BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. * The president of AMC called the occasion
bittersweet. His audience felt the same. Lined up on stage, ready to
take critics' questions for the last time, was the cast of "Breaking
Bad," which airs its final eight episodes beginning at 8 p.m.
There, with a big smile and spiky hair, was Bryan Cranston, who
as Walter White transformed from mild-mannered chemistry teacher to
meth-making criminal in the course of five seasons and what will be
Next to him, looking more somber, was Aaron Paul, whose Jesse
Pinkman was supposed to die early on, but whose breakout performance
as a drug-dealing punk turned conflicted henchman let him live to
see the finale.
Anna Gunn seemed serene with the weight of Skyler White, Walt's
confused and then increasingly complicit wife, lifted off her
shoulders. R.J. Mitte, who played Walter Jr., was happy to celebrate
what the show had given him. Betsy Brandt (Marie) and Bob Odenkirk
(Saul) were there, too; only Dean Norris (Hank) couldn't attend.
Creator Vince Gilligan, faced with the end, professed that he had
trouble remembering the beginning. Fans of great drama haven't
On Jan. 20, 2008, "Breaking Bad" debuted with an eyebrow-raising
premise. Teacher Walt was sleepwalking through life when he learned
that he had inoperable lung cancer. With a pregnant wife and a
disabled son, he groped for a way to take care of them once he was
gone, soon settling on the idea of making and selling just a little
methamphetamine. He was, it turned out, very good at the craft.
But just a little wasn't nearly enough. Greed took over, and the
thrill of being great at something, and the rush of power that Walt
had never felt. He was soon in so deep, he dragged those around him
down with him.
Gilligan famously pitched the show with the promise to "take Mr.
Chips and turn him into Scarface." Now, he calls that glib, saying
"we abided by it for (nearly) six years, but it still leaves a lot
of wriggle room."
He turned to Cranston and asked, "Did I tell you anything?"
Cranston, known at the time as the comical dad on "Malcolm in the
Middle," reinvented himself as this most anti- of antiheroes.
Gilligan outlined his plan just "in broad strokes," Cranston said.
"We never discussed where it was going to end up."
The subject "was just too big," he said, "and as the season went
on, I never found out. I never asked. I never wanted to know."
He found that "the twists and turns of my character were so sharp
that it wouldn't help me to know. So I was just holding on, much
like the audience was, almost week to week."
What audience and actors alike discovered was that the characters
in "Breaking Bad" changed in ways that could hardly have been
Walter began as a man who was utterly sympathetic and devolved
into one we should despise, but can't quite. Meanwhile, Jesse became
steadily more of a fan favorite, a fact that still surprises Paul. …