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Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad is a drama about Walter White, a chemistry professor who is diagnosed with lung cancer. He enlists the help of his former student Jesse Pinkman to manufacture and sell methamphetamine. AMC 2008-???

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Episode 15 - Granite State

5 February 2014

Credit AMC

Synopsis: Saul and Walt temporarily share the same room as they wait to disappear. Skyler is left facing all the charges that Walt has avoided. Todd visits to tell her not to speak of Lydia. Walt is relocated to New Hampshire to a lonely cabin eight miles from the nearest town. Jesse escapes from his cell and Andrea is shot in response. Walt tries to send money to Walter Jr but he won’t take it.

The Good: When discussing plot points that seem a little too on the nose I’ve recently begun to refer to the “writers fingerprints” being all over it. Often in a TV show you can see the manipulations too clearly and those fingerprints obscure what might have been a beautiful photo. During this episode I felt like I could see the writers room and in the most positive way imaginable. When Jesse piled up everything in his cell to try and become tall enough to reach the bars I was impressed. Clearly the team had sat down and painstakingly considered all the possibilities of what Todd might plausibly have left him that would give him the necessary height. Anything easy to climb on would have seemed like fingerprints, instead they created tension when I was certain Jesse wouldn’t escape. Later on when Walt is reduced to nothing they have his wedding ring fall off his hand because of their attention to the details of his situation. They thought through his food supply, they thought through his loneliness, they put themselves in his shoes and worked out how they could create drama and story from reality. To cut to the chase they crafted the best episode of Breaking Bad so far by using what brought them to the dance.

I will admit to some bias up front. Many of my favourite episodes of television (“The Zeppo”, “The Other 48 Days”, “The Constant”, “The Wish”, “Walkabout”) are about watching characters go through a transformative experience. I believe it’s a story that TV shows are uniquely set up to tell because unlike a film you have time to care about the character before they reach this moment. Walt’s time in the cabin was compelling on so many levels.

He is trapped in almost every way possible. All he wants is to leave his money to his children. But if he communicates with the outside world he will be captured. Initially he walks out to the gate confident that he can bribe and bully his way to a solution. But he is terrified of all his work being for nothing so he crawls back to his hole.

Then there was that sense of isolation. The boredom. The loneliness. The impotence. The tension. With the attention paid to Walt’s small fire I couldn’t help but look at it as a potential source of danger. Instead the prison took its toll on Walt. The loss of body mass only served to put the wedding ring at the front of our minds. He was losing touch with who he was and the people who matter to him. While slowly the ticking clock of his cancer reminds him that he can’t just stay here.

When you feel sorry for Walter White you know you’re watching a great episode. But how could I not? When he has to bribe Ed just to spend some time with him it was impossible not to feel pity. And his impotence is fully revealed when Ed admits, essentially, that when Walt dies the barrel of money is his.

Despite all the horrible things he’s done I still felt sorry for Walt when Flynn, understandably, tells him to go away and die. Admirably Flynn doesn’t want to hear about the ends. He’s seen the means now and that’s enough for him. But we have seen the ends and the means and know that there is still something noble about Walt’s determination to leave the money to his children. Even if we don’t sympathise or want his blood money to pass on to anyone. We still empathise with someone who sacrificed so much and yet now weeps with the realisation that it was all for nought.

Jesse’s story was just as sad but in a more direct way. As I mentioned earlier the thought put into the structure of his cell was excellent. As for the assassination of Andrea...it’s funny how responsive we are to the music and tone of a scene. As soon as Todd began talking to her I knew she was about to suffer. And yet the tone wasn’t there and so I couldn’t feel the gut wrenching until Todd pulled his gun out. There are no more words for Jesse’s suffering. He is the tails on the coin. If you can look at the heads side and feel sorry for Walt then I guess you turn that coin over and see that none of it can be justified after what his partner has been through.

Todd has turned out to be another inspired bit of writing and casting. I fully believe in the pleasant side of him. I think he really did want to reward Jesse with ice cream. I think he believes Skyler is a nice lady and that he and Lydia would make a cute couple. But if you stand in his way then he’s not so nice. I suppose he is like a young, creepy, unrepentant Heisenberg. The scene with baby Holly was tense and threatening. With Lydia it was weird. With Andrea it was horrific.

The brief shots of Skyler did what they had to. She is alone and trapped too, Walt’s phone call was helpful and no help at all. Seeing Saul give Walt the best advice he could was a nice moment. With nothing left to gain he put his knowledge to use and it’s possible that Walt will heed it.

The Bad: Nothing was bad but some in “The Unknown.”

The Unknown: As many have commented already, because we don’t know Uncle Jack his behaviour can seem implausible. Todd’s “who can say no to more money” line was apparently all it took to convince Jack to keep cooking meth. In that moment is none of the detail which the rest of the show benefits from. What are the aims of Jack’s gang? Aren’t they afraid of the police catching them considering how Gus and Walt were both taken down? The lengths they go to to get precisely what they want have an air of convenience to them. Threatening Skyler but not killing her was an extreme courtesy to Walter White. While shooting Andrea to keep Jesse from escaping seems far riskier than just filming Jesse cook and hoping that’s enough to keep the blue coming. The romantic interest that Todd has for Lydia feels a bit thin as the linking explanation for all these risks. It doesn’t bother me unduly in the overall narrative but it does take the sheen off the detail work that was lavished on Walt’s side of the story.

We now have to go back to those fingerprints. It’s impossible not to see them when Gretchen and Elliott appear on TV moments after Walt loses all hope and prepares to go to prison. Perhaps it could have been tweaked to not seem quite so on the nose. However I’m willing to forgive it, I certainly don’t think it belonged in “The Bad.” In part because it links so strongly to the core of the Walt character. In part because I’m intrigued as to which part he was responding more to; them giving him no credit, them saying he disappeared a long time ago or the news that blue meth is back on the market. And in part just because the Breaking Bad theme music wound up strong giving a killer go-home note as we head into the most eagerly awaited finale since Lost.

Best Moment: I’m tempted to say just the performance from Bryan Cranston when he walks up to the gate for the first time and considers all that he might lose if he makes a mistake. Once more the acting spoke of a thousand thoughts in a way that was so impressive. But really I’d probably go for the conversation with Ed about whether he’d deliver the barrel. That hit me slightly more than half a dozen moments throughout.

The Bottom Line: This took us on Walt’s journey to a place where he can make no move that won’t lead either to his death or prison. But what about his money? What about his children? What about his reputation? What about Skyler? What about Jesse? A machine gun for the Nazis. Ricin for himself. Then perhaps a taped confession where he sets the record straight about Gray Matter and Heisenberg before being found dead in his sleep? It sounds like a Walter White plan. I can’t wait to see it.

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  • Very cool :-) Thanks for writing.

    Posted by The TV Critic, 05/02/2014 11:10am (4 years ago)

  • Hi, greetings from Uruguay,
    I am an eager fan of your reviews and I have to admit that whenever I finish watching any TV series episode, I instantly enter your website to read your opinions and contrast them with mine.

    As to this episode, my only remark is that Walt's characterisation and the terrible environment of solitude and despair in frozen New Hampshire is the greatest TV masterpiece I have ever seen.

    Viewer score: 95 / 100

    Posted by Juan, 05/02/2014 3:50am (4 years ago)

  • This episode had a Sopranos vibe to it. I really liked how we got to see the disappearer and how he works in detail. It was a nice touch how he resembled Mike Ermantraut vibe and seemed like a calm, collected, no-nonsense guy. This was totally believable and nice that he lived up to his reputation of being ultra careful. I really liked the little details here like how he hooked up the chemo equipment and how he made it clear the remaining money would be his (another tragic twist for Walt).

    Also loved the details with Jesse`s escape. I was pleased (for the sake of the story) that Jesse wasn`t able to escape and then had to watch Andrea be killed. On other shows he would be able to escape easily but no shortcuts here.

    Viewer score: 85 / 100

    Posted by Kay, 25/09/2013 1:24pm (4 years ago)

  • Last Episode could have ended the series. Easy Recipe:

    Add 10 minutes to the episode. a scene where Walter dies in the cabin, Skyler goes to jail, Marie commiting suicide, Jesse still cooks and gets finally murdererd and is glad to go.
    That would be what 99 percent of films and series have given us until today.
    (see Dexters final Episode)

    But not so Gilligan and his crew. After the big climax of Ozymandias they rebuild for the final so spectacular and tense that my heart was beating loudly through the episode.
    I think Gilligan was afraid of the following episodes working, because he stated over and over that Ozymandias was the best episode. Well he was wrong.

    After seen this episode, Ozymandias seems to be far away because I was so invested in the new buildup to the actual end of the show.

    The acting was superb, and to be honest. The writing was even better than in Ozymandias. The pay Off for all the scenes we waited so long in the series was easy compared to putting so much drama into the cabin scenes.

    They really got me to a point feeling empathy for Walter White again. It is amazing that after last episode they really can turn around my feelings in this way.

    Chapeau. 95! Cant wait for next week.
    Go Walterberg!

    Viewer score: 95 / 100

    Posted by Mr. Linda, 25/09/2013 10:21am (4 years ago)

  • As great as Ozymandias was, I thought this episode was better. I loved how eerily calm it was. The title to the episode is perfect. It really felt like after all the bloodshed, lies

    Viewer score: 93 / 100

    Posted by BTL, 25/09/2013 3:21am (4 years ago)

  • When the episode was over I felt a sense of dread as we are coming to a close of the series and my expectations of this episode were completely thrown off by the focused and methodical tone and pacing. I asked myself, did anything just happen? Are we closer to tying up all the loose ends the series has presented us? Not really I thought. At first this made me scared and couldn’t comprehend how Vince will complete such an insurmountable task with only 53 minutes of show time left. But then a great calm passed over me. That was the point of the penultimate episode: to show the prison Walt has constructed for himself, to show that everything he has done is in vain and to show all the other characters are still in play and feeling the rippling effects of his drug empire. On re-watch we get brilliant moment after moment until the rage in Walt boils over. Next week’s episode is going to be epic and I can barely think about anything else.

    also, p.s. here is a hard link for the podcast: http://castpodcasts.blogspot.com/

    p.p.s. Thanks for doing your podcast! My experience of the show has been infinitely richer due to you and your community.

    Viewer score: 80 / 100

    Posted by Brandon from The Ricin Watch Podcast, 25/09/2013 12:29am (4 years ago)

  • If Tohajiilee was the conflict escalating right up to the moment that the bomber releases his cargo, and Ozymandias was the detonation and the immediate chaos and destruction that resulted, then Granite State was nuclear winter. The survivors in what's left of the world got to see that the day Walter White's former life was blown to smithereens was the easy part. Now comes the real horror, the fallout. Walt, Jesse, Skylar, Flynn and Marie are forced to live in the aftermath as radiation poisoning slowly eats away at them. As a viewer I had mixed feelings. It was devastating to watch, and throughout a lot of it the feeling of exhilaration I usually also have was noticeably absent. On the one end it was a difficult viewing experience. On the other end, however, I have a great deal of respect for the writers for putting me and the characters through this. I feel that this whole season, starting with the flash forward, has been all about inevitability. Walt has had countless opportunities to choose a different path since the first episode of the series, and even in this episode he has the chance to take Saul's advice and turn himself in to take the heat off Skylar. But like always, Walt of course goes his own way. Even when his actions were despicable, it has been thrilling to see a character be so hell bent on controlling the world around him and choosing his own fate. But I think it's essential that we see that there is nothing thrilling about where he ends up, slowly dying alone with nothing to do but think about how the people he cares for are suffering endlessly. It was the inevitable place for Walt and this brilliantly told story to go. I am looking forward to the last episode and for several weeks I have agreed that it would end with Walt saving Jesse and redeeming himself a little before meeting his end. After the conclusion of this episode I am less certain, though. It seemed that the time alone and the phone call with his son had changed him, and he finally decided to do the right thing for his family and turn himself in. But he catches a glimpse of a television interview, and once again, faced with a choice, he chooses himself and goes on his own way. Can any sort of redemption really be possible for this man?

    Viewer score: 81 / 100

    Posted by Dan B, 24/09/2013 8:00pm (4 years ago)

  • A finely textured episode.

    On the Afterbuzz podcast someone mentioned that it was possible that Walter's cancer originated from his early chemistry career, perhaps with Grey Matters. If true this adds yet another layer to a beautifully layered show.

    I look forward to the end but it'll be a very dark tragedy to be sure.

    After this show, I'm ready for some lighter stuff. But I'm glad I came along for this ride.

    Viewer score: 89 / 100

    Posted by Yogabon, 24/09/2013 7:00pm (4 years ago)

  • I just wanted to say two things... One, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I don't at all understand why people that act so "anti-Walt" cannot seem to understand why anyone wouldn't concur. This is a TV show; I don't think anyone is literally in favor of people doing the things that Walt, Jesse, Mike, etc. have done. (Another example--Ben Linus: so hateable, but so enjoyable a character.)
    Two, my favorite moment in "Granite State" was seeing the look that came over Walt's face at hearing Elliot and Gretchen... It gave me chills; has anyone not at least once felt that "AWW HELL NO!" feeling in life?

    Viewer score: 85 / 100

    Posted by Matt E., 24/09/2013 4:21pm (4 years ago)

  • Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils. NH state motto

    Outstanding episode all around. Not sure why bald move was so down on it.

    Highlights
    * the alternate prisons
    • the disappearer demystified
    • Cinnabon reference

    My only complaint was that the NH shack didn't have a broken snow mobile in the yard (New England humor) and Walt didn't try to rock the snow shoes on his downtown trek.

    Viewer score: 92 / 100

    Posted by dbates, 24/09/2013 1:35pm (4 years ago)

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