“Is Walter White still out there?” If “Granite State” is any indication, Walter White is out there, but just barely. He’s a shell of a man now, with just enough in him for one last fight.
Throughout Sunday night's episode, we watched Walt deteriorate into a shell of a man. Gaunt, regretful and completely alone, the man we see in “Granite State” is the furthest possible from the one we met five seasons ago in AMC's "Breaking Bad." The gravity of last week’s episode has forced him into an extremely dark place, and he might not be equipped to handle it. At the beginning of the episode, Walt is full of fury and resentment, but it hardy lasts before those emotions succumb to weakness and frailty. In “Granite State,” Walt comes incredibly close to giving up for good, something that viewers once thought completely impossible.
When he confronts Saul, Walt tries to slip into his Heisenberg persona and conjure up a sense of menace, but he can’t make that happen. Instead of a threat, Walt can only manage a series of coughs (which confirm to Saul that it is definitely time to leave. Good luck with that Cinnabon). His body is deteriorating rapidly, sucking the life away. All of his menace has completely drained away, leaving only a lonely man dying of cancer. It seems clear that whether or not Walt dies as a part of his war against Jack, he isn't long for this world.
Throughout “Granite State,” Walt seems to waste away even more. At the cabin in New Hampshire, we see that he just can’t be Heisenberg anymore. The toll is too great. Among his few worldly possessions (including two copies of "Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium"), Walt finds the pork pie hat that previously let him slip into his evil alter ego. In seasons past, the hat was a symbol for all the power Walt had within him. It allowed Walt to summon, but now it’s just a reminder of everything he’s lost.
Walt tries to once again become Heisenberg and project that evil image, but he can barely make it out of his driveway. He’s a shell of a man now, without companionship or possessions. He has his money, but nothing to use it on, save paying a near stranger $10,000 an hour for his time. Walt is completely and utterly alone in that cabin.
In the end though, Walt chooses not to stay. He makes a last-ditch effort to send his son some of his money, hoping to ensure that at least some part of his financial legacy provides for his children. But his son wants nothing to do with that money, meaning that every evil move Walt took to “protect his family” was worthless. Echoing a line from the first season, Walt Jr. tells his father that he’s better off dead, but this time, he doesn’t say it as a motivational technique. He truly means every word, and that’s something Walt just can’t deal with. He loses all will to fight, and, for a moment, prepares to surrender, calling the police and letting them know he’s alone in a New Hampshire bar.
At the last second, though, Walt decides not to turn himself in. He catches an interview with his former Gray Matter Technologies' partners Gretchen and Elliot Schwartz on TV. In front of the whole world, his former business partners declare that Walter White had next to nothing to do with the foundation of Gray Matter. It’s an obvious public relations move, but it’s devastating to Walt. He’s literally being erased from the company he helped build. Just as importantly, Walt learns that his signature blue meth is still in production. At every turn, people are working to wipe away any trace of him. Walt can, reluctantly, accept that his family wants nothing to do with him, but he can’t bear an attack on his legacy and ego, so he returns home.
Throughout “Breaking Bad,” Walt has always told himself that he was acting out of concern for his family. He only manufactured meth to make money for them. Only killed to protect them. It’s been obvious from the start, however, that Walt’s transformation into Heisenberg is just as much about protecting his ego. Now, however, “Granite State” shows us that the part of Walt who pretends to care about his family is gone. He’s not coming back to save Skyler or provide for Junior. He’s coming back to protect his ego. Walt is still alone, but he has some sense of purpose again, even if it’s just vengeance.
Meanwhile, Walt has left a path of total destruction in his wake. In one way or another, he’s left everyone he knows alone. Unlike last week’s episode, which was a tour-de-force of action and plot movement, things move quite a bit slower in “Granite State.” We spend time watching all of these characters try to cope with what Walt has brought into their lives.
As we’ve seen, Walt Jr. (or should we call him Flynn?) wants nothing to do with his father, and for good reason. Marie is a ghost of a person, hardly a presence any more after Hank’s death. Their marriage was one of the most moving relationships in “Breaking Bad,” and it’s sad to see her so completely adrift without Hank.
Skyler is alone in a nightmarish legal battle against the Drug Enforcement Agency. Despite Walt’s supposedly brilliant move to get her off the hook last episode, we see in “Granite State” that the police are still gunning for her. Todd and his band of neo-Nazis are after her as well, desperate to protect not only their role in Walt’s crimes, but Lydia’s, too. Todd’s infatuation with Lydia gets several steps creepier in “Granite State,” but so do many other things about the Nazis.
Throughout the show, we’ve seen some truly awful human beings do truly awful things, but Jack and the neo-Nazis might be the most thoroughly repugnant characters in the history of “Breaking Bad.” They seem to be completely without any recognizable human emotions, save for greed, hate, fear and lust. Tuco was a madman, but he loved his family. Gus was ruthless, but efficient, organized and professional. These people have none of the redeeming features seen in other criminals on “Breaking Bad.” Through and through, the Nazis are vulgar, cruel and completely vicious.
Todd, in particular, might be the most unsettling villain on the show. He seems to only approximate human emotions, not actually feel them. Halfway through the episode, he breaks into Walt's home to threaten Skyler into staying quiet about Lydia. “I’ve got a lot of respect for your husband,” he tells Skyler, not realizing that true respect might not involve breaking into her house and threatening her infant child.
Later, he tells Lydia that Skyler “seems like a nice lady watching out for her kids.” This same detached, conversational approach to horrific events comes up later into the episode, as Todd assures Jesse that “it’s not personal” when he murders Andrea in front of him. For an episode that’s largely devoid of big moments, Andrea’s murder is a shocking moment, further pushing Jesse into an inescapable spiral of darkness. Todd is capable of boundless cruelty, but even this seems excessive.
For Jesse, this is just the latest in a series of unimaginably cruel events. It’s getting to the point where I wonder what his endgame could be in the next and final episode. There’s simply no way that he can have a normal life after the conclusion of the series. In “Granite State,” I felt sympathetic toward Walt watching his condition deteriorate, but that was tempered with a level of justice, knowing that he brought this all on himself. Jesse, on the other hand, deserves none of what he’s received. He may not be a saint, but he’s suffered on a level far beyond what Walt has experienced, all because he followed Walt’s orders.
At this point, I have very few ideas on what will happen in next week’s final episode, “Felina.” All I can hope for, at this point, is that Jesse Pinkman finds some kind of peace as the series heads toward its last moments. I just hope he can find that peace in life, not in death. He deserves some kind of happiness after everything that has happened to him. Walt, on the other hand, deserves whatever is coming to him.