An actor suspends our disbelief; they convince an audience that pulling the right lever is responsible for time travel, drinking a potion can transform a man into a monster, or dying can be as easy as slipping into a deep slumber. Film is a visual art, though, and we can enrich our performance with effects — through makeup, props, and, sometimes, computer graphics. The F/X team on Breaking Bad have added both subtle and drastic elements to characters that we will remember as well as we can recall their names: Wendy’s meth-addled look, Walt’s chemo-fatigued visage, and, of course, Gus’s Two-Face impersonation. Oh, we all recall that scene — a jaw dropping explosion meant to murder Gus — but the F/X guys handled every other bit of action; everything from gun fights to box cutters. Yes, the performance is important, but, without special effects, an actor becomes a verbose mime; a fool pan-handling for our imaginations’ cooperation.
Now that we’ve discussed the action, it’s time to discuss this episode, which has virtually no excitement or fuss. Walt has escaped the law (and civilization) by way of the nearly Canadian (New Hampshire) wilderness. Walt might be without television, heat, or much of anyone to speak to, but at least his family is safe. So, naturally, when Skyler checks on her baby in the middle of the night, she finds three masked men who give her explicit orders not to mention Lydia to the police.
Jesse is still being held by the Nazis, cooking meth for them. After relieving Walt of an insane amount of money, one would think Jack and his boys would get out of the drug business — maybe even retire — but Todd has a crush on Lydia. Just like an after-school special, Todd likes a girl, but the only way he can get close to her is by selling her mass amounts of meth. Not just any meth, though, Lydia needs the purest meth — she’s a classy lady, after all — and only Jesse can supply her necessity. For months now, Jesse has been chained to the lab, so Brock and Andrea can live safe, happy lives. Now that he has perfected his paperclip lock picking skills, Jesse can escape. Before he can make it over the fence, he’s caught. Jesse, realizing his attempt is at an end, asks the thugs to shoot him and end it all. Instead, we cut to Andrea’s house. Todd, using Jesse’s name to gain her trust, shoots Andrea in the back of the head with his trademark “nothing personal.” The performances here irk me in a profound way: Jesse’s spirit is crushed and Todd treated the situation with the moral guidance of a five-year-old. Todd’s apologies and facial expressions show that he can not grasp the consequence of murder. The geniality in his regret is what frightens me the most. Taking a life, to him, is nothing more heinous forgetting plans with a friend: a minor offense smoothed over with a sympathetic shrug and sincere “sorry.”
Meanwhile, Walt suffers from a very literal case of cabin fever. He becomes lonely enough to pay an extra hundred thousand to have Ed stay a bit. This same desolation forces Walt to make a decision: He has to get some money to his family. He boxes up as much money as will fit, then brings it into town. While he’s there, he makes a call to Walt Jr. Suffice it to say, the call does not end as Walt has imagined it. While in town, Walt catches a glimpse of daytime television: an interview with Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz in which they state the only contribution Walt had made to their company was his namesake. Upset, Walt leaves the bar, presumably to make his way back home.
This episode, “Granite State”, acts as a much needed buffer between the antepenultimate and ultimate episodes. The slow pace lets the audience breath, and provides the last bit of character decomposition, before diving into what will most likely be an action-packed finale. Take it in, this might be the last bit of truly contemplative art we will see from Breaking Bad.