Having recently interviewed Vince Gilligan at his offices in Burbank for Esquire's October issue, we started talking about some of Breaking Bad's biggest questions: how and why the audience continued to root for Walter White even as the bodies kept stacking up. And at what point the chemistry teacher-cum-drug baron reached the point of no return and 'broke bad'.
“My answer varies, depending on the day you ask me,” he said. “It could be the day he let Jessie’s girlfriend choke to death. Or when he killed Mike Ermintraud, who he really didn’t need to kill. Or when he ordered the deaths of those ten guys in jail. But the best answer is the moment that occurred much earlier. It was I think our finest moment in the writers room.
“In Season 1, Episode Five, we realized that we wanted this character to continue cooking meth, even though he’d already had to kill two people, and was at risk of losing his humanity. So we were at a crossroads. What is this show really about? Do we continue twisting ourselves into pretzels storywise to keep giving Walt reasons to continue making money? So – now he finds out his unborn daughter needs surgery, and he’s only got $200,000? Or are we going to go deeper?
“So we created a deus ex machina scenario in which former friends of Walter White, who are now very rich, offer to pay full freight for his cancer treatment. They offer him a job, no strings attached. They throw him a life preserver. Solve all his problems. But at the end of the hour, he goes to Jesse and says – let’s cook again. So, this doesn’t have to be a schematic show in which OK, this week Walt’s nest egg gets eaten by mice and he has to cook another batch. It became a story of the character flaws of this egotistical, damaged and prideful man. It’s a point of pride for him not to be pitied and helped.
“He loses all credibility in my mind at that point, but he becomes exponentially more interesting as a character. He says ‘I do what I do for my family, I just have to support them.’ No you don’t! You could take the free money and the job, and you could leave them with a nest egg without ever risking your morality and credibility.’ It was all just an excuse. What we learn about Walter White over 62 episodes is that he’s an amazing liar. He can convince almost anybody of anything, most of all himself.”
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