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'Breaking Bad' Writer on 'Rabid Dog': 'Walt Has Corrupted Everyone'

Sam Catlin tells THR it's "ironic" the show's key characters all have "murder on their minds, except for Walt."

Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston - P 2013
AMC
Bryan Cranston in "Breaking Bad"

[Warning: Spoilers ahead for Sunday's episode of Breaking Bad, "Rabid Dog."]

For the first time in a long while, Walt (Bryan Cranston) isn't the most ruthless character on Breaking Bad. In Sunday's episode, he rebuffs both Saul's (Bob Odenkirk) and Skyler's (Anna Gunn) proposals to kill Jesse (Aaron Paul).

Longtime Breaking Bad writer Sam Catlin says that comes down to Walt having a soft spot for Jesse -- and also bringing out the worst in those around him.

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"Walt is the only one who -- for once -- is sort of tapping the brakes. Jesse is out to get Walt. Skyler is now ready to cross the line into murder. Hank is stepping over the line and basically saying 'If Jesse dies, f--k it. Who cares.' Even Marie is talking about fantasies of killing Walt," Catlin tells The Hollywood Reporter. "Walt's sort of brought out the worst in everyone, while he is trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube for himself, saying, 'There's got to be a way we can get out of this without getting violent.' But it's sort of too late, because he's corrupted everyone."

Catlin, who penned "Rabid Dog" and made his directorial debut with the episode, calls it "one of the hardest episodes to break in the history of the show," because of what they did with the timeline -- allowing us to see the parallel paths of Walt as well as Hank and Jesse.

"From the cliffhanger [of the previous episode], it's so clear the house is going to get burned down," Catlin says. "So when we don't do that, we sort of wanted to make the audience wait for an explanation. 'How the hell is that house still standing?' We thought it was a fun challenge in terms of storytelling to make the audience wait for their answers."

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Find the rest of THR's conversation with Catlin below, where he delves deeper in what motivates the characters in the latest episode.

We've been waiting for Jesse and Hank to team up, and we finally got to see it. What were some of the challenges of writing that relationship between these two guys?

It was something we were always excited about doing at some point. They'd had very parallel existences on our show, so it was fun to put them in the same room together. They're both in extremis in their lives right now, so there wasn't a lot of opportunity for comedy. What Hank wants from Jesse is very complicated and a little bit corrupt, and what Jesse wants is also pretty polluted. It was a challenge sorting out what one wanted from the other. But it's always great to have those two actors in the same room.

You played around with the timeline in this episode, and we got to see the gasoline-in-the-house scene at two different points. How did you decide to do that?

This was one of the hardest episodes to break in the history of the show. I don't think anyone would disagree with me. This one and the one before it. A lot of it was this sort of time element that we were playing with. We wanted to hide Jesse from the audience and see how long we could do that. Hopefully there would be some tension in not knowing where he is. From the cliffhanger [of the previous episode], it's so clear the house is going to get burned down. So when we don't do that, we sort of wanted to make the audience wait for an explanation. "How the hell is that house still standing?" We thought it was a fun challenge in terms of storytelling to make the audience wait for their answers.

STORY: 'Breaking Bad': 5 Key Quotes from 'Rabid Dog' Examined

Did you have any hopes of what conclusions people might jump to?

What we were hoping for is people were like, "Jesus, we have no f--ing idea." Walt has sort of an explanation, which is: "He's erratic. He's flown off the handle, he's on drugs, he's lost his nerve" -- that seems as credible as anything else. Although I don't think we're entirely convinced. So hopefully it's a mystery.

Walt Jr. and Skyler aren't taking Walt's lies anymore. Is this the end of Walt being able to lie to his family?

Walt went a while there without lying to Skyler. He'd done so much lying in the first two seasons that we sort of wanted to take a sabbatical. He goes to the well one time too many with Skyler. As great and expert a liar as Walt is, she's a pretty good bullshit detector at this point. She knows his tell. In terms of Junior, he's still lying to Junior. Junior's under all sorts of misconceptions about why his father might have fainted. There's very little real estate left for lying. From here on out, it's pretty much about surviving.

Jesse has been a pawn of Walt's and was a pawn of Hank's in this episode. Now it seems he's stepping out on his own.

Jesse has been manipulated over the seasons. One of the ironies of the episode is Hank's sort of correct in his analysis of the Walt-Jesse manipulation, and that Jesse's a soft spot for Walt. Jesse may not believe it, and in fact he doesn't. Ultimately, if Jesse had just listened to Hank's advice, things would have been very different. In a way, Walt is a blind spot to Jesse as well. He can't see that Walt cares for him.

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Skyler is ready to kill Jesse before Walt is. Was that much of a discussion in the writer's room, that you'd make Skyler be willing to do this ahead of Walt?

That was a discussion we had in terms of structure of the episode.  Again, it'd be ironic if everyone had murder on their minds except for Walt. Walt is the only one who -- for once -- is sort of tapping the brakes. Jesse is out to get Walt. Skyler is now ready to cross the line into murder. Hank is stepping over the line and basically saying, "If Jesse dies, f--k it. Who cares." Even Marie is talking about fantasies of killing Walt. Walt's sort of brought out the worst in everyone, while he is trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube for himself saying, "There's got to be a way we can get out of this without getting violent." But it's sort of too late, because he's corrupted everyone.

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Which scene was the most fun to write?

The most fun scene to write was Walt and Skyler in the hotel room. It was fun to see Walt try to explain to Skyler why Jesse wasn't a threat and then to push Skyler into that dark place. That was fun, easing her even deeper into the shadows.

What was the most difficult scene to get right?

It may have been the Hank and Jesse stuff with the interviews. There was just a lot to navigate there in terms of their two points of view. But the episode itself, it was a very hard episode to break. But once we did, once we came up with a structure, it was pretty easy to write overall.

How was being a first-time director?

I was terrified to do it. A lot of sleepless nights leading up to it. But when it started, it was great. It was a perfect first-time experience for me. I know the show, I know the crew. And the crew and the actors know their jobs so well. It basically comes down to being prepared and having an informed opinion on what all these experts are bringing you. Saying "yes, no, yes, no." The crew and the actors made it a very enjoyable experience.

E-Mail: Aaron.Couch@THR.com
Twitter: @AaronCouch