Breaking Bad Review: Off the Reservation

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When we first met Walter White, he used the fire of a beaker to educate his chemistry students. He cooked meth in the hot desert and he wore tighty whities.

On the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad, he used the flames of a wood-burning stove to keep himself alive. He shivered in the freezing cold of rural New Hampshire and he layered himself in Gore-Tex.

Indeed, "Granite State" didn't feature the non-stop intensity of last Sunday's utterly bonkers "Ozymandias," instead giving viewers a chance to take a breath and take note of just how far Walt has fallen.

He's emaciated, he's helpless, he's desperate for company and - worst of all for the man who once sat on top of an empire - he's not in control. He's utterly reliant on unexpected guest star Robert Forster*, he's at the mercy of his disease and he can't even order Saul around anymore.

(*Forster's relocation guru could totally be friends with Todd; the two share an oddly friendly detachment from their heinous occupations. They could eat ice cream and play cards together.)

Jesse as a Slave

It's a pathetic state of affairs for the former Heisenberg, whose pork pie hat is now reduced to an antler ornament. Neither Mr. Magorium nor all the toys in his Wonder Emporium can turn around Walt's life now.

So thank goodness for... Charlie Rose?!? It's picking the smallest of nits to focus on just what drives Walt back to New Mexico, machine gun in trunk, Ricin in hand. But it did seem overly fortuitous that the bartender happened to stumble on this PBS host... who just happened to be interviewing Elliott and Gretchen... who just happened to be discussing - and dismissing - Walt on air.

But even that plot contrivance brings things around like only Breaking Bad can.

Walt always saw himself as better than a high school teacher, as someone deserving of the money and acclaim that has since come his former business partners' ways. It's really what drove him from the outset. Sure, he began to cook to raise money for his family after he died. But he continued to cook, he continued to take every dastardly/manipulative/maniacal/deadly step along the way, because he felt deprived. He felt gipped. He felt like his genius was being wasted away in an ordinary life and he became hooked on the extraordinary power of Heisenberg.

He was an addict, in need of the rush of a good cook and a successful scheme as much as those to whom he sold were in need of the Blue.

And this week we witnessed Walt going through withdrawal, even shaking from the weather. He was ready to finally give it all up after realizing - finally, truly, legitimately realizing - that he didn't actually have a family. The loved ones he fooled himself into believing were the crux of all his actions didn't see him as their savior. They viewed him as their nightmare.

Last week, Holly looked at him and said "Mama." Last year, Skyler said she was simply waiting for Walt to die. And now Walt Jr. Flynn took it a step further: he ordered his father to die. What a tremendous scene; gripping, painful, heartbreaking for Flynn and, yes, somehow for Walt as well.

There's no redemption for Walter White. He may have left the reservation here against orders, but he flew off it a long time ago - and there are too many bodies in his wake. But I'll be damned if Bryan Cranston can't still make you feel for his iconic character in small moments of begging for company or pleading with his son.

Breaking Bad can tear you apart with a gunshot (RIP, Andrea* and, my goodness, what is there to even say about the agony of Jesse's life at this point?) and also with a phone call. It can air an episode full of one jaw-dropping action scene after another... and then it can turn around and make you gasp through the sheer quietness of a remote cabin. This series has been a character study in one individual, famously going from Mr. Chips to Scarface, but having seen Walt at both those extremes, this was the first time we saw him as simply defeated.

(*And here, once again, Breaking Bad subverts the television norm. How many times have we seen characters threatened? How many times have those threats actually become a reality?!? Todd silently said that Andrea would be killed if Jesse disobeyed. Jesse disobeyed. And Andrea was killed in the next scene. What happened was exactly what the show said would happen, and that's almost what made it so shocking, considering how other programs often use similar type threats as storyline fodder without actually following through on them.)

Yet he has one more fight in him, this we know.

What will take place in the finale? I have no idea. I think Walt will save Jesse with the machine gun and I think he'll save the Ricin for himself. I think that's how this incredible journey will end. But Vince Gilligan will likely prove me wrong. And that's perfectly fine.

Breaking Bad stopped being about guesses or predictions a long time ago. And it certainly stopped being about hope because we all knew this story would not have a happy ending. It's simply been about top-notch acting, incredible direction, confident storytelling and the singular, focused, disturbingly awesome vision of Gilligan.

No matter what (or who) goes down next Sunday, and no matter how many times AMC keeps telling us All Bad Things Must Come to an End, it's been clear throughout this run of Season 5 that Breaking Bad will live forever.

Granite State Review

Editor Rating: 4.8 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.3 / 5.0 (134 Votes)

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.

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