There are two warring factions within Breaking Bad, the same way that there are two warring factions within Walt. The show has been criticized at times for relying too heavily on plot points and coincidence (I mentioned a few weeks ago about the seemingly unlimited Deus Ex Machinas for Walt), which is at odds with the show’s incredible ability to create characters so real and so visceral that their lives and emotions affect us personally. While the plots and schemes twist in a way each season beyond our ability to guess, there’s always something a little like a let down once the puzzle is solved. And yet, what is left in its place, emotionally, is outstanding. Hit the jump for more, and where “Granite State” feel on that spectrum.
I think of Breaking Bad‘s plot-driven mile posts like Heisenberg. It’s interesting, yet cold — a means to an end. “Granite State” showed us how Walter White, New Mexico resident, became Mr. Lambert of New Hampshire (whose state motto, fittingly, is “live free or die”). This mystery was a huge one that’s still not fully solved, but has driven much of the puzzle of the fifth season. Wasn’t it always in the back of you mind when Walt almost got away with something, or looked like he could be killed? There was a memory of him in a diner on his birthday, with a new identity and a trunk full of guns. How did he end up there?
Turns out, how Walt got to that place isn’t particularly interesting. He used Saul’s guy to spirit him away to a remote cabin and be responsible for his protection. But what it meant, and where it led, was what we’re really supposed to be left with. Not Heisenberg’s twisted trail, but Walt’s twisted soul. After a month of solitude, Walt has had plenty of time to think and regret. But his one life preserver — so he believes at this point, anyway — is the justification he has clung to all of this time. As he told his son, what he does has been for family. It has been to protect them and provide for them, no matter the cost. His greatest fear — which Walt Jr. makes a reality — is that everything he has done will have been for nothing.
As Walt gives up on his life and phones the DEA, that other thing that keeps him going is reignited. Walt’s pride overshadows everything. It is what began all of this — his falling out with Gretchen and Elliot, who he believes stole his research and made millions while he was then left as a high school teacher, has eaten him away. He turned away their help with his treatment because he made his own way — and we see where that got him. But at this rock bottom moment, to see those two on Charlie Rose saying how he contributed nothing and meant nothing to Gray Matter, this is unforgivable. If Walt can’t be justified, he will get revenge. And in a way, isn’t that what this has all been about?
The character study and quietness of Walt’s move to New Hampshire as life continues to be horrible in New Mexico was great in so many ways, but there were two other important parts to “Granite State.” The Jesse torture continues, which is one major criticism I had of last week’s episode in hindsight. Jesse has paid for things one hundred fold that he never should have been held accountable for — he’s become the universe’s whipping boy. Is all of this just to elevate his eventual escape and revenge? How can those scales ever balance at this point, though?
Then of course there’s Todd, one of the creepiest characters I can remember ever being on TV. He tortures Jesse, but brings him ice cream. He keeps him alive despite knowing he sold him out, yet kills Andrea in front of him to teach him a lesson about trying to escape. “Don’t take it personally,” he tells her, as if it will matter in another second. His connection with Lydia remains, which means he sees fit to threaten Skyler and Holly while making sure Skyler denies having ever seen Lydia. He respects Walt, but is fine with taking all of his money.
Of course, there’s a rabid desire to know all what all of this means and to have our answers, and in one week we will (or as many as we’ll ever get). But let’s not focus too exclusively on just how Character A gets to Point B. The real triumph of Breaking Bad is that after everything, we must all admit that we still see hope and redemption: not for Heisenberg, but for Walter White. Despite everything, we still are clinging to this hope like Walt that please, God, don’t let this all have been for nothing.
Episode Rating: A
Musings and Miscellanea:
— So Saul seems gone for good, hopefully managing that Cinnabon in Omaha.
— “It’s over.” – Saul
— Walt can’t help scheming, even as he is planning to shed his current life. He’s going to get his money somehow, because in what world can the Nazis win??
— The show did a great job of showing Walt’s desperation after a month without any contact whatsoever even in such a short amount of “show” time. Also it explained another mystery of this season in an offhanded way — Walt’s house has become a tourist attraction, which is probably why it was burned (incidentally). See, not very satisfying in a way, is it?
— Walt is gray. His the White and Heisenberg mixed together.
— $10k for one hour of talk time makes Saul’s guy the most expensive prostitute ever, I’m betting.
— Tragedy upon tragedy when Walt Jr tells his dad to hurry up and die. In the last few years in particular, Hank was more of a dad to “Flynn” than Walt was, another source of Walt’s jealousy earlier in the series. And yet, Walt always spent more time with Jesse.
— Jesse. Andrea. Brock. Fuck. Everything.
— “Jesse doesn’t have a Heisenberg to hide behind” – my friend Martha. Truth! Which is all the more tragic. Although, Heisenberg let Walt down when he put on the hat but then didn’t have the courage to go down the road.
— Could Todd and Lydia have been more obvious? She should have just sat at his damn table. Him picking the lint off of her jacket was Creep Factor: 5/5
— “That Opie, dead-eyed piece of shit Todd killed Drew Sharpe.” – Jesse
— Poor Marie.
— By the way, the writers of “Ozymandias” confirmed that Walt’s phone call was 100% a ploy. I was convinced it was somewhat of a ploy, and somewhat Walt enjoying just yelling at Skyler and getting his real feelings out while he could. But I am ok with being wrong!
— “Chemistry is the study of transformation” – Walter White.