"The thing is, if you just do stuff, and nothing happens, what's it all mean?"

Monday, September 23, 2013

Unraveling 5x15 "Granite State" (i.e. "Is Walter White Still out there...")

Events set in motion long ago
 move toward a conclusion
 -The Uninspired yet Ultimately Appropriate Episode Description, as provided by TV Guide

Walt turns to stone (symbolically granite...the moniker of his state-of-exile), when "all-the-illusions-he-rationalized-his-actions-with" are gone; Walt turns to "maybe-back-into-a-shadow-of-his-decent-self"...and is comin' home

Personal subjective stuff out the way; I thought this episode was actually the best of the season so far...and I don't think many would agree.

There will be some sort of pithy, mystical analysis of this episode added some point soonish...

For now, I'll present the not-entirely incoherent notes I typed out when I re-watched the second airing of the episode last night...:

Cold open, vacuum cleaner repair.....prisoners. Recreates the coloring of the exit gravestones. Bleached out color saturation. Surprise from robgert forester (final Tarantino nodd, also...what a good performance). Saul's bright colors stand out...he then segues into white....washing away the sins...not possible. Crystal blue background screen (the cleaner is dressed in drab).

Forster...Sort of embodying his Max Cherry character from Jackie Brown. 

"He's still here." him on the screen, a meta-reflection that consists throughout episode (the fourth wall breakage goes back to the pilot, and resurfaced in the climatic sequence of "Confession").

Saul gives a private look at how Walt falls in a prison cell. 

"Bunk mates"

From that point forward, the show structurally places the remaining characters in a frame that seems like a vacuum. An unnatural sterility runs throughout the episode, yet the warmth does return (the final sequence is extremely cinematic).

Marie, sealed in the car with the DEA agent (the agent is out of focus); the other is in shadow....echoes the motif of the front shot outside the car, when Marie and Hank would drive together....Marie is isolated in the frame at this point, and the camera is internalized...much like her compartmentalized emotions.

Audio j-cuts across, of Jesse's confession tape (quick economical line with the rapid catalyzation of the show's pace). 

Todd, lit with the satanic red light (as in the previous episodes).

They watch Jesse on a TV screen, another way that a characters true nature is viewed from a distance...also acts as a mirror to Todd's hidden crimes.

"We got all the money in the world" "No matter how much you got, how do you turn your back on more..." Jack and Todd. Good old boys. Once the flunkies (again...they aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer...even if they're sharp with actual blades).

Cry-baby rat (the continued animalization of Jesse). The sound and light is another vacuum. Uses the paper clip, in a move of desperation that echoes Walt's previous escape at the end of 5x06 ("Buyout").

The camera cuts down from the cleaner to Walt and Saul, paralleling the camera transitions which occurred in scenes at the laundry/superlab back in season 4 (the move was also done in the first few episodes, to move from the main floor in Jesse's house to the basement cell that held Crazy 8 (the scene of Walt's first murder...the blood he shed then spread farther than Victor's, puddling every action Walt took from then to where he is now.
Saul, without his flamboyant clothes, is brutally honest. No longer playing a game; just watching out for Walt's best interests (half-heartedly...but still). Lost the house "predates the criminal enterprise)...

"This, this changes nothing, what I do, I do for my family...." still in denial...his glasses are obscured by the reflections of the room. 

"Then...and only then, am I through."

"Change of plans."

"You're still part of this, whether you like it, or not" (there's no way he or the writers could have known, but this strikes me as meta-commentary, since Bob Odenkirk is still going to be kicking around the BrBa universe, with the seemingly misguided "Better Call Saul" spin-off.

Attempts to recreate the previous "It's not over, until I say it's over."

As he coughs, and falls to his knees, the position of the camera cuts back, showing the exposed insulation; a metaphor for the raw and pathetic vulnerability of Walter White. 

Saul, confronted with the true despair of the dethroned Ozymandias, realizes there's no real or illusory power that can hold him to Walter White anymore. And with that, he walks out, likely in the most humble move of self-preservation he's committed since taking on the "Saul Goodman" pseudonym.

Cuts to a slow zoom out from Skyler, the sound is as if inside a vacuum seal, a buzz of tinnitus (something that usually correlated with psychosis, fitting to a show that has entered a psychic rupture of its very structural narrative fabric). This is likely an unintentional association, but tinnitus is also a common side-effect of methamphetamine abuse.

Scene from the DEA car (echoes the time that Tuco's car stalked the White house back at the beginning of Season 2).

Skyler walks through a starkly lit hall-wall  Todd and crew terrorize passively (something I expected, but suddenly seeing them surrounding the crib was still a shock). Luckily Skyler got really used to successfully navigating Stockholm Syndrome, so she's able to honestly reassure Todd (who deals with her in his usual sick, Oedipally complicated bed-side manner).

Holly now has on the Breaking Bad yellow for a cap (no longer pink). Her innocence has been corrupted...decayed like the very color palette of the series. 

Todd's mug is a slightly greener yellow (turns out Lydia sent them...showing how cognitively dissonant Lyrida is, since she knows the horror of having an armed gunman violate the presumed sanctity of the domestic space (Mike in 5x02 "Madrigal").

"She seems like a nice lady, watching out for her kids" 

"I'm not like you or your Uncle; I'm not used to this kind of risk."

Lydia also isn't like Saul (then again, Todd has what Walt no longer does...the keys to the golden blue meth goose); she is unable to walk away when all the signs point to exit. 

"...I think, it's kind of, mutually good." The temptation is too high. Karmic justice seems just around the bend.

Todd picks off a thing of lint from her back...a signifier both of their primal "back-scratching" relationship, but also a reminder of Todd's sick ulterior motives.

Walt gets ridden to New Hampshire inside a truck, when he is first shown, it looks like he is inside a giant barrel (...some reviewer astutely pointed out that during the last episode, the barrel that Walt rolls symbolizes the barrel meant for his own decomposition...the same type of container used to dispose of Victor and Drew Sharpe [and while others pulled the trigger, or yanked the blade, those deaths are ultimately on Walt's shoulders]).

Bright red of the hand-truck is the only vibrant color. Granite state, "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium...two copies." Limbo, a nowhere place, for a nowhere man.

"Normally, you and I would go our separate ways,'re you" a meta-reflection the cleaner wouldn't fully know about.

"Business to conduct." "Your business is your business." "Face is all over TV, you are the hottest client I have ever have, by far. It stands to reason, you have got to stay out of sight."

"What's to keep me from walking out of that gate." White.

"If you leave this place, you will get caught....left the reservation." A pun, since Walt has clearly already checked out and left the reservation a long time ago.

Crystal blue truck.... "Rest up...think on things...if you look around, it's kind of beautiful." another meta-reflection on life. 

Leitmotif...vacuous soundtrack...even the hat has seemingly been depressurized. Walt needs to pop it out (masculinity, impotence). Yet, he can't get through the gate, because of how dependent and alone he now is. The hat is meaningless, he is a coward like before (when he does leave later, he's wearing an innocuous and multi-blue-hued cap).

"Tomorrow...tomorrow." he unconvincingly reassures himself, as he crunches back.

He then lights the fire....not an obvious hellfire metaphor. Rather, it speaks to the original symbols of the show, transformative flames...yet, is change too late? The reaction has already begun, but maybe the final solution can be diluted...

This juxtaposes distinctly with the next scene of Jesse's escape attempt. Walt can't even cross a symbolic threshold, on the off chance he finds himself powerless or has to continue to own up to the real consequences of the life he left behind in ruins. Whereas Jesse's drive to survive and protect his "family" is so strong that he heedlessly does whatever it takes. 

Elliptical editing racks up the tension, as Jesse recreates what it took to get him out of the chains. He balances on the barrel (which parallels the sequence from "Fly," in which he precariously balances on the ladder...both positions he was forced into my the megalomania of Mr. W). 

Deep down, I know that he won't make it, but I really didn't think the show would go where it goes (in hindsight, it all seems unavoidably fated, though).

He climbs the fence, which reminded me of the time he snuck into the junkyard in 2x04 "Down" (oh, back when the worst shit they could throw at Jesse was having him fall into a porta-potty...."those were the days"). 

"You psycho-fucks" the writers are usually allowed to give characters in each season one fuck (even though it's bleeped, there are still limits, apparently). Hank got the first fuck; but I guess the writers could give two fucks for Jesse.

Quiet, crickets  then cuts to Jesse's muffled screams.

"Just so you know, this isn't personal". Oh, betwixt you and Jesse, it was always personal it's really, really, really, really personal. 

Jesse has seemingly stumbled into the most unnerving genre-medley the show has tossed up yet: the torture porn film. Though, scenes of his earlier torture would probably be less painful to watch than having to see him watch as Andrea is flippantly executed. 

All for the sake of purity.

Blurred background of Walt moving toward fence...not for another "escape" attempt, but to desperately wave in his source of continued and meaningless survival. Brings him cases of ensure, Walt also needs reading glasses (there are many signifers this episode that portray Walt as an old man with time ticking).

"Are you ready..." the cleaner says, in preparation for Walt's mock chemo-therapy (echoes what he says to Declan during the apotheosis of Heisenberg in the cold open of "Say My Name..." Walt pauses at this....subconsciously realizing how fall he has fallen).

Walt's complexion is at its most pallid and sickly (the color that his face does have, the bright red around his mouth, still contributes to a death-mask of depleted energy).

Pays him to be his friend. They play cards (reminding the audience, and likely Walt himself, about the gambling story Skyler had made up in "I See You." Fire crackling is the only salient background noise ( a king...two kings).

Cuts to an external shot. Dusk...the tableau of a dying man.

Walt wears a yellow sweater (again, a color synonymous with cancer). His ring barely stays on his finger. The articles he has up on the wall echo his John-Nash like structuring of "facts" that he did after the plane crash. 

Like his investigation of Donald Margolis, it seems like Walt is more concerned with organizing information in ways that can assuage his guilty opposed to being a realistic source of planning out strategic action.

With the obvious metaphor of the ways his moral decay let his family slip right through his fingers, and having the reminder of  his ruined marriage hang like an albatross around his neck (this also brings up an oblique reference to Lord of the Rings).  he makes a desperate walk to try to buy back his soul..  

The show returns in a tracking shot that calls back to the very first season. Flynn is actually in his father's old classroom, and gets called out of it by Carmen (haven't seen her since that awkward move Walt made on her back in season three's "Green light."),

Flynn shown through window slats, imprisoned temporarily by his father's words. He stutters. Jr. still wears the orange color he's been associated with. He can't be corrupted.

Walt shown in close-up, seen in between the narrow wood planks that surround him (the framing of a coffin, which become a common trope of the cinematography after the ending of "Crawl Space")

"It can't all be for nothing...please."

"Just leave us alone, why are you still alive, why don't you just die already...just die." Walt Jr. This likely is the wake-up call Walt has desperately needed for two years. A question that was marked strongly in that paper-towel dispenser he pummeled back in 2x09 "4 Days Out." Why is he still alive? What is his purpose? He'll give his damnedest to find it, I think.

The war, composition lighting is similar to the confines of his mountain shack. Light shines right above him, as he finally prepares to turn himself in. Filmed less in closer-ups. Moves to a bar (we've seen him at them with Donald in season 2, Jesse in Season 3, and Mike in Season 4; by season 5...he thinks and drinks alone like George Thoroughgood). 

His attention is drawn to the T.V., as the lighting of the scene becomes vibrant and hyperreal. Camera does a slow zoom in. Gretchen and Elliot. Grant is a publicity maneuver. Charlie Rose, very meta... "to cleanse yourself, so to speak..." Charlie, like in reality, knows the deal.

"Is Walter White Still out there..." Charlie Rose

Gretchen...."Whatever he became...the sweet kind, brilliant man that we once knew...he's gone..." His face hardens....

The music begins, and its clear where it's heading..... 

"What would you do, if it all came back to you..." "...step back from the line of fire."


Walter White is the table in the foreground, before the police enter the bar....a cold layer of indifferent frost coated the foundation. There may be no turning back the clock, but somewhere, underneath all that decay and ruin, there may still be remnants of that "sweet, kind brilliant man." 

Something I've learned in the rough and tumble avenues of my own life...the human soul can never be fully snuffed out by malice and mistake. Until it's fully extinguished, the flame still burns, and can burst again (though, it may have to be through self-immolation...remember all the "Phoenix" jazz the show gets all implicit about?). If there's water on Mars, then there can still be decency in Walter Hartwell White.

...And yeah, the impetus for Walt's potential quest at redemption was the thing that enabled his malice, petty spite at not getting his proper due. However, Gretchen and Elliot do represent the illusory world that Mr. White and friends had been resisting (again, the show is extremely existential; and I'm speaking about a parable, not endorsing a Leopold and Lobe type violent revolt against the status quo).

Lydia's purse has the same black and white patterns of the cleaners, and also of the graveyard-esque stones that Jesse and Walter waited by...methinks this forebodes badly (...what else is new).

The atmosphere is sterile, hard, and artificial, despite the introduction of the natural snowscapes of New Hampshire.


  1. Dude. You dissection of underlying motifs makes me want to re-watch the whole series and follow just one thread at a time. Great analysis. Can't wait for the last episode! :)

  2. Awesome, it's worth it; what a great creative team behind this show. I'm not even being hyperbolic when I say that the show is like string-theory complex. It can be appreciated from multiple levels at once, or through just one frame at a time. I watch an episode for the 11th time, but always catch some new crucial detail. It's nuts.