Breaking Bad Writer: Why It Had to End

A rule in the writers’ room was to never force the characters, but to let them take us there — and Walt was taking us to the end of the road

  • Share
  • Read Later
Ursula Coyote / AMC

Is Breaking Bad really ending? Why? Why not make more?!? I’m a writer for Breaking Bad, and that’s the question I’ve gotten the most over the past year (next to: “Is that food on your lip?”). Believe me, it’s a question I’ve asked myself many, many times. But the answer is pretty simple: a rule in the writers’ room was to never force the characters in any direction but to let them take us there — and Walt was taking us to the end of the road.

I joined the writing staff in Season 3 (the Season of the Cousins), and I came to the show as a true fan. The work of the writers, directors, actors and crew was just clicking on all cylinders. And I was tricked by the idea that Walter White was jumping through these extreme hoops for the sake of his family. I cared about him, a man trying to take care of his family, getting corrupted as he did. But then I realized that this character wasn’t changing. Not really. What he was really doing was revealing his true inner nature.

As I type that, I know that is my opinion and open to debate. Vince always pitched the now classic line: “Turning Mr. Chips into Scarface.” But when I wrote scenes for Walt, I believed he was Scarface (or in our world, Heisenberg) pretending to be the man society expected him to be. Cancer gave him an excuse not to pretend anymore. And I think, for all the “evil” Walt has done, that’s why we watch and identify with him. All of us, in some aspects of our lives, pretend to be something we’re not. But let’s watch what happens when Walter pulls back the cover. It may be exciting, but it’s damn messy. It’s much safer for all of us to stay civilized and watch Walter do it! If we all did it, the world would be like that Star Trek episode with everyone running around yelling “Festival!” and raping each other and stealing each other’s lunch money. I would find some of that highly unpleasant.

(MORE: Why You’re Hooked on Breaking Bad)

Of course, I’m not saying that all of us have a being as monstrous as Heisenberg inside of us. Some of us do. You know who you are. (You, reading this on the toilet. I’m talking to you.) But look, I’m a boring guy who doesn’t drink or do drugs … but if I didn’t worry about what people thought of me, I’d probably do a few things my mother would not be proud of.

I remember the very first pitch of mine that ever made it onto the board. (We’d write ideas down on index cards and pin them to a big corkboard.) It was: “Walt finds the teddy bear eye in his pool filter.” I was quietly relieved when something I said on that first day of work stuck. We’d cite and steal/borrow from lots of movies — The Godfather, Once Upon a Time in the West, even Rocky — but a movie that came up quite a bit in the room was Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. A man wrestling with what he has wrought but in the end learning to move on. That plastic eyeball came to represent judgment. Walt didn’t have God watching him the same way Martin Landau did in Crimes, but he had that plastic eyeball. As if the souls of everyone who died because of him were staring right at him.

We had a scene in an early Season 5 episode where Walt found the eyeball again and threw it in the garbage, but that scene fell out and never returned. I wish it had made it in. (That’s how sick we writers get about tying up loose ends — it extends to inanimate objects.) But … Walt lost track of that eyeball. He stopped worrying about what people thought.

(MORE: TIME’s Complete Coverage of Breaking Bad’s Final Season)

You could almost forget that only two seasons ago, Walt had more of a conscience (well, almost). Remember early in Season 3 when Walt, wracked with guilt over the Wayfarer air disaster, put his cash on the BBQ grill and set it on fire? We almost let him burn it! (The initial argument was: “Walt has enough money. We need a reason for him to cook again!”) But the character eventually told us his true nature, and he dumped those flaming bills in the swimming pool to save it all. Jesse is the one with a conscience, tortured by the blood money. Not Walt. He could compartmentalize and rationalize. Walter White was a kingpin, and he was succeeding at it. Up until it went all wrong …

And man, is it going wrong for Walt this season. Now everyone — Jesse, Skyler, Junior, Marie and Hank — is paying the price. We’re watching Walter, so perfectly portrayed by master Bryan Cranston, reap what he has sown. We were heading toward Crimes and Misdemeanors, but then we steered toward another film we talked about a lot in the writer’s room: Fargo. Walt was almost in the clear, but a persistent cop kept picking at the truth. W.W. in Leaves of Grass.

We knew if the cancer didn’t get him first, the tower of lies that Walt built would come tumbling down. Sure, we could have ended it with Walt triumphant and sitting at home with his family, and all of his money successfully laundered. But that didn’t feel like Breaking Bad. Of all the outcomes we discussed in the writers’ room, I don’t even think we went that way once. “Ozymandias” was always in the air. We used to think that as soon as Hank found out the truth, the show was over. But it wasn’t. Not quite. It was another moment in the show that ultimately made us realize that Walt had reached the end of his journey … words he speaks to Skyler in the series finale. Once he reaches that point, he has nowhere else to go. His true nature is revealed. So that’s why, sadly, we came to the end.

(MORE: Is Heisenberg Dead? Walter White and the Light-Switch Theory of Mortality)

Yes, I’m sad it’s over. Really sad. I’m probably miserable to be around. Great crew, amazing cast, best and most fun writers’ room ever. Our genius cinematographer/director Michael Slovis gave us all wrap gifts with a well-known quote from Dr. Seuss attached: “Don’t be sad because it’s over. Smile because it happened, bitch.” (O.K., it didn’t say “bitch.” I added that. I’m a writer — that’s what I do.) So, I’m trying really hard to heed those words and be happy. But unfortunately, like Walt’s, our true natures eventually come through.

Schnauz is currently working on the ABC show Resurrection, and you can follow him on Twitter: @TomSchnauz.

41 comments
MikeBarbachano
MikeBarbachano

Is it just me or do you also think that they should have shown what happened to Jesse in the finale after Mr. White died? I do really hope that he moved on and found happiness elsewhere. I can't stop thinking what happened to Jesse.

suy2
suy2

i really need a awnser to my next question i am a true true fan of breaking bad and i would like to know if there will be a part 2 of the series i have spent days watching all 5 seasons on my net flix and i have enjoyed them so much i have my a blog to talk about the 5 heart wrenching seasons  and i would really really like to know i would like for this to be a nonstop series because i really love the story line so i will be waiting for part two i am so exited to know i think it should go like jesse cooks alone but yet gets custody of brock and finds a new life partner it would be a very good story line...


Belindad
Belindad

I think the spin off should be on Jesse being a good guy Robin Hood/ folk hero character, with a cover of a wood worker or minister, who foils drug money takes and redirects it or alters chemicals in batches, etc. Jesse deserves a good life spin off.

simar
simar

my ending will be jesse goes home and gets caught by DEA.Then agrees to make a deal with them to go undercover and takes custody of both brock and granddaughter of mike....and with the number of guy who changes the persons identity catches up many more drug dealers....

RyanMelancon
RyanMelancon

Ur wrong Breaking Bad could have another three seasons to tell without forcing the characters I know of a few

Shusha52
Shusha52

Thanks for a view into the writer's room. Nice article. 


I heard rave reviews about BB and decided to watch it.. Boy was it a marathon watch. Watched the entire show in 3 days , without forwarding one little bit. It was riveting.


A lot of thought has gone behind the characters and the character development is interesting to watch. From a school teacher who loves his job, to a frustrated cancer patient ( I had cancer so i know and could relate to the angst he was going through) with no money to pay for his treatment. That did not justify turning to Meth business / and the accompanying murders he indulges in as an alternative to finding the money ( when he was offered a million for his treatment).


But realistically the loving family man, the devoted husband, the good family man, a good teacher turned bad, and finding Meth production and then the change in his character to the greedy for more person was a thrill to watch. The ending does leave open a lot of unanswered questions which leaves me to believe that there could be a follow up to this serial.


The scene where he is shown with a beard and celebrating his 52nd birthday at the diner, all alone, leaving a 100 dollar tip , suggests to me, that there could be more.  she asks him where he was fro and i think he said New Hampshire, when the original series was in NEW MEXICO also suggests that there cld be an upcoming series.  H is the kingpin now. If i were to continue this storyline, te son will team up with the DEA , as he ha good computer skills) to track his dad down.. The lawyer is a good for nothing piece of crap and his character will have more weight as he can piece ppl together.   


He tells his wife "I'm Out".  This could also mean at some point he plans on leaving her as there is the scene with the other woman who helps him sell his Meth overseas in the restaurant they meet and he is shaking her hand and the slight cheeky smile on Bryan Cranston's face, coupled with his slight shake of his head suggests there could be more in that area).  Jesse will always be a tortured soul as he is a drug addict and not a stable minded  character to start with.


The b.i.l. who is the D.E.A  picking up Whitman's book and making the connection,


I suspect based on these assumptions there could be another one more Series of this show. If the show is strictly "Better call saul", then it will be a huge mistake as they will lose viewers. I think  plays Wallter is what keeps the show moving.




flowers7
flowers7

Funny how humans don't always do bad things but we like to see bad things. We are humans and we are crazy. I loved this show. Good ending BITCH!!!

RafałSkowroński
RafałSkowroński

oh come on... it's  all about money, after all. People want more seasons, then produce them. It is just THAT  simple. I am not a writer, though,  I'm quite positive that there are lots and lots of possibilities.

craigf
craigf

You writers has nailed it....it all came together. you all deserve an award......wrapped up perfectly!....no more to say......keep that crew together for more different shows....pick a topic....and make us watch

JamieHolton
JamieHolton

I was hoping he'd pull the eyeball out of his pocket right before he died.

DomForte
DomForte

I couldn't see breaking Bad ending, life doesn't end when a person dies, especially since the survivors were just as involved as Walt. I would love to see the prison life for jesse, the life of walt jr turning into a chemist, and skylar running the family business, his old partners screwing walt jr out of 9 million, and Skylars sister becoming an integral part of the DEA, there's so much to build on, and least we forget about Saul

TinaMiller
TinaMiller

I loved it,best show I have ever seen in my life,and I can't accept it's over,something tells me Jessie is coming back! Look at Sex and the city.........Please,please we need more Breaking Bad.

MJPfreelance
MJPfreelance

"true nature" is an old--and dead-- philosophical/religious argument, stemming from the false nature v nurture debate. Fortunately BB became more complex than the philosophy of its individual writers, and I say that as a complement to all the people who made the show. But Walt didn't come to see his true nature; he always believed that he was only doing it for his family, then came to only believe he was doing it for himself. Neither is fully true. But maybe it's poetic justice that Walt comes to see himself as only selfish.

ConBekiris
ConBekiris

what can i say about Breaking Bad. best fuc..ng show i have ever seen!. BITCH !!!!

AffinityFashion
AffinityFashion

Very interesting article - it's the first time I've heard mention of Crimes and Misdemeanors (my fave Woody film) being any kind of inspiration which I guess makes sense as Landau gets away with it which in a way so did Walt.

I'm so glad the BB writers were not taken in by the notion that evil/hubris MUST be punished!   I am sick to death of the self-righteousness going on today with some critics: Walter wasn't punished enough, boo, hoo, hoo.  Ugh, SHUT UP already.

JimCA
JimCA

Great article. Loved the show... for the most part. I had to have closure, so I was forced to watch the last season; it was, however, the weakest season in my opinion. The show required a great deal of relaxed scepticism. The plot and narrative was outlandish in many respects and Walt, in particular, escaped cataclysmic outcomes far too often for my taste. I think it lasted 1 season longer than it probably should have.

Otherwise, it was full of themes, catharsis, suspense, intrigue, .... And I truthfully enjoyed the show and it's conclusion. But, if we honestly review it as a whole, it requires the audience to ignore blatant continuity issues; including extremely impossible outcomes. That being said, it's rewarding as a fan to accept and ignore these issues, when the content is as rich and unknown as the story told in this series. 



ThoseThingsILov
ThoseThingsILov

Thank you for giving us a glimpse into the writer's room. Breaking Bad unfolded as a fantastic story -- like a book you couldn't put down. 

PhillyCannabis
PhillyCannabis

I loved the dark humor of the show. The violence seemed more brutal then other shows I have watched. I kinda secretly wished Skylar would die though. 

StephenGrange
StephenGrange

You writers succeeded in every way...


To put it mildly, you used the whole cow..Nothing was left, nothing wasted...a masterpiece. 


Thank you.

Perspectives786
Perspectives786

I will not watch this show...must resist...will not watch it....damn the hype....i have better things to do....

JamesDerocher
JamesDerocher

i dont see walt acting out his true nature . his intentions to help his family were genuine ,also being faced with death can make someone go off the rails a bit. but things happen and he couldn't take them back and he was slowly pulled into this drug underworld. he could have gotten out a number of times but definitely was enjoying the rush and the power that comes with being an outlaw.

AbuGadi
AbuGadi

All bad things must come to an end ... will truly miss following a great story in Breaking Bad :P



SteveKaczmarek
SteveKaczmarek

Hmm.  Perhaps it's the way Bryan Cranston plays Walt/Heisenberg, but he always seemed like he was Walt constantly tempted by -- and often becoming -- Heisenberg, rather than the other way around.  To me, the tension came not from him being a bad guy pretending to be good, but an evolved guy giving into his primitive, predator instincts and discovering he was far better at it than the other predators, the king of his jungle. . 

moffett.will
moffett.will

Honestly, it looks like the show will end on a rare note...having every single minute count. Don't think we'd ask for anymore, or any less. I don't think a series has ever achieved this feat. Congratulations! http://meaningofbreakingbad.blogspot.com

zornwil
zornwil

Really interesting, thank you to the author for sharing that.  

Personally, I expect shows to end, and I have little respect for shows that just keep going on and on.  

I admit I'm disappointed to learn that this show, Breaking Bad, wasn't plotted out before being written across the seasons, and I find it unfortunate television series are too often written this way, simply evolving without a plan.  I did see a couple episodes form the first season and it struck me from the beginning that the lead character was simply evil inside from the get-go, and given the lack of a series-long plan as well as this kind of tale of malevolence isn't to my taste, I'll never watch it.  And I really thank the author for sharing this.  

All that said, don't mistake my disinterest for criticism of the show itself; I thought it was extremely well-done and well-written.  My comments are as to MY OWN taste and I make no statement about what is right or wrong here other than in respect to that.  

Again, thanks.


ICalvin
ICalvin

Brilliant show and article! I'm definitely going to miss it all. I hope the "Saul" spinoff is as delicious.

Belindad
Belindad

I think Jesse keeps it going.

MikeBarbachano
MikeBarbachano

@JamieHolton yeaah bitch! like all the person he killed is looking at him while he die

dafoodcritic
dafoodcritic

@DomForte There is definitely a warrant out for Jesse's arrest, but it is very unclear where he is going and if the police will ever catch up with him. But most likely he probably feels like he deserves prison due to all f the bad that he has done. Walt Jr. will likely not become a chemist, due to him not being that mentally gifted and will probably just live off the money he will receive. Skylar no longer has the business or anything that she used to own, it was all seized by the DEA due to it being bought with drug money, she will most likely continue a depressed life for a very long time. Marie is not involved with the DEA, she too will also most likely live a depressed life with only her sister to lean on. So, to sum it all up it would be a pretty boring, depressed show. Similar to Everybody Loves Raymond.

n1zm0h
n1zm0h

@DomForte but there's 'Better Call Saul' by Vince coming out in the future, Saul's the only one who's really not forgotten now.

Cyssi
Cyssi

@Perspectives786 That's exactly what I said and I ignored it for years. About  90 minutes ago I finally gave in and watched the first episode. It is already obvious to me that I will spend the next couple of months binge watching this show, it's that good.

JacobDockter
JacobDockter

@@zornwil  I don't think they were flying completely blind. Vince always had a rough idea on what he wanted to do with walter, and what he wanted to do with gus. It was just a matter of how fast do they progress the story, how soon do you take this man into the madness. 

JacobDockter
JacobDockter

@ICalvin  its going to have a much different feel. more comedy, with maybe some drama mixed in. basically the opp. of breaking bad. drama with comedy mixed in. the one thing i hope for is mike is there. Mike is Sauls cleaner. But we still are not sure on how far back this show will be. Breaking Bad only took place over a two year period. And really, if you take the first moment when Walter meets saul, and when they are in the basement of the vacuum cleaner. It  is less then a year.  5 season, and one year. we started with his fifty, end of season 5 part 1 was 51.   

MJPfreelance
MJPfreelance

@JacobDockter @zornwil i don't think the story needs to be plotted out. I think artists' attitude toward subject matter must be, though. I really liked BB, but I think that the writers' changing attitude toward what they thought of Walt is very very problematic. Most people were drawn to the Mr Chips to Scarface, and its a cheat to then decide, no, you were watching a born sociopath the whole time. Twists only work when they don't violate the ground rules. Otherwise the twist only fools the artist.

JacobDockter
JacobDockter

@ICalvin opps forgot to mention, i hope the last episode of 'better call saul', (i hope they get to write what they know is the last show, and it doesn't get cancelled)  is walter white walking into sauls office, with his black hat and sun glasses. :p