“Breaking Bad,” “Breaking Bad,” “Breaking Bad.” The saga and conclusion of Walter White’s transformation into Heisenberg and then his minor redemption in the last episode is all anyone can talk about (here’s our review of the final episode and look for a podcast later in the day). Was the episode too neat and clean? Did Walter White get what he “deserved”? Does deserve have anything to do with a moral universe that’s so complex and chaotic, and where sins don’t always go punished? Without question, the finale and the whole arc of the show is one that’s going to be pored over, and over. But what about the alternative endings and other things we learned in the wake of the show?
The convivial Vince Gillian is always eager to speak on any subject on the show and in yesterday’s “Breaking Bad” Insider podcast, he gave up a couple of fascinating what-if nuggets. Combined with the various interviews out there, and some of the various questions audience members have, we decided to collate seven factoids you might find pretty interesting to say the least. Oh, and it if it isn’t obvious already, spoilers abound so buyer beware.
1. One scenario had the writers killing off Skyler.
An early scenario Gilligan pitched was Skyler (Anna Gunn) committing suicide while on the run with Walter. It would have taken place right around “Granite State” when Walter is relocated to New Hampshire.
“I was leaning towards [this idea] and the other writers were like, ‘that’s a bridge too far, let’s not’ and they were right,” Gilligan said on the podcast. “I think that would have been unnecessary. I was thinking along those lines. At some point I was thinking she went with [Walter and] the Disappearer [Robert Forster’s character]—and we talked about every option under the sun, every permutation, every possibility. And one of them was Skyler leaves with Walt and the Disappearer. We could kind of see where Skyler would go, if she was zombified, after she knew of Hank’s demise.”
The reason they dropped these ideas was that they could never see Walter Jr. being a party to running away after the revelations of what Walter had done. “We could never figure out how to get Junior to go along because Junior… there’s no bringing him if he doesn’t want to go.”
“We talked about a possible version where Skyler and Walt are tied up at a Motel 6 kind of place and he’s talking to her in a bathroom saying, ‘It’s going to be alright… I’ve got a plan. Skyler? Skyler?’ And he finally forces the door open and she’s in a bloody tub or something like that.”
2. What Gilligan calls the “bad pitch” or the worst one ever that made studio execs groan with distaste. It included the death of Jesse Pinkman.
One of Gilligan’s early ideas before the pilot was that Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) would get killed in season one. Walt, so filled with rage with the drug dealer responsible, would go out for revenge. Walter would lock him up in a basement, torture him every day, removing his toes one-by-one and cauterizing the wound with a blowtorch so he wouldn’t bleed out. Walter would give the drug lord a way out—a trip-wire connected to a shotgun pointed at him would finally give him relief from the pain. But the drug lord, being so bad-ass, would never take that option out. This would continue for weeks until Walter Jr. would discover him and try to help. The drug lord, realizing this was Walter’s son, would pull the tripwire, killing them both.
Gilligan said he pitched this idea to the studio execs and everyone was like, “Eww, you are seriously fucked up.” “You’ll notice we never actually did that scene,” Gilligan said and he noted throughout the podcast that his m.o. was coming up with wild, morbid, dark ideas and the writers of the show would rein him in. “The good thing about these pitch out meetings is that you pitch out your story to the best of your knowledge, but everyone realizes you can switch things up,” he said.
3. One iteration of Walter’s escape involved a new wife.
They obviously went a little wild with the “what if” writing scenarios. “We talked about Walter having a new wife, a new job,” Gilligan said of his time up in New Hampshire. “We talked about him teaching at some sort of learning annex, teaching chemistry.”
4. In Gilligan’s mind, Gretchen and Elliott do give Walt Jr. and Holly Walt’s money.
Some have wondered if, in the wake of Walter’s death, Elliott Schwartz (Adam Godley), Gretchen Schwartz (Jessica Hecht) turn to the cops. Gilligan doesn’t believe they would. “Because I believe—and it’s up to anyone whether they want to believe this – but I believe Gretchen and Elliott are scared enough that they are going to get the money to Walter Jr. and therefore the family,” Gilligan said. The showrunner said the most obvious alternate viewpoint is that it dawns on them that they are not in danger and go to the police. Vince sees their debate like this: “It’s not like we’re being blackmailed to kill someone, we’re just being blackmailed to give a guy’s money to his [innocent] children. Let’s just do it.” Gilligan says simply, “I believe Walt’s plan worked.”
5. In case you’re wondering what happens to Jesse Pinkman after he escapes the Neo-Nazi compound, Gilligan has no doubts.
And as you might have guessed, Gilligan feels the same way about Jesse. “I gotta believe Jesse got away with it. I guess you can say a lot of law enforcement would be looking for him, but I gotta believe he got away.” Where? Gilligan says Alaska which is also a location he brought up in the recent EW interview. “All these terrible things he’s witnessed are going to scar him as well, but the romantic in me wants to believe that he gets away with it and moves to Alaska and has a peaceful life communing with nature,” he told the magazine.
Aaron Paul also mentioned on the podcast that the writers briefly mulled a post-credits scene that featured a bus pulling up in Alaska and Jesse getting off.
6. One idea for the ending was Walter going “Rambo”
As Gilligan has said in the past, part of the writing strategy was “planting flags”—i.e. either a flash forward or a key moment that you know would come into play later. The writers would plant that flag and then work towards it. One of those flags was the M60 machine gun that Walter bought at the beginning of season 5 and how it would be used. Obviously, Walter ends up utilizing it in a MacGyver like fashion in “Felina,” the finale episode, but there were lots of other ideas thrown about. One of those options was “The Rambo” version.
“The closer we got to the end we realized how Walt’s cancer would resurface and how sick Walt would be. That felt wrong for Walt to go out brawn over brain, go out like Rambo. Walt on his best day was never Rambo,” Gilligan said. And so late in the game they switched to the “MacGyver” version which was more in keeping with who Walt was. In another version, or a “ghost alternative” as Gilligan likes to call it, Walter mowed down a bunch of cops with the M60, but thankfully cooler heads prevailed. “We had versions that we talked about for instance where the police come to get him. He uses it on the police. But we didn’t like that. It just didn’t seem right.”
“I pitch [some of these ideas] and a lot of them probably sound ludicrous [to the folks listening]. And I hope they do sound ludicrous. The worst thing would be I’m saying all this and people [think], ‘Oh man, that woulda been so much better.’”
7. What’s the final moral take on how Walter White dies in Gilligan’s mind? Well, it’s part redemption, but it’s not entirely cleaning the slate either.
“As bad a guy as he’s been and as dark a series of misdeeds as he has committed, nonetheless it felt right, satisfying and proper to us that he went out on his own terms. He went out like a man. In this final episode, he does not undo all the damage he has wrought. He does not expiate his sins, there’s just too many of them, it’s impossible. On the other hand, given the limited way he could ‘make good.’ He basically ‘makes good’ as best he can. He gets the money—what’s left of it, he gives one seventh of it to his family.”
Thoughts? Should Gilligan keep a few more things to the imagination? What’s your take on his position on Walter White’s demise? Should they have have gone with any of these ideas? Are you glad they were discarded? Sound off below.