Breaking Bad 5.15 “Granite State” Review: Just the Name

Breaking BadLast night’s penultimate episode of Breaking Bad, “Granite State,” could be called a place setting episode. It gave us a slight break from the horrifying tension of last week’s “Ozymandias,” while also establishing all the major storylines for next week’s series finale. However, last night’s Breaking Bad also featured the cold, brutal murder of Andrea right in front of Jesse’s eyes, Todd and his uncle’s gang breaking into the Whites’ home to threaten and terrorize Skyler into not talking to the police about Lydia, and one of the most emotional scenes in series history, where a lonely, broken, and dying Walt calls up his son in an attempt to give him the money that he has made, the only reason he got into the drug business in the first place, and is refuted by Walt Jr., as he screams at him, “Why are you still alive? Why don’t you just die?” Even when Breaking Bad turns down the intensity from 11, it still stays at a 9.5, and everything about “Granite State,” whether you want to call it setup or not, reaffirmed why after Breaking Bad ends next week, it will go down as one of the greatest series of all time.

Last night’s episode opened with both Saul and Walter “erasing” themselves and acquiring new identities. Saul is all ready for his anonymous existence as some low-level store manager in Nebraska, but Walter wants Saul to stay with him. Saul has connections to mercenaries, guys who could help Walt with his unfinished business: killing Todd, his Uncle Jack, and the rest of the Neo-Nazis, thereby avenging Hank’s death and retrieving the money that they stole from Walt. Saul is, of course, hesitant, and as Walter tries to channel Heisenberg, recalling the conversation that he and Saul had back in the season five premiere last year, he can only make out the words “It’s not over until–“ before breaking into a coughing fit. “It is over,” Saul tells him, and the next time we see Walt, he’s being forced into living in a hidden shack in snowy Nebraska, with no internet, phone, television, and, worst of all, no one to talk to.

While Walter might be feeling like he’s under house arrest, it is Jesse who is the real prisoner. Still beaten and chained, being forced to cook meth that reaches over 90% purity, Jesse finally sees an opportunity to escape as he picks the lock on his handcuffs with the paper clip attached to his picture of Brock and Andrea. As Jesse jumps out of his caged prison and attempts to climbs over the fence to escape Todd and his uncle’s gang, it’s a rare moment of victory for Jesse and a thrilling few seconds of triumph that only slightly interrupt the devastating drama that this final season of Breaking Bad has given us.

Unfortunately, Jesse’s victory is short-lived; as he nears the top of the fence, he is forced down by the Neo-Nazis, and with their guns pointed at him like a firing squad, he vows to never cook for them again. And then it comes, one of the most cruel, horrifying, and saddest moments that I’ve ever seen on television. Sociopathic Todd knocks on Andrea’s door and gets her to come outside so that Jesse can watch as Todd, with the words, “Just so you know, this isn’t personal,” shoots Andrea in the back of the head without a second’s hesitation. As we watch Jesse, gagged and restrained in the car, crying and screaming for the woman he cared so much about, the woman that he wishes more than anything he could have protected, Aaron Paul’s visceral performance astounded me and broke me. There have been so many emotional moments on Breaking Bad over the course of these past seven episodes, but the matter-of-factness of Andrea’s murder, combined with the ache and pain that Jesse feels, ensures that her death will be one of the saddest moments of Breaking Bad to ever come across the screen.

From one heartbreaking scene to another, “Granite State” ends with Walter White at his most defeated, both physically and emotionally. Walt has been on his own in New Hampshire for at least a couple of months, and when he finally escapes from his exile and calls Walt Jr. from a bar in hopes of sending him, Skyler, and Holly about $100,000 (it’s all he could fit in the box), Walt believes that this can be one of his last acts of redemption, the actions of a father who does truly love his family, even if he cannot be there with them. Instead, as stated before, Walt’s gesture of love is met with screams of anger from Walt Jr., and we see how deep and raw the wounds from his father are. “You killed Uncle Hank!” he continues to repeat, and no matter what else what tries to say, that’s all Walt Jr. can seem to hear.

Walter White, the man who began cooking meth so that he could provide for his family, now has no family. He is broken, alone, and dying, and there appears to be nothing left for him to do but turn himself in. So Walt calls the police using the bar payphone, allowing them to know where he is, but before he can wait to be arrested, Walt catches something on the TV. It’s an interview with his old partner Elliott and his wife, who run Gray Matters, and they are being questioned about Walt’s involvement in the start-up of the company. Elliott and his wife promise that all Walt contributed to was just the name; “his contribution begins and ends right there,” Elliott says. According to them, Walter White is gone; the loving, sweet, and gentle man that they knew was erased as soon as Heisenberg came into existence.

As Walt sits and watches, Breaking Bad‘s theme begins to melt into the musical score, and we see the fearless, determined look of Heisenberg return to Walt’s face. According to Elliott, he may have only contributed to Gray Matters’ name, but Walt did not simply forge a new name with Heisenberg. He is Heisenberg. He is the danger. He is the one who knocks. And as he leaves his unfinished drink behind at the bar for the police to find, we also know that Walter White is the one with the big gun and the ricin, with no family left behind to go back to. And what’s more dangerous than a man who has nothing more to lose?

Other thoughts:

Breaking Bad still uses sound better than any other show on television. The numbing buzz that Skyler can only hear for most of the scene in the meeting room with the DEA and her lawyers was a great way to make the audience feel as disoriented and overwhelmed as her.

– When “Saul’s guy” shows back up at Walter’s New Hampshire residence after at least a month or two away, Walt is so lonely that he offers the man $10,000 to stay and spend time with him for two hours. Saul’s guy agrees to the $10,000 but only for an hour.

– Really loved the visual of Walt’s wedding band sliding off his finger to illustrate how thin and frail he has become. I also really like that Walt then ties it around his neck with a piece of string. Even though he is responsible for destroying his family and marriage, Walt still loves Skyler and still believes in their relationship.

– I praise Aaron Paul, Bryan Cranston, and Anna Gunn every week for their performances on Breaking Bad (because they deserve it), but this week, I want to acknowledge the acting of Jesse Plemons. It’s not easy to go from lovable, dorky Landry Clark of Friday Night Lights and become a sociopath on Breaking Bad, but Plemons makes it look easy. Todd is one of the most frightening characters I’ve ever seen on TV, and it’s completely due to his cold, calm demeanor and lack of emotion, even in the face of brutal violence.

– Lastly, congratulations to the entire Breaking Bad crew on their Emmy win for Outstanding Drama Series last night. And special congratulations to Anna Gunn for also winning the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Emmy.

What did everyone else think about last night’s Breaking Bad? Are you prepared for next week’s series finale? What do you think will happen?

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