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The more Walter White loses, the easier it is to see what is really underneath all of that rage and greed. Without his money, family, or meth empire, Walt is a lot of anger, and a lot of misguided pride. As per usual, Walt's emotions are ruining his life.
"Granite State" is the first episode of this season to receive such a mixed reaction. But come on people, everyone should have been prepared for something nowhere near as good as "Ozymandias." Even Vince Gilligan thinks that last week's episode was the best one they ever did. "Granite State" is not the best episode of "Breaking Bad." It has some odd pacing problems, and it definitely isn't the one of a kind, gut-wrenching experience I've come to expect based on the past few episodes of "Breaking Bad." This may have been a bridge episode, but it was a very important one.
Continued After the Jump
"Granite State" is basically like the whole section of "Skyfall" where Bond goes to hang out with Albert Finney and those awesome black labs at his old home before Silva and his gang show up. The best part about a slower "Breaking Bad" this week was some much needed time to breath and reflect. Well, mostly.
Tonight, Mr. Vacuum Man is finally revealed. He is played by Robert Forster, who you might know from "Jackie Brown" and "The Descendants." It is an unexpected yet perfect casting choice. It turns out that Saul is also getting a new identity, leaving a huge gap in the Albuquerque market for lawyers with catchy commercials. The process for getting a new identity basically looked like getting a fake I.D., or at least the way "Freaks and Geeks" portrayed getting a fake I.D. Anyway, Saul got assigned to Nebraska. I'm going to try and assume that this isn't subliminal advertising for Alexander Payne's "Nebraska," which Bob Odenkirk stars in later this year.
While trying to avoid real prison, Walt finds himself in a prison cell under the vacuum store. Walt and Saul are forced to bunk together. This rooming assignment is temporary, and unfortunately not the setup for "Better Call Saul." While Saul is ready to start his new life, Walt can't stop looking back at his broken old one. Walt's motivations are mixed, and I still feel like there's something more he isn't telling us. He wants revenge for Hank's death, but he also wants to steal back all of the money he earned. Sadly, rescuing Jesse is not on his radar. Saul refuses to help and tells Walt that "it's over." Walt responds "it's not over." He tries his best to be intimidating, but he can barely finish a sentence between his cancer riddled coughs. There was a scene similar to this one in season three in which Walt was much more frightening. No matter how hard Walt tries, returning to that pure Heisenberg state will be tough.
Still, Walt tried his hardest. While isolated in his tiny, frozen, New Hampshire home, Walt brings out the old black Heisenberg hat. It's treated like a villain putting on his disguise before terrorizing the city, but Walt is delusional enough to believe that he's a hero putting on his mask. I'm honestly kind of surprised that this great moment wasn't followed by Walt looking in a mirror and asking if anyone was talking to him. It'd make sense, as Walt can't go too far, so he's bound to go a little crazy from cabin fever. All he's really got right now is a fireplace and a month's worth of the Albuquerque newspaper. The only thing keeping him going is the thought of one day returning to his family.
The New Hampshire scenes mainly serve to show just how far downhill Walt's life has gone. Even with all of the evil, I am still convinced that Walt wants nothing but to be loved. Because he's scared off or killed everyone who once loved him, he now has to resort to paying people $10,000 to hang out with him for just one hour. Even his wedding ring doesn't want to stay put on his finger. But Walt, never able to let go of his past, ties it around his neck. Just like Frodo Baggins, Walt has a quest he is about to embark on.
Back down in New Mexico, things were looking even darker. Without Walt around, Skyler was in danger with the law. The White house has become something of a local tourist attraction, so the bank took over the house and fenced it off (so bankers are the real villains here?). But of everyone, poor Jesse's life is the worst. In some surprising craftiness, Jesse broke out of his handcuffs and nearly broke free in a doomed escape attempt. As Jesse can cook the purest meth since Heisenberg was in town, the Nazis couldn't kill him for this. Instead, they decide to psychologically torture him, which leads to one of the most horrifying moments in the show's history: Todd shoots Andrea right in front of Jesse.
The one thing Walt and Jesse now have in common is that they've both lost everybody that they love. "Breaking Bad" didn't necessarily need this scene. I was already convinced that Todd and family were psychos. But this will clearly lead to something important in the finale, as every little occurrence in the "Breaking Bad" universe always has a consequence.
I was most thrilled to see that this was a very important Todd episode, and one that really let Jesse Plemons chew the scenery. Todd is so desensitized towards violence that when he shoots Andrea right in the head, he tells her right before hand that it is "nothing personal." When he watches Jesse describe his murder of the boy on the motorcycle in Jesse's confession video, Todd smiles ever so slightly. Todd takes pride in his murders the way that Walt took so much pride in his meth. What makes Todd so scary is that he never shows any semblance of human emotion (except maybe for condescending empathy when giving Jesse ice cream). When he put on a nice shirt and pants and went to a coffee shop, he looked like he'd never really been around non-Nazi people before. To me, Todd is more like an alien who just landed on Earth and is trying to blend in by being non-distinct.
Up in New Hampshire, Walt, as usual decided not to listen to somebody who was trying to help him. He leaves his Thoreau like cottage for the local bar. It's a dark, sad empty bar. It's like the bar in Nepal where Marion spends her time before Indiana comes back into her life in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," or the bar where Ron Burgundy hangs out before the news team reassembles in "Anchorman." Basically, it's like any movie/TV bar where the main character waits for their imminent call to action.
Yet, Walt doesn't wait, because he literally makes the call. Walt's phone call to Junior would have been more heartbreaking if Walt didn't deserve that verbal beating from his son. A lot of darker dramas on television seem to have issues with their younger characters. Usually, they get reduced to one line or action that becomes a running joke. On "Homeland," Chris Brody was all about his love of shiny things, and on "Breaking Bad," all Walt Junior got was breakfast. But luckily the writers finally decided to elevate his character this season and RJ Mitte has really stepped up to the task. Luckily, the kid is smart enough to understand that getting $100,000 in the mail from a wanted man is probably a bad idea.
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With no motivation left, Walt turns himself into Albuquerque DEA and has himself a drink. That's when he sees that Elliot and Gretchen Schwartz, our old friends from Gray Matter, on TV. The two of them are clearly on a PR campaign to distance themselves from Heisenberg, whose relationship with the company is making a dent in their stock values. This provides an enjoyable moment for Walt, until they basically discredit Walt from any of his contributions to their company. They basically had no choice to, but this moment burst Walt's pride. Walt has no money, none of his empire, and now he can't even say that he helped to start Gray Matter.
Walt's history with Gray Matter is secretly one of the things that led to the creation of Heisenberg. The fact that his former friends basically stole all of his ideas and then cheated him out of the company is what led to his inner insecurity that made him want to build an empire. While Walt says that everything he did was for his family, he is in it just as much for his own ego. It seems like Walt wants to go back to Albuquerque and bring Gretchen and Elliot down along with the neo-Nazis, as a way to exorcise all of his demons. However, even Walt isn't stupid enough to know that it is partly his fault that he missed out on the Gray Matter fortune. If Walt wants to spend the finale getting rid of all of his past mistakes, then the last one he might have to get rid of is himself.
Looking at "Granite State" by itself, I wish that this episode had come earlier this season. Peter Gould, who wrote and directed this episode, approached it as if he wanted to slow down a bit. However, there is only one episode left after this, so he had to keep the momentum going. Even the extended running time didn't feel like quite enough. It would have been great if Gilligan and the crew had squeezed out a few more episodes of Walt living as a solitary mountain man. Maybe the series finale will provide us with some flashbacks.
The series finale. Just one episode away. Now that's weird to say.
Other "Breaking" Points
- As Todd relives the memory of the freight train, the sound of a train can be heard behind him.
- More wind sounds. This time in New Hampshire.
- The scene in which Skyler hears all of the sounds and voices in her head is yet another brilliant bit of sound editing. Or mixing. I still don't really know the difference. And I'm studying stuff like this in college.
- There is a lot of heavy use of the color gray in this episode. The cloudy sky. The vacuum store. I should've known that this would have led the way to Gray Matter.
- Another technical/geeky note: the bar was so beautifully lit. I keep looking up images of it.
- Saul's luggage is blue. Maybe, like Lydia, he's buying into the whole blue brand.
- Saul's afraid that he's going to end up operating a Cinnabon in Omaha. Now that would be a great front for illegal activities.
- Seriously, check out Robert Forster's Oscar nominated performance in "Jackie Brown." If you do, you'll also have the pleasure of watching Quentin Tarantino's most underrated film. Also, Michael Bowen (a.k.a. Uncle Jack) is in it.
- It's funny how Walt has a knack for hanging out with criminals who are so professional and careful about not getting caught (Gus, Saul, Mike, Lydia) yet he never seems to learn anything from them. Todd might be the only other person who is as reckless as Walt is. Todd shoots Andrea right on her front porch. It's like him and Walt both want to get caught, so they can take credit for their lifes' works.
- Last week, Holly got kidnapped by her own father. This week, a gang of Nazis broke into her room. She's going to need some serious therapy.
- Vacuum man gives Walt a tour of his new house. He points out the stove and fire place. "Plus, you can cook on it," he says. Probably not the kind of stuff Walt wishes he could be cooking, though.
- Comic relief: Vacuum man isn't much of a film buff. His DVD collection only includes two copies of "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium."
- When someone receives chemotherapy, isn't their hair supposed to fall out?
- Flynn did a good job pulling off the Marty McFly look.
- Before Walt tries to get his money back, I hope he watches this scene from "Fargo." Unfortunately, "Breaking Bad" no longer has its "good guy" authority figure (Hank) around.
- I almost forgot about Marie. She barely had any screen time and because of that, her story seemed kind of out of place. I'm assuming that it'll pay off next week.
- As I've said too many times before, "Breaking Bad" is about consequences. Well, it's also about characters who think they can cheat the consequences of their actions. Lydia is always turning away from the evil in front of her, so as to act like she's not a part of it even when she's pulling all the strings. Lydia, I underestimated you.
- On that note, Walt also does something very similar. He lies not just to others, but also to himself. Here, he convinces himself that he lost all of the money he earned. In reality, he gave it all away to try to save someone that he couldn't save. Now, by trying to get it back, he thinks he can undo the consequences of his mistake.