“Breaking Bad” Recap: “Granite State”: Walter White, Cigarette Smoking Man

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Walter White in Granite State (Note: this article contains spoilers for Sunday’s Breaking Bad episode, “Granite State,” and all other Breaking Bad episodes to date):

Given that Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad‘s creator and showrunner, got his start as a writer on The X-Files, it’s probably not a surprise that, in the endgame, he has turned Walter White into Cigarette Smoking Man.

CSM, The X-Files‘ primary villain, went through two or three different plot arcs over the course of the series in which he was presumed dead, but was actually hiding out in a cabin somewhere. And now, in Breaking Bad‘s the penultimate episode “Granite State,” it’s Walter who’s a retired, on-the-run supervillain, hiding in a snowy cabin, while (of course) dying of cancer. (And Breaking Bad did have a Season 1 episode called “Cancer Man.”)

Spirited to rural New Hampshire by Saul Goodman’s often-mentioned, yet never before seen “Vacuum Cleaner Man” – perfectly cast as veteran character actor Robert Forster- Walt winds up in an empty cabin without electricity, phone or Internet service. And let me emphasize how much I love that the New Hampshire scenes departed radically from the series’ usual visual style and color palette- for one thing, I don’t believe we’ve ever seen snow before on Breaking Bad, and is often the case when snow and crime collide, it reminded me of “Fargo.”

Anyway, back in New Mexico, things are unraveling for everyone. The DEA suspects Skyler knows more than she’s saying- Walt’s famous phone call in the previous episode doesn’t appear to have absolved Skyler, mostly because the feds aren’t stupid, they know there’s such a thing as “money laundering,” and they likely noticed within a day or two that the A1 car wash is considerably more profitable than a local car wash probably should be.

Finn is depressed, Marie is scared. Saul is on the run for good, and Hank and Gomez still haven’t been found. And Todd and his neo-Nazi relatives- along with their “slave,” Jesse- are reigning pretty much unchallenged. I loved the establishment of just how evil Uncle Jack is- when he finds out from the video confession that Todd shot Drew Sharp, his reaction isn’t anger about the murder of a child, but rather about Todd’s refusal, in light of that information, to kill Jesse.

I must say, I’m not surprised Gretchen and Elliott are ultimately figuring in the show’s end-game- they were a key part of Walter’s original motivation, and is recently as last summer’s episodes, Walter mentioned that he checks the company’s valuation every week. Is the ricin for them? The machine gun? Could go either way I suppose.

Next week, we see Walter in Albuquerque again. Not a surprise; after all, the Cancer Man always came back.

Other observations:

– Walter makes a phone call to get Walter Jr. pulled out of class by borrowing the same trick Ferris Bueller used, in invoking Sloan’s “dead Grandma.”

– One thing I didn’t buy in the Charlie Rose scene- Charlie never grills people like that in real life. He seemed like he was channeling later-period Tim Russert.

– Some answers for flash-forward clue-spotters: Walter’s not wearing a ring because he lost so much weight that it fell off, and that’s not a wire under his shirt, it’s the ring, hanging from a necklace.

– I must say- I much prefer Breaking Bad‘s final-season New Hampshire arc to The Sopranos’ final-season New Hampshire arc. Though imagine how much everyone would freak out if Walter enjoyed a brief romance with a diner cook/firefighter named “Johnny Cakes.”

– In the Sociopath Wing of Breaking Bad fandom, I bet there were people who audibly cheered at the scene when Todd broke into the Whites’ house to scare Skyler and Holly. Ditto the killing of Andrea.

– Just one more episode, next Sunday. I won’t even bother to venture any guesses as to how it ends. But I do know Gilligan and Co. are one episode away from a final-season perfect game.


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