Season 5, Episode 15 “Granite State”
The penultimate episode of Breaking Bad is not the best episode of the series, but it’s an episode that was necessary. I can’t fault “Granite State” for not being “Ozymandias”, because it is not a misstep by any means. This episode was simply a link to the present storyline and the flash forward.
Vince Gilligan has spoiled his audience: each week, we collectively expect to be awestruck by his writing and what we see unfold before us. At points, we do get this in “Granite State”, but the episode is more or less restrained in order to (what we hope) help with the eventual payoff in the final episode.
I think back to The Sopranos, a show whose final episode could compare with the level of anticipation that is being witnessed with Breaking Bad. The episode that preceded it was “The Blue Comet”, an episode that was jam-packed with some gangland shenanigans. The finale, in contrast, was more subdued, with a lot of the attention being paid to Tony and how he picks up the pieces after someone takes a swing at him. To the blood thirsty, the show ended on a flat note, but to me, it was the perfect way to end the show.
If you look at the story projections as a roller coaster, we witnessed a really big drop with “Ozymandias” as it closed the story arc of Hank and his case against Walt. It was heartbreaking and gripping and easily the greatest episode of the series. “Granite State” is the rise of the Breaking Bad roller coaster, to continue the metaphor, leading up to what is hopefully the final drop in the amazing ride.
In this episode, we finally get to see what exactly happens when Saul calls for a vacuum repair. Played brilliantly by Robert Forster, Saul’s “fix-it” guy Ed sets Walt on his way to New Hampshire, while Saul is shipped off to Nebraska. It’s a brief scene between Saul and Walt that ends with not much fanfare, but it encapsulates just how far Walt has fallen. With a hateful glare, he used to be able to make Saul jump through hoops, but with no real power financially or physically, thanks to the cancer, Saul is no longer under Walt’s or Heisenberg’s thumb. He leaves him in a basement, choking on his own death.
In New Hampshire, Walt is held up in a cabin disconnecting from just about everyone. Ed comes to visit ever so often to bring Walt supplies, but it doesn’t feel like Walt is waiting for anything else but the slow release of death. Which sounds a little more welcoming than repeated viewings of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, if you ask me. Months pass, weight is lost, and Walt has a full head of hair, but the loneliness begins to take its toll.
Meanwhile, Jesse is in his own literal prison, as the Aryans enjoy breaking out their new toy in order for him to cook some Heisenberg brand crystal meth. Jesse tries to escape, but never gets more than fifty yards from his hole and the penance he endures leads to the most shocking moment of the episode. To show that they mean business, Uncle Jack and Todd bring Jesse to Andrea’s house to make Jesse witness Todd putting a bullet in the back of her head. Walt let these dogs loose and now they’re ready to run things.
Over these past few episodes and season, it seems as if Walt has been obsessed with his legacy and what he has to leave for his kids. It may sound like he is nobly remembering his role as a father and provider, but it’s more or less about Walt’s ego and what the world will remember him as.
You can say this can all be traced back to Gray Matter and how he missed out on his first attempt at an empire. The jealousy and missed opportunity rears its head once again at the end of this episode as Walt stumbles upon a Charlie Rose interview with his Gray Matter partners Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz in which they say Walt had very little to do with the company at all. This marginalization makes Walt seethe and on a collision course back to Albuquerque, just moments after he had planned on giving up everything.
It’s hard to say exactly what Walt has planned for everyone back in New Mexico. His family has made it abundantly clear that they have no interest in him returning as the patriarch of the family. The Aryans no longer need Walt to cook as they now have Jesse, who is nearly as good of a cook and half the headache. Judging by the flash forwards, Walt has some sort of revenge in his mind, but it’s still unclear who is going to feel his wrath.
There has been a lot of talk about how it’s all going to end. Personally, I’m not sure. I feel like Walt has to die; he’s done too much bad for far too long without getting some sort of comeuppance. Jesse, on the other hand, has had so much bad happen to him that I can’t imagine we end Breaking Bad without some sort of redemption. However it ends, the first Sunday after the finale will be a sad day.