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'Breaking Bad': Beginning its Final Countdown
July 27, 2013  | By Ed Bark

BEVERLY HILLS, CA — They know what we don't. Even so, the suspense is probably killing them. Will fans of Breaking Bad buy into its denouement?

"I was really nervous about coming up to the end of this thing for a year straight. Hell, for six years straight," says Vince Gilligan, the AMC series' maestro since its Jan. 20, 2008 premiere. "I am very cautious in my estimation of how people will respond to things. I hope I am not wildly wrong in my estimation that most folks are going to dig the ending because, it's — I don't know — it's — I don't know."

Star Bryan Cranston, who plays the now diabolical Walter White, is unequivocal in comparison.

"I wanted this series to end exactly how Vince Gilligan wanted it to end," he says. "And I can stand here now and say I'm really proud that it has. I think every fan will be satisfied, pleased, at the appropriate ending of this. It's very unapologetic and very Breaking Bad."

Cranston is then whisked off by a member of that oft-onerous species known as "personal publicist." His parting shot is decidedly less than satisfying: "I've got a photo-shoot I need to run to right now."

And that's the way it often is. AMC president Charlie Collier first heaps praise upon TV critics before the climactic interview session with Gilligan and Breaking Bad cast members begins in a packed hotel ballroom.

"From the very first episode of Breaking Bad, we heard from you and you embraced the show and, more important for me, the vision of our visionary Vince Gilligan," Collier enthuses. "So truly thanks to all of you."

But the session with Gilligan and six cast members (Dean Norris is a last second, unexplained scratch) runs for just a lightning quick half-hour. Then comes an immediate mass exodus, with scant room for any further questions from those of us who trail the principals out the door. It's not really the actors' or producer's fault. Their "handlers" are almost always the culprits. And in their view, those who helped to build the foundation of Breaking Bad's success are faceless rabble worthy only of being turned away post-haste.

Before being dragged off, Gilligan stops for a few moments to reflect on the daunting task of going on from here after creating a widely acknowledged classic.

"I guess the best thing is to try not to repeat it," he says. "If this is an apple, try to make an orange the next time out. Try not to think of topping something. Instead go with your heart and come up with what interests you and not think too much in term of comparisons.

"We live in a marvelous time in which television shows get to really stretch and be edgy and take chances," Gilligan adds. "Maybe where we go from here is that characters get less dark and anti-heroic and start to get lighter again. But that's just a guess."

Breaking Bad's concluding eight-episode arc begins on Sunday, Aug. 11. All work has been finished and Cranston already can be seen beaming from the cover of the new GQ magazine in an impeccably tailored $1,395 Calvin Klein suit.

In his career-defining lead role as a cancer-stricken high school chemistry teacher turned drug king ("I'm gonna miss him terribly," Cranston says), he perhaps wore $100 worth of nondescript duds throughout the entire run of Breaking Bad. So maybe the GQ cover shoot— and the inside page modeling as well — were palate-cleansers after years of going without. But there's way too little time or opportunity to ask him about that in a situation where getting a microphone in this case can be harder than kicking a 70-yard field goal.

Cranston and Gilligan get most of the questions while co-stars Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, RJ Mitte, Betsy Brandt and Bob Odenkirk mostly get to listen.

But Gilligan says he does very much want to do a Breaking Bad spinoff series featuring Odenkirk's sub-shady lawyer, Saul Goodman.

"I really hope it happens," Gilligan says. "It's for powers bigger than me to figure out if it can come to fruition, but I would very much like it to be the case."

As for Odenkirk, "I'd do it in a second. I'd do it, because if Vince wrote it, it's going to be awesome."

During the final season of Breaking Bad — divided into a pair of eight-episode arcs — British filmmaker Stu Richardson shot a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage and turned it into a two-hour documentary. Gilligan has seen it, dubs it "great" and says it will be included in the eventual Breaking Bad DVD collection of all six seasons.

It all began with Cranston quickly segueing from doofus dad Hal on Fox's long-running Malcolm In the Middle to the depravity that gradually consumed his character in Breaking Bad. But he still can't be serious for very long.

At one point in the interview session, Paul notes that his character, Jesse Pinkman, has come to be "terrified" of Walter and "just wants nothing to do with him."

This gives Cranston an opening to retort, "Walt has a large reservoir of good to be shared with everyone else, and he spreads his joy throughout the last eight episodes. I think everybody will be satisfied with the ending, where we hug it out."

"Bryan, don't mention the musical numbers," Brandt reminds him.

Cranston also gets the last words — and laughs — after each actor is asked what their "backstory" might be. Breaking Bad has never dwelt on the formative years of its characters.

"The turning point for Walter White was July 4, 1978, Coney Island, New York," Cranston says. He entered the Nathan's Hot Dog eating contest, ate 38 of them and was "seriously considering going into the professional eating circuit as opposed to being a chemist."

"Why did you have to ruin the ending?" Gilligan jabs.

"I assumed they knew," says Cranston.

It's probably best to assume nothing when Breaking Bad begins its final countdown. This isn't Gilligan's island, after all. This is Gilligan's swervy, nervy and entirely unpredictable masterpiece. And given all that's gone before, this is a guy who's shown time and again that he knows how to deliver in the clutch.

Read more by Ed Bark at unclebarky.com

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