SPOILER ALERT: The recap for the "Granite State" episode of "Breaking Bad" contains storyline and character spoilers.
Walter White's descent into hopelessness has come fast and furious, and even though we all knew it was coming, and that it was deserved, that sure doesn't make it any easier to watch. In the end, or the near-end in this penultimate episode of "Breaking Bad," even with so much blood on Walt's hands, who among us is not crushed by every heartbreaking turn in his end times?
Whether it's his beloved son Walt Jr. yelling at him to die already, or the indignity of his DIY chemo treatment hanging from deer antlers and having to pay a stranger $10,000 to spend an hour with him, we can all agree: This is a fate worse than death, which is still coming to a physically deteriorating Walt, sooner rather than later.
After last week's devastating "Ozymandias," currently reigning as the best episode of TV drama ever, "Granite State" managed to take "Bad" fans to a whole other level of despair, as Walt accepted his fate, emotionally and physically, until he found one little thing worth hanging on for just a bit longer: revenge.
The way it unfolded:
It's not all good, man, for Saul. With tales of Walt's misdeeds becoming public knowledge, Saul had to lam it, too, and for a brief period, he and Walt share the basement hideout of Saul's vacuum-cleaner fixer until the guy can arrange new identities for each of them. Walt, still full of himself at this point, wants Saul's help in compiling a list of potential hitmen to take out Uncle Jack and the crew, but Saul tells Walt he's done with him.
Saul advises Walt that the feds are going to go after Skyler mercilessly, and that her only hope of avoiding jail and maybe being able to keep her house is if Walt turns himself in. Walt refuses, telling Saul he's not giving up until he gets all his money back, kills Jack Welker, and gives his money to his children. "What I do, I do for my family," Walt still insists.
Saul's goals are more modest. "If I'm lucky, a month from now, best-case scenario, I'm managing a Cinnabon in Omaha."
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"Remember what I told you? It's not over 'til…" Walt says, before breaking into a coughing spell that illustrates how quickly his cancer is weakening him.
Saul: "It's over," as he wheels his suitcases off to pursue that career in fast-food management.
P.S.: The vacuum-cleaner fixer really does own a vacuum-cleaner store. Huh.
Marie was being driven back to her house by DEA agents, who promise her they're going to find Hank and Gomez. Instead, they arrive at her house and find that it's been ransacked. One of the agents calls it in, while the other speeds off with Marie. Will we see her again before the series ends? Her world, as much as anyone's, has imploded.
As Saul forecasted, Skyler is in a room full of angry feds who want her to give them any bit of info she can to help them track Walt. She says she has nothing to offer — she truly doesn't know where he is — and later, we see her sitting in the dark at the White house, peeking out the curtains at the federal agents staking out her house.
Skyler hears baby Holly cry and goes to her nursery, where three masked men surround the crib. One, Todd, talks to her, and wants to know if she has mentioned to the cops the woman who came into the car wash. He refers to Lydia, of course, and Skyler swears she hasn't, and won't, tell the cops anything about her.
Todd accepts this and touches Skyler gently on the shoulder, before warning her: "You really don't want us coming back."
It was Jack and his men, of course, who broke into the Schrader house to retrieve the confession tapes Jesse recorded with Hank. The whole gang watches them, poking fun at a crying Jesse, while Todd takes pride in the section where Jesse recalls how "that Opie, dead-eyed piece of s--t" murdered Drew Sharp, the boy on the bike in "Dead Freight."
Jack decides, now that they have all of Walt's money, to kill Jesse, but Todd stops him, again. We need Jesse to continue making the high-quality meth, Todd argues. Jack is content with Walt's millions, and then realizes Todd isn't motivated by meth-making, but by his schoolboy crush on Lydia.
Jack's bemused, joking that frosty Lydia probably has a "woodchipper for a coochie," but then demurs to Todd. "The heart wants what the heart wants," says that ol' romantic softie Uncle Jack.
Jesse, meanwhile, in his cage, stares at a photo of Brock and Andrea before taking the paper clip attached to it and using it to pick open his handcuffs. Todd brings him some Ben & Jerry's — a gift for helping him cook a batch of Walt-quality meth — and Jesse quickly gets back into the cuffs. But the minute Todd leaves, Jesse goes back to work, picking the cuff locks, using his bucket and blanket to boost himself up to the bars atop the cage, and slides the lock to free himself.
He dashes to the fence and begins climbing it, oblivious to the security camera monitoring the whole compound. Within seconds, a line of men are shining flashlights at him, as Jesse begs them to kill him, to get it over with, because he's not going to continue cooking for them, he promises.
Then we see Todd knocking on a front door. Andrea answers, and Todd tells her he's a friend of Jesse's, who's in the truck across the street. Andrea steps onto her porch to glance towards the truck, and a bound-and-gagged Jesse sobs uncontrollably as Todd shoots Andrea in the back of the head. He gets back into the car where Jack tells him, "Hey, remember… there's still the kid."
Dead-Eyed Opie meets with Lydia at the café where Lydia usually meets Walt. Todd's sporting what he must assume is what Lydia wants in a man: He's wearing a crisp button-down shirt and Dockers-type pants, his hair is neatly combed, and he's sipping a cup of tea. He tells her the "message" was delivered to Skyler, and it shouldn't be a problem. Lydia's not convinced, hinting that further action needs to be taken.
Todd assures her it's handled, but after she says they need to take a break in their dealings, he entices her with this: He has 50 pounds of meth ready to go, and it's the good stuff. Blue, with 92 percent purity, just like Walt used to make. That's what your European buyers wanted, right?, Todd offers.
He tells her he has Jesse in custody, and that's how he's coming up with the good stuff. "We work together good," Todd tells the suddenly interested-again Lydia. "We make a good team."
Walt crawls out of the inside of a propane truck. Vacuum-cleaner fixer has dropped him off a cabin, in the middle of nowhere, on a snow-covered piece of land in New Hampshire (aka the Granite State). There's a month's supply of food, a wood burner, a generator, no phone or Internet access, not much TV reception, only a few DVDs for entertainment, and the nearest town is an eight-mile trudge through the snow away.
Fixer guy tells Walt to give him a list of the things he'll want when the Fixer returns, a month later. He also warns Walt: Don't leave this property. He doesn't usually have ongoing relationships with the people he helps, and Walter is, by far, the most notorious man he's helped, Fixer says. Again: Walter is free to leave… but if he does, Fixer will no longer help him. Oh, and you will get caught, he assures Walt.
Walt, of course, stuffs some cash stacks from his barrel (he never leaves home without that) into his coat, puts on his Heisenberg hat, and heads straight out to the gate to make his way into town. He gets to the edge of his property, though, surveys what will be a taxing trip in his ever-weakening state, and puts his walk on hold. "Tomorrow," he says.
Fixer guy returns with supplies — which he drives all the way from Albuquerque to NH — including hometown newspapers, Ensure (Walt is looking seriously frail), and news of Skyler sightings. He saw her shopping, he tells Walt, and she looked fine. But he also saw her public defender on TV, he says, and that did not inspire confidence. The case against her hasn't gone to trial yet, he tells Walt on a supply drop-off that appears to be several months after Walt's arrival in NH.
He also brings Walt's chemo treatment, in a bag they hang from a set of deer antlers as it's administered. Fixer guy gets ready to leave, and Walt offers him $10,000 to stay for two more hours. This is Walt's bottom. Almost.
Later, alone in the cabin, he stares at an Ensure box and gets an idea. He'll stuff it with cash and send it to his family, having it arrive at the house of Louis, Walt Jr.'s friend. Walt wraps the package and begins the walk into town.
He arrives at a dive bar and pays a stranger to call Walt Jr.'s school, pretending to be Marie and demanding to speak with him. When Junior gets on the phone in the administration office (the very school where Walt used to be a chemistry teacher), Walt takes over, telling him he's sorry, that things happened he didn't intend to happen. They don't have much time, he says, but he's filled a box with cash, and wants Junior to know he's having it delivered to Louis's house, in Louis's name, for Junior. "I wanted to give you so much more," Walt cries into the phone. "But this is all I could do."
In what is certainly one of the ultimate tragedies for Walt, Junior rejects the cash. He tells him he doesn't want it. He doesn't want anything to do with his dad, ever again. "You killed Uncle Hank! You killed him! Shut up!" Junior screams. "Why are you still alive? Why won't you just die already? Just die!" And he hangs up on his dad.
This one thing Walt could possibly still do for his family is being rejected. His family, the reason he has used as justification for all his hubris-feeding activities, doesn't want the one thing he has ruined all their lives to secure for them.
Walt makes one more call from the bar pay phone. He calls the ABQ DEA office, and tells them he's Walter White. He drops the receiver, knowing the call will be traced.
Destroyed, a resigned Walt takes a seat at the bar, and asks for a drink. As the bartender channel-surfs the TV above the bar, Walt hears a familiar voice and asks him to turn back. It's Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz, Walt's old Gray Matter partners, on the Charlie Rose show, talking about Walt. In an effort to distance themselves and their company from their co-founder, they tell Charlie that Walt's only real contribution to the company was naming it.
Uh-oh. The Schwartzes have reawakened the Heisenberg. Walt has lost everything: his family, his freedom, and, very soon, his life. But there's one thing he refuses to let go of. His pride.
When local cops swarm the bar minutes later and come inside, guns drawn, they happen upon the stool where Walt had been waiting for their arrival. Now, all that's there is his half-empty drink.
And we know, in a few short days, we're going to see him at Denny's, then opening that trunk, and removing that M60, in Albuquerque.
"Breaking Bad" Bits:
* The whole cast of "Breaking Bad" will appear together on a talk show for the first time, Monday night, on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS).
* Anyone planning to marathon binge-watch the entire series? AMC is airing the first 61 episodes, in order, beginning on September 25 at 8 p.m. and leading into "Felina," the 75-minute series finale, September 29 at 9 p.m.
* Next week's post-series finale episode of the "Talking Bad" aftershow will be an hour long, and will air from Aaron Paul's sold-out Kind Campaign benefit at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Vince Gilligan and various cast members will dissect the final episode.
* With apologies to Dustin Hoffman, we must second Walt's disappointment that his final cinematic choices were going to be two copies of "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" on DVD. And kudos to "Granite State" writer Peter Gould for that moment of levity — pretty much the only thing that kept us from weeping throughout the entire episode.
Let's hear your thoughts on:
* Who does Walt want to be staring down the end of that M60 machine gun, the one he bought in the "Live Free or Die" flash-forward? Will it be Uncle Jack, Todd, and company? Gretchen and Elliott, his old Gray Matter partners? Jesse? Lydia?
* And what about the ricin he retrieves from the White house in the flash-forward? Is that for Lydia? Or maybe Walt plans to use it on himself, post-vengeance?
* Will we ever see Saul Goodman again, before his spinoff series? Or maybe we won't find out if he really did get that gig managing a Cinnabon in Omaha until the end of the spinoff…
* Jesse: Does he somehow survive Todd and Jack? We haven't been given the smallest shred of hope of any happy endings for anyone on "Breaking Bad," but… Jesse… maybe? Though, at this point, does Jesse even want to live? His only motivation, like Walt, may be revenge. Aaron Paul, by the way, in that scene in the truck? Nope, sorry, can't talk about that yet. Too soon. But, OK, one word: Emmy.
* Vince Gilligan has promised a definitive ending to the series, but do you think that means we will know exactly what happens to all the characters still in play by the end of "Felina"?
"Breaking Bad" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.