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The Best of This Week’s Breaking Bad Recaps: ‘Granite State’

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) - Breaking Bad _ Season 5, Episode 15 - Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

After the gut-wrenching shocks of last week’s “Ozymandias,” Breaking Bad's penultimate episode was more of a slow burn. Walt’s circumstances have worsened — if that was even possible — as everyone is feeling repercussions for his many terrible decisions. Matt Zoller Seitz wrote: “Walter is in some sense responsible for almost every horrendous event that has occurred in this universe, and the show has always been very clear about this. The pattern established in season two — Walter’s evil as metaphorical, moral cancer, infecting people both directly and indirectly — continues.” While you wait to see what next week’s finale has in store, here’s our weekly recap of the recaps.

“Jesse’s revolt against Walter was a response to his mentor’s repeated, shocking, obtuse betrayals. But it was also a revolt against being someone else’s tool — making it all the more dreadful when he ended up as Hank’s tool in a war against his brother-in-law, and then as Todd’s tool, chained up in another superlab. When he breaks out tonight, it’s the most thrilling moment we’ve been allowed to share with him in months. For a moment, it seems that Todd has underestimated him, and that Jesse has learned from Walter the art of improvisation with whatever is at hand (in this case, the paper clip on the picture of Andrea and Brock). Captured after a horribly fleeting taste of freedom, Jesse refuses to cook anymore … but then he’s reminded, brutally, that caring about something inevitably allows those who care about nothing but themselves to reduce you to a mere tool hanging in their workshop.” —A.V. Club

“There’s a lot going on in Walt’s reaction to the interview. He seems annoyed by their sanctimonious tone while also struck by the clarity of how badly he’s ruined his life. The mention of continued production of his blue meth definitely gets the mental gears turning, with, I imagine, several thoughts occurring to him at once. He realizes that not only did the Nazis kill Hank and take his money but they’re also profiting from and taking credit for his formula. He also, probably, understands that this means Jesse is still alive too. All signs are pointing to a reckoning next week, most likely Walt’s final one in one form of another since, by violating the agreement, he is no longer under the cleaner’s protection. There’s also still the wide open question of what will happen to Skyler and Marie. My editor, Tom, thinks that Marie could figure prominently in Walt’s downfall, like a creature right out of Greek mythology, a 'maiden goddess of proportion and the avenger of crime' who wields her sword and scourge while commandeering a chariot drawn by griffins. I can see it.” —Capital New York

“Jesse, in his prison, has little choice and increasingly little to lose. In what must be the most sadistic moment in the show's history, Jesse is punished for trying to escape from the neo-Nazi concentration camp. Trapped and gagged in a van parked nearby, Jesse watches Todd visit a spell with Andrea. After he promises her that it's not personal, Todd shoots her in the back of the head. Jesse watches. It's more torture-pornographic than actual torture porn. Who will raise Brock?” —Complex

“The character study and quietness of Walt’s move to New Hampshire as life continues to be horrible in New Mexico was great in so many ways, but there were two other important parts to ‘Granite State.’ The Jesse torture continues, which is one major criticism I had of last week’s episode in hindsight. Jesse has paid for things one hundred fold that he never should have been held accountable for — he’s become the universe’s whipping boy. Is all of this just to elevate his eventual escape and revenge? How can those scales ever balance at this point, though?” —Collider

“Seriously, for whom is the gun and the ricin intended? The easy odds for the giant gun are Uncle Jack, Todd and the Aryans. It's unlikely Walt would be able to poison an entire squadron of Nazis with the vial of ricin. But the gun? That makes sense. The ricin, on the other hand, seems destined for Lydia and her tea. Or maybe even Walt himself, when he's done taking out the white power posse.” —Entertainment Weekly

“For quite a while now, [Walt’s] been a walking embodiment of that Santayana line about fanaticism. He was so excited, so pathetically excited, when he came up with his scheme to mail the money back home. I'll just send along a hundred K and Junior will see it was all for a good cause. Junior's all grown up, though, and if he ever decides to write a memoir, it won't be called Best Dad Ever.” —Esquire

“Walt's scream was internalized and silent, but he spent the majority of the episode like Jesse, yelling at the Nazis to get it over with and shoot him already. (Jesse's own attempt to escape was no less cinematic — do paper clips really open handcuffs anywhere else than in the movies? — and, eventually, far more cruel.) What Walt wanted was a blaze of glory — any kind of blaze, really, other than the tepid warmth of his woodstove. Instead, what he got was two copies of Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, an occasional gin-rummy partner whose pity costs $10,000 an hour, and an ocean of time to obsess over how everything went wrong. Sartre wrote ‘Hell is other people,’ but sometimes one man is more than capable of being his own worst enemy.” –Grantland

“Walt sits down at the bar to wait to be arrested. The barman's channel-surfing chances upon the Schwartzes, being interviewed on TV by real-life talkshow host Charlie Rose. It's a moment that not only gives us a glimpse of the impact that Walt's criminal career is having in the wider world (he's notorious enough that his early association with Gray Matter Technologies has affected their stock price) and reminds us of what he could have been (someone with a legitimate business empire) and what he once was (the brilliant scientist), but it also pushes another of Walt's triggers: not getting to write his own story. In their version, the Walter White they knew is gone, and Heisenberg's signature product, the blue meth, is still out there, even reaching Europe. As they spin a line about their contact with Walt, downgrading his involvement in Gray Matter Technologies to being little more than providing ‘the company name’, the Breaking Bad theme music fades into the scene, Walt's fist clenches, and in his eyes you can see that injured pride returning.” –Guardian

“Escape in ‘Granite State’ is a fantasy. We discover that Walt's phone call at the end of ‘Ozymandias’ wasn't a cure-all for Skyler's problems; so long as he stubbornly remains free, guarding money that it turns out will never make it to his family, Skyler will be a government target. After all the money Saul has made as Walt's consiglieri, the best he can hope for is a boring, anonymous life in Nebraska. Walt goes to his snowy mountain cabin with no phones, no TV, and no connection of any kind to the outside world. He is completely alone with his barrel, and his thoughts, and his plans that he's too weak from cancer to act upon, so desperate for human contact that he pays his caretaker ten grand to spend a single hour with him.” –Hitfix

“What will the post-episode consensus be on the Walt-Flynn phone call? I've no idea. But as far as I'm concerned, Flynn's scene in ‘Granite State’ was the character's finest hour. All the stories Walter White has tried to tell himself and anyone who would listen about doing it ‘for his family’ hit the granite wall of Flynn's absolute rejection of his father.” –Huffington Post

“With Walter off in New Hampshire, the Nazis spread like a virus, impervious to anyone who would harm them. It’s not that Walter can keep them in check; it’s that the series has always treated its external threats as extensions of Walter’s internal psychological workings. Now that he’s gone, the bleakness that consumed him whole spreads outward from the rotting source. The foundation cannot hold.” –Los Angeles Times

“Before we see how it all breaks down, I'm glad Breaking Bad is still very much being Breaking Bad. Written and directed by series stalwart Peter Gould, ‘Granite State’ gave us one last bit of high-stakes criminal-underworld business in the person of the disappearance expert, played by the magnificently well-cast Robert Forster. It gave us callback cameos from Walt's old assistant principal/sexual harassment victim Carmen, and to Gretchen and Elliot themselves, whose offer to pay for his chemo looks better with each passing week. It gave us deeply uncomfortable moments with Todd and Lydia. It gave us a last-ditch escape attempt so engaging that, like Jesse himself, we forgot to think about the consequences. It gave us a few more nods to the omnipresent menace of security cameras (no show has ever been so preoccupied with how much of everyone's life, criminal or no, is recorded). It gave us stunning nature photography, this time of snowy woods rather than sun-baked desert. It gave us series-best work from Aaron Paul, Bryan Cranston and R.J. Mitte. It reminded us in large and small ways why this show has been so good for so long.” –Rolling Stone

“Even Walt’s phone call with Flynn, which alerted his son to the money he had sent in the mail,  was incredibly selfish. To call that kid out of chemistry class (irony), convince him there’s a terrible emergency and do it under the pretense that the caller was Marie — the widow of the beloved uncle whose death Walt indirectly caused — was beyond insensitive. Walt loves his son. He does. He just has no idea at this point how to put his child’s needs ahead of his own. Flynn’s embittered response to his father — ‘Why are you still alive? Why don’t you just die already?’ — was harsh and sad, but justified. It was a small form of punishment for a man who really does deserve to be punished for all the terrible things he’s done, but probably won’t be, not fully.” –Salon

“If Walt feels any lingering denial about the destruction of his family, Flynn’s fury should stomp it out. Walt’s son won’t take his money (what kind of harebrained scheme to send it was that, anyway?). He is so filled with anger and disappointment that his last words to his father may well be, ‘Just die.’ Walt may deserve every syllable, but Flynn doesn’t. No matter what, that’s not how you want your relationship with your father to end. It’s no kind of closure.” –Slate

“If you accept the premise that Walt was once at least mostly a good man–he really meant well, he truly loved his family, and so on–and that he became bad, indeed evil, through a series of gradual moral compromises, then you can see Gilligan’s dilemma in crafting the ending. How do you honor the good in Walt (or once in him) while punishing (or at least not excusing) the evil in him? Well, one way you do that, of course, is to give him a nemesis even more despicable and utterly hateful than himself: the sweet sociopathic Todd on the one hand, and actual Nazis on the other.” –Time

“Despite the pummeling he took last episode Jesse was quite intrepid and exhibited staggering forearm strength as he managed to not only un-bolt a steel lock while dangling fifteen feet in the air over concrete, but also flipping open the attached trapdoor, presumably one-handed. I rock climb three times a week. What Jesse did was stupid hard.” –The Wall Street Journal

“Even as Walt deteriorates, he remains the catalyst for everything that's happened in Breaking Bad— and even in his absence, he looms over the lives of everyone he left behind. Take Skyler. Todd breaks into the White residence to warn her not to talk about Lydia to the cops — which indirectly provides Skyler with information that gives her exactly the kind of leverage she would need to cut a better deal with the D.E.A., including the possibility of witness protection. But Walt's failure to keep Skyler in the loop has taken its toll: Without the knowledge that Lydia is, for all we know, the top of the meth food chain, Skyler takes Todd's warning at face value and stays silent anyway.” –the Week

Photo: Ursula Coyote/AMC