Five Essay Prompts for Breaking Bad 5×15: ‘Granite State’

You get it? Like that other show? (AMC)
You get it? Like that other show? (AMC)

These questions regard last night’s episode of AMC’s Breaking Bad. Please answer the prompts with specific examples from LAST NIGHT’S EPISODE, though supplementary material will be accepted as a secondary source. Please write legibly. No. 2 pencils only. You have an hour to finish this test. See below for questions and sample responses.

1. It’s not in The Dent Act, but the line about “you either die a hero or live long enough to become a villain” is prescient, if not for Walter White, then for Breaking Bad as a sustainable television model in this new “Golden Age”: Vince Gilligan has promised not to give us a shitty or ambiguous finale, which will be ending on its own terms. (Something W. W. would definitely appreciate.) With one episode left, can you give us your prediction for at least two of the major characters? Will Walter White survive? Todd? Jesse?

As unsatisfying as the ending of The Sopranos was, it takes a healthy dose of denial to think that it was really that ambiguous. Tony died. He had to die. There was no way to end that show, or that character arc, without killing him. And Walter White, he of perhaps the most dramatic character arc in television history, is no different. Walt’s gonna die. The only question is how—will he die ignominiously or well? Is there any possibility of redemption, even a small degree of redemption, for such a person? Even in his most recent dire state, wasted and sick and horrifyingly lonely, he seems still to be motivated by jealousy, greed and ego, which suggests that the answer is no.

On the other hand, Jesse’s situation is even worse, and the parallel between them is deliberately drawn: both cold, more or less alone, with only the person who brings them food for momentary company. And Jesse, of all people, is redeemable. He’s been in rehab, but he hadn’t yet hit his own personal rock bottom—it wasn’t Jane’s death but Andrea’s that finally got him there. And any satisfying conclusion to Breaking Bad has to involve his redemption. 

My prediction: Walt’s final act is saving Jesse. It may not make up for what he has done, and there can be no reconciliation, but they may find a way to forgive one another. Also: kill some Nazis, which makes for a pretty unambiguous good thing that we can all get behind.

2. A new study from the University of Chicago suggests that people who have a lower life expectancy are less focused on completing college or getting job training, because why control your impulse to live life when putting it off won’t necessarily do you any good? For Walter White, his cancer has been a sort of liberating death sentence, but it’s true that as he’s become more “Heisenberg” he’s also acted more rashly and without thinking through the potential consequences of his actions. When Walter starts hedging up in New Hampshire–by saying “tomorrow” instead of leaving the compound–is he being cowardly or thinking sanely, for perhaps the first time in a long while?

He’s being weak, physically and emotionally. We’ve seen Walt’s illness affect his life negatively before, but this is really the first time we’ve seen it debilitating him instead of motivating him. And no wonder. The things he always thought he was doing it all for are gone. He might as well be burning that money for warmth. Maybe he belatedly thinks of sending it to his family, but really, he’s stuck without a plan, for what might be the very first time. Spinning his wheels is a bad look on Walter White, and after briefly flailing at bad plans (Hire a hitman! Get Saul to come along with you!), he settles into this deadened emptiness. So the answer to your question is: both! By any real definition of sanity, it is sane to be cowardly in this situation. Luckily, Walt’s triggers are right there on the surface, and the first time he sees live television in months is enough to make him fly totally off the handle again.

3. Though you kind of want to bonk him over the head, Flynn/Walter Jr.’s reaction to his father’s phone call is the first real example of someone on this show not being swayed by the promise of drug money. Is this hubris/pride “fucking with” Walt Jr., or has his reactions to the ethical dilemmas in the last two episodes positioned him as the real role model of the series?

Notice how even Flynn’s school is calling him by that name now? If my memory of school serves, that is not a trivial thing to get them to do. He has clearly gone to some effort to distance himself from his father in every possible way. But though he may couch his newfound hatred for his dad in moral terms, this is clearly an emotional reaction. Flynn isn’t a role model, he’s a teenager. They see things in black and white, and Flynn’s father–who in Walt’s own mind is about as gray as they come–is now firmly on the dark side. He murdered a family member. It’s over. Drug money doesn’t even come into it. Walt may as well have said the Ensure box had 50 billion dollars in it.

4. Poor Jesse… now that Todd has killed Andrea, he really doesn’t have a reason to live. (Except for the fate of Brock.) But Walter’s decision not to turn himself in at the end of this week’s episode–apparently motivated by something he sees in the Schwartz’s interview–reminds us that revenge can be an equally powerful life force as love. Some have thought that the final showdown will inevitably be Walter against Jesse, but with both of them having motives to kill Uncle Jack and Todd to avenge the death of a loved one, is there still a possibility for reconciliation?

See answer #1. Not reconciliation, no, but the enemy of my enemy, and all that. As to the question of whether they are both motivated by revenge at this point, we have to hope that’s not the case. Getting payback may feel good to the person taking vengeance, but it is an empty way to end a television series. And anyway, Walt may think he wants revenge for Hank’s death, but that is a cover. Mr. Self-Delusion can’t deal with his guilt, so he transfers it to Jack—who, conveniently, has also taken Walt’s money, so as a side effect (read: the whole motive) of taking “revenge,” he gets to steal it back. Honestly, the only truly satisfying ending to this show would be for Walter White to take responsibility for something, anything. Not “mistakes were made” or “I didn’t know what would happen,” but a true apology. That would be something.

5. How believable is it that Saul will be able to start a new life undercover, considering that he’s linked to one of the biggest crime bosses in history and his face, even more than Walter White’s, is everywhere?

Well, Robert Forster didn’t seem too concerned; Walt was a challenge because his face was all over the national news. Saul was only a problem locally; once he got him away from the Better Call Saul billboards (coming soon to an AMC lineup near you), he was fine. The interesting thing is that he can’t lawyer anymore. He’s going have to get a job at a “Cinnabon in Omaha.” Imagining Saul with a food service job was one of the great pleasures of an otherwise staggeringly grim episode (along with watching Todd twisting in his seat to hit on Lydia). It’s too bad the producers have decided to go the prequel route. It would be amazing seeing Saul as the dude who works at the Dairy Queen who dispenses legal advice to criminals on the side. But the whole “always looking over his shoulder in case the DEA or Jesse Pinkman show up” thing would have made that considerably less appropriate for a half-hour comedy. Five Essay Prompts for <em>Breaking Bad</em> 5×15: ‘Granite State’