(SPOILERS AHEAD, so “toe the line,” ye Breaking Bad fanatics!)
Season Five, Episode 15: “Granite State”
Written and Directed by: Peter Gould
After the emotional onslaught of last week’s soul-crushing “Ozymandias,” I wasn’t even sure what I wanted from Breaking Bad anymore. I knew I’d just witnessed what could be the single greatest episode of television ever aired (or at least what seemed like it the time), but even still, did I even enjoy it? “Ozymandias” was beautiful in the way many eulogies are beautiful. I was a trainwreck afterward, and I’m honestly not sure I could’ve handled another one of its ilk.
“Granite State” stirred up some of the same emotional turmoil, but it largely simmered rather than exploded. If “Ozymandias” was a shotgun to the temple, “Granite State” was the start of a slow death from ricin poisoning. The title is clearly a reference to New Hampshire, Walt’s new home. But it also seems to reference his mental state (and maybe ours).
Welp, this is it. One more episode (an extra-long episode, mind you) of Breaking Bad to go.
This episode made ample use of its extra 15 minutes. This could have easily been another “moving chess pieces into place” episode (Speaking of which, who else caught the White King chess reference in “Ozymandias”?), and with the finale one episode away, it obviously did set up the board for one wild conclusion. But writer-director Peter Gould wrangled every ounce of pathos from that set-up. You’d think we’d be out of surprises at this point in the series, but the episode still veered in unexpected directions. It was also funny — quite funny — and filled with plenty of arresting visuals and music.
But let’s hit up the highlights.
The episode opens with a lovely misdirection, as the beat-up Hoover Dude pulls into an anonymous warehouse to reveal not Walt — but Saul. “It’s an actual store!,” Saul notes, realizing the Hoover guy is, ya know, actually a real-life Hoover guy. (I guess the vacuum game has its financial drawbacks.) After getting his new driver’s license, he’s introduced to his new bunkmate, Heisenberg. It’s safe to say they’re not on the smoothest terms: Saul schools Walt on the fact that he’s actually screwing over his family, and he tells the bald bastard to face the music.
Walt’s ego, of course, won’t allow that to happen, but he claims his mission is selfless: He wants to get those money barrels back to his family, their rightful owners. “My money goes to my children — not just this barrel, all of it.” It’s clear at this point that Walt is simply trying to cling to any semblance of power, and failing: When he demands that Saul provide a list of mercenaries to avenge the Nazis, Saul isn’t even really that intimated. “It’s over,” he says, quietly sneaking out of the room. (Is this Saul’s farewell? If so, he went out with a stellar jokes-per-minute ratio, even in these obviously grim circumstances.)
“Granite State” didn’t leave much screen time for Betsy Brandt. Marie appears only briefly, riding along with the cops as they pull up, guns blazing, to the Schrader home, which has been ransacked by the Nazis. Yet Brandt made the most of her borderline non-appearance, portraying the anguished blankness of a newly widowed young woman, straining for hope in a swirl of confusion. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing plenty more of Marie in the finale — Gilligan and team rarely pull out a Chekhov’s gun unless they intend to fire it, and the whole therapist-poison talk still lingers menacingly in the shadows.
Meanwhile, the Nazis only continue to grow more and more disturbing. They gather around and watch Jesse’s confession tape, calling him a “pussy” as he cries on-screen. “Boom, like it was nothing,” Jesse says about Todd killing Drew Sharp, and Todd smiles happily on the sidelines. At this point, it’s somewhat difficult to keep up with Todd’s manic shifts in emotion: First, he cried when Hank is gunned down last week — but was that because he felt sorry for Walt, his idol?
This week, he smiles giddily about how he gunned down a child and leaves another child motherless as he shoots Andrea in the back of the head (as Jesse, in punishment for his botched hatch escape, watches from the car in horror). He also solidifies his romantic feelings toward Lydia, attempting to flirt (quite awkwardly, as one might expect) in the diner, where he gains leverage in their relationship by informing her of Jesse’s 92% meth purity. He’s even teased by Nazi uncle Jack (Oh, T-Bone’s got a crush! Here’s $20; take her to the movies.)
Skyler is totally spaced-out. In meetings with the police and lawyers, she’s grilled about details on Walt’s location (which she doesn’t know). Back at home, in one of the most jarring and terrifying scenes in the history of the show, Todd and the Nazis (TERRIBLE band name, by the way) break into Holly’s bedroom and give Skyler a shake-down, warning her not to mention Lydia’s name to the police. (Todd also touches Skyler’s shoulder…in the creepiest way possible.)
But dear God, let’s talk about the Walt storyline.
Mr. Actual Hoover Guy drops him off in New Hampshire, where he settles into a snowy mountain cabin.
He’s got food, a stove, DVDs, and most importantly, the security of an anonymous place to hide. Mr. Actual Hoover is now Walt’s only remaining companion — a sad, sad truth indeed. Taking $50,000 in extra payment, Hoover agrees to be his connection to the outside world, watching over his family and keeping stock of their legal standings.
Walt has grown out his hair; he’s rapidly losing weight, and Hoover is helping administer his at-home chemo. This leads us to what literally could be the saddest scene in the history of the series.
“Stay a little longer?,” Walt asks of the Hoover Man, after their session is through. “Two hours? I’ll give you another $10,000. Please.”
“$10,000. One hour. Cards?”
“One of these days when you come up here, I’ll be dead. My money over there — what happens to it then? What if I ask you to give it to my family? Would you do it?”
“What if I said yes? Would you believe me?”
Walt is now Walt again — this isn’t Heisenberg begging a near-stranger to play cards.
But, as we know from those ominous flash-forwards, it won’t be long before Heisenberg is re-awoken. There are two nails put in Walt’s coffin, the first being a death-wish from Walt Jr., who, after being tricked into accepting a phone call at school, refuses to accept his father’s money. “Why won’t you just die already?,” Jr. screams. “Just die!” (If somehow R.J. Mitte doesn’t appear in the finale, he went out with a triumphant moment.)
The second nail-in-the-coffin is more unexpected: Walt, slumped and disheveled at the local bar, after giving his location to the DEA, notices his old pal Gretchen (the Grey Matter executive) being interviewed by Charlie Rose on TV. In my heart of hearts, I truly believed this plotline was too crucial to be left dangling: After all, his failure with Grey Matter (and his subsequent arrogance) is what ultimately leads to his downfall in the first place. To Gretchen, Walt is now nothing more than a disgusting blemish in her memory — one who had “virtually nothing to do with the creation of the company.”
“Whatever (Heisenberg) became,” she says, “the sweet, kind, brilliant man we knew long ago — he’s long gone.”
And as the police show up to take him down, he is indeed gone — vanished in the cold, boiling with rage, ready for redemption.
Now for some random thoughts and my favorite moments of the night…
Saul teasing his hair for drivers license picture…
“Best case scenario, I’m managing a Cinnabon in Omaha.” — Saul (How I’d love to create that show, which I would title Best Case Scenario.)
“It’s that Lydia woman–you’re sweet on her, you little bastard.” — Jack (Speaking of which: Is Todd an actual bastard? Where are his parents? And now that I think about it, how old is he anyway?)
“I just think we work together good. We make a good team. I think it’s kind of mutually good.” — Todd
The Nazi barracks may be bare-bones, but they sure don’t skimp when it comes to a good plasma screen!
“Just so you know, it’s nothing personal,” Todd says before shooting Andrea in the head. Jesse cries hysterically. (Aaron Paul should’ve won the Best Cry on a TV Drama category at the 2013 Oscars.)
That was a really important paperclip.
Todd brings Jesse ice cream. Aww!
(Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. Two copies!)