Halfway through “Granite State,” as Walt was trapped in a version of hell in which he had no tools or resources to utilize to overcome an obstacle, I started thinking more about the first obstacle that started Walt down his long journey towards becoming a monster: how to fund his cancer treatments without sacrificing his pride. It’s easy to forget, now that we’re nearing the end of Breaking Bad, but every horrible act that Walt has committed, every tragedy he has had a hand in, every life he has destroyed literally or figuratively, happened because Walt refused the help a friend offered. Even though this was on my mind, I was surprised when Grey Matter resurfaced at the end of the episode and once more stirred Walt’s hubris, causing him to reverse what appeared to be his final resignation in favor of explosive retribution.
For some, this may have been too perfect a coincidence, with Walt’s last attempt to reconnect with his family coming to a depressing conclusion just in time for him to head to the bar, order Mike’s drink of choice and catch a Grey Matter interview right as Gretchen and Elliot answered a question about Walt’s connection to their company and whether that had any impact on Grey Matter’s $28 million donation to drug rehabilitation efforts. Although Elliot’s assertion that Walt had basically nothing to do with the company other than its name was the focal point, Gretchen’s remarks that the Walter White that they knew was long gone was the more telling statement. As an audience, we’re drawn to Walt’s resourcefulness, his cunning, his bravado, but that’s all a distraction from the real show, which has been his increasing dehumanization.
As Vince Gilligan has stated before, Walt is a human cancer and his own humanity has diminished the more cancerous he has become. Like cancer, Walt is unlocked potential gone rabid, unprecedented growth that can only stop once it has destroyed everything in its path, and it’s simply not in his nature to see the destruction he is wreaking on the people he needs in order to have a healthy life. The reappearance of Grey Matter confirmed that as much as Walt claims his actions were always about helping his family, the truth is that they are the actions of a dormant ego that finally found a way to break free from the limited confines of its host and grow and grow and grow. Which is why Walt’s call to Flynn fell on deaf ears— Walt’s family never wanted his money, or his power, or his talent, they wanted him, as he was in all his flaws. Had this been about money, or a need to save his family, Walt’s ego wouldn’t have acquired the resources it needed to so totally dominate his life and the lives of those around him.
Isolated and confined to a setting of limited resources, that ego almost starved and Walt almost wound up with a minor form of redemption in the form of an eleventh hour surrender. Robert Forster played the part of a sinful guardian angel, the vacuum cleaner identity eraser who spirited Walt away and made it clear just how much shit he was in and just how impossible his current situation was. Unlike so many of the people Walt has turned into tools— like Saul, who only barely managed to escape Walt’s desperate clutches at the start of the episode— Forster’s character had no qualms with telling it to Walt straight and he was more or less immune to Walt’s “charms.” “Granite State” may have been one of the darker episodes in terms of aesthetic and tone, but the snow white setting of Walt’s cabin communicated that this was the closest Walt could possibly come to peace now, yet it was still filled with encroaching shadows, mainly of the doubt variety.
Walt’s main doubt, spurred by Forster’s matter of fact “debriefings” on the situation Walt left behind in New Mexico, was that he had any hope of getting the money he had retained to his family. This was perhaps clearest when Walt, vulnerable while receiving a log cabin chemo treatment, asked if Forster would deliver Walt’s money to his family after he had died and Forster made it clear that no matter what he said, Walt would have to determine whether it was an answer he could actually believe. Of course Walt couldn’t, because he built an empire on not trusting anyone, but even his own efforts involving an Ensure box filled with cash were less than satisfying.
Walt’s loved ones were stuck in a very different kind of hell, though, one where the Walt cancer continued to run rampant even though Walt himself was nowhere to be found. Skyler was stuck in an untenable position, as the feds refuse to believe she doesn’t know where Walt is hiding out and Todd and his crew paid her a terrifying late night visit, threatening to ruin her life even more if she even mentions Lydia, who she clearly didn’t even remember meeting anyway. Jesse, meanwhile, remains a hostage to the neo-Nazis, forced to get their meth back up to “Heisenberg levels” and in a breathless sequence in which it looked like he might actually escape their clutches, he only dug himself into a deeper hole, forcing their hand, causing Todd to gun down Andrea without any hesitation after Jesse begged them to just kill him already.
No matter what happens to Walt, none of these lives will be saved, nothing will return to normal. If there’s going to be any redemption by the end of Breaking Bad, it can only come by Walt allowing one of the lives he has destroyed to destroy him, and it’s looking more and more like that will happen through Jesse. Jesse is not only one of Walt’s worst victims, but also one of the only victims who has lost enough and is capable of doling out violent vengeance. Skyler only wants some kind of peace for her children, Marie just wants Walt to suffer but not at her hands, while Jesse has been robbed by Walt of every chance at happiness or escape that has ever come his way.
Next week, will we see Walt take down the neo-Nazis psychopaths who make up his most recent excuse for why he’s not to blame for the shitstorm he’s in the middle of? And if so, will he allow Jesse to get his own retribution? Or is that ricin tablet for Walt, to fuck everyone else over one final time by carving out his own exit before someone else can?
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he's the last of the secret agents and he's your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Comics Bulletin, or at Panel Panopticon, which he started as a joke and now takes semi-seriously. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover and explore the world of his musical alter egos at Fitness and Pontypool.