Brace yourself but, in case you weren’t keep track, only three episodes of Breaking Bad remain.
Now, take a deep breath because, according to creator Vince Gilligan, who jumped on the phone with me this morning, you’re going to need all your strength to keep it together for those installments.
No spoilers here but we did talk about the series as a whole, the return of Walt’s cancer, Todd’s role since he came on the scene late in the game and, of course, the Saul Goodman spinoff.
Here's what the man who created one of the all-time classic series has to say about its end ...
TV Fanatic: When you hear people say that Breaking Bad is possibly or definitely the best show in TV history, how do you wrap your head around that? Can you?
Vince Gilligan: It’s insanely flattering and feels good to hear anyone say that but it also scares me greatly for the future. Let’s put it this way, it would even be more enjoyable and pleasurable if I had announced my retirement from the business but since I want to go on and do other things after this, human nature being what it is, you think ‘how am I going to top this?’ Really, the odds are I’m not, ever.
This is really lightning in a bottle. We writers on the show did our best to do the best work we were capable of but everybody does that. Everybody is always working the hardest to do their best work. There’s a sudden element of lightning in a bottle, some magic, that came about with this thing that was not due to me, it was due to the luck of casting the actors we did…we always cast the best actors you can find, too, but you never know if they’re going to click but this ensemble did.
TVF: Bringing Walt’s cancer back, I was trying to figure out the reason for that. Was it to bring back some of his humanity?
VG: I don’t think there was an act of thought to give Walt his humanity back. Unfortunately, a big part of humanity is our darker sides and our less loveable and more evil side. I think that is as human as our goodness. As bad as Walt has gotten he has, depending on how you look at it fortunately or unfortunately, remained human.
Having said all of that, Walt’s cancer returning felt like a fitting plot development to the writers and to me because cancer, as a plot engine, is what started this whole journey and it seemed like it would feel, perhaps, like a loose end if the cancer didn’t come back. It also felt real because we’ve all probably all known someone in our lives who very valiantly fought cancer and then a few years later, or 10 years later, 20 years later, back it comes rearing it’s ugly head.
The two-pronged answer is it seemed very realistic to us and it also seemed proper that it make a reappearance in order for that main plot engine of the series at the end of the day to not feel like a loose end.
TVF: I don’t want spoilers even for myself but the last episode ended on this fantastic shootout – God Bless Michelle MacLaren for doing such a good job directing that episode – but how would you define these last three episodes?
VG: I think these last three episodes, not to overstate it, and you could say this about the last eight, but with these last three in particular you need to install a seat belt on your sofa, you need to wear a crash helmet and a diaper. [laughs] I tell ya, this next episode (entitled “Ozymandias”), I think for my money, is the best episode we ever had had or ever will have. It was written by Moira Walley-Beckett and directed by Rian Johnson.
I think people are going to have trouble breathing after this thing airs. It’s tremendous and it’s a great, great hour of television and I’m as proud as I can be of the two episodes that air after that one and both of them are a hell of a wild ride, too. I couldn’t be more proud of these final eight episodes or these last three episodes. I think they’re going to leave us with some sleepless nights.
TVF: I want to ask about Todd (Jesse Plemons). He makes me so nervous with his laid back-ness but is he a threat or an asset moving forward?
VG: I can talk about my perceptions of him and the actor who plays him. I don’t think I can answer your question of asset versus threat because that would be a spoiler. But I think Todd is a character who the writers and I really grew fond of a large part because we love the actor who plays him. Jesse Plemons has brought so much of the character and increased our understanding of the character just in the way he’s chosen to play him.
I think Todd…[laughs]…is just kind of the most loveable sociopath that we’ve ever come across! He doesn’t seem to have an understanding of other people’s feelings in a sense of…the best way I can put it is when he shot that poor kid on the dirt bike. I don’t think he enjoyed doing it just like he wouldn’t enjoy swatting a fly. It’s not like he doesn’t get any pleasure from the act of killing. It just needed to be done. It’s like ‘I think I’m going to go get a sandwich now.’ He’s got a screw loose! The guy is damaged, for sure, but there’s no ill will there, ya know?
TVF: You’ve worked with these actors for so long now. Was there a moment in these last eight that surprised you when you actually saw certain scenes on film?
VG: Yeah, I’ve had that feeling constantly with these actors. They really spoil ya! They’ve spoiled me for all future work, honestly. I knew they were great when we hired them but I didn’t know how great. As we got more and more episodes under our belt, my appreciation for these folks only increased.
A good example is Dean Norris and that amazing scene that he plays in 509 when he is in his garage and he and Walt have their first confrontation, where all the cards are on the table and both guys realize that Hank knows who he really is. I thought that scene was tremendous and Dean was fantastic, as was Bryan.
I think there’s a scene with Aaron Paul that just made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It’s one we’ve already seen out in the desert when he says to Walt, ‘Why don’t you just tell me the truth and say that you want me to leave because otherwise you’re going to kill me.’ There’s another one coming up two episodes from now with Aaron Paul, which I will not say what happens but it is an electrifying moment of acting.
There are moments, honestly, throughout, and just when I get complacent saying ‘Yeah, these guys are great,’ there’s another bravura moment that just makes you think ‘I am so blessed to be working with these people.’ They are at the apex, the tiptop of their game. They’re head and shoulders above anyone else’s game. I’m biased as hell but this is the best cast on TV ever. These guys are so fucking good. I can’t even put it into words properly.
TVF: We got the news of the Saul Goodman spinoff this week. What’s the tone of the show going to be since Saul tends to lean more towards the comedic side of things?
VG: I don’t think it’s going to be an out-and-out comedy but I think there is going to be more laughs and more comedic than certainly Breaking Bad was, though that’s not saying a lot, is it? But we always put as much humor as we could fit into Breaking Bad because I always felt that a show as dark as Breaking Bad would be unwatchable if it took itself too seriously and if it was relentlessly grim so we needed as much humor as we could find to leaven the darkness.
With that in mind, if Breaking Bad is ratio-wise 75% heavy to 25% comedic, which is probably a fair guess, then I think what Peter [Gould] and I are thinking of is the Saul Goodman show would be the flip of that. Don’t hold me to that ratio but that’s the basic idea. It’s certainly not a sitcom but it’s lighter in general with some moments of real drama because Saul deals with some hardened characters and will have dealt with some hardened characters before Walter White.
TVF: Going off the heavy and the light, in these last three Breaking Bad Season 5 episodes, is there any lightness? Even in the “To’hajiilee” episode, we had Todd’s phone with the Thomas Dolby “She Blinded Me With Science” ring tone. Any room in these last three?
VG: As I said, we’d put those more humorous moments whenever we can and I was fearful going into these final eight that there would be no more room for humor, a chuckle or a laugh. I figured in these final eight we’d have no room at all for that kind of stuff and I was very heartened to learn that I was wrong.
Even in these final three, which are as heart attack/serious as any episodes of Breaking Bad have ever been, believe it or not, there is still room for a fleeting moment of levity, if you will.
Breaking Bad airs Sundays at 9 pm on AMC. The series finale airs on September 29th.
Jim Halterman is the West Coast Editor of TV Fanatic and the owner of JimHalterman.com. Follow him on Twitter.