’s left. Heisenberg most definitely still has some business to attend to.
“Granite State” is the perfect lead-in for the series finale of Breaking Bad. In fact, it could’ve served as the finale and it would’ve worked. Its main purpose was to illustrate how deep Walt’s scheme rooted itself into the lives of everyone involved, and the effects on their lives as a result. The finale is surely shaping up to be a special piece of TV history, so it’ll be interesting to see how the writers tie in the flash forwards shown earlier in the season with what we know now about Walt’s situation.
I for one believe Walt will kill the Nazis with Jesse’s help, but then he’ll take the easy way out by ingesting the ricin we saw him grab in one of the flash forwards. There’s no way Heisenberg is going to be taken alive, so if Jesse doesn’t kill him, there’s a great chance he’ll do the deed himself. Ultimately though, what can’t be predicted, is how his tale will end between his nuclear family. Will he somehow redeem himself in their eyes, or will he be furthered shunned? After all, it’s his family’s needs that caused him to done the fedora for the first time, so it’ll be compelling to see how that thread winds up.
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Images via [Ursula Coyote for AMC]