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The Good, The 'Bad' and The Broken
September 27, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 1 comment

[Editor's Note: This story reveals details of Sunday's Sept. 22 episode of Breaking Bad, "Granite State."]

It was a bit of a gift, actually. A friend of mine was going to start watching Breaking Bad, from Season One -- this week, of all weeks -- and asked me, again, to explain what made the show so great. I had been raving about it to him for a couple of years now. "Everyone at work is talking about this show," he said, "how amazing it is. It's all I've been hearing about."

So there I was, capsulizing five years of television, rushing through a few blurbs as to why the show has captured me like no other. I was glad to hear it quickly, from myself.

I talked about the economy of the series, which had held to one taut arc over five seasons; the transformation of Walter White into Scarface; and that there was a rigorous aversion to any of the usual TV filler. That it was cinematic-quality show, shot on film, with all the noir and wide shots of a feature. That the plot almost never went as expected, thanks to writers who clearly respected their work, and their audience. That while things went horribly macabre and violent, they often went funny and slapstick, sometimes even in the same scenes.

And, simply, that its main character, Walt (Bryan Cranston) – the mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher turned uber-drug-lord – was perhaps the most relatable of all our current antiheroes.

Who among us couldn't identify with Walt's modest home, his used car, his ineffectuality, his perpetual state of debt? Who couldn't relate to his taking his one edge – his skill as a chemist – and maybe using it to cash in on a big score? Especially if we thought we could get away with it?

And, as Walt had earlier in life sold off his one priceless asset for pennies (his holding in a start-up company later worth billions), who among us had not had to swallow similar, maybe less expensive, shards of regret?

But here was Walt, our surrogate, throughout the run of Breaking Bad, taking things into his own (foolish) hands and getting us some payback.

As he sat at a New Hampshire bar in last week's penultimate Granite State, sick and dying from cancer, Walt had a straight scotch, and had to swallow the biggest sorrows yet. He had to hear the ultimate scorn of his son, Walt, Jr., after a desperate plea gone horribly wrong.

Then, as he watched a clip of Charlie Rose on the barroom TV, Walt saw his former science partner, Elliott Schwartz, asked what the now at-large White had contributed to their former company. Elliott, trying to distance himself as far as possible from Walt, belittles his work at their former company as nothing more than have helped concoct the name of it – "Gray Matter." Elliot tells Rose, "As far as I can recall, his contribution begins and ends right there."

And with that, as physically sick as Walt was -- not having the strength to restart Heisenberg a couple of times in the woods where he hid from a nation-wide manhunt -- the scotch and Elliott's disrespect were fuel enough to propel him into the final chain reaction for the series finale, coming this Sunday night (9 ET)  on AMC.

As Walt told his students in Season One, "chemistry is the study of change," and Walt's final change is coming. He transformed into Heisenberg in the wilderness of the New Mexico desert, and last week, transformed into Mr. Lambert in the anti-Thoreau little red cabin miles from nowhere in mountains of New Hampshire.

He may not have his original mission any more – the care and welfare of the family that clearly no longer wants him. But his ego and his hubris are as healthy and raging as ever as Walt returns to Albuquerque, as shown in two flash-forwards earlier this season.

Granite State
resolved a few threads -- which, thinking on it, were there in front of us all along.

Of course the White residence had been seized by the Feds and scheduled up for auction, explaining why it had been shown earlier, in a flash-forward, boarded up and emptied.

Of course Skyler (Anna Gunn, winning the Emmy for Best Supporting Actress the same night) would be under pressure from the Feds, even though Walt's rant claiming she knew nothing of his business at the end of the prior episode, Ozymandias, had given her plausible cover.

Of course she would have to take work as a taxi dispatcher, probably stripped of her professional accountant's license and having to find work wherever she could to pay the bills.

Of course she would drop the name White, and go back to her maiden name.

And, of course, Walt Jr., (RJ Mitte), a hurt and angry teenager, reeling form the revelation that his father was a criminal and a murderer, would scream over the phone, "Why aren't you dead yet? Why don't you just die already?"

We even found out that the mysterious fixer in the vacuum cleaner repair man (played by Robert Forster) actually was a vacuum cleaner repair man --prompting a surprised Saul to comment, "I guess I thought that 'vacuum repair' was a term of art."

With that, series creator Vince Gilligan again got to swat at the pests (TV critics, for example) scouring over the show for symbolic imagery -- saying, "Hey, fools, sometimes a vacuum repair shop is just a vacuum repair shop."

Except that it wasn't.

Those of us steeped in Bad's track record of merging symbol and image clearly saw the "Best Quality Vacuum" shop for what it was: styled as a windowless tomb, with decorative panels looking like a kind of mausoleum, where identities go to get vacuumed up and disposed of, never to be seen again. (And there was a bonus for scrutinizing viewers who caught, and noted, the phone number on the sign. It's an actual working number, with Forster, in character, telling callers he's not there.)

Then there was the reprise face-off between Walt and Saul -- although, Walt, weakened, cannot finish his threat from Season Four when he starts a reprise of "I told you, it's over when..." This time, however, he collapses in a fit of coughing, before being able to finish the threat. The secret basement where they are stashed by the Vacuum Fixer, and its little piece of glass (above, left), is about as large a window of time that Walt has left.

My friend was right. Everyone is talking about the show. Speculation in rampant across the Internet this week, and questions still abound:

Where and when will Jesse's nightmarish, torture at the hands of Jack's gang end? (And why, oh why, is he suffering more than Walt??)

Will Walt somehow get to plant the Ricin he retrieves from his abandoned house into Elliott's coffee? Or, perhaps, into Lydia's frequently featured tea? ("I'll need some extra Stevia.")

And you have to figure that in Gilligan's clockwork of actions reaping consequences, Uncle Jack and nephew Todd – the sociopathic John-Boy Walton of Albuquerque – are not walking away from the series in one piece.

My suggestion, last week, that Skyler wasn't exempt from peril had some legs. She got a chilling visit from Todd and the Aryans, but she escaped with a warning. It was Andrea, Jesse's ex-girlfriend, who was the innocent collateral damage in the remorseless universe of crystal meth.

This week, heading for the final episode of Breaking Bad, I also wonder: Will we learn, finally, why Walt sold out of Gray Matter for $5,000?

When he did, he settled for a high school teaching job, which, as we know, was the beginning of the chain reaction of Walter White – the chemistry of his change.

Then there's the question of whether Walt will die as he has lived -- violently -- or if he will go out with a whimper, victim of his cancer.

There's a nagging suspicion that Gilligan will find a way to engineer all of that as he did in last summer's gripping finale for the first half of Season 5, when Hank discovered Walt's identity reading an inscription inside the cover of book – as he sat on the toilet.

There might be a simple, chilling anti-climax, with no Scarface-styled gunfight at all.

Stay tuned.

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Lynn Smith
I was sorry to see Walt reveal that he really did not have a personal code that he was living by, like the old Clint Eastwood characters, but was really just doing what "felt good." It makes it all so much less meaningful.
Oct 1, 2013   |  Reply
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