At this point, it kind of seems superfluous to wax poetic or to sing the praises of the latest ‘Breaking Bad’ episode. This is the most hyped and universally praised show out there at the moment. It needs to be said, however, that Sunday night’s penultimate episode, ‘Granite State’, was spectacular. Relatively low on action and high on plot, it’s emotionally devastating and absolutely riveting.
Saul is now on the run, and once again employs the services of his “vacuum cleaner guy.” (I’ve never caught his name, so I’ll refer to him as “VCG” going forward). VCG has Saul pose for a photograph to be used for his new identity as a Nebraskan. Walt’s still in hiding in a nearby bunker, and VCG tells Saul that he should join him while the details are worked out.
Back at the Aryans’ compound, the thugs watch Jesse’s DVD confession for their own amusement. When Jesse (astutely) calls Todd a “dead-eyed piece of shit,” Uncle Jack contemplates killing him. Todd, who has become an excellent meth cook under Jesse’s tutelage, talks him out of it. In a nearby pit, Jesse languishes in shackles, head swollen and bloody from the violence he’s had to endure. He has the photo of Andrea and Brock from the warehouse in his hand. A paperclip on the photograph gives him hope for escape.
Walt and Saul are in the bunker. Walt makes plans to strike back at Jack and the Aryans. Walt also wants to send some of his money to his family, but Saul tries to dissuade him of that notion by pointing out that with the level of surveillance and scrutiny in place, that’s nearly impossible. Walt says that he’s doing everything for his family and that he will get everything back that has been taken from him. VCG interrupts, telling Walt that it’s time for him to go into hiding. Walt tries to force Saul to come with him, but his efforts fail after a sickness-related coughing attack.
The Feds try to get Skyler to help them find Walt, but she doesn’t know where he is. The White home is being staked out, but Todd and some of the Aryans manage to get inside. Horrified, Skyler finds them gathered around Holly’s crib. Creepy Todd gently questions Skyler, asking if she’s told the authorities about Lydia. She hasn’t, and Todd advises her not to do so, admonishing, “You really don’t want us coming back.”
Todd meets Lydia at a café. Lydia suggests a more sinister solution to the problem with Skyler and the White family. She thinks that things are too dangerous to continue their business relationship, but appears to be intrigued when Todd tells her that his meth purity is now up to a Heisenbergian level of 92%.
Walt emerges from the empty tank of a propane truck, his transport from Nebraska, to find himself at a snowy, remote New Hampshire shack in a forest. VCG calls him “Mr. Lambert.” He’s extremely isolated with no phone, internet or creature comforts. Walt’s time here will be lonely, grim and extremely challenging. Although there’s a town about eight miles away, VCG forbids Walt from leaving the property, telling him that their relationship ends the minute he does so. He tells him that he’ll return in a month with supplies, and then goes on his way. Walt procures the old Heisenberg hat from a bag and walks to the gate of the property. He considers walking out, but he resigns himself to his fate and returns to the shack.
Jesse manages to successfully free himself from his shackles. He tries to escape by stretching up to the grate covering the pit. He’s interrupted when Todd approaches, so he reshackles himself. Todd lowers a bucket with some treats in it to Jesse, apparently grateful for his involuntary meth mentorship. As Todd leaves, Jesse asks if he’ll leave the cover off the grate so he can watch the stars. He quickly picks his locks and uses the bucket to reach the grate, which he unlatches. At last, he escapes. He runs to the fence circling the property and tries to climb it. Unfortunately, he’s been spotted by the Aryans, who draw their guns on him, foiling his plans. Jesse tells them that they may as well kill him, because there’s no way he’ll do another cook for them.
Todd knocks on Andrea’s door and tells her that he’s a friend of Jesse’s, and that Jesse is in a car nearby. Jesse watches, desperate to stop Todd but unable to do so as he’s bound and gagged. Todd invites Andrea to come see Jesse. When she steps in that direction, Todd shoots her dead. Jesse is once again utterly devastated. He’s warned that if he doesn’t cooperate, the boy Brock will meet a similar fate.
After a period of time, we rejoin Walt back in his shack. Enough time has passed that his hair has grown back and he has a bushy beard. VCG returns with provisions and news. The White family has fallen on hard times. Skyler is using a public defender, has taken a job as a taxi dispatcher, and is now using her maiden name. Walt’s home is on the auction block and has become a sort of infamous tourist attraction. VCG hangs a chemotherapy IV drip bag from the antlers of a deer mounted on the wall above Walt and attaches it to Walt’s arm. Lonely, pathetic Walt has lost a lot of weight. He offers VCG $10K to stay for two hours. VCG coldly negotiates this down to one hour. Walt asks if VCG would give his money to his family when he dies. VCG responds by asking if Walt would believe him if he tells him what he wants to hear.
Later, in bed, Walt’s wedding ring falls from his ring finger due to his gauntness. His body has been reduced by the ravages of cancer. He ties it onto a string and places it around his neck.
Walt stuffs $100K in cash into an Ensure box and finally leaves the property, resigned to his fate. At a bar in the nearby town, he has a woman phone Walt, Jr.’s school claiming to be his aunt Marie. Walt pleads with him to stay on the phone and listen. Stammering and emotional, Walt tells him that everything he’s done has been for the family. He wants to send them the $100K through a friend. Walt, Jr. finally responds, cruelly and angrily accusing Walt of killing Hank. He says they don’t want anything from Walt and screams at him to shut up and to leave them alone. “Why don’t you just die already? Just die!”
Deflated and rejected, Walt calls the Feds and asks to speak to the agent in charge of the Walter White investigation, telling them that he’s the one they’re looking for. He drops the payphone receiver so that the call can be traced to the bar he’s at, and orders a stiff drink while he waits for their arrival. While waiting, he sees his old business partner and wife, Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz, being interviewed by Charlie Rose on television. They’re donating $28 million to charity in an effort to deflect negative attention they’ve received over Elliott’s former relationship with Walt. Elliott tries to minimize Walt’s role in the formation of Gray Matter Technologies, saying that he only contributed to the name of the company. Gretchen says the sweet, brilliant Walter White no longer exists.
Police soon storm the bar. Walt is gone.
‘Granite State’ was supersized to an hour and fifteen minutes, and truly packs a lot into its running time. We’ve seen how low Walt and Jesse have been brought and the havoc they’ve wreaked in the lives of their loved ones. The wages of sin have pretty much destroyed them, both physically and mentally.
In the scene with Todd and Lydia, I noticed that Todd tells her his meth is 92% pure. However, when discussing it with Jesse later, he refers to it as 96% pure. I haven’t figured out this discrepancy, but I wonder if it’s deliberate and might have something to do with how things shake out in the series finale next week. Also, was anybody else reminded of ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ when Todd hovered over Jesse’s pit, lowering the bucket by rope to his victim? I was almost waiting for Todd to advise Jesse to rub the lotion into his skin before getting the hose again.
Walt had pretty much resigned himself to fate when he decided to turn himself over to the authorities at the end. His family had completely rejected him, so he felt no more compulsion to continue. It was after his ego was bruised by the dismissive Schwartzes that he decided to take the fight up again, and apparently sprung into action. At this point, it’s difficult to tell whether family or ego is his primary motivation, but there’s no question that it was ego that re-energized him.
These last few episodes have constituted what may quite possibly be the best narrative arc in the history of television. And that’s not hyperbole. If it’s not the best, it’s right up there among them.