Saturday, August 23, 2014
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'Breaking Bad' Recap: Walter White should watch more 'Scandal' and less 'Mr. Magorium'

The irony that Walter White has spent the past five seasons on Breaking Bad trying to avoid prison, but spent the majority of the penultimate episode penned up in a small concrete basement (and, later, an isolated shack in New Hampshire) was priceless. He even had a cellmate for a while when the slimy Saul Goodman was hiding out before heading to Nebraska to, hopefully, manage a Cinnabon in a strip mall.

'Breaking Bad' Recap: Walter White should watch more 'Scandal' and less 'Mr. Magorium'

SPOILER ALERT: STOP READING IF YOU'RE NOT CAUGHT UP ON BREAKING BAD.

The irony that Walter White has spent the past five seasons on Breaking Bad trying to avoid prison, but spent the majority of the penultimate episode penned up in a small concrete basement (and, later, an isolated shack in New Hampshire) was priceless. He even had a cellmate for a while when the slimy Saul Goodman was hiding out before heading to Nebraska to, hopefully, manage a Cinnabon in a strip mall.

While in captivity together, Walter White tries to go full Heisenberg on Saul, ordering him to list some of his more, ahem, ruthless contacts so that they can plan a hit on Uncle Jack and the rest of the Redneck mafia. The two things that stuck out here were that Walt seems obsessed with avenging the death of Hank and that Walt can't really go full Heisenberg, anymore. When ranting about putting out the hit on Jack, Todd and company, Walt harps on the death of Hank, probably because he feels responsible for the murder, but isn't able to process this feeling, so it manifests as rage.

His inability to go full Heisenberg is demonstrated when Saul reminds him that he's not considering the full legal ramifications of skipping town and when he has to explain that, because they're both getting out of Dodge, he can't just reach out to his hitmen anymore. Then, when Walt corners Saul in the hideout cell and tries to recall that terrifying, abrasive voice of his meth kingpin alter ego, he erupts into a fit of coughing because he's still dying of cancer. Heisenberg may make some killer blue meth, but he's not immortal.

Meanwhile, Jesse Pinkman is doing his best David Blaine/Laser from American Gladiators impression as he tries to escape from the underground prison cell that he currently calls home. His only human contact seems to be his interaction with his cooking partner/prison guard, Todd.

The dichotomy of Todd's personality is artfully demonstrated throughout this final Breaking Bad season. He puts Heisenberg on a pedestal, which exemplifies his ambition, his need to please, and his humility. He shoots Drew Sharp in cold blood like it was nothing, which displays his lack of human empathy. He gets Jesse Pinkman some Peanut Butter Cup and Americone Dream Ben & Jerry's, but then attaches a silencer to his gun and blows Andrea's brains all over her front porch after he catches Jesse getting his Steve McQueen on.

Just so you know, that wasn't personal.

Also, Todd's romantic leanings—if you can call them that—seemed to reach new heights in "Granite State." After Uncle Jack called him out for having feelings for Lydia, his pursuit(?) of her escalated as he tried to turn their discreet, underworld business meeting into a date. With that quaff and the button-up shirt he looked more like Landry Clarke than Charles Manson.

Then there was the way that he gently placed his hand on Skyler's shoulder while playing spraaaaaaaang breeeeaaaak and threatening Holly.

While all of this is playing out in Albuquerque, Walter White was still hibernating in New Hampshire. Through the details in the visit shown later in "Granite State," we learn that at least a few months have passed. Walt's been receiving make-shift chemo treatments from Gny. Sgt. Hartman (seriously, could Robert Forster look any more like R. Lee Ermey), who is learning the trade by watching YouTube videos.

More than that, Walt's lonely and growing paranoid. He pays The Disappearer to stay and visit with him for an extra hour and begins to hypothesize about what might happen to his barrel of money when he dies alone in a cabin in New Hampshire. Suddenly, he's incredibly motivated to get as much money as possible to his family.

The problem, though, is that Flynn isn't in the mood. Not only has he taken on the nickname full-time, but, when Walt frantically calls the school and lays out a scheme to mail $100,000 to the house of Flynn's (presumably) only friend, Flynn bugs out like Skyler in the diner. Spitting and red in the face, he repeats himself and tells his estranged father to just curl up and die. He's more ashamed and embarassed now that his father is a former meth kingpin on the lam than he was when he was an ordinary, unimpressive chemistry teacher dying of cancer.

Much like his mother before him, Flynn practically begs his father to die. Walter White has spent the full extent of Breaking Bad neutralizing his behavior as means to an end. Regardless of the horrific nature of his actions, he's doing it for his family. Really, though, his wife and son have, on multiple occasions now, asked him to just die. But, he's too vain to do that for his family. A Willy Loman he is not.

This cowardice/vanity is furthered by the fact that he'd rather turn himself in and make his family go through the process of seeing him tried than either staying isolated in the wilderness or actually killing himself. His final motivation to get that military grade weapon and make his triumphant return to the desert doesn't stem from his need to avenge the death of Hank or his evolutionary impulse to provide for the family he abandoned. The catalyst that brings Heisenberg out of hibernation is a play on his vanity. It comes when he catches his former constituents from billion-dollar corporation Gray Matter trashing him on a talk show.

Walter White says he loves his family. Walter White says everything he does is necessary for them to survive. Walter White says that he was forced into a corner by circumstances beyond his control. But, really, he's just a jaded chemistry teacher who's pissed at himself for squandering the opportunity of a lifetime and created a meth-dealing kingpin to stroke his own ego and remind himself how special he is in the wake of that mistake.

The final shot of "Granite State" was aptly poetic. As Walter White scrunches up his napkin and grits his teeth, he hears his former business partners deny his contribution to their massive company. Then, he hears Charlie Rose announce that Heisenberg's signature blue meth is still available in the American Southwest and in Europe. Heisenberg, apparently, is done watching other people capitalize on his abilities.

He's heading back to New Mexico with his little friend. He can either be Heisenberg and get his revenge or he can be Walter Lambert and move on with his life. But, he can't do both. Maybe he should be watching Scandal on DVD instead of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium.

If you're looking for a hint as to which he's going to choose, look no further than the color of his hat.

Notes

  • Skyler's smoking, again.
  • During one of the trips to New Hampshire, The Disappearer reveals that Skyler is using her maiden name. This might explain why the flash forwards show Walt using an ID with Skyler's maiden name as his assumed identity.
  • Two copies of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium?
  • The score as Walter White put his Heisenberg hat on and made his way to the fence was great. As was the score in the final sequence.
  • The Walt's hat looks very much like the one Willy Loman sports on the original poster for Death of a Salesman. Additionally, Loman kills himself in the end of the play by crashing his car so that his family can collect insurance money. Remember this? Just sayin'.
  • "The sweet, kind, brilliant man we once knew is long gone."
  • That hockey game on at the bar was between Wisconsin and Denver on February 13, 1998.
  • The conversation between Uncle Jack and Todd about whether or not to kill Jesse Pinkman seemed very reminiscent of Walter White's internal struggle. "Meth?! Who gives a sh** about meth?" asks Uncle Jack. "We won the lottery, here. We've got all the money in the world. You're talking to me about selling crank?"

"But, this is millions, Uncle Jack. No matter how much we've got, how do you turn your back on more?" Todd responds. Sounds a lot like the problem that forced Heisenberg to hibernate for the winter in some shack in the New Hampshire wilderness.

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