[WARNING: MAJOR 'BREAKING BAD' SPOILERS AHEAD!]
After five seasons spent surprising audiences with Breaking Bad, creator Vince Gilligan was charged with doing it one last time. Gilligan had to script an ending for the show, batting back the flood of emotions that surely comes when one severs long-lasting relationships that are both creative and personal, while also steering his vision toward a satisfying end.
Did Vince Gilligan succeed? The words “satisfied” and “fitting” have been popping up all over the web and more than 70% of respondents in our poll say that they “Loved” the finale, so the consensus seems to say that he did. But the long road to the end of Breaking Bad surely included a few detours, and in the aftermath of last night’s series finale, Gilligan has opened up about some of the alternative ways that the series could have ended.
Here’s Gilligan in an interview with EW on some of those alternatives and why the Breaking Bad creative team ultimately decided on something somewhat redemptive and very final for Walter White.
“We didn’t feel an absolute need for Walt to expire at the end of the show. Our gut told us it was right. As the writers and I worked through all these different possibilities, it felt right, but I don’t think it was a necessity for us.
“There was a version we kicked around where Walt is the only one who survives, and he’s standing among the wreckage and his whole family is destroyed. That would be a very powerful ending, but very much a kick-in-the-teeth kind of ending for the viewers. We talked about a version where Jesse kills Walt. We talked about a version where Walt more or less gets away with it.
“There’s no right or wrong way to do this job – it’s just a matter of: You get as many smart people around you as possible in the writers room, and I was very lucky to have that. And when our gut told us we had it, we wrote it, and I guess our gut told us that it would feel satisfying for Walt to at least begin to make amends for his life and for all the sadness and misery wrought upon his family and his friends.”
When discussing why the writers ultimately decided to free Jesse from murdering his former partner, Gilligan seemed as if he felt genuinely bad for what Aaron Paul’s character had been subjected to over the show’s run.
“We talked about Jesse taking Walt up on his offer to kill him or Walt turning around to find Jesse had a gun on him. We talked about every permutation we could conceive of, and we went the way we went ultimately because the bloodlust had been satiated prior to that moment by seeing Jesse throttle Todd (Jesse Plemons) to death. [...] This poor guy has wound up having to kill over and over again. The first time he did it was to save Mr. White as well as himself, and it’s not a natural fit for him, and it’s something that’s stolen a big, important piece of his soul. And we thought to ourselves, ‘You know what? Let it end with Todd. Let that be the last person this kid ever kills. Let him go on from here to have a decent life.’ “
Prior to that, Gilligan talked more about his imagined and somewhat tranquil life for Jesse following his escape, saying:
“We always felt like the viewers desired Jesse to get away. And it’s up to the individual viewer to decide what happens next for Jesse. [...] the romantic in me wants to believe that he gets away with it and moves to Alaska and has a peaceful life communing with nature.”
It’s interesting to hear Gilligan speak about Jesse Pinkman’s character with detachment, as if he wasn’t the one who ran Jesse through the ringer for all these years, but it’s more interesting to hear Gilligan reference viewer concerns while discussing the finale and its construction.
Not to kick up dust, but there are several high profile dramas that closed with decidedly less fan-friendly episodes than Breaking Bad (most notably, Lost and The Sopranos), but while those episodes are often regarded as less than satisfying, they were surprising and did manage to push audiences to passionately debate their meanings (even still).
Those finales took a risk that Breaking Bad avoided as Gilligan snipped and tied off every loose thread, but it’s not clear whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. What it is, though, is surprising, considering the kind of risks and shocks that defined Breaking Bad throughout a run that seemed to answer to no one besides Gilligan.
Did Walter White – who got to give money to his family, attain a small amount of closure, and rub out his enemies - get an unearned happy ending? Perhaps, but it would be hard to argue that what the fans got was unearned. It’s just unclear if it was the best ending that they could have gotten.
Breaking Bad aired January 20, 2008 – September 29, 2013 on AMC