“Breaking Bad” Season 6 Episode 7: Stuck In A “Granite State”

To everyone who has read my television reviews and commented on them over the past few weeks: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure writing for Tinsel, and I’m grateful to Rebecca for giving me the opportunity. I’ve recently been granted my own blog at Patheos: Cinemeditations. From now on, I’ll be writing about film and television over there, including the last two episodes of Breaking Bad. Below, you’ll find a portion of my review of the most recent episode, “Granite State.” It’s an episode I think deals with themes of addiction and pride in a pretty interesting way, and I hope you’ll take the time to comment and let me know what you think of how the series is drawing to a close. You can find the full review over at Cinemeditations. I’ll be covering many more shows in the near future, and I hope you’ll add it to your list of regularly-visited pop culture blogs. Thanks again for reading.

Some people have complained that “Granite State” is a disappointing episode because there are no big twists or intense pieces of action (aside from Andrea’s death, of course). I’d argue that yes, while it in many ways functions as a transitional episode, setting the pieces in place for a (hopefully) explosive finale, it’s also an extremely important episode, because this is the first time we see Walt stripped (or nearly stripped) of his pride. Heisenberg was born out of an attempt for Walt to reign in the unknowable, to control what little he could about his pending death. The opening scenes of this episode find him desperately clinging to that desire for control, badgering Saul to put together a team of hitmen to take out Jack’s gang. For a moment, Heisenberg rears his head, towering menacingly above Saul and growling orders, but he quickly dissipates in a fit of coughing. Walt’s pride has helped him do a lot of things, but it can’t cure cancer.

For the rest of the episode—at least until its final moments—Heisenberg is nowhere to be found. The iconic porkpie hat briefly brings back Walt’s delusions of grandeur, but the thought of having to leave what little he has left, even if it’s just a shack in the middle of nowhere, soon evaporates them. The title of this episode doesn’t just refer to the state of New Hampshire, it’s also a playful reference to a time when Walt was fully in control: his “fugue state.” That was a situation built on lies orchestrated entirely by Walt. Now, he can’t even muster up the ability to lie to himself and trust that the Vacuum Repair Guy (played by brilliant character actor Robert Forster) will take his money to his family once the cancer finally kills him. By the final scene of this episode, Walt seems to have finally given up. We don’t see him doing anything for himself; he can’t even draw his own blood or cut a deck of cards. He has finally relinquished all illusions of control.

There’s a part of me that thinks this could have worked well as a series finale. It seems appropriate for Walt to spend his last days alone, rejected by his family, with a pile of cash and nothing to spend it on. He makes one last attempt to send Walter Jr. some of his blood money, only to be rejected by his own son: “Just die!” He sits at the bar, ordering one last drink before the police arrive to take him into custody, with nothing left of the life he once had. He has nothing left to hope for, and his frustrated cries that “It can’t all be for nothing!” have made no difference. This is rock bottom. But I think Vince Gilligan may have something even more tragic in mind.

Click here to read the full review.


Breaking Bad: Rest in Peace

Mike (Jonathan Banks) is gone. And Walt (Bryan Cranston) killed him. Breaking Bad has unraveled into a game of every man for himself. And based on the preview of next week’s episode (which is the final episode until the series concludes next summer), this looks like it means trouble for everyone.

C.S. Lewis, who calls pride the’ Great Sin’ also writes, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.”

Walter White has become the living, breathing embodiment of pride. As he compares his ‘product’ to the talent of the New York Yankees and the classic purity of a Coca-Cola, Walt demands that we say his name and deem him king.

As Mike breathes his last breath, Walt apologizes, not for what he’s done, but because he remembers another way out in which everyone could still have ‘won.’

Walt tells Jesse (Aaron Paul), “Jesse, what we do – being the best at something – is a very rare thing. You don’t just toss something like that away. You want to squander that potential? Your potential? Why?”

And he tells Todd, “Give your full effort and attention. Listen and apply yourself. Do that, and we might have a fighting chance.”

It’s the competition, the challenge, and the potential, that inspires him. It’s the possibility of more, of better, of the fight. Striving is the only thing keeping Walt going.

And apparently this striving for potential justifies everything.

Even if the consequence is hell. Especially if the consequence is hell. Walt tells Jesse he is not going to lie down and wait until hell arrives. And anything less than the best counts as lying down according to Walt’s calculations.

Walt’s logic is flawed though. Because it relies on the the cowardice, evil, and ignorance of others. What happens when fear, death, power, and money fail to function as lures in Walt’s scheme? When Mike decides to die in peace? When Jesse is out, with or without his money?

The illusion of power and pride produces a festering evil that has systematically destroyed Walt’s job, his relationships, his family, his moral compass, and his own humanity. Walt believes he is “pretty much going” to hell and seems perfectly content. What Walt fails to see in all his calculating, though, is that he’s already there.

Daniel Defoe, the prolific and versatile English novelist, said “Pride is the first peer and president of hell.”

I don’t know if Walt is the king Heisenberg he sees himself as, but it’s hard to deny that he reigns as president of some sort of hell.

If hell is the choice of pride, may everyone else choose to get out. To embody another reality. To live – and to rest – in peace.