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Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan appeared at two New York speaking events this week – one alone, one with his show’s cast. TV Worth Watching was there for both…
At Tuesday’s TimesTalks, a New York Times presentation at the Times Center titled A Conversation with Breaking Bad Cast & Creator, arts and culture reporter Dave Itzkoff (at far right in photo above, provided, as is the other TimesTalk photo below, by Matthew Arnold Photography) moderated a panel of eight key players from AMC’s Breaking Bad series.
Creator and executive producer Vince Gilligan represented the creative team, and the actors from the show were Bryan Cranston (with Gilligan, below, who stars as teacher turned meth maker Walter White), Anna Gunn (as Walter’s wife, Skyler), Aaron Paul (as Walter’s meth-making partner, Jesse), Dean Norris (as Walter’s brother-in-law, DEA agent Hank), Betsy Brandt (as Hank’s wife and Skyler’s sister, Marie), R.J. Mitte (as Walter and Skyler’s son, Walt Jr.), and Bob Odenkirk (as Walter’s lawyer and fixer, Saul Goodman).
It was a large panel, (top) and a festive and emotional one. The closeness of the company was obvious, both in the playful jokes and jabs thrown at one another, and at the moments of raw emotion that bubbled up at this unofficial reunion after production on the series had wrapped.
Sometimes, the laughter and the tears came almost at once.
Norris, responding to a playful question by Itzkoff about how Norris might feel if his most remembered scene on Breaking Bad ended up being him seated on a toilet, expounded on his answer at great and hilarious length. He explained his character’s reasoning, after “he decides to take a crap in somebody else’s house,” to seek out the most remote bathroom in Walt’s house, for privacy as well as common courtesy.
The audience at the Times Center laughed heartily as Norris described his discussion about how to play this pivotal scene, comprising the most recent images in the Breaking Bad story to date.
“How shall we play this crapping scene?” Norris (right) said he asked.
And then, moments later, he and Brandt, after trading compliments and thank-yous for the way they acted opposite one another on the show as man and wife, both began to cry, and hugged one another.
Sentiment ran rampant elsewhere as well. Mitte, who is two weeks away from turning 21, said he was basically raised by the people on the stage with him as a second family, having been with them, and learning from them, since he was a young teenager.
“Don’t blame us!” Cranston growled, then gave a sly smile.
There were a lot of sly smiles. Odenkirk said of his character of Saul that with almost every script, “I was sure I was going to die” – then backpedaled to add that maybe he does die, in the show’s final eight episodes. But since he’s been considered, as Gilligan confirmed, for a Saul-centered Breaking Bad spinoff, that seems unlikely. (Cue the sly smile.)
Paul and Cranston both got big laughs by interjecting remarks between Itzkoff’s question and Gilligan’s answer. The question was, since the original plan was to kill Paul’s character of Jesse at the end of Season 1, “What kind of show could Breaking Bad have been without Jesse?”
“Yeah, Vince!” Paul sneered loudly, getting a big laugh.
“A damn fine program,” Cranston added, getting a bigger one.
Gilligan and the cast members skated around questions about how the show would end, though Mitte announced proudly, “This ending’s amazing!”
And Cranston, asked by an audience member if he thought Walt deserved to die, replied, “There’s a good case for that.” Then he postulated a (presumably) hypothetical worst-case punishment scenario, given how protective Walt is of his family: “What if he lived, but they didn’t? Wouldn’t that be a worse hell for him?”
For Breaking Bad fans, though, the reunion panel was heaven. Or at least a sort of limbo, since everyone on stage was in the post-finale mindset, while everyone in the audience still had eight episodes to await and enjoy.
Eight episodes, plus a bonus. Gilligan and Paul, it turns out, will guest star together on an episode of Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters, testing a few of the “theories” shown in Breaking Bad. (Watch for the bathtub-through-the-floor experiment.) Gilligan appeared to enjoy the evening thoroughly, though with a tinge of regret.
“I am one of the people that is depressed that this show is over,” he admitted at the start of the TimesTalk. “Creatively, every show has its beginning, middle and end. This series, from its very inception, was not designed to go on forever.”
Two nights earlier, Gilligan had made a similar appearance in front of an equally adoring, equally youthful audience at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, NY. That evening, though, Gilligan was flying solo, interviewed by CBS and PBS fixture Charlie Rose, in a presentation titled “Making Bad: An Evening with Vince Gilligan.”
Why Charlie Rose (right) as host? That question was answered by Rose himself, who blurted out the night’s one unprompted, unexpected spoiler by telling a Breaking Bad secret of his own. (If you don’t want to know, this is the place to stop reading.)
Rose, out of context and near the end of the discussion, informed the audience at the Moving Image event that he, Charlie Rose, appears in the next-to-last episode of Breaking Bad.
Gilligan, at that moment, flashed a somewhat pained expression, whether exaggerated or not.
“That’s a bit of a spoiler there,” he told Rose, as the crowd laughed uncomfortably. Then, after a beat: “Now that it’s out there, I have to say you did a wonderful job.”
Both Rose and Gilligan were there to help unveil the museum’s new Breaking Bad exhibit, which opened July 26 and runs through Oct. 27. You can do a virtual tour of part of it by visiting AMC’s website.
The physical exhibit at the Museum features several props Breaking Bad fans will love – the “tighty whities” worn by Bryan Cranston’s Walter White in the pilot, for example, and the crucially inscribed copy of Leaves of Grass seen again in the most recent episode, and the disfigured pink teddy bear from Season 2.
There’s also the sort of detail that makes the exhibit worthy of placement, and consideration, in a museum: color palettes for character costumes, and very thoughtful descriptions about some of the show’s themes, set pieces and such.
The only drawback to the exhibit is its relatively confined spacing, culminating in a lengthy behind-the-scenes video that can be seen and (through headphones) heard by only two people at a time. On the night we were there, that exhibition-flow design led to a significant logjam and a long line.
(Ironically, one floor above, the museum was showing examples of Thomas Edison’s kinetoscopes and other early cinematic display devices – which, as far back as the 1890s, demonstrated a keener sense of audience flow than the new Breaking Bad exhibit downstairs.)
For those who love this show, though – and I count myself strongly among that group – waiting with anticipation for Breaking Bad is something we’ve gotten used to. And come Aug. 11, the wait for the rollout of the series’ last eight episodes finally will be over.
“I did not want it to pass its prime,” Gilligan said of his decision to schedule the end of Breaking Bad himself, rather than have it fade into attrition or out of favor.
Based on the feverish and warm reaction to his two New York appearances this week, there seems no chance of that whatsoever.