Sunday brought the final episode of "Breaking Bad" for this year, in what amounted to a mid-finale for the AMC drama's final season. Today at 9 a.m., Vince Gilligan is chatting with reporters on a conference call, the contents of which I present forthwith ...
"(Aaron Paul) is going to have plenty to do. Just because (Jesse) is out of the business doesn't mean he's off the show.
"That flash-forward at the Denny's and Walt looking a little bit like the Unabomber ... is a glimpse forward to the future, and it is a future that is about a year ahead from the time that we leave those first eight episodes. Is it a glimpse into the end of it all? Perhaps. It is something we are still nailing down. You'd be surprised at how little we have -- I hate to admit it. We have the broad strokes. I love that there are two opposing cliches, "God is in the details" and "The devil is in the details." ... We have the broad strokes of what all of that means, but it's the connective tissue as we say that will tell the tale.
"This is where it all comes to an end. There will be resolution in these final eight. We are going to swing for the fences in these final eight episodes. It's terrifying and yet it's liberating for me and the writers, that these are the final eight hours that we'll have for this series. There's been talk of a movie, but I can tell you that none of that is even remotely on my radar. The end of this story is contained in these final eight episodes.
"I think (Mike not being on his guard), we all have our moments that we wish we could take back. If you think back over the history of Mike and Walt, Mike was physically dominant at every turn. ... One episode prior, we saw Mike really not have much trouble handcuffing Walt to a radiator. I think turning his back on Walt was probably a bad idea, but Mike had a lot on his mind. He had to get out of town, he was thinking about missing his granddaughter.
"Keep in mind that Walt was the one who warned Mike that the cops were coming for him ... and so, up until that argument, they seemed to be strange bedfellows but on the same side.
"I guess the lesson is you should not turn your back on Walter White.
"Without giving anything away, (Hank's learning about Walter) has been a subject of great debate among the seven writers. You run through every possible permutation in your head. Does he walk right out and shoot him in the forehead. How do you react to something like this? Do you keep your cards close to the vest? Do you feel all the emotions at once, or is it a slow burn? ... It's probably the biggest, most difficult revelation Hank has had in his life. That knowledge, how does one take it all in and process it in a mere matter of seconds. These are questions we have discussed -- I hate to tell you how many man-hours we have spent on this. ... We try to think through the permutations and the resulting pluses and minuses of every potential move."
"Montages, as our producer (Stewart) Lyons said, is French for overbudget ...
"We wanted an ending that was different from any other ending we've had. ... We're trying to change things up and do them differently than we've done before, because we never want to be predictable. ... A guy sitting on the toilet and having the biggest revelation of his life while on the porcelain throne seemed irresistable. It felt ballsy in itself, the apparent lack of drama.
"You know in your heart that you should tune (the pressure of writing the final eight episodes) all out, and you say to yourself that you've got a lot of fans, a lot of smart people watching the show, but they're all different people with different dreams ... there's no way to please everybody. In fact, the most dangerous thing is to come up with that ending to try to please the widest swath of people, (because) then you're guaranteed to fail.
"But, emotionally speaking, we've got fuckin' anvils hanging over us. You don't want to mess it up; you don't want to drop the ball and have people say it was good until the very end. ... Yes, the ending will be judged with more scrutiny than any of the previous 61 episodes that came before it. Having said that, it is healthiest and wisest of us to pretend the pressure isn't there and try to tune it out as best we can. ... If it's a problem, it's a high-class problem to have."
"Jesse getting out of the business (emerged as a surprise to us). And I have to tell you, we dickered around on that for the longest time. It all came to pass in episode six of these eight, when Jesse said, 'I'm out' and he means it. We went through four different versions of that episode (developing it).
"In the seventh episode, when Jesse is out, and Jesse and Walt nearly come to blows ... all that stuff was very scary to us. I didn't honestly see that coming that Jesse was going to leave the business. But we realized after the fifth episode, when the young kid on the motorcycle gets shot, that Jesse couldn't stand for that.
"That was kind of a broad stroke — there were a lot of different versions of it. It wasn't always a child, sometimes it was an adult. But essentially we knew that the perfect crime in the world of 'Breaking Bad' ... would have to end imperfectly, with a very abrupt and unhappy denouement, if you will ...
"When you nail down the details of it, it being a child, it suddenly changes everything. How in the world does Jesse go on in this business, at least having the morality for this business that he is? And you realize, 'Wow, we really put ourselves in a corner there.' That was a big moment for me personally.
"In these last eight episodes, Jesse was much less an assistant and much more a partner. The most interesting gags that these guys pulled off, the robbery and the magnet gag, those were in large part Jesse's ideas. ... But now, the partnership does seem to be fractured to the point of ... there's no repairing this fracture. They mutually respect each other and seem to be okay with each other, (but) Jesse had his gun in his waistband the whole time.
"Going forward, it's less about the assistant and the acolyte attending to the master and the mentor, and more about former partners more or less on equal footing. I'm getting into territory where I don't want to give too much away, but Walt and Jesse are not intellectual equals, but speaking in terms of formidability — is that a word? — they're very much equals.
"The best way to put it (regarding Walt's medical exam) is that we never really try to have a scene that adds up to nothing. If you go to the trouble of having your crew build a set and shoot a set, it'd better damn well be important.
"This is just a giant pile of paper. We can't even launder this money, it's so much. That's a good reason to quit. Jesse getting out — that's a good reason to quit ... it's not as much fun going on without Jesse. And then there's that (hospital scene) — it is not for nothing that that scene is in there. So I think he's got a good bunch of reasons to stop doing this. So it's sort of dealer's choice; you can pick the reason that works best for you.
"He doesn't have to (atone by the end of the series). As we all know, people get away with murder every day. ... Walt could end no differently than that. Having said that, I guess the question more precisely becomes, 'How satisfying would that be? What would satisfy the audience at the end of it all?'
"It's a very strange show because you find yourself rooting (often) for a guy you would cross the street to avoid. You would call the police or try to run him over with your car. But as bad as he is, because he is smart and works hard and feels the things he feels very deeply, we grudgingly respect him. ... Speaking for myself, I find myself feeling a great deal of ambivalence for this guy. Sometimes I root for the guy, sometimes, as I said, I want him to get hit by a car.
"And then, having said that, is the satisfying way the right way? These are the questions (the writers) ask ourselves. ... 'What is the moral of it all? What is the point of it all? And do we even have one?' Sometimes, I'm not sure we do. ... It's very much a work in progress.
"It definitely has been tricky, trickier than I thought. We're spoiled here in basic-cable land. These eight, there are fewer episodes to break, but there is a different shape to the season. ... I thought it was going to be easier to break than it was. Having that different shape left us questioning when certain moments of drama should happen. That's something we look at at the beginning of every season: 'When should these tentpole moments happen?' It's hard. ... but we're very proud of the results.
"If we had had 13 more episodes or even 14 or 15 and had them all in one foul swoop, vs. the eight-and-eight structure, I think a few things cosmetically would have changed, but we would have hit the high points we would have hit. I don't think anything would have changed dramatically. ... Mike's passing might have happened in episode eight or episode six instead of episode seven, but to me those are cosmetic differences.
"That's a good bet (that there will be another time jump). The story up until now has taken about -- one of my writers is really good at keeping this in her head -- I think we're about 14 or 15 months from the pilot episode. That means we've got another nine of 10 months to go story-wise. Considering it took us 54 episodes to get 14 months and we've only got eight left to get another nine (months) ... we'll probably have another time-jump in there somewhere.
"They had never fixed (the dent in the towel dispenser) the last time. ... To me, every action he has had has consequences, big ones and little ones. Certainly we know about the consequences about the big ones, but little actions too — every little action has echoes. The traces remain, including something as simple and meaningless as punching the hell out of a paper-towel dispenser."