BEVERLY HILLS -- The creators, cast and network taking a "Hail Mary" pass on a show called "Breaking Bad" came here to the Television Critics Association "tour" some six (or was it seven?) years ago to talk about a new series that would feature a high school chemistry teacher, an RV, a pair of flying pants, and a moonlighting job (for said teacher) making an illegal and highly addictive drug.
And he lived in New Mexico, so at least the scenery would be nice. (It was, sort of.)
Today, the triumphant -- and final -- return. "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan and Bryan Cranston, along with the rest of this assemblage, including AMC chief Charlie Collier, took to the stage at the Beverly Hilton's International Ballroom to bid farewell to the critics who supported this great series from the beginning, as well as offer a few thoughts, observations, theories and quotes about how it will all end a few months from now (the second half of the final season begins Aug. 11.)
A few outtakes (and as always, a heartfelt thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the dedicated TCA officers who make this event possible year in and year out, and to the equally extraordinary efforts of those who transcribe the words of those on stage; they all deserve a round of applause, too, and it should be noted that classics like "Breaking Bad" got their first tailwind right here.)
Asked about the genesis of Walter White, Gilligan and Cranston had this to say:
GILLIGAN: I am not being facetious or trying to be funny when I say that this is an honest answer. I can’t remember exactly what my original intention was. I knew that the franchise of the show, I mean, for his very ending I knew that the franchise of the show, as I pitched to Sony Television and AMC Networks, as I pitched to them from the get-go, I used the sort of charming if not trying to be charming, if not overused at this point, glib line of, “We’re going to take ‘Mr. Chips’ and we’re going to turn him into ‘Scarface.’” We abided by that for six years, but having said that, that leaves a lot of wiggle room. That leaves an awful lot of room for changing up the plot. I can’t even remember what my original ending was. I couldn’t see that far ahead. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees, and I really was not able to see the forest for the trees for the longest time over these last six years. But did I pitch anything to you? Did I tell you anything in that early going? Because honest to God, I’ve forgotten so much. It seems like a lifetime ago.
CRANSTON: No. It was in broad strokes, and just the notion of trying to take a serialized television series and change this character has never been done before, and I was aghast by that. And as I’ve mentioned before, I wanted this role really bad. So coming in, it was easier when I read the pilot episode. When we read good scripts, it instills imagination in you immediately, involuntarily, and so our discussion in the first meeting was how we should look and how we should walk and what his sensibility is and this and that, but we never discussed where it was going to end up. It was just too big a subject. And as the season went on, I never found out. I never asked. I never wanted to know. The twist and turns of my character were so sharp that it wouldn’t help me to know. So I was just holding on, much like the audience was, almost week to week. I would read a script about five to six days before we shot it, and this was no exception. About it was about a week or six days before we started shooting the last episode, and Aaron and I read the last script together. And it will be in as part of a documentary on the show.
Someone then churlishly, perhaps accurately noted, that Walter "wasn't that good of a teacher." What say you, Mr. Gilligan?
GILLIGAN: You know, I think I would to be a little more precise, I think he was actually a very good teacher. I think, at least judging from the limited information at hand, he seemed to be in that first episode to be using visual aids. He seemed to be enthusiastic about his own subject. He seemed to be trying to impart his enthusiasm to his class in that pilot episode, but he nonetheless, unfortunately, not for lack of trying, seemed not to be connecting with them, which was, to be honest, that was me as the writer probably ladling on reasons for the audience to sympathize with him from the get-go. In hindsight maybe, you know, I might if I was doing it now, I might hit that a little less hard, that the students were all just kind of like, you know, “Uh,” you know on their black iPhones or whatever. No, you know, this is funny you mentioned this. I think you make a good point, and we were talking about it actually before we came on the panel. We were talking about it with another one of your colleagues about the idea that a good point and a good argument could be made, a good back and forth — you can get going over whether or not Walt’s particular road, you know, road to hell, one paved by good intentions, changed him or whether it revealed things that were already within him. The longer we did this show, the more I subscribed to the latter argument that it’s sort of that old saying about Hollywood. Does stardom turn some people into a creep, or does it simply reveal who they really are?
Fair enough, but what about the bro' who was playing him?
GILLIGAN: I always embrace the moments that I was able to show his teaching acumen in the show. It was his one true passion besides his family, and it was the only chance in the show that’s you know, surrounded by muck and mire that he excelled and he truly had a gift. That being said, I think there comes a time in every teacher’s life where the overwhelming impact of apathy that is facing them every day has to chip away at that passion and that desire, and I think he was just at a point, now 50, where he was kind of beaten down a little bit and taken his toll, and he’s certainly in a depressed state when we first started the show. So he could have been “Mr. Chips” maybe 20 years ago, but now he’s not. And so that was the point where it started for me is that he was calloused over. His emotions were calloused over by the depression, and receiving this news of his eminent demise allowed that volcano of emotions to erupt. And when it did, he wasn’t prepared, and he wasn’t accustomed to knowing where to put his emotions and how to compartmentalize it, and it just spewed over everyone, and it got messy. So, I mean, from an emotional standpoint, that’s what I was looking at.
Oh, and here's another good question. Why (audience) sympathy for Jesse Pinkman, a little less sympathy for Sklyer?
AARON PAUL: You want to take that one (to Anna Gunn)? I don’t know. I find it odd. Jesse is obviously, he’s a drug dealer. He’s a murderer, but for some reason, you know, you really care for him. You want to protect him. I don’t know. And with Skyler, when I watch it, I just feel for her so, so much. I mean, she just obviously wants to protect her family, but I think the audience is really rooting for the bad guy, and then so Skyler inevitably ends up being the bad guy to the audience.
ANNA GUNN: Yeah. I think that, you know, when this first came up, Vince and the writers and I talked a lot about it because we were confused about it at first, and we were asked this at Comic-Con. And I think that my feeling about it was that, because people got so behind Walt and the reasons for him doing all these things, that they really sided with him and I think felt — in a way there was this feeling of, “What if I were in that position?” and there seemed to me to be a sense of putting their frustrations and their feelings of perhaps dreams deferred and things like that into the character of Walt. And the person who actually stood in the way of Walt the most consistently was Skyler. Gus, other characters like that, who were more villainous came in and out of things, but she was the one who most consistently said, “You can’t just do these things and not have consequences.” And so, therefore, she became kind of a villain to people who really, really identified with Walt and were behind him and were rooting for him. And I think that’s why such a passionate debate ignited over that particular character. Again, I also said at Comic-Con that I think that it was also maybe not something that was intentional, but she had to, by design, be somewhat less. You couldn’t know as much about her as you knew about Walt’s intentions because, had the audience really sympathized greatly with her and sided with her, then you would have lost your sympathy for Walt and then the show, I think, would have been thrown off-balance. So in a way, it was really brilliant in terms of its construction, and it worked. It really worked.
And final word(s) to Vince:
Anyway, I was really nervous about coming up to the end of this thing for a year straight. Hell, for six years straight. You know, everything has to come to an end insert the tagline. So with that in mind, you know, how do you satisfy everybody? The more you listen to everyone vis a vis the Internet, at least I find that the more fractured your thinking becomes. I realized along the way the best hope we had was to come up with something that hopefully most people will like us to satisfy ourselves, the seven of us in the writers’ room and, hopefully, these actors as well and the crew. That’s where we started. I am very proud of the ending. I can’t wait for everyone to see it. I am very cautious in my estimation of, in general, how people will respond to things. I hope I am not wildly wrong in my estimate that I think most folks are going to dig the ending because, I don’t know, it’s I don’t know. See, you be the judge.