‘Breaking Bad’ Review: Walter White’s Wonder Emporium

By  · Published on September 23rd, 2013

‘Breaking Bad’ Review: Walter White’s Wonder Emporium

There was no way writer/director Peter Gould’s “Granite State” could top last week’s whirlwind. The writers may have known that, which is why yesterday’s installment was low-key by design – it’s the calm before the storm. Instead of the slowly churning and building dread the show offers at its best, the events of the episode were sped through – too quickly – to set up the circumstances for next week’s series finale (sob).

(Kudos, by the way, to the Breaking Bad cast and crew for its Best Drama and Best Supporting Actress (Anna Gunn) Emmy wins. They’re long overdue – and still not enough.)

Freedom dueled with greed in “Granite State,” and the latter won every freaking time. Todd, Lydia, and Walt were all given choices this episode, and their more craven selves prevailed at every turn.

I have to say, it had been not quite believable that the “Opie, dead-eyed piece of shit” known as Todd would kill an innocent kid on a bike point-blank, yet let Jesse live out of sentimentality. But Todd was being sentimental – just not toward his former co-worker. He uses Jesse’s know-how to get back into Lydia’s good graces because of a hopeless crush on that jittery mantis. (I confess, it was kind of adorable seeing him dress up for her in a light blue button-down shirt in that chi-chi cafe.) He tries valiantly to hide his feelings – he thwarts Jack from killing Jesse by saying, “This is millions. No matter how much you got, how do you turn your back on more?” – but his uncle sees through him. (I’d much rather watch a spin-off of these guys do their version of Hamlet than Better Call Saul.)

But going on coffee dates with Lydia means Todd has to let Jesse live to keep up quality control – a circumstance that entails keeping the only eyewitness to the crime who’s willing to talk alive. Unsurprisingly, Jesse isn’t particularly convinced by his job-performance bonus – the “AmeriCone Dream” isn’t quite what it promises to be – to stay on at his current position. When he attempts to hand in his resignation letter, Todd swiftly denies it by shooting Andrea (Emily Rios) in the back of the head while forcing him to watch. (Rios is muy adorable – and pretty fantastic on FX’s The Bridge as a dogged lesbian journalist – but Andrea is kind of dumb, no? Shouldn’t she know by now “a friend of Jesse” means “call the police right now right now”?)

While Jesse sobs (mean, but impossible to resist: “Does this pussy cry through the entire thing?”), Jack reminds him that Brock still has an intact head that could blow up at any minute, depending on whether Jesse shows up to work the next morning. Lydia, meanwhile, seems to trust Todd when he says the Skyler situation has been taken care of and the Czech cash is worth a little more exposure.

But the episode belongs to Walt, who has trouble living free. Disappearance, it turns out, is much easier than it is glamorous. First, he’s forced into a brief odd-couple situation with Saul, the future Mr. Manager of Cinnabon, who wisely tells his former client, “Stay. Face the music.” (What a sad option for Better Call Saul. I’d have preferred a sequel show that has Saul serving Louis C.K. at the airport.) While Saul warns Walt’s phone call hasn’t safeguarded his family’s well-being as much as he thought, Walt has already muffled out his consigliere with his Heisenberg hat: he’s planning the hired killing of Jack and his crew: “They murdered Hank. They stole my life’s work. … I’m gonna take back what is mine and give it to my children.”

It’s telling, then, that Walt, an unstoppable machine just a few days ago, appears to succumb to his cancer in New Hampshire and go gently into that good night. “Tomorrow,” he promises himself will be the day he takes his revenge. The rural safe house quickly turns into solitary confinement. And the medical care at Freedom Penitentiary is less than ideal; his doctor-warden has a degree from YouTube University.

Alone with his impotent Heisenberg hat, a barrel of money he can’t use, and his ginger chin warmer, he becomes so lonely he agrees to pay his warden $10k for an hour of disinterested company. “One of these days when you come up here, I’ll be dead. My money over there… what if I ask you to give it to my family?” pleads Walt. But Ed (Robert Forster) won’t even humor him with hope. Instead, the most he’ll supply is news: Skyler works part-time as a taxi dispatcher, she’s reverted back to her maiden name, their house is on the auction block. Given how many wonderful montages this show has come up with, the secondhand update was a disappointment, especially for a show that prides itself on working through the cascading minutiae of consequences.

But Walt is too desperate and alone to die in a hell of his own making, so he calls Junior up at school and gives the most cliched bad guy/sorry dad speech of all time: “Son, the things that they’re saying about me… I did wrong. I made some terrible mistakes. but the reasons were always… I wanted to give you so much more. But this is all I could do.”

But Junior, in his innocent, naive, simple-minded way, won’t have any of it: “You killed Uncle Hank. … Why don’t you just die already? … Just die.” While his son screams at him, Walt manages a heartbreaking and weak, “It can’t all be for nothing.” Finally taking Saul’s advice, he calls the DEA, presumably to give himself up. If freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose, Walt is now too free.

But Heisenberg then inevitably, kinda deliciously rears his head. In the bar where he’d called the police on himself, Walt sees his old nemeses Gretchen and Eliot Schwarz on Charlie Rose explaining that they gave away $28 million to help fund drug treatment – a clear disavowal of their former partner’s illegal activities. “Whatever he became, the sweet, kind, brilliant man that we once knew, long ago, he’s gone,” says Gretchen, his ex, while a twangier, echo-ier version of the theme song plays in the soundtrack. Walt can paper over his sins and faults however much he wants with the pretext of family, but the man’s ego, even stricken with cancer, is unstoppable.

That shotgun in the season premiere’s fast-forward suddenly found two new targets.

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