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Vince Gilligan is Rethinking 'Breaking Bad' Season 3 Cliffhanger - TCA Report

by Joel Keller, posted Aug 5th 2010 8:02PM
Vince Gilligan accepts the TCA Award for Outstanding Achievement in Drama for 'Breaking Bad'On Tuesday evening, Sony Pictures held a party for its slate of TV shows at the loud but trendy bar210 at the Beverly Hilton (it occupies the space of the first version of Trader Vic's, which a few years ago moved next to the hotel's pool). There, I caught up with 'Breaking Bad' creator Vince Gilligan and talked to him about the decisions he made during the show's incredible third season, how the reaction to the last scene in the finale has made him rethink how next year might open, and how the delay of the season 4 premiere until summer is helping his writing staff.

I've read other interviews where you said that season 3 wasn't as planned out as some of the other ones because there was no season-long arc.
In season 2 it was a hell of a time trying to figure out the end at the beginning but we enjoyed it, we had a good time doing that.

After we did that in season 2 we had two thoughts: One of them was we had already done that, and another was 'God that was hard to do.' so we figured in season 3 that we would -- one way to put it was make it up as we went along and we kind of did in a certain fashion, but also to see where the flow took us just as a way to differentiate season 3 from season 2.

Those "holy crap" moments, how did those come up? Did they just come up organically? Did you notice that there was one after the other during the season?

I have to say, we're always looking for those "Holy crap" moments. We work really hard toward finding as many of those as we can believably do in a season. I've been using this phrase a lot lately but I love Kubrick: Stanley Kubrick always used to talk about the "non-submergible" moments.

Somebody said to him, and I may be misquoting this so take it with a grain of salt, but I remember reading an interview where someone said to him "What constitutes a good movie? What do you look for when you're making a movie?" He said "Five or six non-submergible moments." Moments, at least as I understand it, moments that even years later if you forget all the wherefores and the whys of a particular movie, you forget all the specific plot elements, certain imageries or moments of plot are nonsubmergible in your consciousness.

So we're just stealing a page from Kubrick, because you know, steal from the best, and we're looking for those non-submergible, "Holy crap" moments.

So when you're writing a moment like Walt shooting one of the drug dealers in the head, are you in the room, all looking at each other like, "Did we just go there?"
Oh yeah. A lot of the time we're going, "are we seriously going to do that? Are we seriously going to go there?" And that's always a sign of when we have that experience, "Are we really thinking about doing this?" Because very often you throw crazy ideas around that you have no intention of doing but every now and then when we have those true "Holy s--t" moments, we're kind of proud that we have that reaction. We kind of know it's the thing to do at that point.

And you know that that's the reaction the audience is going to have too at that point.
That is our hope. That is our ferved desire.

What was the debate when you guys wrote that scene?
There wasn't a lot of debate as I recall. We had debates, I'll tell you a big one. About a couple of seasons ago we debated whether or not Walt should watch Jane die. That was definitely a big one.

I remember Bryan [Cranston] talking about that.
But when Walt ran the two drug dealers over in order to save Jesse, there wasn't much debate. I remember us thinking, we're going to have fun with this. Because a lot of season 3 was Walt losing track of the Heisenberg within and becoming in a sense less of the criminal that he had been working towards being. A lot of season 3 was about making the donuts as it were. Going to work day in and day out, in a very clean, professional, somewhat perhaps boring to work in ultimately, super lab.

And so Walt throughout this season felt to be under Gus' thumb and felt to us like he was losing some of that craziness, some of that attitude he had in previous seasons. So when he breaks bad late in season three and he runs these guys over and he does it in order to save Jesse, it's a big moment. And in the writer's room we were all like - (yells) "Yeah! He gets to be a man again!"

In the finale he seems so triumphant when he's telling Mike, "Oh you better keep me around for a little while."
Yeah, that was a twist for the audience. The beginning of that scene as you recall he's begging for his life, throwing Jesse under the bus, begging for his life at a very craven cowardly fashion, that was to make the audience think,"He's not going to be that much of a weenie." And that last twisteroo when it was all an act.

Now, you said that the last scene wasn't the cliffhanger as far as you're concerned, but now are you going back on that a little bit?
I would be lying if I said that that didn't take me by surprise, that reaction (to the final scene), and that furthermore, it didn't open up possibilities for us, and we had not discussed it. I would be lying if I denied all those things. We are in an interesting situation in which audience reaction was a little different than I thought it would be, in a good way.

So our first day back in the writers' room was very much about talking through "What if we did this instead?" I want to be a little coy here and not say exactly what decision we've come to but suffice it to say, when enough people interpret thing in a different fashion than you perhaps intended, you would be remiss not to give some thought as to their interpretation of things.

It's all because of the way you directed the scene, you had the camera pan around a little bit, right before Jesse fired the gun at Gale.
To me, I thought what I was doing was making it more clear that a certain thing was about to happen, but in fact I realized that so many people -- I talked to my mom, she was confused by it -- so many people thought... I mean Jesse, very literally the way it was shot, Jesse stays pointed at an exact point and space and the camera comes to meet him.

And I realize watching now it and hearing people's reactions, that in fact the audience is thinking that what's happening is that Jesse's moving off his aim. It's interesting how I've learned a lot as a director from the way that scene was interpreted..

Because the way Jesse was, he didn't want to shoot him, he felt he had to.
I think that's a good point and I would add to that, that I don't think the audience wants to see Jesse do this either because Jesse is a fundamentally -- and this is going to sound weird saying it -- but I believe Jesse is a fundamentally innocent character. I love the audience interpretation of (that scene) because it speaks to a deeper mindset. The audience doesn't want to see that happen and I understand because I don't want to see it happen either.

Because it changes the whole dynamic if he's actually killed someone.
It does indeed. You're absolutely right and if that is indeed the case as we go forward, how will it change him? A lot of good questions there.

Bryan and Aaron [Paul] said that scene was longer when it was originally shot because Walt hesitated before he fired, and then you cut it to make it look like he just did it in a cold-blooded manner. What was your decision process there and at what point in the editing did you say let's make him more cold-blooded?
There's always a lot of issues in the editing room. This seems like a small one, but it ends up being quite a big one. In most episodes we shoot them a fair bit longer than we have time for so we're always looking wherever we can to cut time out so we can keep the episodes to the exact right time that they need to be. That has an influence and can never be completely discounted.

Having said that, also, watching the episode in the editing room removed from the day-in/day-out shooting of it months later, it just felt like the right thing to do. It felt like, if you're going to run a guy over with you car, you are committed. Having said that, Bryan always plays these things in such an amazing manner. With Bryan's acting, as with Aaron's, Anna (Gunn)'s, Dean (Norris)'s, Betsy (Brandt)'s, and RJ (Mitte)'s, there are quite a few ways you can cut things and they'll still be great.

Having said that, my original intention like Bryan's was to milk out the moment for all of it was worth but watching it in the editing room it just felt like "do it, get it done."

But it changes everything again.
It changes things in a subtle fashion but yes. But again I would argue, if you had the wherewithal, the will to run a guy over with your car, you might as well him off.

But were you surprised though at how people reacted to that moment? Not the part where he hits the dealers with his care, because that was to save Jesse. It's the part where he just looks at the guy and shoots him.
(Laughs) It was cold.

Were you surprised at how people reacted to that little subtle piece of it?
I'll be honest with you, I don't read the Internet stuff so I get general anecdotal (evidence), some people seem to dig this one, some people seem to not dig that one as much. I don't get too deep into the reactions. Not because I'm not interested, but because I'm very neurotic and it's easier for me to keep an even keel where I don't pay too close attention.

I had a conversation with Damon Lindelof a while back, I just met him for the first time not too long ago, very nice guy, very smart, I really like him. And it was interesting talking to him because he always gets on the Internet after an episode (of 'Lost') to read their reactions. But I don't have as strong a constitution as he does. And my hat is off to him for being able to do that. I'm just not that guy. I sort of have to stay a little removed from it.

This six months lead time before you start shooting, did you guys have to design that in thinking we're going to need that much time to map out or was it more of a matter of the shooting schedules?
It's a little different this season. This season is interesting because AMC came to us this year and said "We want to change up the schedule of the airing a little bit this season. We want to push back the show start a little bit later in the year because we think summer might do better for us than spring."

Having said that, because that happened, we then had the ability, and there was no reason to do otherwise, we had the ability to push back the start of production. Which is a little tough for our crew. We want to keep our crew, and not have our people out of work for a super long time, but that was sort of a choice made by AMC that we didn't have a hand in. Having said that, we're doing our best to make lemonades out of lemons and use all that leave time to good effect by spending a lot of time thinking, a lot of time for the writers. So the more pre-production have, the more lead time we have, the better of a shot we have of telling a really good, coherent story that feels complete.

Since it's so preliminary, you wouldn't be able to tell me who we're going to see more of or less of?
We're definitely going to be seeing a fair bit of Gus and Mike this season, I believe We don't have anything completely nailed down yet and there's a lot of stuff we don't know yet. But we've had about three weeks in the writers' room so far and we've got a lot of fun ideas I'm looking forward to springing on the viewers.

And are you looking forward to the Emmy's? You guys got a lot of nominations this year.
It's wonderful. It's very exciting. We're very proud of all the nominations. I'll have my Valium or two before I go, enjoy myself, maybe a few drinks and I would say hope for the best but the truth is, best has already happened. People are watching the show and people seem to be enjoying it, we've gotten nominated. I'm just as proud as I can be about that and anything beyond that is not expected but would be appreciated.

There is honest to god truth in the old expression it's an honor just to be nominated and I really mean that. That's all I expect, that's already a highlight and I don't need any more than that.

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I think they should stick with the idea that Jesse shot Gail at the end of the finale. It's the most interesting choice.

August 06 2010 at 3:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tony DIMeo

WOW I so admire him his attitude about the EMMYS is the attitude is the way I wish everyone in hollywood felt about award shows I would truly consider myself honored just to be nominated

August 06 2010 at 2:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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