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.
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.
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.
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.