Last week’s “Breaking Bad” was one of the series’ all-time best episodes, and also maybe the most emotionally traumatic one — for both its characters and the audience — it has ever aired. Yet Sunday’s (Sept. 22) episode somehow managed to find new places to wound and batter its characters.
“Granite State” featured the lowest lows several people on the show have ever hit: Walt, after being relocated to New Hampshire* as “Mr. Lambert,” is virtually wasting away in complete isolation at his cabin. Jesse, subjected to so much emotional and physical torture over the past 60 episodes, makes a futile escape attempt and then is forced to watch as Todd shoots Andrea. Skyler is terrorized again when she walks into Holly’s room to find Todd and a couple other guys in ski masks.
(*With some help from Robert Forster, perfectly cast as the guy Saul and Walt use to build their new identities, and who makes return trips to New Hampshire to deliver the Albuquerque papers and chemo drugs to Walt.)
And, in lows of a different sort, Lydia all but insists Todd kill Skyler over their car wash encounter six episodes ago, and can’t resist the allure of getting to sell Heisenberg-quality meth overseas, even if it means further association with a gang of neo-Nazis and a kid who’s creepily smitten with her.
“Granite State,” written and directed by Peter Gould (who, aside from Vince Gilligan, has penned more episodes than any other “Breaking Bad” writer), sets up a finale that won’t — that can’t — end heroically for Walt. He’s headed back to New Mexico to purchase a big gun and (presumably) go after Jack, Todd and the rest of the neo-Nazis, but his resolve only comes after one last blow to his ego: seeing his former partners Gretchen (Jessica Hecht) and Elliott (Adam Godley) on “Charlie Rose” dismissing his connection to their company. Moments before that, after Flynn rejects his last attempt to make contact with his family, he was ready to turn himself in, finally seeming to realize he was beaten.
Walt’s pride has always been his biggest weakness. Watching the interview play on TV, you see his face harden once more, as he once again tries to summon up Heisenberg and make everyone remember his name.
That’s not really a problem anymore, though. Everyone knows him as the disgraced meth kingpin who went on the run, leaving Skyler facing jail time as his accessory and Flynn wishing his dad would just die.*
(*Among the greater tragedies of these last couple episodes is seeing just how far and fast Walt has fallen in the eyes of his son. RJ Mitte has played the hell out of those scenes, which represent a full 180 from the Walt Jr. we saw gleefully accepting a new car from his dad in the first part of Season 5 — only a few months ago in the show’s timeline.)
And even though we know he makes it back to Albuquerque, this episode strongly suggests that Walt is no longer in position to intimidate anyone. Consider these two scenes from “Granite State”:
– Early in the episode, Walt tries to enlist Saul in helping hire a few hitmen to take out Jack’s crew. Saul tells Walt the best way to help Skyler and the kids is to stay in Albuquerque — that “it’s over” for Walt-as-Heisenberg. Walt straightens up and backs Saul against a wall, summoning every bit of menace he can. “It’s not over until …” he begins, then collapses into a coughing fit.
– After arriving in New Hampshire, Forster’s character strongly advises against Walt venturing beyond the gates of his property. Walt, however, feels the need to get to the closest town (which is eight miles away). So he pops Heisenberg’s hat back into shape, stashes a few bricks of cash into his parka and heads to the gate — where, cold and out of breath, he stares down the snow-covered road and says, “Tomorrow … tomorrow.” When we next see him approach the gate, it’s weeks or maybe months later, as evidenced by his full beard and head of hair.
For all the despair Walt went through in “Granite State,” though, it scarcely held a candle to what Jesse went through. After his escape attempt* died at the fence, it really wasn’t difficult to agree with him as he pleaded for his captors just to kill him right there.
(*One small quibble: After all the effort he expended to unlatch the gate, how the heck did he generate enough force to get it open?)
Instead, he had to endure something far worse. Like Walt two episodes ago, he had to sit helplessly in an SUV while the neo-Nazis engaged in gunplay. Unlike the prior situation, though — which at least began as an effort to keep Walt out of harm’s way — the sole purpose behind the shooting of Andrea was to bring Jesse to heel with maximum cruelty. Jack’s final line — “Remember, there’s still the kid” — only rubbed salt in the wound.
Todd, Jack and the rest of the neo-Nazis aren’t as interesting as Gus Fring or the Salamancas, but they’re ruthless and efficient and, as far as we’ve seen, completely amoral in all of their dealings. Walt has made a string of bad decisions in the last few episodes, and contacting Jack about taking Jesse out is turning out to be one of his worst. Walt and his big gun may be headed for revenge, but it feels almost like an empty gesture at this point.
What did you think of the next-to-last “Breaking Bad” ever? Where do you think the finale will go?