1955 Roger: My mother always said, be careful what you wish for, because then you’ll get it, and people will get jealous and try to take it away from you.
1955 Don: I don’t think that’s how that goes.
– Mad Men, Waldorf Stories
I always say there are two different kinds of helpers in the world: people who legitimately want to help you, and people who want credit for helping you. And there are a lot more of the latter than the former, because actually helping someone involves asking them what they want, not telling them, and what you tell them you want might not be what they want credit for. In Granite State, Walt gets hit between the eyes by the revelation that all the money he schemed and lied and killed to get was never what his family wanted from him. They wanted him, that kind, sweet, and lovable guy they always knew, alive and healthy for as long as he could manage it; maybe they would have liked it better if he didn’t have to work two jobs to make bank, but that didn’t override their love for him. Did he actually believe it did? That they would have been so thrilled to have financial security that they didn’t care what he had to do and who had to die for him to get it? No, it’s what he wanted them to want from him. He never bothered to ask what they did want, because that would have conflicted with his I-am-the-man fantasy.
But now there’s no way for him not to know. Way back in episode 105, Gray Matter (one of my favorite episodes of the series), Flynn (then still known as Walter Jr.) erupted in frustration at Walt for refusing to get treatment: “Then why don’t you just [bleep]ing die already?” In other words, Dad, spare me the pain of having someone I love just suffer and wither away. But now, when Flynn spits almost those exact words at Walt over the phone (after Walt has had him pulled out of school to take his call from a New Hampshire bar, under the pretense that it’s Marie calling), they mean something entirely different: I don’t feel a damn thing for you anymore, you might as well be dead. When Walt says he wants to send him a box containing about $100,000 in cash (the amount he can fit into the only box he has on hand), Flynn is flabbergasted that Walt would think any amount of money would make up for what he’s put them through. “You killed Uncle Hank,” Flynn keeps saying, and Walt stammers something about regrets and mistakes; never, ever does he get around to saying, “I didn’t shoot him, he got shot by someone else who shot Hank because he was in the way.” Because it doesn’t matter. Would letting Flynn find out that Walt is up to his armpits with Aryan Brotherhood contract killers make this any easier to take? Flynn, as far as we know, only knows about two deaths (counting Steve) that Walt is responsible for; what would he say if he knew about all the others?
So it has come down to this for Walter White: In every sense of the word, he doesn’t exist any more. He’s changed his identity (taking on the surname “Lambert,” which also happens to be the maiden name of Skyler and Marie), fled the state, and is now alone in a cabin in rural New Hampshire, completely off the grid, with no one for company except for monthly visits from the “vacuum repair man” of Saul’s acquaintance who has helped disappear him (and also Saul, who is now bound for Nebraska). And even he won’t consent to spend time with Walt without a $10K-an-hour price tag and a one-hour limit. He does, however, bring Walt a chemotherapy drip that looks suspiciously homemade, and rather hilariously fumbles around trying to find a vein to insert it in (“Sorry about last time, it should go better, I watched a couple of YouTube videos”). Walt asks him if he would make sure that his money gets to his family after he passes away, and he replies, “If I said yes, would you believe me?”
During his weeks holed up in the cabin, his appearance alters drastically. His hair grows back in, Vacuum Repair brings him a pair of dark-framed glasses (guessing at Walt’s prescription), and even though there is plenty of food on hand, he loses so much weight that his wedding ring falls off. He ties it to a string and puts it around his neck, like a 1950s high school girl wearing her boyfriend’s class ring, and festoons the walls with clippings from the Albuquerque newspapers featuring Skyler’s picture. Which, of course, wouldn’t be in there if not for his misdeeds. Once again, he’s in love with the idea of love more than the reality; she has had to change her name also, back to her maiden name, just to be able to find another job, while he leaves her holding the bag and swearing up and down to the feds that she doesn’t know where he is, then nearly having her baby kidnapped by the Aryan Brothers right under the APD’s nose and threatened with certain death if she tells the cops about Lydia (who Skyler had probably already forgotten about). If that’s “love,” it’s pretty obvious that Skyler would rather have just been hated all along; at least then she’d have known where she stood.
So now we know the reason for the house being in the dire condition it was in during the flash forward in Blood Money: the bank has seized the property and, since Walt is now the subject of a nationwide manhunt, it has become a little too much of a tourist attraction for their liking and they have fenced it off. And speaking of dire condition, as ill as Walt is (to the point where he can’t even utter a threat to Saul without breaking up in a coughing fit mid-sentence), Jesse probably wouldn’t mind trading places with him. Having been imprisoned by Dead-Eyed Todd and the Psycho Fucks (now there’s a band name for you!) and forced to cook (Lydia almost has an orgasm when she finds out the meth batch Todd has for her is at 92% purity), he reaches an all-time low, in a life filled with one new bottom scrape after another. When Uncle Jack and friends catch him trying to escape, rather than simply killing him for it (which Jesse tells him they can go ahead and do), they instead decide to make him watch while Todd shoots Andrea in the head, right in front of her home. They spare Brock, but only to give Jesse extra incentive to acquiesce. Eeeyikes.
Which leads me to ask: Is this group of villains perhaps a little too Snidely Whiplash for a show as sophisticated as this one? These Aryan Brotherhood guys make Tuco look like Flynn. They love no one and have absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever; I keep expecting to see Uncle Jack twirling his mustache and saying, “Bwa ha ha ha haaaa.” Todd, at least, seems somewhat ambivalent about the tasks he’s asked to perform; when Lydia asks him why he didn’t kill Skyler when he had a chance, he demurs that Skyler “received the message loud and clear” from their break-in and that “she seems like a nice lady watching out for her kids.” So there are some things he will balk at doing, even for the love of his life. He even brings Jesse a bowl of ice cream as a reward for the 96% purity of his latest cook, and it’s not laced with undetectable poisons as far as we can tell. But he has no problem with Andrea’s brutal murder, or with Jesse being tied up and forced to watch it. Is he not like the others, or is it just that he’s too young to have gotten all the way there yet?
Meanwhile, in the kitty-corner of the country, Vacuum Repair Guy has warned Walt that if he ever walks off the property he’s sequestered in, that is the last Walt will ever see of him, “for my own safety.” But Walt can’t resist going down the hill eight miles to the one-horse town and making two phone calls from the bar: the ill-fated call to Flynn, followed by him calling the DEA and giving himself up, leaving the pay phone off the hook so they can trace it. Then he settles in at the bar for his last glass ever of 15-year-old scotch, only to get blindsided by the sight of Gretchen and Elliott Schwartz being interviewed on TV by Charlie Rose and claiming (in order to shield themselves from public backlash) that Walt had nothing to do with Gray Matter other than naming it.
“I can’t speak to this Heisenberg that people refer to,” Gretchen tells Charlie Rose, “but whatever he became, that sweet, kind, brilliant man that we once knew long ago, he’s gone.” Seconds later, so is Mr. Lambert, just as the sheriffs are pulling up to arrest him. We know, from the flash forwards, that he’s returning to the ABQ to buy a big-ass gun; could it really be for the Psycho Fucks, who outnumber him something like six to one? There isn’t a gun in the world big enough to take all of them out with a single shooter. Or perhaps he doesn’t even care if he dies in a shootout, as long as he goes out with guns blazing. (I really can’t buy the premise that some have speculated about, that he’s going to shoot Gretchen and/or Elliott, especially since he unsuccessfully tries to get Saul to put together a hit team to take out the Uncle Jack Show earlier in the episode.) He obviously knows Jesse hasn’t yet been slaughtered, because Charlie Rose mentions the blue meth showing up as far away as Europe, and Jesse is the only other person with the capacity to make the stuff. Does he now want to prove he’s still a good guy (by rescuing Jesse), or prove that he’s the ultimate bad guy? We have one more week to find out and then it’s all over, so…speculate away!