'Breaking Bad': Looking Back at a Revealing Interview With Creator Vince Gilligan
Listen to the podcast where the showrunner talks to THR's chief television critic about the exact moment Walt became "irredeemable," plenty of behind the scenes stories and the kind of ending that might happen tonight (no spoilers).
Breaking Bad, one of the most acclaimed series of all time and one of my favorite series ever, had just finished its first eight episodes of the final season. Only eight remained. But I was looking for a certain trifecta.
Over the course of a couple of years in San Francisco, I had helped the Arts & Ideas lecture series at the Jewish Community Center bring in Bay Area residents to talk about television and listen to important people who made it. I had already interviewed two of the three that I was most interested in – David Simon, creator of The Wire and Treme. And Matthew Weiner (podcast not available), creator of Mad Men. Gilligan was the third. When he agreed, that was my hoped-for trifecta of television’s best series creators.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Gilligan a couple of years earlier for a podcast at the San Francisco Chronicle, before the start of season three. But this mid-season five on stage interview (and podcast) was more important because more people had finally come around to the dark but brilliant series, and it was in the home stretch of having one of the best start-to-finish runs of any show in the history of television.
As we all know, that ends tonight with the series finale of Breaking Bad. On Friday night, I was having a little fun riffing on Twitter about the ending -- because there can never be enough Breaking Bad chatter, right? Most of the stuff I either wanted to happen or predicted would happen has come true. Except for one nagging part. I just really believe that Walter Jr. will die. In fact, must die. A sins of the father thing that I’ve been predicting for a couple of seasons now.
I suggested that I could see an ending where both Walter Jr. and Skyler die, leaving baby Holly in the hands of Marie to care for. And I joked, when I interviewed Gilligan live on stage in San Francisco, that just because he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet in the entertainment business, I still wouldn’t put it past him and his writers to kill off Holly. He laughed. (Of course, I don’t believe in that theory anymore because Gilligan’s longtime girlfriend is named Holly, and I just don’t see that happening at all). But that was a fun night. I told Gilligan that my hope was that Walt lives. Gilligan, with a poker face: “Hmmmm. That’s interesting.”
Not only was it a fun, revealing and hopefully insightful night with Gilligan, it was also the night that I became absolutely convinced that Jesse wouldn’t die. I’d thought that for a while – that Jesse would live -- but listening to and parsing Gilligan’s words, I firmed up my belief. (And now that I’ve seen everything but Sunday’s finale, I’ve never felt more strongly about it. Jesse’s suffered enough. Dramatically, killing off Jesse is reductive. Killing Skyler and/or Walter Jr. -- much more shocking and unexpected).
And while I’m less sure of another theory -- that Walt will take the ricin himself, which I’ve been thinking for a bit – I’ll stick with it.
But the point is, we had a grand old time on Twitter swapping theories, and I tweeted out a bunch of quotes from what Gilligan said that night. Like these:
“Come hell or high water, I did NOT want that happening with this show.” -- Gilligan on fans saying The X-Files (where he was a writer) stayed on the air too long (He didn’t think so, but learned a valuable internet lesson in that people are savvy about when a show has run out of ideas.).
We both agreed that we liked the finale to The Sopranos, but Gilligan reiterated a big difference between him and Sopranos creator David Chase: “I’m more of a closure guy.” Listen for his reasons why -- it’s an interesting take on the act of storytelling.
But that didn’t stop Gilligan from joking about his own idea for an ending: “We’re going to find a different Journey song.”
Two intriguing things that I forgot about that interview (conducted on Nov. 2), came to mind as I relistened: That, when pressed about going beyond the notion of “breaking bad,” I asked Gilligan when he thought Walt turned evil, but he said he preferred the term “irredeemable” because there’s a lot of baggage with evil. However, his pick for that exact moment was way different than mine (I said when Walt left Jane to die, choking on her own vomit). But he knew the exact moment (and thus episode and season, so I tossed it out for a guessing game among @BastardMachine followers). Not many people got it right. (And, like a lot of things, you can find out the answer by listening).
The other revelation resulted in a face-palm; however, because of what Gilligan said (that got a lot of laughs and applause, but which I glossed over): “I really have my fingers crossed that after Breaking Bad ends, there’ll be a Saul Goodman show.”
Yeah, kinda wish I’d filed that one.
Anyway, tonight the whole thing ends. I can tell you this -- listening to the podcast will be enjoyable and hopefully insightful and it won’t ruin anything you’re about to see. It’s a nice little table-setter before saying goodbye.