AMC’s “Breaking Bad” begins its final eight-episode run Sunday, Aug. 11, with a disconcerting flash-forward scene, as Walter White (Bryan Cranston) pulls up in front of the now-abandoned White family home, driving the car we saw him pick up from a Denny’s parking lot at the start of Season 5. You may remember that car, because it had a machine gun in the trunk.
The action then flashes back to where we left things at the end of last summer. While a family cookout is in progress at the same home, Walt’s brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris), stumbles across an inscribed book that holds a clue directly linking Walt to the shadowy drug lord known as Heisenberg. Struggling to suppress a full-blown panic attack, Hank pleads indigestion and rushes wife Marie (Betsy Brandt) out the door and into their car, leaving Walt and his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), to continue hoping that they somehow can leave his violent past behind and enjoy being a family.
“Certainly Walter’s ego has been fed,” Bryan Cranston tells Zap2it, a three-time Emmy winner for this role, which recently earned him his fifth nomination. “For the first time in his life, he has money in his pocket. He can intimidate another person. He is a powerful man, respected and feared.
“Skyler’s quiet logic and compassion, her almost silent pleading, make him realize, ‘Oh, I did get carried away, didn’t I?’ They look at the enormous block of money hidden in their storage facility, and they both say they have no idea how much it is. Certainly it’s more money than he ever can spend, so that was a wake-up call, and he knows that he can spend whatever little time he has left with his wife and two children, trying to get back into her good graces and go out with a smile on his face instead of a bullet in his back.”
If Walt and Skyler are living, however briefly, in a serene fool’s paradise, things are far more tense for Walt’s former partner in crime, Jesse Pinkman (two-time Emmy winner Aaron Paul). Jesse has figured out that Walt murdered their former associate Mike Ehrmantraut, who had become something of a father figure to Jesse. And now, having seen how Walt is tying up “loose ends” that can connect him to Heisenberg, Jesse understandably worries that he may be next on the list.
“Jesse is absolutely terrified of Walt,” says Paul, currently up for his third Emmy as best supporting actor. “Jesse knows that Walt was behind all those murders in the prisons, that Walt is a very dangerous man and just an evil, evil being. So when we come back, Jesse doesn’t trust Walt a bit, and he’s ready to protect himself. You can’t believe how brutal the sprint is to the finish line. It’s just pretty wild where ‘Breaking Bad’ is going this year.”
Since the cast members very rarely learned what was coming until they received each episode, they anxiously tore into each script as they got it.
“As we came into these final eight, I think all of us had a sense of ‘Oh, God, what’s going to happen to all these people?’ ” says Gunn, who recently got her second Emmy nod as Skyler. “Both the actors who had played these roles, but also the characters themselves, because we had come to care about them. We wondered who was going to make it. I was on pins and needles the whole time.
“Sets were being pulled down. You’d come on the soundstage, and suddenly a set that you had been used to seeing for six years in the same place would be gone, and you’d think, ‘Wait, what?’ Or a member of the cast would leave.”
When series creator Vince Gilligan finished writing the script for the very last episode, Cranston and Paul got together at the former’s condo to read it together out loud, partly for a documentary that will be a part of the “Breaking Bad” home video set but also for sentimental reasons.
“I ordered Greek food, and we’re having a cocktail, and we’re kind of anxious to start, and yet not wanting to start, as Aaron puts it, because once we do, that’s the last one, and we just didn’t want that to happen,” Cranston says. “We owned these characters, and we didn’t want to let go. It’s almost as if we’re being evicted. On the one side, it’s coming to an end in a really satisfactory way, but in another, it’s being pulled out of our grip.”
“When Bryan read the final page, where it said, ‘End of Series,’ we just stared at each other without talking for a good 10 to 15 seconds,” Paul recalls. ” ‘Breaking Bad’ will hands down be the highlight of my career. It’s all downhill from here, although I don’t say that as a bad thing. I say it as a proud thing. ‘Breaking Bad’ will always be at the top.”
The actors say they’re very satisfied with the way Gilligan and his writing team are bringing the saga of Walter White to a close, and they’re confident the show’s fans will be equally pleased.
“I am very satisfied [with the ending],” Cranston says. “It ends in a very unapologetic ‘Breaking Bad’ manner. I think fans are going to sit back and go, ‘Yep. Yep, that’s the way it should end.'”