Breaking Bad Episode 515 “Granite State”

515images“It’s over.”

Does anyone remember last year, how episode 507 was originally listed as “Everybody Wins,” instead of “Say My Name”? I was thinking that “Granite State” could’ve been called “Everybody Loses.” Every character lost a LOT in “Ozymandias,” but in this episode, the fallout really hits. Some characters can see the loss for what it is and accept it, while others can’t. I think the crux of this episode is how everyone deals with and reacts to “It’s over.”

Skyler and Saul Know What’s Up

We don’t get a lot of time with either of these characters in the episode, but we get enough to know that they’re not in denial about their situations. They’re the two characters who can appraise things accurately. They know it’s over.

Skyler is zoning out at her meeting with the lawyers, but like Walt when he first got his original cancer diagnosis, she has heard it all, knows what it means and sums it up. She’s screwed. She has nothing to bargain with, since she doesn’t know where Walt is. And then it gets even worse for her, with Todd’s little visit. She accepts and acquiesces with his demands never to mention Lydia, whose name she doesn’t even know. Later, we learn that she’s working part-time as a taxi dispatcher and has moved to a new, crappy place, waiting for a trial date to be set. Things are certainly bleak for her now, much worse than where things were when the show started off.

And that’s another theme in this episode–everyone’s in worse circumstances than they would have been if Walt had not started cooking meth in the pilot. Yes, he might have left his family in a bad place financially, but now they’re in a horrible money mess anyway, and Skyler is awaiting trial and there are articles circling around implicating her (as you can see on Walt’s Wall of newspaper clippings). And before all this, Hank and Marie would’ve taken care of Sky and the kids in any way they could if Walt succumbed to the cancer (Hank says as much in an early episode) and now Sky and the kids don’t have that either.

Saul has absolutely no delusions about what’s going on and the seriousness of it. You know how we can know for SURE that Saul knows his days as Saul are over? Look at his clothes. At first he wears a richly blue shirt which is at least a shadow of the old Saul and his crazy get-ups, but later, when he’s having the talk with Walt, he’s wearing white. He looks totally boring and normal, and he knows his life from here on out will be the same. He’ll be in Omaha with three pairs of dockers, managing a Cinnabon. That’s his best-case scenario. That is a man with no delusions about his future.

And it goes without saying that Saul was better off before all this–he had plenty of work, got to have his face plastered everywhere and be a local celebrity, had all kinds of deals going on. I think this was the last we’ll see of Saul, until his prequel spinoff anyway. He’s getting out when the getting out is good, and he knows better than to fuck it up.

It also occurred to me that over this half-season, everyone breaks up with Walt. First, Hank and Marie. Then Jesse. Then Sky and Jr, and now Saul, the one person he could always rope back in with threats or money. He has no one anymore, and this is driven home so starkly when he pays Ed the disappearer to stay for an extra hour and play cars with him.

Walt and Jesse’s Parallel Delusional Perilous Journeys

On the podcast, the writers mentioned that, at the beginning of the episode, Jesse and Walt are both underground, literally. Jesse’s in the Nazi compound and Walt is in the underground bunker at the vacuum repair shop. It extends beyond that because even when Walt emerges from the propane tank with his barrel, he’s living underground in the metaphorical sense. Under the radar, off the grid, in hiding.

They’re also both imprisoned. With Jesse it’s more obvious and literal, but it’s true for Walt too. He’s stuck in that cabin, cut off from civilization. A literal prison would probably be better for both of them. Walt could get real medical attention, Jesse wouldn’t have to cook meth, both of their loved ones would be safer (in different ways) but that’s not the situation here.

But the parallel between their separate lives extends far beyond that. Both Jesse and Walt fail to accept that “It’s over.” Both are scheming, cooking up plans, thinking they can escape their imprisonments and protect the ones they love. Walt thinks he can, through mercenaries, kill Jack, get his money back and find a way to get it to his family and then maybe turn himself in if he needs to get the heat off them. Jesse thinks he can escape his prison and get out and would probably get Andrea and Brock out of town or something to protect them ASAP. Both men are grasping at impossible hope that doesn’t match their circumstances.

In a way, who could blame either of them? They’ve both gotten out of so many jams before. They’ve always escaped, been able to protect their families when need be. There have been so many times they’ve been on the brink of getting killed or caught, and yet they’ve survived. Walt was taken out to the desert, told that Hank would be killed and that if he did anything to stop it, his wife, son and infant daughter would also be murdered, and he managed to protect Hank, keep his family safe and kill Gus. Mike and Victor had him at the laundry, about to be killed any second and he was able to tell Jesse to kill Gale and save their lives. Walt and Jesse were in that RV with Hank outside and got out of that. They survived near death in the desert in “4 Days Out.” They survived Tuco. Jesse survived Mexico, after thinking he was going to be stuck there as their cook. With both the magnets and train heists, they pushed things past the last possible second and still survived.

So, they have a lot of experiences being in the direst of circumstances and finding a way out. Walt and Jesse have been lucky, and they’ve been able to use quick thinking and sheer will to survive, and each other. But no one’s intellect, or heart, or survival skill or luck lasts forever or outlasts every situation. Hail Marys run out and the God of the Eleventh Hour calls in sick. This is not a show about superheroes. They are human and they are full of fallibility. And here in this episode, the biggest problem for both of them is an outsized, delusional hope that does them both in. And I think it’s really human, this desperate, unfounded hope. I believe that most people, presented with impossible circumstances, usually choose hope over acceptance of reality. And sometimes, that’s what makes us great, what helps us prevail against the odds. But other times it’s our undoing, like it is for Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.

Walt’s Roller Coaster of Hope and Despair

Walt’s circumstances are elucidated clearly by Saul. Walt should stay in Albuquerque, turn himself in to set his family free. His phone call wasn’t enough. He can’t get his money to his family, and Saul won’t hire mercenaries to go after Jack. But Walt won’t listen to Saul, and later he doesn’t listen to Ed. It’s only his own physical frailty that finally stops him. He wants to “leave the reservation” immediately, even though it’s borderline ridiculous after what Saul and Ed have said, and how much he has paid to disappear. These are the plans of a desperate man that hasn’t thought things through.

515bimagesThe reality of his cancer stops him at that gate and he turns back. In his little cabin, he starts to take Ed’s advice, accept his situation, stays on the reservation, as he gets frailer and weaker. He stays in solitude. So much that he offers Ed ten thousand dollars to stay an extra hour. Man, that was bleak. It’s like he’s in solitary confinement, deprived of human contact. Just a man and his barrel. But his barrel won’t do any good anymore, for him or for his family. I think he starts to see that. And then there’s that scene where his wedding ring falls off his finger. So sad and understated and impactful. There was a lot of quiet desperation in this episode.

I was struck by the fact that Ed told Walt to look around because “it’s actually kind of beautiful.” That stuck with me. We’re so used to seeing these beautiful desert vistas juxtaposed with crime and violence. Or gorgeous, colorful and artistic meth-cooking montages. But this was a different kind of juxtaposition, a different kind of mixing beautiful with something not usually considered beautiful at all. There’s a quiet, stark beauty to Walt’s New Hampshire surroundings (or at least there is to me, but I’m a snow and big trees, winter-loving kinda girl). Ed has a point. But it’s mixed with the lowest of lows for Walt and his soul. The landscape is so subdued compared to the usual, much less colorful, much less obvious in its gorgeousness, but the beauty is still there.

So Walt gets another plan, to box up some money and send it to his son’s friend Louis. Walter White, even after months alone in a cabin, with money that he might as well burn, or toss out in a charity paper route, for all the good it’s doing him or his loved ones, even after going through some makeshift chemotherapy, and paying a man for his company, still has hope. Which means he gets up the energy to make it into town, and that he still has something to lose. And lose he does. His son wants nothing to do with him or his money. And that’s probably smart on Jr’s part, because if anyone were to find out in any way that the family got some money, they’d definitely be in more trouble. The cops would think that Skyler was in touch with Walt, that she knew where he was and was lying to protect him all along. I think it would be really bad for them if they were to take his money.

But that’s not why Jr rejects the money. He still thinks his dad killed his uncle, and that’s pretty unforgivable. Flynn was wearing orange in that phone call scene, which was always Hank’s color (in the previous episode he was wearing blue, which was more Walt and Skyler, color-wise; in fact, though they were both wearing beige in the last episode, they both had a little bit of blue). The scene reminded me of when Walt visited Jesse in the hospital in 306 to offer him the 50/50 partnership at the superlab and Jesse said, “I’m not turning down the money, I’m turning down you.”

Walt says, in a desperate whisper, “It can’t all be for nothing.” Just like, lying on the floor in 510, he said to Skyler, “Please don’t let this all have been for nothing.” Kinda makes me think it may all be for nothing in the end, with a repeating refrain like that.

So Walt’s hope is crushed once again. For real this time. Enough that he does what Saul told him to do at first. He turns himself in. He orders his last drink. And then maybe, just maybe, the god of the eleventh hour shows up. Fate intervenes and he sees his old business partners, Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz being interviewed by Charlie Rose and they’re talking about him. Gotta pause for a moment and say that though Skyler and Walt got the beige memo this season, Elliot and Gretchen have thrown it out.

“For us, it’s always been science first.”

But more importantly, Gretchen and Elliot say that Walt made no contribution to Gray Matter. We don’t really know what happened there–Walt and Gretchen had conflicting accounts of what went wrong in “Peekaboo”–and it stands to reason that Walt played some part of it all, but I do believe it was his research, that he made significant contributions before taking the buyout. And this just lights the fire under Walt’s cancer-ridden ass. He’s got some righteous rage and some sort of last-ditch plan.

I don’t know what his plan is, but I will say this: I don’t think he’s actually going after Gretchen and Elliot. Part of that is practical–on the podcast they discussed that it was hard to schedule the filming for that Charlie Rose clip because Jessica Hecht (Gretchen) was in a play in NYC at the time–but part of it is story. Early in the episode, when arguing with Saul, Walt says he wants to kill Jack and his men and get back his money. He said that Jack stole his life’s work. And I think seeing Gretchen and Elliot (who he also think stole his life’s work, his birthright), renews his fresher ire towards Jack, the more current recipient of Walt’s rage. Plus, Jack killed Hank, so that invokes a much more immediate need for revenge.

And it’s not just that they stole the money from his life’s work. And that they killed Hank. They’re STILL making money off of his life’s work. That’s really gotta blow that fire under his ass to epic proportions. His empire. The question is, does he put it together that Jesse’s working with Todd and Jack’s crew? I think he could–he knew Todd was having trouble making it blue, but Charlie Rose said the blue meth is still around–but I’m not sure he did. Charlie Rose didn’t make any big deal about the purity being up. He knew his product would still be around after he left the business, so I’m just not convinced he has put it together about Jesse. The one person he absolutely does know is still involved is Lydia, because of the Europe mention.

I think Walt will somehow be mistaken about Jesse. He either doesn’t know Jesse’s alive and will come across him, or if he has figured it out, he’ll think Jesse made some sort of deal (kinda like how Lydia made a deal–Czech stuff–when he was about to kill her) and will be surprised to discover Jesse’s being held captive. Not sure how Walt will react to any of it, but I think he has or will misjudge what’s going on. But I’m going to put my vote down on the side that Walt hasn’t figured out Jesse’s alive and involved.

But regardless of exactly what Walt does or doesn’t know, he’s now on a mission. He’s got drive, and some more hope for…something. He once again has something to lose. Will he be able to pull off one last eleventh-hour plan?

Jesse’s Prison Camp Escape Debacle

515indexOh Jesse, Jesse, Jesse. At the outset of this episode, he’s just as delusional as Walt. He thinks he can somehow escape the prison compound and (I think) get to Andrea and Brock in time. The way he looks at that picture, he’s thinking of them too. Oh god though, the moment he started picking his lock, my first thought was he is going to get caught and they are going to kill Brock. I always had such a horrible feeling about Jack knowing where Andrea and Brock lived. Jesse had hope but I did not, not even for a second. I watched that whole scenario full of utter dread. I was almost relieved when Todd shot Andrea instead. Almost. Watching Jesse watch her die…just heart-breaking, but that doesn’t even describe it, just putting your soul through a meat grinder brutal. Yeah, I cried.

Was it a mistake for them to kill Andrea? I do think that Brock is the bigger leverage with Jesse. Jesse loved them both, and seeing Andrea’s murder unhinged him, but I still think Brock has the stronger pull on him. He has that thing about children. But where is Brock going? My guess is Andrea’s mom will take him. She was in “Abiquiu,” when Jesse and Andrea first met. Would Jack and his crew follow up on that, find out where Brock goes to live so they can still hold it over Jesse? What if she were to move Brock across the country or something? Not saying that it’s likely, but they could lose their leverage over Jesse. Unless they actually took Brock, which I seriously hope they didn’t.

And maybe it doesn’t matter where Brock goes and if the Aryan Brotherhood can get to him or not. The point is that Jesse’s afraid they will hurt him, and that’s all that matters.

Even though it was total doom for his surrogate family the moment he undid his handcuffs, I loved seeing Jesse by the fence yelling, “Go ahead! Do it! Just kill me now and get it over with because there’s no way I’m doing one more cook for you psycho fucks!” Yeah Jesse!

And then Jesse has to confront the complete combustion of any hope or plans of escape. We know Walt gets a second (or third) wind by the end of the episode, and we don’t see Jesse for many months, but I doubt the same can be said for him. Still pulling for him though. Always.

Todd’s Sweet Little Psycho Heart

Okay is he the most conflicted little sociopath or what?

I don’t know what to make of him, but he’s definitely a complex and interesting character. He’s not just your average psycho. He looks so disarming, and he’s so polite and at times almost sweet. And then he kills innocent people (Drew Sharp, now Andrea). And then he spared Walt from losing all his money and spared Jesse’s life out in the desert. And in “Granite State” he spared Jesse’s life again, and…Skyler’s? But it’s not like he does it out of any sort of empathy–I don’t think he has any–but because he can use Jesse, and because he respects Walt so much.

It still goes back to what I said last time around: that Walt was probably the first one who gave Todd a chance to be a badass, one of the boys. And maybe Todd too is holding onto some ridiculous hope that he can revisit the good old days of the train robbery. He looks so proud when he sees Jesse talk about it, a reaction that’s sort of…odd. And then he gives Jesse ice cream and brings different flavors because he doesn’t know what Jesse likes. It’s like he thinks one day Walt will come back and they’ll all be besties.

Uncle Jack isn’t conflicted. He would waste them all and would’ve taken all the money if Todd hadn’t stepped in. You sort of know who Jack is but Todd’s just harder to pin down.

But let’s get back to unrealistic hope and talk about Todd’s thing for Lydia. That too is a little odd. Well, of course it’s odd, it’s Todd and Lydia, but what I mean is, it only shows more complexity to Todd’s character. He’s not so desperate to impress her that he’d do anything she wanted–if he was, he would kill Skyler because that’s clearly what Lydia wants to have happen–and he also isn’t pushy or aggressive with her, as might be expected from a psycho. He’s actually kinda nerdy and sweet and creepy, in his date clothes, all quietly telling her that Skyler is a nice lady looking out for her kids who doesn’t need to be killed, picking lint off her sweater, and then saying what a great team they make together. He even agrees to Lydia’s strange seating arrangements, whereas Mike and Walt never would. He just seems so…non-threatening with Lydia, which is unexpected for the love interests of an emotionless psychopath.

515aimagesBut the most interesting thing about Todd is what he says right before he shoots Andrea, “Just so you know, it’s nothing personal.” I find that fascinating. We’ve seen Todd “say the right thing” before with his “Sorry for your loss,” to Walt after Hank’s death. We’ve seen him be polite. But this one is different because Todd’s pretty much by himself, and I think what people do when no one’s watching or say when no one’s listening is telling. Andrea’s there but that’s almost of no consequence, since she’s about to be shot in the back of the head. To me, this shows that Todd’s politeness is through and through. Of course, politeness isn’t the same as heartfelt human emotion.

Even when he’s giving Jesse the ice cream (“Better not be my chocolate chip! You’re gonna spoil him!”) he seems almost…caring. And that’s what makes Todd so fucking scary. He looks like a nice boy. He talks like a nice boy. Sometimes he even acts like a nice boy. Sometimes even in the criminal world he’s in, he has more of a “heart” than the others around him. But he has no trouble wasting kids or single moms.

Circularity, Callbacks and Returning Characters

There are a lot of things in this episode that bring up the past, particularly the first season. I think it naturally evokes a sense of impending ending. We see some characters who were most prominent in Season One, and there are other callbacks to the early days. Another thing that gave the sense that the story is coming to a close (and I think would have suggested that even if we didn’t know this to be true) was how the music towards the end of the episode was the music from the title sequence, that unmistakable Breaking Bad theme. Having it fade in at the end of the episode just had “the end is coming” written all over it.

Let’s look at all the characters who come back in this episode:

Principal Carmen
Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz
SAC Ramey, Hank’s bossAndrea
Ed – we never met him before but he goes on the list anyway since we’ve heard about him since Season Four and now he finally surfaces.

Callbacks:
-As I mentioned in the Live Chat for “Granite State” post, Jesse kept in his underground pit and being all chained up is a lot like Krazy-8 being kept in Jesse’s basement and chained to a pole with a bike lock.
-Jesse trying to climb the fence of the Nazi compound was reminiscent of Jesse climbing the fence in “Down” before he falls through the porta-potty.
-When Lydia says that a message may not be enough with Skyler and insinuates that more must be done, it reminded me of Skyler’s talk with Walt in the hotel, when she doesn’t think that Walt having a talk with Jesse will be enough and suggests he might need to do something more.
-Walt Jr asks Walt why he’s still alive and tells him to just die already. He said something similar when the family first found out about Walt’s cancer. Didn’t he say, “Why don’t you just fucking die already?” when Walt wanted to refuse chemo?
-Not a true callback, but I was thinking about how this episode and “Ozymandias” both end with Walt taking off.

And I’ll just stick this here because I’m not sure where else to put it. Baby Holly was wearing a yellow hat which is unusual. Her baby hats are almost always dark or light pink. Oh, and Jesse’s finally wearing some different clothes–maybe he was becoming such a smelly dog on a leash in the lab that they started doing some laundry and giving him some clothes, which almost have to be Todd’s, right?

Another random thought: this may be the first time we say any affection out of Jack, when he puts his arm around Todd after figuring out his nephew’s crush on Lydia, and after saying, “You could do better,” and saying all that stuff about woodchippers and pulling back stumps. And then he says something that in context is oddly funny (he’s good at that):

“Aw, what the hell. The heart wants what the heart wants, right?”

Stuck With Walt

At first, after watching this episode, I was left feeling a little empty, like something wasn’t right, even a little cut off. All this change happens that we don’t actually see, especially for Walt’s family. It was out of the ordinary for a BrBa episode to have so much go on in the family and not see it. But then I realized, that’s purposeful, an artistic choice. By not showing us Skyler or Jr for so long, we’re forced into Walt’s perspective, into feeling a sliver of the same isolation he’s feeling. We only find out all the new information–that Skyler has moved, that she’s working at the taxi dispatch and leaving Holly with a neighbor, that there’s a fence around the house–the same way Walt does, from Ed. Walt is cut off from any direct contact or knowledge of what’s going on, and so are we. It feels uncomfortable, but I think it’s supposed to. It gives us as viewers a visceral sense of being cut off that Walt himself is experiencing.

When Ed returns, it can’t be his first return. Walt asks if Skyler has moved and Ed says she’s still in the new crappy place. That means Ed must’ve told Walt about Sky’s new place in a previous visit. They also talk about hoping that Ed does the IV for the chemo better than “last time.” Well we saw Ed drop off Walt from start to finish and there was no chemo in there, so again, this implies there was another visit in-between that we didn’t see. On the podcast, Vince Gilligan said that Walt is in NH for the better part of half a year.

By the way, that makeshift chemo in the cabin was badass. And seeing the Heisenberg hat juxtaposed with a furry winter hood was…bizarre.

At the very end, there’s Walt’s last drink sitting there on the bar. The glass isn’t very full, and I wonder if that’s supposed to represent how juch juice Walt’s got left. Will it be enough?

“I wanted to give you so much more.”

~Emilia J

Next episode: Felina

Predictions will be updated over at Season 5 Part 2 Predictions and Detective Work

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3 thoughts on “Breaking Bad Episode 515 “Granite State”

  1. Such an amazing episode! I like the parallels between Walt and Jesse that you pointed out. As much as Jesse is remorseful and hurting, I sometimes forget he’s done a lot of bad things too.
    I also find Todd fascinating. He’s so calm and poised in talking to Skyler; touching her shoulder – which I guess is a threat from Skyler’s view but from Todd meant to reassure her? I have to watch that scene again. However, when he’s talking to Lydia he’s out of his element. Todd tries very hard to make a good impression on everyone through his politeness; he really wants to be liked.
    When Jack put his arms around Todd it wasn’t the reaction I was expecting. Jack just learned that Todd killed Drew Sharp, something Todd didn’t admit to before. Great review as always! And Thanks for including me in your links. :)

  2. “And that’s another theme in this episode–everyone’s in worse circumstances than they would have been if Walt had not started cooking meth in the pilot.”
    True!

    “He has no one anymore, and this is driven home so starkly when he pays Ed the disappearer to stay for an extra hour and play cars with him. …. Man, that was bleak.”
    And the fact he had to think about it as long as he did… whew.

    “I’m a snow and big trees, winter-loving kinda girl.”
    I love winter too… for about 5 minutes. lol Here’s my take on the approach of winter with its shorter, colder days in haiku form:

    The lid of a small,
    cold, dark box is coming down
    with me inside it.

    “His son wants nothing to do with him or his money. And that’s probably smart on Jr’s part, because if anyone were to find out in any way that the family got some money, they’d definitely be in more trouble. The cops would think that Skyler was in touch with Walt, that she knew where he was and was lying to protect him all along. I think it would be really bad for them if they were to take his money.”
    Great point.

    “I don’t think he’s actually going after Gretchen and Elliot.”
    You called it! I was POSITIVE the ricin was for them.

    “I think Walt will somehow be mistaken about Jesse. He either doesn’t know Jesse’s alive and will come across him, or if he has figured it out, he’ll think Jesse made some sort of deal (kinda like how Lydia made a deal–Czech stuff–when he was about to kill her) and will be surprised to discover Jesse’s being held captive. Not sure how Walt will react to any of it, but I think he has or will misjudge what’s going on. But I’m going to put my vote down on the side that Walt hasn’t figured out Jesse’s alive and involved.”

    You called it again! I was sure he figured it out since Jesse left as their captive and was the only one who knew how to make it as well as him. It still surprises me that he didn’t put it together. When he accused Jack of partnering with Jesse, I thought he was trying to buy time so he could get the keys, mow them down, and go free Jesse. But I suppose it does make sense that he wouldn’t assume Jesse’s a prisoner because Jesse WOULD have had leverage over them (enabling him to work for them voluntarily) if the Aryans hadn’t known how important Andrea and Brock were to him, something Walt probably wouldn’t have considered.

    “the moment [Jesse] started picking his lock, my first thought was he is going to get caught and they are going to kill Brock.”

    I’d thought Walt was coming back to rescue him, so it didn’t make sense that he’d escape on his own. But as you said, he and Walt have escaped so many other dire situations, so I thought it was possible. Wrong again!

    “By not showing us Skyler or Jr for so long, we’re forced into Walt’s perspective, into feeling a sliver of the same isolation he’s feeling. We only find out all the new information–that Skyler has moved, that she’s working at the taxi dispatch and leaving Holly with a neighbor, that there’s a fence around the house–the same way Walt does, from Ed. Walt is cut off from any direct contact or knowledge of what’s going on, and so are we. It feels uncomfortable, but I think it’s supposed to. It gives us as viewers a visceral sense of being cut off that Walt himself is experiencing.”

    Another great observation, Emilia.

    “And seeing the Heisenberg hat juxtaposed with a furry winter hood was…bizarre.”

    It hung on the mounted buck head, too, didn’t it? Not sure if that was supposed to be symbolic or just funny. :)

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