GRANITE STATE: Reflections on the Science of “Breaking Bad”‘s Change

· Films & Video Games

Some people are undoubtedly going to call Granite State a filler episode, a boring uneventful juxtaposing chapter before what is most likely going to be one of the most teeth-gnashing series finales in television history. I disagree. This episode is two things: a buildup, and a reflection.

In the first episode, Walter White explained his class that chemistry is – in his words – the study of “change”. An obvious moment of foreshadowing that becomes appropriate to appreciate right before the last bang.

The episode is not structured to build itself to some kind of surprise twist that utterly changes the game right before the finale. It, like most other episodes of the show, is simply chronicling the next logical step in the character development.

The first half of the fifth season featured Walter White finally building the empire he has secretly wanted to build since Grey Matter. At the mid-section, he has succeeded to the point where he simply does not know what to do everything he has. And now it has come crashing down all around him. In a frantic act of desperation to hold onto what he still has, he stole his baby daughter from his family that now resented him in the last episode. Changing her diaper, he heard her first word. And what did she say? “Mama! Mama!” Holly may not know the depth of Walt’s actions, but she knows a stranger when she sees one.

Now in Granite State, Walter has never felt more alone. He can no longer acquire loyalty through blackmail or intimidation. Walt has to offer a stranger $10,000 just to stick around for an hour and play cards with him.

In chemistry, one thing that doesn’t change is the basic nature of the elements involved. Walt at his bones, his truest and most elementary form, is a good man who is frustrated with his life. His life has consisted of missed opportunities, misfortune, and humiliation. But none of that drove him to the pursuit of drug lordship. His breaking point was lung cancer, which was what started the journey to Heisenberg in the first place.

Now, Granite State features the most logically extreme point of that change. Walter White is now officially broken bad. He has lost the respect and love of his family. His money is in the hands of the men who killed his brother-in-law and robbed him of what is rightfully his. He doesn’t know if all of the work he’s put into the meth empire will pay off for his family. And every day brings him one step closer to death. Even worse? No one will miss him. Not his wife, not Marie, not Jesse, not even Walter Jr. His baby daughter won’t even remember him and will be forced to listen to tiresome stories from people who try to paint a picture of her father as the man he used to be verses the man he turned into (just like Walt himself had to do).

Everything has changed and it has all been ultimately for the worse. But Walt will not lie down quietly. He can’t. The brilliance of Granite State showed us that. And it has left us knowing two things.

  1. We now understand completely what the advertisement poster for Part 2 “REMEMBER MY NAME!” is all about. Having lost everything, Walter is going on a desperate quest to get it all back. He cannot believe that he will be remembered as just another asshole in the drug business. He wants to be remembered as someone who didn’t let the cancer kill him; a man who saved, provided for, and elevated his family; a man who built an empire by being the greatest methamphetamine cook in the world and turning it into Classic Coke; and the man who wiped out the Aryan Brotherhood on his own.
  2. When the last episode comes to a close, no matter what happens, this story is over. Completely over. There will be no more seasons or additional episodes. There will be no sequel series – just a spin-off with Saul. Walter White trapped into a corner like an animal. The claws and fangs are out. This is his last move, his last play. None of this was pre-ordained or pre-planned. Felina is the final chapter of one of the most complexly tragic characters on television.

Granite State was the deep breath before the plunge. And in that one big 75-minute breath, we are given a chance to reflect on what will most likely go down as one of the greatest television series ever created.

1 Comment

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  1. Nick Powell

    Great writeup and wonderful reflection on… well, reflection. I don’t think we need a glorifying ending and I don’t see how all of our stories won’t have the closures they need. The writers have done an incredible job and I cannot wait to see the felina.

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