Monday, September 23, 2013

Breaking Bad 515: Granite State

One of the many, many recurring themes I love on Breaking Bad is how it plays with dichotomy, duality, pairs, parallels, etc. For every situation, character, visual, whatever, there is a similar element to contrast it. As with past episodes, there was a lot of that in Granite State: the seclusion of both Walt and Jesse, the 180 contrast between ABQ and Walt's new (temporary) home in New Hampshire, Todd's visits to both Walt's wife and Jesse's ex-girlfriend, Walt's two sons, Jesse and Flynn. This show has always been about the connectivity of everything that occurs, particularly every choice that Walt makes, and these dichotomies serve as brilliant devices to increase the sense that every circumstance is indeed a product of the actions that preceded it.

We went into this episode knowing the big transformation Walt was going to make, over a period of months, but that didn't prevent the writers from dragging us back and forth with him and his thoughts. He seems to hit a wall of defeat in the beginning of his journey - unable to contact his family, send them his money, follow the story that's being spun about him by the media, and unable to even deliver a "Heisenberg" line to Saul without his hacking cancer cough interrupting. Given his remaining goals and motivations (retrieve his money from Uncle Jack and the gang and get it to Skyler), the vacuum disappearance is looking like it was a bad idea. It serves him well as a temporary getaway from the urgency and madness of events unfolding back home, a getaway that'll allow him some quiet time to develop a plan of attack. But Walt quickly realizes he has to escape his seclusion if he wants to stay in control of his legacy and his money.

That's what it's always been about, the legacy and money for Walt's family, and it seems that when he's on the losing side of a battle with one, the other comes along to kick his ass back into gear. Which is what happens when he contacts Flynn. I've really loved the few scenes we've had with Flynn and Walt after Flynn learns the truth, and this was such a perfect conversation that stayed true to both characters. Flynn, since learning who his dad really is, has done "the right thing" every time, with no hesitation. He's done what every other character on this show was too cowardly or greedy to do themselves, and it's almost a breath of fresh air. The manipulations Walt has used on Skyler, Jesse, and others, therefore, don't work on his own son, and it's almost maddening to watch him try to move Flynn around like one of his chess pieces, without realizing that sometimes, people aren't just going to bend to your will. I don't honestly think it ever crossed his mind to put himself in his son's shoes and entertain the notion that Flynn wouldn't want his blood money, that perhaps he'd rather be poor and live a life completely disconnected from the man his father became.

It's a powerful scene and defeats Walt enough to call the D.E.A. and turn himself in. But as I mentioned, when family is looking to defeat him, the legacy swoops in and puts him back on his feet, and in a classic Breaking Bad-style coincidence, Walt stumbles onto a Charlie Rose interview with Gretchen and Elliot. I've been waiting for Grey Matter to come back into play, as it's arguably the machine that first stirred Heisenberg from hibernation all those years ago. While he started cooking meth to provide for his family, it clearly becomes more than that, over time, and that's largely because of his bitterness over how his partnership with Grey Matter went down. The Heisenberg brand of blue crystal is very much Walt's second shot at the empire business, and he's hell bent on preserving it.

The Charlie Rose interview gives him two things to be pissed about - Gretchen and Elliot denying his influence on the company and the revelation that the blue meth is back on the market. Regarding the latter...Walt doesn't overtly jump to conclusions, but the reappearance of blue meth should signal to him that Jesse is alive and cooking. It's been safe to assume (and I have, through this whole season) that Walt never gave Todd the exact recipe for Heisenberg-quality meth - another attempt to preserve his brand. Hence Todd's sub-par cooking. Jesse is the only other person who knows the formula for The Blue, thus, zomg, not only did the Nazis steal Walt's money, they didn't deliver on their deal to kill Jesse. More and more reason for him to buy that gun to take them down.

As for the ricin...Lydia seemed the primary candidate, up to this point (she's corporate, high profile, someone who may need to be killed without a trace), but I can't help wondering if it's for Gretchen and Elliot, now (also very high profile and would require an untraceable death). I can't imagine a plausible scenario in which that could happen, but it's a nice idea, Walt having two empires to take down using two separate kill methods (the duality, guys, THE DUALITY).

A note about Skyler. I really thought she was going to die in this episode (given that more main characters than Hank and Walt will very likely die, I actually was expecting a lot more fatalities than there were out of this episode, particularly Skyler's and/or Marie's). The scene with Todd and the boys in her house was terrifying and I was so sure we were saying goodbye to her right then. It'll be interesting to see what type of end she meets; if not death, it'll surely be prison, as she's proven loyal to Walt and likely won't flip on him, at this point. That said, she remains the smartest person on this show, other than Walt. She's the only one we've seen escape from sticky situations the way Walt has, so maybe there is some hope for freedom in her future.

From the smart, we go to the stupid. I'll probably get crap for saying this, so I'll preface it with this: the Jesse/Todd/Andrea scenario was completely devastating to watch, after which I had to pause the show and walk away from the TV. Nothing about this episode has sat with me more than imagining Brock waking up in the morning to find his mother dead on their porch, and it's always especially upsetting when someone innocent of the crimes in the show gets caught in the line of fire.

That said, there was a trio of really stupid moves committed by these three characters that led to this outcome. First, Todd overlooked the paperclip he supplied Jesse with, which aided Jesse's escape. Second, Jesse made a hasty escape, instead of plotting and waiting for perhaps a better chance (a very impressive acrobatic escape, however, given the injuries he's sustained via Todd's torture, but not totally implausible, as I suppose one can physically do almost anything with the right motivation). And third, Andrea turned into the dumb chick in a horror movie by opening the door to creepy Meth Damon.

The first two slip-ups were believable. Todd isn't the brightest crayon in the box, and given his delusions that he and Jesse can still be buddies through all this, he cares for him and lets the leash out a little too much. Jesse's botched escape was a result of too much acting and too little thought on his part, something he has a history of doing (see: extinguishing a fire by dumping out the drinking water when the RV breaks down in the desert). Imagine Walt in Jesse's situation. He would have taken his time with an escape plan, cased the joint for security cameras, had Todd leave the tarp off for several nights, maybe even waited until Todd decided not to keep him in a cell at all. Walt very likely could have escaped this scenario, but Jesse just isn't equipped with any ability to think his way out of it (though the irony is that he's very physically capable of escape, whereas Walt may not have been).

The third mistake was Andrea opening the door to Todd, and then stepping onto the porch, leaving him practically in the doorway of her unguarded house with her sleeping child inside. I take issue with how that played out, because Andrea has never struck me as dumb, and if you're a single parent home alone with a child and someone you don't know knocks on your door late at night, WHAT REASON ON EARTH do you have to answer it? Her actions didn't sit well with me. Would she have been killed if she hadn't answered? Yes. Todd broke into the White house unseen by the cops watching it, so he could easily break in and kill Andrea that way. I just...liked her, I guess? She wasn't a significant character, but I appreciated the writers showing the other side of drug addiction, where an addict turns her life around for the better. She seemed like a strong chick, and I really hated to see her go out with kind of a stupid move.

Though Jesse's been called the show's moral compass for a while, his morality badge has been eclipsed by his weakness and brokenness, this season. Understandably so, given what he's gone through. And I'm sure many people, myself included, felt that he should be punished for his crimes. Todd's punishments, however, arguably go far beyond what he deserves, and it's amazing that the writers have put the viewer in a spot where they may actually want him to die now, instead of continuing to live in hell. I can't say I'm one of those who feels that way. I've mostly believed Jesse will survive the series (despite his unfortunate last name and his more recent half-mutilated face mirroring that of Gus Fring), I'm just wondering if he's strong enough to come out of all this and someday (with lots of therapy) be okay.

On that note, the climax the show is leading up to in the finale is, in my mind, Walt and Jesse meeting once again (I could see a Walt/Skyler meeting, but other than that, I think Walt has made closure with all his other major relationships). This is the duo that needs more closure than any other on the show, and there's really no telling how it'll go down. Walt is coming after Jack and his boys and may end up saving Jesse by default, in the process (though he's likely going there knowing Jesse will be there, now that he knows the blue meth is back in circulation, so perhaps he'll have to choose beforehand whether to kill or save Jesse). Jesse now has more reason than ever to ally himself with Walt, as Todd has just killed Andrea, but maybe said alliance isn't a total given. After all, killing Andrea merely puts Todd on even footing with Walt in Jesse's eyes, because Walt also killed a woman Jesse loved. I want to say a small part of me thinks Walt will arrive at the Nazi base, see what they've done to Jesse and be shocked into a moment of compassion to save him (he's already "lost" his biological son, so maybe he'll be compelled to cling to his surrogate one?). But it's probably just some completely implausible outcome that I want to happen, because THE FEELS.


- Of course, the vacuum place would be an actual place. Yet another devious man hiding in plain sight.

- Saul brushing his hair out of the way for his ID picture: hilarity. I hope this isn't the last we see of Saul, but his goodbye to Walt made it seem that way.

- I don't know that this is foreshadowing her own sort of death sentence, but Skyler hearing static when the police interviewed her mirrors what Walt heard when he received his cancer diagnosis in the first episode. Lovely detail.

- Barrels serve so many different uses in this show, that you kind of have to love that Walt had to ride all the way to New Hampshire in the barrel of a truck.

- I don't know that it's necessarily foreshadowing anything, but the mounted deer head serving as a resting place for the Heisenberg hat and the chemo bag is a nice touch.

- Americone Dream? Rubbing in the irony a little too much there with your ice cream choice, Todd.

- God damn, Aaron Paul. There aren't too many male actors who will commit to the raw, high-pitched, animalistic, "I Just Watched My Loved One Die" crying the way he does.

- Holly really needs to wear something other than's just not making things look good for her. Additionally, I'm pretty sure those were dogs on her pajamas, which is really the last animal you want to be compared to on this show. :/

- For all his completely evil, heartless acts, the writers definitely like to show the adorable side of Todd, more often than not (the sly grin when Jesse mentions him on the video, bringing Jesse ice cream and practically tucking him in for the night, dressing up for his date with Lydia).

- Jesse is Walt's weak "son", while Flynn has quickly proved to be the strong one. Rather than let himself be turned in to the D.E.A. in the first episode, Jesse gives in to Walt's blackmailing; by contrast, Flynn almost immediately turns his dad in to the police, knowingly shattering his whole family. Hence why Walt's always had a more involved relationship with Jesse than with his real son - he can control Jesse, but not Flynn. DUALITY, GUYS.

- Love, love, LOVE the use of the theme song in this episode.

One more hour of this fantastic show. Let the grieving process commence.

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