Prior recaps can be found in here.
As “Granite State” opened, I was sort of disappointed that we were going to meet the Vacuum Cleaner Man. I liked him as just an anonymous minivan. But he is Robert Forster, because of course he is, this is Breaking Bad, and they only cast the absolute best person ever for every single part. And he gets off a decent in-joke, after Saul asks “Nebraska, what’s in Nebraska?” and he replies “You.” (Odenkirk is in Nebraska, Alexander Payne’s most recent yuckfest). Between the cold open and first act, we get our series wrap on Saul Goodman, one of my favorite supporting characters of all time (you can expect a lot of similarly hyperbolic proclamations between this recap and next week’s series retrospective, true believers). He ends his run, surprisingly, as the voice not only of reason, but conscience. On a show that is based so much around the poisonous nature of lies, he has always been perversely honest about his own amorality, with others and most importantly with himself. I think Saul genuinely does not wish harm upon any other person, he’s just willing to let any manner of harm befall them as long as he is able to stay at one level of remove from the act. In a season so dominated by Walter White and Nazi scumbags, that’s almost enough to read as noble.
Anyway, Saul declines to help Walt recruit his own A-Team for the purposes of wiping out Jack’s crew, and then proceeds to drop some (carefully couched) truth bombs. Skyler is still plenty screwed, even if the phone call saves her from jail time, which is not by any means certain. She is still firmly trapped by her husband’s crimes, barely able to get out of her own head while being grilled by prosecutors, a prisoner in her own home even before Todd decides to make a grand romantic gesture by invading her child’s bedroom in the dead of night. If there hadn’t been a couple bored cops sitting on the front of the house, I imagine he would’ve brought a boombox blasting Peter Gabriel in with him. But I’m sure this will work for him; after all, nothing makes panties drop like slipping on a ski mask and oh god this whole thing has really gotten away from me sorry sorry.
Sooo, let’s talk about Todd a minute. I was not on board with his being an utter psycho when he was first introduced, as not knowing where they were going to go with the Nazi angle, I thought there was more potential in a relatively normal kid getting corrupted by association with the Heisenpire than to have them stumble across a ready-made Dahmer. And it’s been easy to undervalue Jesse Plemmons’ performance when it’s defined by such a flat, affectless manner, but that emptiness overlaid with unfailing courtesy has become increasingly disturbing as time has gone on. Tonight brought home what a hiss-worthy villain he’s become, the rare sort of sicko who will bring you 2 flavors of Ben and Jerry’s the same night he’ll execute your girlfriend in cold blood. Andrea has obviously never been nearly as important to the series as Hank was, but her death was in some ways sadder, as she never had any idea that she was a part of the conflict that claimed her life, and didn’t have any opportunity to face it on her terms.
But Todd is a bit more than just someone we can cheer getting the acid bath (though my money is on Jesse recreating Walt’s flashbang trick from the pilot and literally blinding him with science…it’s Chekov’s ringtone, bitch!). He’s also, as Emily Nussbaum pointed out recently, a representation of the “Bad Fan” of BB, who identifies with and reveres Walt exclusively and would see anyone who presents and obstacle for him removed. What those fans don’t seem to understand (beyond the general sexism that permeates most of the conversation about Skyler and all the other awful bitches that every middle aged cable antihero, without fail, happens to be married to) is that BB would be a much different, more boring show if those characters weren’t there to provide a counterpoint. If it was all Heisenberg, all the time, then we would quickly cease to be so interested in and impressed with Heisenberg; it’s the contrast between the crazy crime stuff and the grounded domestic angles that make the craziness so electrifying when it rears its head.
Todd is also a dark mirror version of Jesse. As a pupil to Walt, he is the complete opposite. He is courteous, respectful, and applies himself fully, but lacks the natural intelligence that Jesse wasted in high school and through much of the early part of the series, that allowed him to cook the blue to a point where it was indistinguishable from his mentor’s. What Jesse has not been able to learn from Mr. White, but comes so naturally to Todd, is the callousness to the true cost of their business creates. Jesse is a criminal, a murderer, a drug kingpin in his own right, but Aaron Paul has given him an enormous soul as each passing episode flays it more and more brutally. If there is one word for Todd, “soulless” would be it (even his infatuation with Lydia is made creepier by how passionless it appears), and his nonchalant violence against women and children could not stand in starker contrast to Jesse’s soft-hearted approach to criminality. When Jesse is the one who knocks, his eyes are filled with tears and his gun wavers (to the point that a chunk of viewers desperate to outguess the show’s next twist convinced themselves that the camera focusing on the important character meant a crazy soap opera development where he fired over Gale’s shoulder or something), Todd is exceedingly polite and serene when he does the same. If Jesse isn’t the one to kill Todd next week, I’ll eat my porkpie hat.
But for now, he is stuck in a hellish existence as the Nazi’s meth monkey. His impressive attempts to Macguyver his way out of were obviously doomed to fail, but I thought that failure would mean a vicious beating, instead of…Jesus, fucking Todd. Jesse’s confinement is more literal than Skyler’s, and since the Nazis actually make good on their threat against his loved ones, I’d say he wins the “My Life Is Fucked Beyond Belief” award for this week. But as I said, I’m fairly confident that he will get a chance at some visceral revenge in the finale, whilst Skyler is less likely to find a way to elude jail and keep any of the money Walt is desperate to get to her and the kids.
That money, as Walt has continually opined to Jesse and Skyler and Jack, was supposed to represent freedom. But what wears Walt down to the point that he is willing to turn himself in to the DEA at the end of the episode is how useless it becomes to free him from the prison he has built for himself. Walt spends the entire episode confined; underground with Saul, in an empty tanker truck, a claustrophobic one-room cabin, or the 2 acre sprawl with a gate that primarily serves to keep him in rather than trespassers out. It costs him $50,000 for a trip to Costco, but the numbers have gotten so meaningless that he’s willing to drop another 10 for an hour of human interaction, even if it’s with a man who won’t tolerate his company for longer at any price. Also, I like to think that in that hour, Forster takes another couple grand off Walt in their game of stud.
But this is not Goodfellas, and even if wasting away his last few months in a New Hampshire winter (which makes for a striking visual counterpoint to the New Mexico desert vistas we’ve become so accustomed to) were a fittingly ignoble end for the Great Heisenberg, we know that is not going to be the case here. Walt still has breakfasts to buy, ricin to collect, and machines to gun back in Albuquerque. So something has to awaken the beast. And nothing, but nothing in this American Moment, angries up the blood like that fuckstick Charlie Rose.
But Walt is also irritated with Rose’s guests, his former business partners doing their best to whitewash (PUUUUUUUUNS!!!!) Ozymethdias’s contributions to the formation of their totes legit company for the sake of “the investing public.” There’s a mention in passing of the blue still being in circulation, but Walt looks to have already made up his mind at that point. I still have a hard time imagining the M60 is for shooting up GM Technologies, but then after the Denny’s scene first aired, I poo-pooed the idea that his return would have to do with them at all, thinking that thread had not been well enough developed to play a crucial role in the series’ endgame. I was obviously wrong (and kudos to those on the message boards who were beating that drum a year back), but still feel that whatever his motivations while leaving the bar in New Hampshire, once back in ABQ his plan will eventually culminate in a rescue of Jesse, and a small bit of redemption, even if it’s too little too late for him to earn actual forgiveness.
Can’t wait to see how wrong I can be, one last time.
Murders – Emilio, Krazy 8, Jane, two of Gus’s dealers, Gale Boetticher, Gustavo Fring, Tyrus, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, two other Fring goons, 14 year-old arachnophile Drew Sharp, Mike Ehrmantraut, Dennis the Laundry Manager, Dan the lawyer, 8 more of Mike’s guys, Steve Gomez, Hank Schrader
Collateral Damage – One innocent janitor loses his job and goes to jail on a bullshit marijuana charge. Hank had to kill a guy, even if he was an insane, degenerate piece of filth who deserved to die, giving him fairly severe PTSD. Combo was killed dealing for Walt. Jane’s father’s life is utterly ruined. 167 passengers on two planes are dead. Skyler is forced to become an accessory after the fact (or take down her son, sister and brother-in-law with Walt). 3 broken Pontiac Aztek windshields. Jesse’s RV is destroyed. On their mission to kill Heisenberg, the Cousins kill 9 illegal immigrants and their coyote, an old woman with a handicap-accessible van, a grocery-shopping bystander, an Indian woman and the Reservation sheriff that investigates. Also they shoot Hank multiple times, forcing him through a long, painful physical therapy process. Andrea’s kid brother is murdered by Gus’s dealers due to trouble Jesse and Walt stirred up. Jesse murders Gale, crushing him with guilt and destroying his hard-fought sobriety. Gus murders Victor to send a message to Walt and Jesse. Three Honduran workers get deported (or maybe worse). Walt purposefully wrecks a car, straining an already-injured Hank’s neck in an unspecified fashion. Ted Beneke breaks his neck fleeing from Heisenpire goons. Brock is poisoned and nearly dies. Tio blows himself up, but no one’s weeping for that vicious old fucker. The staff of an industrial laundry is out of their jobs. Dozens (hundreds?) of criminal prosecutions are compromised when the guys wreck the APD evidence locker. Hank’s boss gets pushed out of his job for his failure to apprehend Fring or Heisenberg. Herr Schuler, Chau and a low rent hitman get offed as Lydia scrambles to cover up Madrigal’s connection to Fring’s drug empire in the wake of his death. Walt manipulates Jesse into breaking up with Andrea. Mike’s lawyer is arrested, depriving his favorite banker of sweets. Hank has that last great pleasure of a middle-aged man, a quiet, leisurely excretion, ruined by one of history’s greatest monsters. Walt’s tutelage of Todd and enabling of Lydia lead to their murder of Declan and a half dozen of his guys. Jesse beats Saul for his role in Brock’s poisoning. Walt’s living room carpet and car upholstery are ruined via soaking in gasoline. Marie is widowed, and Flynn is going to have need about $11 million just for therapy bills. Jesse is brutally beaten by the Nazis and forced into meth cooking slavery for approximately 8 months. Saul is forced to flee to Nebraska, abandoning all but his 3 very best pairs of Dockers in the process. Skyler is put on trial and loses the house for her complicity in Walt’s crimes. Andrea is murdered by the Nazis to keep Jesse motivated to reproducing Walt’s formula.
Heisenberg Certainty Principle – Walt chokes on his attempts to repeat his threat to Saul from the S5 premiere. Heisenberg may make a return appearance in the series finale, but for this week he is nowhere in sight.
Best Lie – Walt pays a barfly to impersonate Marie and call Flynn’s school, which gets him a private conversation, albeit not the one he hoped to have.
Official Walter Jr. Breakfast Count - 15. I’ve never been a booster for RJ Mitte’s performance, but between last week and his exploding at his father on the phone tonight, he’s really ending on the strongest notes he’s had the opportunity to play for the whole series. Not coincidentally, the OWJBC has remained stalled at 15.
We Are Done, Professionally – Saul gives Walt one last piece of advice. Lydia tries to cut ties with her Nazi production team, but then Todd tells her that he’s got a batch that’s 92% pure, and…I believe the term is sploosh.
It’s The Little Things – Vacuum Cleaner Man discussing shop while Walt and Saul go over their legal and mercenary options. Skyler’s thousand yard stare in the meeting with the prosecutors mirroring Walt’s reaction to his muffled cancer diagnosis in the pilot. The second copy of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. Wood burning furnace cam! Todd’s pick up lines (“I think we work together good. It’s a good thing. I think, it’s kind of…mutually good.”) Walt declines to cut the cards after realizing that if this man wants to cheat him, he is powerless to do anything about it.
By the way, as a programming note, next week’s column will be later coming, as we’re going to go for a more comprehensive series retrospective rather than a straight finale recap. In your impatience, we ask that you please do no resort to violence.