FULL SPOILERS AHEAD- BEWARE!
In the world of Breaking Bad, time is far from linear. In Granite State we saw a concertinaing of time moving from the short snapshots of action over the last two episodes, which saw the gunfight at Toha’jiilee, to several months passing in relative quiet for Walt, Jesse and the White family. What had been a quick hit of adrenalin fuelled action had passed and we were left with the excruciating comedown. The calm before the storm, and a time to reflect on Walter White’s works over the previous 5 seasons.
I’m going to get it out the way early and say this was the first episode this season where I have felt elements of the writing were clumsy. Not that it didn’t leave me in tears from the moment Jesse’s escape was foiled, through to Flynn yelling “WHY ARE YOU STILL ALIVE?!” down the phone at his father, but there were moments that felt like Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould (who also directed this episode) were deliberately throwing us bones to see how much we’ll speculate about the final episode’s outcome.
What were the chances of Walt seeing the Schwartzes on that TV set at that moment, talking about him? More to the point, what were the chances they would be actively baiting him? Sure, it was likely that their association with one of the most wanted criminals in the U.S. would bring media attention, and that they would want to act against it, but for Gretchen to say Walt only gave the company it’s name… However, I have since learned that that segment was an idea of Kevin Cordasco, a 16-year old fan of the show who died of cancer earlier in the year, so I will let them off and give them a sloppy kiss while doing so.
Lydia’s insistence on having stevia in her tea is becoming more and more like a giant finger being pointed and someone yelling “RICIN COULD GO IN THERE AND SHE’D BE DEAD”, but then given her reluctance to stay involved in the now super-hot meth business, why would Walt kill her?
Uncle Jack suddenly letting Jesse off for ratting because his nephew wanted to impress Lydia also seemed a stretch. Why would he suddenly realise at that moment that Todd had the hots for her. He has not been seen to have a soft side to date, so this felt like an odd u-turn.
The setting for the start of Mr Lambert’s new life also felt heavy-handed. We get it, he is both physically and metaphorically alone in the cold.
Griping aside, I did cry like a baby at the unending bleakness of it all. Giving Walt time alone in his cabin to reflect on the pointlessness of his actions was a bold move. Bryan Cranston pulled off his solo scenes brilliantly, with his every little nuance saying “what have I done?”. Having to pay Robert Forster’s vacuum cleaner guy to sit with him through his DIY chemotherapy showed just how low he had sunk. No friends, no family, and even his dwindling money could only buy him an hour of a stranger’s time. Judging by comments passed between the two of them it seems Walt had been alone for at least 3 months, but it may have been longer. That amount of time alone with only a DVD of Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium to keep you company must be a sobering exercise. It seemed like Walt going cold turkey on Heisenberg and putting that pork pie hat back in the box. Walt realised that there weren’t too separate entities and what he had done as his alter-ego was always going to come back to haunt him. This was the episode in which Walt stopped hiding in many ways.
Then there was Jesse. Poor Jesse. Poor, poor Jesse. Imprisoned in a hole in the ground in the desert, with just a mattress and a bucket while Walt was passing his time in the cold and snow, Aaron Paul continued to do a fantastic job of portraying the abused and downtrodden Jesse. Kudos to the make-up effects folk too, who did a great job of making Jesse’s pretty face look like minced beef. While Walt can’t even pay someone to show him some warmth, Jesse had a small hand of friendship shown to him by creepy Todd who gave him some ice cream as a reward for his good work.
Creepy, creepy Todd (Jesse Plemons) stole the show for me during this episode. From his blank face when the gang found out about him shooting Drew Sharp (a detail he omitted in his own re-telling of the tale) to his dead-eyed threats to Skyler while in baby Holly’s room. He has an odd code of honour, telling Lydia he didn’t kill Skyler as she “seemed like a nice lady, just looking out for her kids”, and yet didn’t flinch when shooting Andrea in the back of the head, adding a polite “this is nothing personal”. He seems to think that he can in some way excuse his actions by adding in blank platitudes, like the sociopath that he clearly is.
Poor Skyler too, also in her own personal hell, facing an imminent court hearing, un-ending questioning by the police and having to abandon her family home .As an aside, a big congratulations to Anna Gunn on her Emmy win for her portrayal of Skyler this week- much deserved.
With one episode left we’re back to where we came in, with Walt about to go and get his gun, some ricin and visit his now derelict family home. Jesse and Walt both don’t have a lot left to live for (and in both cases, much of a chance of surviving), so there will be no happy endings. So who is going to go out with a bang, and who with a whimper? We’ll soon know.