Breaking Bad #515: "Granite State"
I understand last night's Emmy Awards telecast included some sort of Breaking Bad-related interpretive dance. All I can say is, if you were watching the Emmys instead of Breaking Bad, it serves you right. (I also heard that BB finally won the Emmy for best drama series. Well, duh.)
Here's a Twitter joke that both made me laugh and filled me with now-familiar dread:
Tonight on Breaking Bad: raw footage of your most painful childhood memory.
— Sean Thomason (@TheThomason) September 22, 2013
Not quite. But close. Let's discuss the details after the jump....
I expected to pick up with Walt en route to his new life in New Hampshire in this episode, but who knew we'd be running into Saul on the run as well? I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise -- obviously, if Walt's been exposed, Saul is in big trouble as well. But Saul has always seemed so invincible -- so cheerfully amoral and therefore unaffected by the moral undertow that has been dragging Walt and Jesse and all the rest to darker and darker places. I remember commenting at the beginning of season 5A how unsettling it was to see Saul looking shaken. (My exact words: "I forgot to mention how striking, and troubling, it is to see Saul so rattled. It makes Walt's hubris seem even more dangerous. When Saul starts telling you you're doing something dumb, you listen! Remember what happened with Ted!") I haven't gotten used to it yet. Even his comb-over is out of place! Bob Odenkirk's performance is perfect, as usual, still finding ways to inject some comedy into the grimness without sacrificing the overall tone. The way he grimaced just as the shutter clicked for his driver's-license photo was wonderful. (I don't know what to think about the planned spin-off Better Call Saul, but my gut response to more of Odenkirk in this role is Yes, please.)
Similiarly, Saul walking out on Walt, as he did in this episode, seems like a very bad omen. The mighty Heisenberg is on his knees; he can't even get through a threat without a coughing fit. And yet Walt continues to refuse sound advice from disinterested but highly competent professional criminals who can see the writing on the wall: see also Ehrmantraut, Mike, and now the vacuum-repair-shop guy.
One of the things that sets this show apart is how well the writers handle exposition and other chores. (That also means it's important as well as rewarding to pay close attention, which makes it all the more bizarre that AMC keeps trying to convince viewers to check out their two-screen-experience baloney.) So, for example, in this episode they skipped ahead to Walt's two-month visit from his caretaker, clueing us in to the time jump with the details of their conversation -- Walt had obviously given the vacuum guy a shopping list, for example, one that included glasses and newspapers -- where a lesser script would just have Walt say, "I've been living in this cabin for two months now!" Their conversation included a lot of information, like how Skyler has been living since Walt left, but still felt natural and dramatic: Walt's experience receiving that information is as important for us to take in as the information itself. He made millions to support his family, and now she's leaving the baby with a neighbor so she can work as a taxi dispatcher? Ouch.
I did not expect to return to the little matter of Gray Matter, and if Walt had stayed put in his woodland cabin, we never would have. But there were Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz on Charlie Rose, triggering one last flare-up of Walt's fatal flaw: his pride. Way back in season one, that pride prevented him from accepting the Schwartzes' generous offer to pay for Walt's medical treatment. Accepting that offer would have ended the story. What we're seeing in these last episodes are the very ugly consequences of Walt's having decided that the story should go on. I thought of that season-one fork in the road when, after watching that interview, Walt decided not to give himself up after all -- and I also remembered the moment when Walt, drunk and resentful, goaded Hank to keep looking for Heisenberg because he couldn't stand to see the late Gale Boetticher get all the credit.
Alan Sepinwall has some good insights along those lines, and also about Jesse's plight. These final episodes continue to feel like a punishment, though I don't mean that as a criticism. The murder of Andrea was not "satisfying," in the sense of something I wanted to see, a loose end I wanted them to tie up. It was awful. But it makes sense, too.
I couldn't help thinking of Jesse when we saw Walt self-administering chemo -- shooting up in an effort to save himself rather than destroy himself. Not only does it seem very unlikely that Walt will be redeemed as Peter Nixon hopes; I'm beginning to regret that Jesse made it out of that depression-and-addiction experience alive. It's no fun to watch him suffer (and suffer, and suffer), and it doesn't seem like there's any way out. Not for him, anyway. For us: just one more episode! Any last predictions to make?
About the Author
Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.