Like it or not, come the end of its fifth season, Breaking Bad will be no more. And while series creator Vince Gilligan is determined to bow out gracefully, he is, understandably, somewhat at odds with just how to wrap up Walter White’s epic downward spiral.
Of course, ending such a beloved and critically acclaimed series comes with a notorious bag of challenges that frequently finds creatives at odds with the very audience that adores them. A fact Gilligan is all too aware.
“[It] keeps me awake at night. It gives me nightmares. The closer we get to the final episode, I assume the worse it’ll be. But that’s why we’re ending after 16. You want to go out with fans of the show still being fans. The best we can do is be disciplined and honest in our storytelling, and not go for the bells and whistles. Let the chips fall where they may.”
After some tense negotiations with AMC, Gilligan and Sony Pictures Television came to an agreement that would close the series out with a lengthened 16-episode fifth season. Through it all, there was the underlying belief that, whatever happened, Breaking Bad’s finale was on the horizon – which makes Gilligan’s disclosure that he still doesn’t know the final details somewhat unexpected.
“Wish I did,” Gilligan says. “I have certain hopes and dreams for how the characters will wind up, but I don’t have anything nailed down plot-wise.”
With luck, fans won’t take that as an admission that Gilligan is entering this climactic season flying blind. Historically, Breaking Bad has put on a clinic of tight, concise storytelling, which has never lacked purpose or a sense of destination – so it stands to reason that, for Gilligan and the writers assembled around him, not having anything “nailed down” is still far more concrete than the finished scripts of other programs.
For example, over the course of four seasons, fans have watched Walter White (Bryan Cranston) emerge from the grip of a terminal illness as a progressively hardened and pitiless person, who, in his quest to leave his wife and children in comfort and wealth, has, ironically, robbed them of the man they knew and loved. And, after witnessing the depths to which Walter has sunk – especially in the season 4 finale – the question remains: how much further down can he go?
Gilligan says the remainder of Walt’s journey will be about striking the perfect balance between being memorable and telling a good story:
“We don’t set out to make the show shocking…We’re telling a very dark story and we’re involved in a very dark world, and to paint it as anything less than unpleasant would be disingenuous. We’re looking to be showmen and women, trying to give the audience something to talk about the next day around the water cooler. But the ultimate goal isn’t to be gruesome or bloody — it’s to be dramatic."
And while, after all the acclaim Breaking Bad and AMC’s other flagship series, Mad Men, have garnered, the network undoubtedly wishes the praise could go on forever, as Gilligan alludes, it is always best to go out on top.
"It’s been the best job I’ve ever had, and I suspect I’m going to look back on it with a great deal of nostalgia. But after 16 more episodes, it will be time to end it all. It was always intended to be a finite, closed-ended show. You have to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.”
Breaking Bad season 5 is set to air sometime in 2012 on AMC.