The countdown is on to the final episode of "Breaking Bad", surely the most highly anticipated climax since Tony Soprano hung up his spurs. In Vancouver, as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival’s Film and TV Forum, show creator Vince Gilligan sat down with The Huffington Post B.C. to talk up the art of final episodes, the disturbing nature of life through Walter White's eyes, and what the future holds for television's hottest ticket.
HuffPost BC: Are you feeling stressed out? Can you deliver the final episode everyone's waiting for?
Vince Gilligan: Well that remains to be seen. I’m typically someone who gets stressed out and neurotic pretty easily, and I feel pretty good about this last episode. I hope I’m not sorely mistaken in my estimation of how it will be received.
We finished the episode six months ago, and I feel like we delivered the ending that the show needed. I think we did right by the series. And therefore having lived with it for as long as we have – the better part of a year – and being kept as wonderfully busy as I have lately doing press all over the world, I really haven't had much time recently to worry about it.
HP: No night sweats?
VG: Well I had plenty of those while we were coming up with the ending, figuring it out and shooting it and editing it, but once it was done a lot of that went away.
I suspect there will be people who wanted a different ending, because it’s really impossible to please everybody as we know, but I feel good about it.
HP: What's your favourite final episode of a TV show ever?
VG: That’s a good one. The one that always springs to mind is "MASH". I loved "MASH" as a kid, and I still love it. Just a week ago or so I was watching it again and it all came back to me. I’ve seen every single episode of that series, and I still think it holds up to this day.
The thing that works so well about the ending of "MASH" is that implicit in the very first episode is the idea of what the ending should be. The seeds are planted in that very first episode—here's a show about a bunch of people thrown together and they will make the best of a bad situation, but they all desperately want to go home.
So it stands to reason the final episode of "MASH" should be that everyone gets to go home — it’s a big goodbye — and that I think is the perfect ending for that series. It’s not a surprise ending. In fact you see it coming for 11 years, but it’s what you want as a viewer. It’s the only thing that can really satisfy you. And that’s why I think it’s a nearly perfect ending—or perhaps not nearly at all. Perhaps it is the perfect ending.
With a show like "Breaking Bad" viewers love the surprises we throw at them — they love those twist and turns that we give them—but sometimes the best surprise is no surprise. And I’m not giving away anything that will happen tomorrow, I’m just talking about what we discuss in the writers’ room: is the perfect ending surprising or preordained?
HP: Plotting the arc of this show, did you know where Walt would end up?
VG: Not really. We all knew what the show was about, it was self evident and was something we stuck to and abided by for six solid years: we’re taking the good guy and turning him into the bad guy. But having said that, that leaves a lot of room to manoeuvre . That doesn’t say anything about the plot, where it’s headed or where Walt will end up.
I had ideas along the way that fell by the wayside, and was given other ideas by excellent writers that I would never have come up with by myself. It takes on a life of its own, it’s organic, and it lives and breathes on its own. Sometimes it feels as though you are taking dictation and that’s an eerie feeling. But it’s a feeling I love—not knowing what’s going to happen next.
HP: Is Walt out of your skin?
VG: I’ve had a few months now where Walt has not been ever-present in my brain—and I think that’s healthy. One of the toughest things about doing this show was seeing the world through Walt’s eyes for six years. And it wasn’t bad in the beginning, because at the beginning he was a pretty good guy, and he meant well, but as the show got darker and darker and as Walt became more criminal and evil, it became more difficult to have this guy in my head 24 hours a day.
I have to see through the character’s eyes in order to write him, but the longer you spend looking through the eyes of a guy that dark, the more his outlook on life tends to impact on yours, and it can be kind of depressing and kind of scary seeing the world through this guy’s eyes.
HP: Has he changed you?
VG: Well the show has changed my life and my career, for sure… I don’t know that Walt’s psyche has changed me personally. I hope not, because I can’t imagine how that would be to the good.
But there’s one thing about Walt—one aspect of this story that I actually think is positive and instructive and something I didn’t realise in the early days—but in an episode in season two or three, Walt is giving advice to Hank. Hank has just been through this terrible ordeal where he’s seen a human head explode and he’s suffering from PTSD and he won’t leave the house.
And Walt says, 'you know before I had my cancer diagnosis I was scared of everything. I lay awake at night worrying about things that could happen, might happen and now, since I know what my end is going to be, I sleep like a baby. And I think fear is just something you need to kick in the teeth and don’t let it stop you.'
It’s not novel advice— it’s as old as humanity itself—but Walt took that advice and transformed it. Unfortunately, what he transformed it into was very dark—an empire based on drugs and murder.
But it was an awakening from sleepwalking, and snapping out of one’s fears is something we can all in our lives try to attain, just hopefully not in the same way as Walter White.
HP: Does everyone have a price?
VG: I think everyone might have a price, but I don’t think everyone’s price is money. I think if the lives of our loved ones were at stake we could all do some pretty dark things if we had to. Hopefully we never find ourselves tested that way.
But if the question is, 'can we all break bad?', the answer perhaps is yes.
HP: Now you can write your own ticket, what do you do?
VG: Hopefully there are many projects in the future. I wrote "Battle Creek" 11 years ago, and CBS passed. Now it’s risen phoenix-like out of the ashes and the dust has been blown off the script for the pilot which David Shore [show runner of "House] really likes. He is going to take this pilot episode and run with it, and it’s possible I will direct the pilot although that’s up to David.
But after the pilot is done, that’s going to be a David Shore show and I think he’ll do a marvellous job.
HP: You have bigger fish to fry?
I don’t think I’d put it that way, but it has been 11 years, and part of it is, I don’t know if I have the energy anymore to work on a network show and the pace of production of 24 episodes a season. I don’t think I have it in me anymore to turn out that volume of work .
Cable TV is much more my speed these days.
HP: And what about "Better Call Saul"?
Peter Gould is a great writer and has been with "Breaking Bad" since the first post-pilot episode. We’re creating it together and I’m going to help in any way I can to get the first season up and running, and then I will gradually disengage and Peter will be the show runner.
So when those shows are both up and running, I really do want to generate something new.