SPOILERS STOP READING YOU IMBECILES WHO BELIEVE IN SPOILERS AND DON'T UNDERSTAND THE INTERNET
1. This is a transition episode, and the most you can hope for the run setting up the play-action bomb of the finale is for there to be something to prevent this from being a mechanism, a means to the end of getting to, well, the end. I'm not sure "Granite State" is much more than that, though we did do the requisite gasping, horrified "NOOOOOOOOOs" and couch-clutching most end-stage Breaking Bad episodes generate in the viewer.
2. Those were, in no particular order: Jesse watching unholy dickhead Nazi meth-head Scott Frost shoot Andrea in the head, and then watching what was left of Jesse's mind fly right out of his ear like so many scattered moths. It was nasty, brutish, short, and almost perfunctory, which sort of made it more horrifying than your usual assassination of a perfectly innocent character. Brock's going to find her on that porch. Imagine that scene. Now imagine Jesse wanting to live now, knowing he's responsible for this. He's so dead: if not by gunfire, then by his own hand, because Jesse doesn't even want to live past revenge, at this point.
3. Oh, and hello, Todd standing over Holly, the baby who has been threatened and teased as doomed so many times in this series that it's starting to compromise your belief in her as a character, and not as a running gag of perpetual child endangerment.
4. For a flash--amidst the horror, because holy shit, Nazis in the baby's bedroom--I just had Holly in every possible situation of negligent parenting. Skyler driving with Holly on the hood of the car through A-1's hottest, waxiest car wash; Skyler trying to open cans with Holly as an electric opener, and thwacking her on the counter to jostle her batteries; Skyler placing her theatrically on a hook, and then fishing for lions at the ABQ Zoo. (Which they do have.) Skyler hang-gliding in the mountains of northern New Mexico, haphazardly wearing Holly in a Baby Bjorn as she does it. They've overplayed Holly-in-peril, but that's a cheap complaint at this point in the series, but it's there. Skyler just threw Holly in the pool because she mistook the baby for a skimmer. You are just the worst fucking parent ever, Skyler.
5. The possibility of a Saul/Walt road-buddy-comedy-caper got sad fast, because Saul did precisely what you knew Saul would do: shed his skin, and happily adopt that Cinnabon manager's outfit before he ever set his feet on Nebraskan soil. Did you catch Bob Odenkirk fiddling with his hair in the picture for his new ID? That even in the worst moment of his life, Saul was vain enough to worry about his appearance? Have you considered how goddamn great Bob Odenkirk has been in this role, and that he has done the ultimate in character portrayal by making Saul inseparable from the actor? That when everyone else says it's over, they're wrong, but that Saul knows the doorway to the afterlife when he sees it? Odenkirk rules, and has for the better part of two decades. That's the point, and Saul is just one way to make it even clearer. (Goddammit.)
6. Walt arriving in New Hampshire in a barrel--ye olde symbol of death and tranformation--was a nice touch, Vince. So was the big crate of Ensure finally telling Walt that death was here anyway, and that he might as well get on with it. Walt's worst fear isn't leaving nothing to his family. (If he really cared about them as a first priority, none of this would have happened in the first place.) It's dying like his father did of Huntington's, shrinking away to a nothing in the prison of his body, trapped and slowly losing his ability to communicate with the outside world. This should sound a lot like the cabin in New Hampshire, and with good reason. Walt's is paralyzed in "Granite State," just as his father was at the end.
7. Net3rk is right: in an episode that was largely functional, the Vacuum Man is a naked plot device. Then again, so was Saul at times, something the series got away with via casting. (Again: Bob Odenkirk is a god.) This episode is full of those: the sudden appearance of Walt's ex-lover and former business partner on the TV; the convenience of Walt being able to walk miles to a bar in the snow with cancer raging through his body, and then disappear into the woods before the cops get there; the Vacuum Man's weird commitment to not easily robbing the cancer-ridden asshole with a barrel full of money he could just, you know, TAKE.
8. But that's just a side effect of the procedural choices here, and something you have to deal with when you talk about endings. BB is clearly going to try and tie up those endings, and some of that means acceleration, and the brutal closing of a trap on those involved because this is a Scarface story, and involves a jackal stealing other jackals' prize carcasses. Andrea doesn't get to say goodbye. Walt doesn't get to make many choices anymore. Skyler can't walk out of that room, because those are federal agents, and she is in federal-type deep-shit trouble. Walt doesn't get a tearful reconciliation with Walt Jr./Flynn.
9. These pancakes are ruined forever, and that's the point. The tradeoff as a viewer is that you're going to get a mechanistic, ends-tying ending. That's an opportunity cost of that choice, and "Granite State" is what you pay for getting there. The other choice on the other end of the spectrum is to leave Tony Soprano in the diner, and then cut to blackscreen, because fuck you and fictional conventions, viewer. For BB, as heavily orchestrated and deliberately wrought a show as ever put on TV, the former is really the only choice they had. The worst thing about endings is that the characters, readers, and viewers are all trapped by narrative, even in a show this good. "Granite State" is more function than form, but I'll take it, particularly since I can't remember a penultimate episode of any show off the top of my head. It's not great on the curve, but at this point it probably can't be.
10. Huell update!
For the second straight week: someone please bring Huell a pizza.
11. Jesse's got astonishing grip strength, bro.
12. Walt really does look like Gordon Freeman with the beard and glasses, another scientist who turned into a killer under weird, unforeseen circumstances.
13. If Charlie Rose guns down Walt, well...that'd still be better than the final episode of Seinfeld.
14. "Granite State" is worth a few allusions and associations. The state's motto is "Live Free Or Die," the name of the final season's opening episode. It is full of insane survivalists and rednecks, and would be a logical place for someone to hide the hell out when pursued by the entire American law enforcement community. Granite is an igneous rock created by cooling magma. It is commonly used for headstones. The Granite State here, for Walt and who knows how many other characters by the end of the final 75 minutes next week, is death. Happy Monday to you.