The same night that Breaking Bad took home its first Best Drama Emmy, the series’ penultimate episode aired. And although Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and Jonathan Banks lost their respective races — to Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom) and Bobby Canavale (Boardwalk Empire) — Anna Gunn walked away victorious. Congratulations all around. Now on to the the matter at hand.
“Granite State” didn’t pack the same thrilling punch that “Ozymandias” did. What Sunday night’s slow burn episode did do is set up an epic showdown, teeing up more questions that need to be answered by the end of the series.
Let’s get through it. Saul and Walt are both at the vacuum cleaner guy’s shop. (The vaccuum cleaner guy is played brilliantly by Jackie Brown‘s Robert Forster — more Tarantino references!) Saul gets sent out to his new life in Nebraska, while Walt has to wait a few more days in the makeshift holding cell. Ultimately, Robert Forster takes Walt to New Hampshire (but we basically knew that already). The Aryans still have Jesse, and when he tries to break out, they end up killing Andrea to keep him in line. The Blue Meth is back to Heisenbergian levels. Walt makes contact with Junior, telling his son he wants to send the family money. Flynn freaks out, and Walt is defeated, ready to turn himself over to the cops.
Walt’s next call is to the DEA, where he explains that he is Walter White. He leaves the phone off the hook and sidles up to the bar. He sips his Dimple Pinch scotch, waiting for the police to come and take him into custody. The bartender flips through the channels, and Walt asks him to stop when he recognizes someone on the screen. It’s Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz, distancing themselves from their former partner during a sit-down with Charlie Rose. Gretchen explains that all Walt contributed to Gray Matter was the name. Walt’s demeanor changes. The Breaking Bad theme music cues up as the police enter the bar. But Walt is gone.
Walt spends most of “Granite State” alone in the woods — in his own “Walden,” if you will. Walden being the work of Henry David Thoreau — a contemporary of Walt Whitman, and another transcendentalist. In Walden, Thoreau writes of living in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s cabin, away from society, in order to come to a better understanding of society as a whole as well as his place within it.
It’s here, of course, that Walt learns where he stands — with his family and the world outside. His son wants him dead, and won’t take his help. In effect, his family doesn’t need him — and he destroyed them anyway. Todd and the Aryans, with the help of Jesse and Lydia, are successfully recreating and distributing the blue meth that was Heisenberg’s trademark. Walt’s not needed there, either. Gretchen and Elliott add the final blow by taking away Walt’s last legacy — the credit for his chemistry work that provided the foundation for Gray Matter Technologies.
The return of Gretchen and Elliott — and Walt’s subsequent reaction — mirror Walt’s phone conversation with Skyler. Like Walt, Gretchen and Elliott are lying to rewrite the story. Like Skyler, Walt realizes what’s happening. In Skyler’s instance, Walt was giving her a gift — trying to lessen her punishment for his deeds. With Gretchen and Elliott, they are unwittingly giving Walt a gift, albeit a twisted one. Minutes earlier, he had given up. Now he’s ready to break bad, possibly for the final time.
Whether you believe the phone call in “Ozymandias” was Walt pretending to be Heisenberg, or you think it was the Heisenberg personality shining through to do what Mr. White could not, it’s clear that at the end of “Granite State,” Heisenberg has taken over. Is this the moment of the full transformation from Mr. Chips into Scarface?
NEXT: More questions, more non-answers