On…Breaking Bad – Granite Slate (S05E15)

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What a much needed episode after last week’s bombshell! I’m not sure I could bring myself through the wringer again like last week, so I’m glad that for the most part, this episode was a build up towards terrifying events. It definitely felt to me more like the first half of a two part episode. So whilst this episode hasn’t ignited a fire under me as much as the last one, I think it was well paced and intriguing nonetheless.

The Extractor

I was so happy to see Saul climb out of the extractor’s van. It gave me hope that Saul would get out of this whole thing after all.

I’m glad we also got to meet who this nebulous ‘extractor’ was. Ed is not who I expected. Saul was always scared shitless when he talked about his ‘guy’ and I expected Ed to be a bit more intimidating. Instead, Ed very much reminds me of Mike. A very no-nonsense kind of guy, speaks softly but firmly, and you know the guy could kill you faster than you could blink if you crossed him.

Then seeing Walter going crazy in the small bunk was hilarious, though strangely tragic.

The Rat

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Ok so my prediction last week was a bit off. I expected Marie at least to be back in the house before the Nazi’s managed to raid it. But damn those neo-Nazi’s work fast and managed to get the confession tape, it seems, before any officer even arrived at the Shrader household. I mean surely that would have been one of the first places they went to check out? Ok ok I’ll allow a bit of artistic interpretation here.

As we watch the Uncle Jack and his crew’s reaction to the confession tape, I was struck by how awfully comical these people were. Here are a completely lawless, murderous, immoral and utterly irredeemable group of despicable people. Breaking Bad rarely has pure villains in any sense. But watching Uncle Jack and his crew laugh at Jesse’s despair, and then get angry at him ‘ratting’ out Todd (without, by the way, even mentioning how Todd has kept this detail from them this whole time)…the crew are just so completely vile and loathsome that they completely overshadow all the evil things that Walter has done. Jesse is sobbing his heart out at the horrible acts that Mr White has committed, but in this context, those small crimes seem petty to the pure evilness that seems to emanate from that room.

The romantic thread between Todd and Lydia was always cute in that really wrong kind of way. Seeing Uncle Jack playfully punch Todd and encourage him to go for it (and the background hollering of people making misogynistic jokes) was a bit unexpected, though only really reinforced how revolting I find all of these characters.

Nickel’s Worth of Advice

This scene was very much Saul’s last goodbye, and a well deserved one at that. Though sounding thoroughly defeated and terrified, he still manages to offer Walter the sound straight-talking advice that he’s known for. Why doesn’t Walter just hand himself in and spare his family all the trouble?

Well, let’s face it: Walter’s not the type to give up like that. He makes the excuse of having unfinished business involving the Nazi’s and his money, but honestly, even if that weren’t the case, I don’t think the infamous Heisenberg would have given himself up. He’s far too proud of the empire and legacy that he’s created. To hand himself in would nullify that, show him in a cowardly light and ruin the great pride he had in his work. No, Heisenberg is too proud to simply turn himself in. Isn’t it ironic then that he’s essentially running away?

And for the last time, Walter tries to intimidate Saul but his cancerous cough puts an abrupt end to that. As Saul walks out of that room, watching Walter cough his lungs out, I felt deeply sorry for Walt in that moment. Here was a truly destroyed man, who had lost everything (well except a barrel of money) and was slowly dying to the cancer inside of him.

Skyler

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This scene with Skyler and the DEA instantly reminded me of the scene in the pilot when Walt is diagnosed about cancer. It was a nice call back, a reminder to us of the way these two characters are intimately linked. Despite Walter being physically out of Skyler’s life, his ghost still very much haunts her.

Todd and his intimidation scene was unexpected to be sure. Though I can’t quite work out how these guys snuck past all the DEA agents on the scene and then no one was alerted that someone was actively threatening Skyler (presumably a key witness to Walter’s case) in her own home. I wonder if their warnings against ratting out the woman that Skyler saw at the car wash will actually backfire; did Skyler even remember that encounter? She hadn’t told the DEA about it yet, it seemed, and had she remembered, I imagine she would have told them immediately given how it’s a solid lead. Overall, I felt this scene was a little forced and unnecessary.

Except perhaps to showcase how Todd doesn’t look disguised at all even in a ski mask. Those eyes and lips are just far too prominent.

Camomile Tea and Soy Milk

I laughed when Lydia insisted on the whole back to back thing that Mike had mocked her for earlier in the show. As if no one would notice Todd practically groping her back in this conversation. I think Lydia’s a bit of an overlooked character. Sure, she’s uptight and she’s perhaps overly cautious, but can you blame her?

So whilst her insistence that Skyler be eliminated isn’t unexpected, I think it’s a bit misguided. How exactly are you supposed to take a hit out on Skyler who’s currently the closest person to the Walter White case at the moment? Then again, the DEA do seem thoroughly incompetent thus far so I do worry Skyler’s safety. Anyway, I honestly think it would draw way more fire to Lydia and her company than is necessary to order a hit on Skyler. Right now, the DEA are on a witch hunt for the infamous Heisenberg. Drawing attention to the fact that other parties are involved is dangerous.

And the poor Todd got cockblocked again by his own product. As he waxes lyrical about how him and Lydia are good partners, all Lydia can think about is that 92% purity.

New Hampshire

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A completely different kind of desert greeted Walter in New Hampshire. The snowy vistas were beautiful, but Walter is too consumed by darkness to notice. The living conditions he’s in are hardly ideal (no internet or TV, that’d drive me nuts!) and he’s anticipating long days with absolutely no company. Oh how the mighty Ozymandias has fallen.

However, seeing the signature Heisenberg hat was exciting. When he put it on and ran to the gate, only to stare forward into the barren land and mutter “Tomorrow”, I was genuinely overcome with laughter.

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Ice Cream

I was cheering for Jesse throughout this scene with the paperclip and then his manipulation of Todd to keep the tarp off the top of his cage. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Jesse use any of his ingenuity (remember “Magnets, bitches”?) and the way he MacGuyver’s his way out of this situation was thrilling to watch. Of course, this is Breaking Bad, and that sort of thing would have been way too easy. When he was caught, my heart dropped; no way, I thought, no way could they just kill Jesse off like this. I’m glad they didn’t, but the next scene was arguably even worse.

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I knew Andrea was dead as soon as she answered that door to Todd, the robotic sociopath. But seeing the way she was just mercilessly killed with no warning, just a silenced shot to the back of the head…it was chilling. Andrea’s not really a character we’ve had much interaction with, but we understand her purpose of providing meaning and hope to Jesse’s character. So watching Jesse’s distraught screaming, his complete agony and despair…is this the lowest we’ve seen Jesse? The poor guy really has suffered far more than he deserves. I know a lot of people feel like Jesse is at least partially responsible for this situation (he did after all, rat out a dangerous man) but I don’t think anyone can truly justify saying that he is fully responsible or completely deserves what he’s been through.

“Remember, there’s still the kid.” Jesse is reminded. Chilling.

The Cabin

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The sudden jump forward in time was a bit unexpected, though ultimately necessary. I did think it would have been hard to fit in enough stuff to cover all the events leading up to the flash forwards so a jump forward in time resolved that easily. I’m not sure how many months are supposed to have passed. I assume at least two (because Ed references the last time he tried to do chemo) but it could be more. Maybe more diligent Breaking Bad fans can work this one out.

Walter looks practically unrecognisable now with his hair and scruffy beard. I remember seeing pictures of Walter in the first season, and just marvelling at how I had totally forgotten what he looked like with hair. Seeing Walter in this scene invoked very similar feelings.

But really, this scene did a lot towards making me sympathetic towards Walter. At the end of the day, despite all the awful things he’s done, he’s still the protagonist of this show. And being able to see his deep loneliness, his completely isolation and his overwhelming loss… it’s hard not to feel sorry for the guy. Paying Ed $10,000 to spend just one hour with him playing cards was just tragic, and a reminder of how much Walter has lost. All he has left is that barrel full of money and of course, Walter can’t use it. Then, he tearfully asks Ed if he’d give the money to his family after he dies; and even Ed can’t promise that to a dying man. It was heartbreaking. Seeing the way Walter had fully resigned himself to dying, the way he avidly collected any piece of news about his family…it’s sad. It really is. Hearing those tiny tidbits about Skyler’s life were also rather tragic, though admittedly, it could have been a lot worse.

Crossed Lines

I was thrilled to watch Walter get off his sad arse and trek down the mountain with a box full of cash. The conversation with Flynn destroyed all that hope I had for him though. Really, Walter deserved it, but I couldn’t help but flinch when Flynn screamed all those things at him. It’s true, Walter’s basically ruined his and his mother’s life…but like Walt says, he had his reasons. What reasons exactly he doesn’t say. It was an insightful moment from Walter: was it is his pride? Was it for his family? I still remain firmly in both camps to be honest.

Honestly though I thought it was a bit of a weak performance from RJ Mitte. It was really just a rehash of his previous performance last episode, which was much better paced. His anger just didn’t translate so well in the context of being at school and over the phone. I would have liked to have seen more than just blind rage; something a bit more touching like despair or depression. In the end, even though Walter deserved the tirade, I still ended up more on Walter’s side than Flynn’s.

Grey Matter

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I said earlier that there was no way Walter would just hand himself into the police. So when he called the DEA and left the phone hanging, it was so obviously a red herring. I was on the edge of my seat seeing what would make Walter change his mind.

I did not predict that it would be Grey Matter. It makes sense in hindsight, but I honestly didn’t think we’d see Grey Matter again this series. I guess I underestimated the pivotal role that the Schwartz’s had in Walter’s psyche.

This scene though really reinforced who Walter really is. When Elliot tries to take away his achievements once again, we can see how angry Walter is. It’s always been a large part of his prideful personality. This has always been the story of a man who’s out to prove himself: someone who led a disappointing life and looked upon his wasted potential with great regrets.

I’ve read online a lot of people suggesting, some half-jokingly but some serious, that Walter is going to kill the Schwartz’s. I think that’s really outlandish. Look, Walter may be a killer but he never killed innocent people. He’s not a sociopath like Todd. The Schwartz’s served their purpose here by reminding Walter about his wasted potential. There would be no gain from killing them and I honestly think if he did, it would be thoroughly out of character. No, what Walter wants to do is prove himself to them…prove to them that the empire he built was all worth it.

This is also when Walter learns that his signature Blue Sky product is still at large. Again, his anger at this revelation ties into his pride. He has always fiercely defended his product and never accepted imitators. I think he realises from that bit of news that Jesse must be cooking because who else could be? This is the final catalyst.

As the show closes with police closing in, and the opening theme tune playing, and then the shot of the whiskey glass…I felt ready. For the first time this series, I felt ready for the show to end. It’s time. I have no regrets.

The use of the title music was particularly powerful for two reasons. Firstly, It helped create that sense of continuity. In this episode, we saw how so many factors led to this situation that Walter’s in. We saw how his pride has manifested itself, how his family has been integral to his development. The call backs to earlier episodes were perfectly placed here to reinforce the sense that this whole show has been one journey. One story.

Secondly, it showed us that this is just the beginning of the end. There’s one episode left, and that episode has to wrap everything up. This then, was the calm before the storm.

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Bonus

*Congrats to the cast and crew of Breaking Bad for their spectacular showing at the Emmy’s. So well deserved! Let’s hope they can repeat that for next year!

*Really Lydia, camomile tea and soy milk? Even a black tea with ricin sounds more appetising than that…(yes I’m still holding to the ricin being used for Lydia theory)

*Will we see Marie again? I hope so.

*Walter drinking Dimple Pinch whiskey neat was perhaps a reference to what Hank drinks. The whole ‘Walter takes on attributes of his victims’ still rings true!

*Stupidly crazy prediction of the week: Brock grows up seeking revenge for his mother’s death and ends up inheriting the Heisenberg legacy from Jesse, setting up his own life and ‘breaking bad’ a la Walter White style in a exciting new sequel series to be announced immediately after the finale finishes

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