Was “Granite State” a commentary of “2001 Space Odyssey” with Walter White as the Starchild?
The theme of Breaking Bad has been transformation and the evolution of Walter White.
In “Granite State”, the second to last episode of the Breaking Bad series, we saw Walter leave Albuquerque for New Hampshire where he lives in total isolation (albeit a monthly visit from the vacuum man) for approximately 3-4 months.
During the episode Walter undergoes a tremendous physical transformation right before our eyes. From scene-to-scene he ages almost instantly. His transformation and isolation in New Hampshire felt similar to another movie about evolution, Stanley Kubrick’s “2001 Space Odyssey.” Specifically it mirrored the last scene of the movie “Beyond the Infinite”.
In the last scene of “2001”, main character David Bowman travels vast distances of time and space until his ship finally arrives at a bedroom totally isolated from the rest of humanity. When Bowman reaches his destination, he is literally all alone. Not a single person is with him. Bowman is in a distant alien place millions of miles from home. His room feels like a prison.
It’s a confusing scene to watch because Bowman ages right before our eyes. In one cut, Bowman is a middle aged man (directly below). In the next, Bowman is all gray. A minute later, Bowman has lost all his hair and is lying on his death bed barely breathing.
"Granite State" was shot very similarly. With every new scene, Walter is physically changing like Bowman. And also like Bowman, Walt is imprisoned in a place that he cannot leave.
In just a single episode, he transforms his iconic look that we have watched for five seasons (shaved head, goatee, gold rimmed glasses) to a man with a full beard, thinning hair and black rimmed glasses. Walter’s look is so iconic and recognizable that watching him was like watching a totally different Walter. So why the change?
When Bowman enters the room for the first time in ‘Beyond the Infinite’ as a middle aged man. Bowman is wearing a red space suit, similar to Walter’s yellow hazmat suit.
Walter when he first arrives in New Hampshire as a “middle-aged man”.
By the end of the scene, Bowman is on his death bed and has aged significantly in a short period of time.
Walter in New Hampshire having aged rapidly like Bowman in “2001”. He ages so rapidly that his wedding band falls off his finger.
By the end of the episode, Walter is “lying” on his death bed, totally emaciated, barely able to catch his breath. He has lost so much weight that his wedding band no longer fits on his finger. Like Bowman, Walter had undergone a tremendous transformation in an isolated place away from home. And like Bowman, Walter has died (not literally).
The Starchild returns home to Earth after being reborn
At the end of “2001”, the monolith appears before Bowman. Bowman dies and is reborn as the Starchild. There are different interpretations of the Starchild, however the general consensus is that it signals the advancement of mankind to a superhuman state.
"2001" is a commentary on human advancement specifically weapons. The Starchild returns home to Earth, and as Kubrick explains, destroys all of mankind’s nuclear weapons bringing peace and elevating mankind to a new level of evolution.
If “2001” is about human transformation from human to superhuman, then “Breaking Bad” is about the opposite - a transformation of Walter to Heisenberg or from human to monster.
As Walter transform himself during the series it came less important to leave money for his family and more about leaving his mark. When Jesse asked him in S5E6 “Buyout” if he was in the meth business or the money business, Walter responded “I’m in the empire business”. The phrase on all of the posters this season has been “Remember My Name”. But which name?
At the end of “Granite State”, Walter sees his ex-business partners from Gray Matters on Charlie Rose. They totally deny Walter’s contributions to the company and even go as far to say that “the sweet man we knew long ago is gone.” More importantly they play down Heisenberg.
Again, “Remember my name”.
Walter is set off in a way we have never seen before. He is shocked by the words. And Vince Gilligan wants us to feel this way. For the first time in the entire history of the series, the Breaking Bad theme is played during an actual episode (not counting the opening credits). Walter is about to break bad or like the Starchild evolve to a new level.
Walter leaves New Hampshire and returns home to Albuquerque (we know this from the premiere of Season 5A and 5B). Ironically, he returns on the day of his 52nd birthday - a rebirth of sorts.
As much as Walt has been a monster in season 5, there are still parts of him, that in his mind, believe he is doing it for his family. This is not his motivation anymore. He is returning home for one reason, to make people remember his name. Gray Matter is the underlying motivation to his madness and for his ex-partners to tell the entire world that he is nobody, he will not allow for it to end this way.
Just like the Starchild, Walter returns home a different person, as the “HeisenChild”. But instead of destroying the nuclear weapons of the world, Heisenberg will be going nuclear. He’s out for blood and he’s not doing it to protect himself or his family.
If the evolution is truly complete, then Walter is truly dead. He has evolved to Heisenberg. After all the show has always been about the journey and not the outcome. Expect Heisenberg to destroy everything and everyone in his path for one reason:
Remember his name. Remember Heisenberg.