The next time we see Walter White and Jesse Pinkman will be the last time we see them. Until then, these are the images we're left with from last night's Breaking Bad:
Walt emerges from seclusion to see his ex-girlfriend Gretchen and her husband, Elliot Schwartz, talking about him on television. They're doing damage control on Charlie Rose by playing down Walt's involvement in the creation of their massively successful company, Gray Matter, telling Rose that the good man they once knew is long gone. Suddenly, he's no longer so crushed by his son's rejection, and by his inability to do anything for his family other than hide and die, that he's willing to hand himself over to the DEA. Suddenly, he's so enraged that he runs for it, leading, presumably, to his return to New Mexico, his purchase of an automatic weapon and whatever he's going to unleash in next week's finale.
Jesse emerges from seclusion to see his ex-girlfriend Andrea and his torturer, Todd Alquist, talking about him at her front door. Todd's telling her he's a friend of Jesse's, that Jesse's with him, in fact, that he's right in that van over there. As Jesse screams against his gag, Todd shoots her to death, punishment for Jesse's escape attempt. He quiets his sobbing long enough for Todd's Uncle Jack to inform him that they'll murder her son next if he tries anything else.
So when I tune into the finale next week, these are the variables I'll be plugging into the moral calculus involved in rooting for these characters, evaluating them as people, thinking over what the show has to say about them and their choices. Walt loves his family, yes. He shrewdly peppered his phone call to Skyler with phrases like "What the hell do you know about it, anyway? Nothing!" and "Who built this? Me, and me alone!" amid the eruption of abuse and resentment, doing his best to shield her from prosecution. He's as much of a wreck as he is after his months in New Hampshire not just because of the cold and the cancer and the loneliness, but because the best plan he can come up with to provide for his family, and thus to provide any kind of meaning to his entire descent into monstrousness, is to mail a box full of hundred dollar bills to his teenage son's friend – a plan that his son shoots down. All those things are true.
But Jesse, on the flipside, has now lost two people he loved thanks to Walter White. He's killed people himself. He's been tortured and enslaved. At this point all he can do is live from minute to minute, hoping not to suffer, hoping not to cause the death of a child, hoping, most likely, that Todd and Jack will tire of him and kill him. By contrast, Walt is going to drive back to New Mexico and throw a few more bodies on the mountain of corpses he created because his former friends badmouthed him on national TV.
That final rebirth of Heisenberg, accompanied by the show's theme song no less, is very much a double-edged sword. Look, I'd be as happy as anyone if Walt opened fire with sufficient force to literally cut Todd in half with bullets, closing-sequence-of-the-fourth-Rambo-movie-style. For all that I've gotten on my moral high horse during the course of this show, it did make Todd a capital-V Villain – a child-murdering, mother-executing, Jesse-torturing, Holly-threatening embodiment of all that is totally fucking awful – so it'd be pretty tough to get that worked up if he goes out with a sense of catharsis approximately as strong as when Aragorn cut off that one orc's head at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring.
But the same moment of "woo-hoo, go get 'em, Heisenberg" carries with it the knowledge that this is precisely the side of Walt that caused every other terrible thing in this episode to happen. Without that look of grim determination and boiling rage, there'd be no Saul Goodman slinking away from a coughing Walt like he's radioactive, no Marie being sped away from her own ransacked house in a panic, no masked men in Holly's nursery, no bullet in the back of Andrea's head, no Walt Jr. screaming over the phone for his father to die. You can't have one without the other.
Before we see how it all breaks down, I'm glad Breaking Bad is still very much being Breaking Bad. Written and directed by series stalwart Peter Gould, "Granite State" gave us one last bit of high-stakes criminal-underworld business in the person of the disappearance expert, played by the magnificently well-cast Robert Forster. It gave us callback cameos from Walt's old assistant principal/sexual harassment victim Carmen, and to Gretchen and Elliot themselves, whose offer to pay for his chemo looks better with each passing week. It gave us deeply uncomfortable moments with Todd and Lydia. It gave us a last-ditch escape attempt so engaging that, like Jesse himself, we forgot to think about the consequences. It gave us a few more nods to the omnipresent menace of security cameras (no show has ever been so preoccupied with how much of everyone's life, criminal or no, is recorded). It gave us stunning nature photography, this time of snowy woods rather than sun-baked desert. It gave us series-best work from Aaron Paul, Bryan Cranston and R.J. Mitte. It reminded us in large and small ways why this show has been so good for so long.
But not for much longer. Just for fun, I'll hazard two predictions about the finale, predictions I'll be quite happy to be wrong about just as long as that last hour lives up to all 61 before it. The first is that Lydia Rodarte-Quayle gets away with it. Unless by some chance she's there when Walt attacks Uncle Jack's compound, I would not be surprised to see her scurry away, roach-like, back into the safety of global corporate capitalism. She seems like a character for whom a lack of comeuppance is her very reason for being there.
The second is that Jesse will try to kill Walter. If Walt succeeds in defeating Todd, Jack, and company, Jesse will be the unintended beneficiary, but whatever gratitude he might feel toward his liberator will surely be overwhelmed by absolute hatred for the man who handed him over to be tortured, who condemned him to a life of slavery, who set in motion the events that led to the murder of an innocent mother on her front porch—who turned Jesse from a loser whose urinalysis would have been dirty but whose hands and soul were clean into a broken-down husk of a person. The next time he and Walt see each other, only one of them is walking away – and between the ricin and the guns and the lack of anything else to live for, I don't even see the survivor walking very far.
Last Episode: Walter White Unleashes His Most Awful Things