Crumbs: Reviews » Dramas » Breaking Bad » Season 5 » Granite State
Critical reviews of U.S. TV shows
and analysis of what makes them
good, bad, irritating and enlightening.
70
/100
Viewer
75
/100

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-???

89
/100
Viewer
86
/100

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.

('DiggThis)

Feedback

Add your comments on this episode below. They may be included in the weekly podcasts.

Post your comment

Comments

  • 3 moments really stuck out for me:

    1.2 copies of the same movie at the cabin (hilarious)
    2. Walt begging for an hour of Ed's time (depressing)
    3.Andrea shot dead (shocking)

    That pretty sums up Breaking Bad as a whole, I'm really going to miss this show.

    Viewer score: 90 / 100

    Posted by Ben F., 23/09/2013 10:16pm (6 years ago)

  • Oh my. An episode where I'm feeling more critical than Robin. While I thought 'Granite State' was as beautifully crafted as any of these final eight, this was the first of the new episodes where the bleakness almost became too much for me. In all honesty, I don't feel much sympathy for Walt. A little pity perhaps when he's offering Ed money just to stay and keep him company for another hour. But have to agree with Saul that if Walt really wanted to do right by his family he would turn himself in - he'd take the heat off Skyler, he'd tell Marie where Hank is buried, etc. Instead he hides away in the wilderness and leaves them all to face the music in his place. I love that Junior (like Jesse before him) rejected Walt's money for being blood money. Walt still needs to learn that he can't buy back any of his family's happiness. The money just boils down to Walt's own egocentric desire to be "the man who provides!" and Walt is only prepared to provide for his family on his own terms. The reappearance of Gretchen and Elliot just reminds me that if Walt had taken that job they offered him, none of their lives would ever have been at risk.

    I guess the biggest reason I've hardened my heart against Walt is because of the far worse fate that he has condemned Jesse to. In this episode I actually started to feel like Jesse's torture was becoming gratuitous. We were spared from seeing the beating scene last week but that might have been less painful than seeing Jesse being forced to watch Andrea's murder. I guess I'll reserve my judgement until I learn Jesse's final fate, but at the moment I'm wondering what is the purpose of all Jesse's suffering? In the past, Jesse's pain has often been used as something to make Walt feel guilty or responsible for his younger partner. But now that Jesse is seemingly dead to Walt, what narrative purpose is Jesse's torment serving? I'm anxious about this because I've always hoped there would be some form of redemption for Jesse in the end. Jesse confessing to Hank in 'Rabid Dog' convinced me that Jesse was on the right road. But Jesse's brutal victimization and dehumanization at the hands of the Aryan gang doesn't serve a redemption arc. Jesse would have deserved to do some jail time for his crimes but no human being deserves what he's being subjected to right now. And to think Jesse gets condemned to this horrific fate after making the first baby-step towards atoning for his sins. Jesse's tearful confession tape just becomes something for his captors to laugh at. The writers have broken Jesse so much it seems unlikely he'll ever be able to recover let alone be able to redeem himself.

    That said, I agree that Todd has emerged as a very effective villain. I actually felt like I understood Uncle Jack's motivation more this episode too. The Aryans all strike me as callous men who have made violence and cruelty their livelihood to the point where they readily enjoy it. If they get caught, they'll just carry on threatening and murdering people in prison, like their contacts who killed the ten guys in 'Gliding over All'. Todd in particular strikes me as a sadist who partly wants to keep Jesse alive for the practical purpose of cooking, but who also likes keeping Jesse like a pet who he has the power to reward or punish as he sees fit.

    At least after this most depressing Breaking Bad episode my spirits were lifted by the Best Drama Emmy news. Vince finally gets his due and bravo to Anna Gunn too! She was the standout of Season 5 part one I thought.

    Viewer score: 82 / 100

    Posted by Kelly, 23/09/2013 10:13pm (6 years ago)

  • This was an episode that played with contrast as only Breaking Bad can.
    The opening shot of the Vacuum store: the store, the clouds, buildings and road- all grey. Walt is in purgatory, and he is stuck there with Saul. Later, he literally staggers out of the darkness of the empty trailer tank and into the light.The snow of New Hampshire served as a strong contrast of the desert scenes of recent episodes.
    The fire stove in the shack gives him respite against the cold. So too the chemo against the cancer. So to Ed's company against the isolation. But he is fading to a ghost.
    In Ozymandias we saw Walt's first lie and last lie, brilliantly mirrored to show the beginning and end of Heisenberg. In the parting scene with Saul it seemed like Heisenberg was still there, but the coughing fit undermined Walt's 'performance', and Saul was not intimidated. This was a telling diminishment of Walt's influence.
    He tries the Heisenberg hat on, but its power has gone. He can't get past the gate for fear of what is out there.
    Ed was expertly cast and it's a thankless task to come in this late, but he fitted in well. We saw two sides to him, at once taking pity on Walt to stay and play cards, but at the same time admitting he was going to get the money.
    It's an extraordinary situation, but the loss of dignity while clinging on to life must be one that so many people affected by cancer can relate to and be moved by. I thought this was played very well.
    I'm not so sure about Todd. He's a cold killer. At least he cares about Lydia. And hey, he gave Jesse some ice cream. He then almost apologised to Andrea - before shooting her.
    Poor Jesse really is in hell now. There's no way this can end well for him any more. From the moment he was caught at the fence, I felt sick.
    Walter Junior comes out of this well. In a way I'm pleased that Walt's plan to alienate him by playing up the monster in the last episode worked. It would be easier for Junior to cope without him around at all.
    Skyler is more of a mystery at this point. Did she really not think about the strange woman at the car wash?
    By the end, the isolation, both literally and emotionally, have defeated Walt. In the darkness of the bar, the ice-hockey on TV hints at the light at the end of the tunnel. Gretchen and Elliott talk of Walt as a thing of the past and then try to write him out of history altogether.
    This was just wonderful TV again. It was nice to get a recap of old characters. Having the extra minutes helped to sell the passing of time. Hearing the full theme build up to the end was exhilarating.
    As someone once said: if what is wrong can feel so right, then life's no longer black and white.

    Posted by Howard, 23/09/2013 9:52pm (6 years ago)

  • Brilliant, Epic, Cinematic, Heartbreaking. I loved this episode. It was well paced, slow in a way but an intense build. I though the conversation with Walt and Watler Jr, was just epic. The emotion was played perfect by each actor. In it there was also a moral lesson. When Walter Jr, said, Money, you want to send us money? that was an indictment of all of Walt's actions. Walt the whole time thought was he was doing was for his family, but leaving money is the least important thing. What his son wanted, was his presence, his guidance as a father. All Walt really needed to do was fight his cancer and be there with his family for the time he had left and instead he tried to cook meth just so he could leave them money, but that is the last thing they needed. The needed family, but Walt destroyed their family. Loved the ending as Walt had given up and then his anger and insecurities came back through during the gray matter interview and out came Heisenberg and as that them music to play I was giggling with excitement. Cannot wait to see the last episode. This show has done it. They have had as near a flawless run as any show has ever had and their ending has been perfect. Have there been gripes here and there, sure, I was a hater on some things last week and even this week I thought the Nazis just continued to be evil incarnate with no actual characterization. e.g. Why kill Andrea? The could have just as easily threatened her while jesse watched and had the same effect. But never mind the small gripes overall this last half season been intense and gripping no show has ever paid off like this one. I cannot wait to see how they wrap it all up. As far as this episode goes I cannot speak highly enough of that scene between Walter Junior and Walt. Also loved the Saul and Walt scene in the basement. Saul trying to give Walt a dose of reality. It was humorous despite the tenseness of their circumstances. Just really enjoyed this episode. When I think about how bad season 6 of lost was and how bad say this last season of dexter has been I just marvel even more at breaking bad and its successful ability to tell a complete story and end it in a satisfying way. Even if they don't stick the landing next week, the last 7 episodes have been so good, that it will have been good enough. Have really enjoyed the ride. Cheers, Can't wait to hear your review.

    Viewer score: 95 / 100

    Posted by dsm, 23/09/2013 4:40am (6 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments