Performances are remarkable all around (as usual), with particularly fine work by Robert Forster (whose presence alongside Michael Bowen’s Uncle Jack amounts to a Jackie Brown reunion), Aaron Paul (seriously, that beaten, groggy, weathered voices as he pleads, “I just wanna see the stars”), RJ Mitte (whose rejection of Walt is so forceful that the potentially hard-to-swallow call to the DEA works), Bryan Cranston (more on him later), and Bob Odenkirk, doing his most understated acting to date, his hushed line readings confirming the considerable gravity of his situation.
The patience of “Granite State” is kind of amazing; it is commendable that, at this point in the show, its creators (in this case, writer/director Peter Gould, who has written ten other episodes since season one) are willing to keep experimenting with structure and pace. Unsurprisingly, Walt doesn’t flee his Unabomber cabin tomorrow, or the day after that, or the day after that. An unspecified but significant amount of time passes, enough for Forster to bring hefty updates from home, and for Walt’s beard and hair to grow back. How’s he still alive? we ask, and the question is answered quickly enough: Frontier chemotherapy (“Watched a couple of YouTube videos, it’s all about finding the vein.”). Once that process begins and Forster puts on his coat, Walt’s sad request that he stay a little longer, that he contribute a bit of company, is denied until proper payment is offered.
In that scene, and in those moments with Saul and at the gate, we’re seeing a circular return to Walt’s weak, humble, doormat origins—the man he was the first time he was sick, before he discovered this darker, more forceful self. And in that deserted bar, he is visited by two ghosts from that time: Gretchen and Elliot, his one-time partners in Gray Matter Technologies. But they don’t just represent his past—they also remind of his pride, which prevented him from taking their money to help with his treatments, insisting on taking the path that has led him here. And when he sees them on Charlie Rose, disavowing his contributions, it lights that fire in him again. Earlier in the episode, there are those little hints of some kind of redemption for Walt, or at least a shedding of his monstrous shell. But as Gretchen tells Charlie Rose, “Whatever he became, the sweet kind brilliant man that we once knew long ago, he’s gone.” And his eyes go cold. Their slight, and that reminder, may well be what it takes to bring Heisenberg back after all.