‘Granite State’: The Duality Of Man – And Of ‘Breaking Bad’
DALLAS (105.3 THE FAN) — He is Heisenberg, fearsome criminal, so he dons the pork-pie hat and prepares for a bold eight-mile descent of a snowy New Hampshire mountain. He is Walter White, loving husband, so even though he is alone, he keeps his wedding band on his finger. But the hat doesn’t fit and the ring doesn’t fit because the duality of the anti-hero of ‘Breaking Bad’ is shriveling from two personalities to … none.
“The Duality of Man’’ is originally a Biblical concept. Theologians talk of it as “light and darkness’’ or “good and evil.’’ The Book of Daniel says, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.’’
In leading up to its penultimate episode (“Granite State’’) and next week’s finale, “Breaking Bad’’ has for six seasons left a trail of bread crumbs meant to lead us to the concept of “duality’’ – and in my view, in the end, to the death of one man’s duality.
Viewers’ minds can easily conjure up a handful of those duality bread crumbs:
- When Walt assassinates Gus Fring using Hector Salamanca’s exploding wheelchair, there’s a moment when Gus remains half-alive … with 50 percent of his face melted off his skull.
- When the pink teddy bear lands in Walt’s swimming pool, the result of a 737 crash (that is largely Walt’s fault), it’s revealed that only half of the toy is pink; the other half is charred black.
- When in the last two episodes Jesse is shown as an imprisoned meth-slave cook for Todd and Nazi Jack, he has been beaten into submission … but only on the right side of his mangled face.
- One more: In “Madrigal,’’ a flash-forward from last season when I believe we got our first glimpse of the Walt we would get to know in “Granite State’’ – the thick, dark glasses and the long, unkempt beard and the craggy face of someone near death – we see a shot so hauntingly gorgeous that it looks like a classic oil painting from a Renaissance-era master.
There it is. “Light and darkness.’’ “Good and evil.’’ (And don’t forget my review from last week, “Black and White.’’) The Duality of Walter White … and the symbolic bread-crumb evidence of which was he is to “break.’’ We sleep in the dust of the earth, then we awaken … and which way do we turn?
“Granite State’’ uses not just symbolism but also dialogue to make it clear, I believe, that Walt’s duality is being erased. The episode opens with Walt being stashed in the vacuum-cleaner-shop basement of the unnamed fixer (played crisply by noir-ish character actor Robert Forster) who will provide him a new identity and that remote cabin in New Hampshire. But for a moment, Walt will have to share the basement with fellow new-identity traveler Saul Goodman, Walt’s consigliere. Walt attempts to intimidate Saul into joining him on a vengeful killing spree that would take down the psychopathic Nazis. (Are there ever any other kind?)
But Walt’s cancer is back. He’s weak. He can’t bark one of his infamous Heisenberg lines – “It’s not over until I say it’s over!” – without coughing and gagging.
Saul, grabbing his cheap luggage and leaving the safe house for a new life, maybe managing a Cinnabon in Omaha, mumbles back, “It’s over.’’
Walter White can’t fool Saul into thinking he’s still Heisenberg. And after his escape to New Hampshire, he can’t even fool himself.
On the first day in his self-imposed mountain prison, Walt is prepared to ignore the advice of the fixer, who warns him he is the target of a nation-wide law-enforcement manhunt. Walt stuffs his dark-green military-style jacket with cash plucked from his $10-million barrel full, and before he heads into the cold, he plops that iconic pork-pie hat atop his head. Problems? Yes.
That hat isn’t practical in the frigid temperatures of New Hampshire. Further, as his hair grows (now that he’s stopped chemo), that hat won’t fit like it once did, anyway.
For the rest of the episode, the menacing hat is an innocuous decoration in the cabin, hung from an antler of a stuffed deer as dead as Walter is.
There is a moment when Walt looks down the mountain and whispers to himself, “Tomorrow.’’ But he’s running short of those, just as he’s now devoid of “fearsome’’ and absent of “family.’’
The cancer has taken such a toll that Walt is frail and thin. The skin on his face is cracking. As he tries to rest uncomfortably on a makeshift bed (wearing longjohns now instead of the tighty-whiteys that provided the very first episode with a series of sight gags), his hand droops from the bed … and his wedding band falls from his finger.
There is no more marriage (harassed back in Albuquerque by the cops, Skyler now goes by her maiden name). There is no more home (he house is now a morbid tourist attraction for punks and vandals). There is no more family. Walt attaches the ring to a string he ties around his neck. But that’s not a marriage bond; that’s a noose.
And just as Saul voices a cold reality early in the episode in that basement, Walt’s son Junior voices a hot reality in school, when Dear Ol’ Dad calls to explain to him that the boy is to receive a box of money in the mail.
“I don’t want anything from you, I don’t give a (expletive)!’’ seethes Walt. Jr., who in class is now officially going by the name “Flynn.’’ “Just leave us alone, you (expletive)! Why are you still alive? Why won’t you just die already? Just die!’’
No fearsome. No family.
(An aside: Junior still has to attend high school in Albuquerque, where his missing dad is Public Enemy No. 1? And as evidenced by where he was when the phone call came, he’s taking the same chemistry class once taught by Dad? Well, I guess he can’t exactly be home-schooled.)
Even the money is nothing now. Nazi Jack stole the other $70 mil and Walt makes angry coughing noises about wanting it back. But for what? What do you do with $70 mil when that $10 mil in the barrel that sits in your cabin like a coffee table is useless?
Time passes during Walt’s lonely stay on the mountain and the fixer returns with supplies. Walt begs for him to stay, paying him $10,000 for an hour’s worth of card-game company. (I don’t know much about cards. But the fixer begins by dealing himself two kings. More duality? “Two kings’’ as in the caged drug kingpins Walt and Jesse? Or just another sign that Walt is about to lose once again at the Game of Life?)
At some point, for all the good the $10 mil is doing him, Walt might as well use it for heat in his pot-bellied stove.
Possibly stir-crazed Walter kills time reading old Albuquerque newspapers (filled with stories covering his exploits), hooking himself up to a makeshift IV drip and, presumably, flipping on the no-reception TV to endure one of two DVDs of “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.” (Robert Forster ain’t much of a movie buff.)
Eventually, Walter moans of his byzantine journey, “This can’t be all for nothing.”
But it is. Nothing. Nothing.
One episode to go and there will be no massive inheritance for the White children, there will be no loving reunion for Skyler and Walt, there will be no inspired heroism, there will be no earthly redemption and there will be no conclusion borrowed from “Body Heat’’ or “Silence Of The Lambs,’’ where the root-for villain sips Mai Tais on a tropical island or “has someone for dinner.’’
Last week, I theorized that the figurative cancer that eats at Walt isn’t cancer, but rather, envy. … Envy directed at Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz, who have the riches and the credit for Grey Matter Technologies, a company that was originally half-owned by Walt. (The Schwartzes, it’s worth noting, are also “drug peddlers’’ of a sort.) I think we saw that theory spring into life when Walt finally does descend the mountain. He enters a bar. He orders a Dimple Pinch. (“Neat,’’ meaning no ice, maybe a tribute to the way brother-in-law Hank Schrader used to imbibe.) He calls the police with the intention of turning himself in.
And then a glance at the TV. It’s the “Charlie Rose’’ show, and Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz are the guests. Rose asks about their former partner Walter White. The conversation makes it sound like the blue meth isn’t really Walter’s invention. Elliott flat lies about Walt being important to the firm’s development. And Gretchen says, “The sweet, kind, brilliant man that we knew once ago, he’s gone.”
Walter White AND Heisenberg … erased on PBS!
And so he is. … literally, too, because when the cops show up at the bar, all that’s left of the wanted man – who as we know from flash-forwards is bound for a vengeful visit to Albuquerque — is a huge tip and that glass of whiskey “neat,’’ untouched by a man who will need sobriety to strive toward a final accomplishment. “Granite State,’’ for that moment, anyway, is about Walt’s rock-solid state of mind, and the scene is meant to be remembered forever, accompanied (for the first time, I think) by the show’s slow-twang theme music.
In next week’s “Felina,’’ there will be a hail of bullets fired or a volume of ricin consumed or a fleet of 737s that crash into everyone’s swimming pools, dropping half-faced pink teddy bears all over greater Albuquerque. But they are all going down, one way or another, from meek chemistry teachers to accessory-to-crime housewives to Chamomile-tea-with-soy-milk-drinking sexpots to generous-but-fibbing billionaires to psychopathic Nazis to innocent babies.
A baby going down? Why? For some reason in this episode, Holly White wore a cap of yellow (“drug business” indicator) instead of the recognizable pink (“death” indicator) one. Meanwhile, Todd made polite goo-goo eyes at Lydia while wearing an early-Mr. White ensemble featuring a button-down shirt and Khakis. (Todd grows up to be another “Walt Jr. not by birth but by action?) Does any of that signify who lives and who dies, or who should live and die? I’ll just say good luck to the viewer who tries to impose his moral compass on what show runner Vince Gilligan has wrought.
I believe this: “Breaking Bad” will scatter one more 75-minute handful of bread crumbs of duality; wasn’t it sweet of the “Opie Deadeye Piece of Shit’’ Todd to lower a bowl of ice cream into Jesse’s subterranean purgatory, just as in “Ozymandias,’’ Todd’s Aryan-Power uncle was kind enough to leave Walt one of the money barrels? One more scattering of crumbs. And then “The Duality of Man’’ will be dead.
Or, at least, the duality of one man.
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