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'Breaking Bad' recap: Cabin fever prevails in 'Granite State'

Posted by Christopher Hughes  September 23, 2013 12:00 PM

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Did you watch this latest episode? Are you gearing up for the finale? Before we ask you to share your thoughts here in the comments, read a recap of the episode below. Note: Spoilers included! If you haven't watched yet, this post may not be for you ...

Fans of "Orange is the New Black" should be familiar with the term S.H.U. (special housing unit). It's a fancy word for solitary confinement and it plays a large part in "Granite State" as Walter's family -- including Jesse -- all deal with their respective dungeons and the inevitable symptoms of isolation and maddeningly cramped quarters.

Certainly, Jesse's oubliette is the most extreme, but there's also Walt's spartan cabin stocked with "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium" (two copies), Skyler's hermitage as an unhireable social pariah, and her sister, Marie, who appears well on her way to becoming crazy Miss Havisham from "Great Expectations." Each is battling dire repercussions as accomplices to Walt's two-year power grab; something, we learn, that has less to do with cancer and more with the void left by his college sweetheart and the multi-billion dollar company that flourished without him.

At the beginning of the episode, Robert Forster's Vacuum Cleaner Man has imprisoned a rampaging Walter White somewhere in the bowels of his industrial repair shop. His professional habit is to strip his clients to the lowliest essentials, which means that both Walt and Saul Goodman -- fleeing the billboard fame of his ill-reputed law practice -- are reduced to white undershirts and concrete environs.

In this barebones bunker, creator Vince Gilligan seems to literally be undressing his characters of all the pomp and circumstance. For Walt, this means he's just a middle-aged cancer victim with a short fuse. The ties that money used to acquire -- the hit men, the muscle, the protection from do-gooders -- no longer apply. Even spineless Saul, who shirks from any form of physical confrontation, is no longer intimidated by the glower and goatee of Heisenberg.

"I'm a civilian. I'm not your lawyer any more," Saul tells Walt. "The fun's over. From here on out I'm Mr. Low Profile. I'm just another douchebag with a job and three pairs of dockers. If I'm lucky, in three months from now, best case scenario, I'm managing a Cinnabon in Omaha."

"Remember what I told you," Walt sneers, in the timbre of his former self. But before he can complete his threat he crumbles into a coughing fit that curls him into a fetal position.

Later in the episode, when he arrives at his newly acquired two acres festooned with a "Unabomber"-type New Hampshire cabin, Walt resuscitates the black pork pie hat, thumbing the brim for emphasis. But even this deadly relic is no match for his increasingly weakened immune system and eight miles of snowy road lying between him and the next "one-horse town." He'd love to defy the Vacuum Cleaner Man and take revenge on Jack's wicked band by himself, but this bucolic path from his gate to menial civilization is enough to shatter his resolve. The hat becomes comic decor for the taxidermied buck hanging on the wall. Like a jackalope in Bennigan's, it's just another quirky touch to compliment the wood-paneled walls and the clips of his trial from the Albuquerque Journal.

Meanwhile, Marie returns home, dazed after Walt's confession regarding her missing husband, and finds the place ransacked. Uncle Jack has confiscated the confession tapes Jesse made with Hank and is viewing them over some beers. Todd seems flattered to hear of his involvement in the Drew Sharp murder aired in front of his Nazi uncle. But this is the second time in two weeks that Todd has had to intervene on Jesse's behalf, as Jack once again threatens to end Pinkman's filament-thin partnership in the blue methylamine business.

Jack rightfully presumes that his days of cooking in the desert are over with almost 70 million heisted from Walt in To'hajiilee. But Todd begs for him to let Jesse resume cooking, since his one way into Lydia's heart is the purity and profitability of her exports. Neo-Nazis don't have many endearing qualities, but I think even Uncle Jack agrees with Jesse that his nephew is "Opey"-like and "dead-eyed" and maybe a 92 percent purity grade is Todd's best chance of scoring with a girl.

Surprisingly, in a room full of neck tats and Brian Wilson beards, potato-faced Jesse Plemons is the most chilling. His ho-hum, milquetoast attitude regarding murder jump him over Joffrey Baratheon, Al Swearengen, and The Smoking Man is terms of pure sociopathy. This was never more evident than when Todd steals into Holly's room in a ski mask to stun Skyler into remaining quiet or when Todd tells Andrea "it's nothing personal" before shooting her in the back of the head.

On a side note, is there anything a paperclip, adrenaline, and Colbert's Americone Dream can't accomplish? Despite being abused and dehydrated, this cotton-mouthed combination turns Jesse into Peter Parker as he nearly escapes the latches and barbed wire of the Neo-Nazi compound. But unlike his ingenuity with giant magnets in "Live Free or Die" or his train heist plot in "Dead Freight," Jesse's luck appears to have evaporated and he's forced to watch as Todd makes good on his threats to Andrea.

I know we're not supposed to like Walt anymore, particularly after Hank's demise and Holly's abduction, but I can't help but root for the guy. The imagery of Walt sliding his wedding band off an emaciated finger and looping it through some kitchen twine to make a necklace, or him bribing the Vacuum Cleaner Man with $10,000 for an hour of droll human company, just endeared him to me even more.

We finally see Walt transition into the thick black frames and wooly beard seen on his 52nd birthday. He's undergoing rudimentary chemo treatments that leave him breathless and weak. One of the only criticisms I heard regarding last week's episode, "Ozymandias," was Walt's seemingly superhuman ability to roll a barrel of money across the desert despite his debilitating cancer. The only possible explanation for that bout of energy was a pint of Ben & Jerry's because none of that strength is apparent in "Granite State" and it becomes a Sisyphean task for Walt just to traverse the eight miles to a pay phone.

If there was any doubt that Flynn is now immune to his father's charms look no further than Jr. bawling him out over the death of Hank and screaming at him to "just die!" Bryan Cranston's pained whimpering was the stuff of Oscar gold, but his son's stoicism was enough to inspire Walt to confess his whereabouts to the DEA.

"Breaking Bad" wouldn't exist though without the wounded pride of Walter White. He might be a genius, but he's also petty and single-minded. When Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz appear on Charlie Rose defending their recent bout of philanthropy by belittling Walt's foundational influence in Gray Matter, the remorse and whiskey-euphoria come grinding to a halt. Cancer was never the impetus of making blue meth. Neither was his family's financial security. Walt has been looking for personal justification this entire time and as he flees the DEA, it's no longer obvious to me why he's going after Jack and Todd.

Is it because of threatening his family and tearing the delicate fabric that bound him to Skyler? Is he upset over his brother-in-law's inglorious massacre? Or is he still sore over a grad school romance that turned sour? Because of it's the latter, that's pretty sad.

And now it's your turn. Let us know your reaction to this episode. Is it what you expected? What do you think will happen in the final episode?


Jesse escaping confinement in "Granite State." Photo credit: AMC

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