Death is not final. Not on TV, anyway. Despite ending “Breaking Bad” on a note of finality for its high school science teacher turned Michelin-star meth chef Walter White (Bryan Cranston), creator Vince Gilligan is preparing to reenter the drug-ridden world of Albuquerque. The New Mexico Film Office broke the story of a “Breaking Bad” feature and it was soon confirmed by Cranston, though there’s no further details.
But yes, it’s happening. This week’s Very Good TV Podcast sets aside the already-fervent debate over whether the unseen, uncast, and quite possibly unfinished script is a great idea or a terrible one. People made the same arguments when AMC announced plans for “Better Call Saul,” which turned out just fine. Instead, let’s focus on why the film’s announcement felt inevitable, instead of shocking.
On paper, a sequel seems highly improbable, and it should. Walt is dead. His story is over, and yet chatter about some sort of follow-up has percolated for the half-decade since the series finale. Why? One reason is a natural inclination to experience more of a good thing, helped along by Gilligan’s continued exploration of the “Breaking Bad” universe.
“Breaking Bad” continues to build its following thanks to widespread praise, easy access via Netflix, and the continued success of “Better Call Saul.” The current series keeps “Breaking Bad” relevant in the cultural conversation, and its time-jumping structure — showing Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) before and after he becomes Saul Goodman — opens the door to viewers’ imaginations: What else goes on in Albuquerque after Walter’s death? Where’s Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul)? How’s Skyler White (Anna Gunn)? What about all the other characters still ticking at series’ end, like Marie (Betsy Brandt) and Walt Jr. (R.J. Mitte)?
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These questions weren’t invited by the “Breaking Bad” finale, but they’re warranted by the continued exploration of its universe. “Better Call Saul” is very much its own show. The main character is different, his arc is different, and even the shooting style has adjusted to better distinguish between the two series. However, they’re connected by an unbreakable narrative tether. Jimmy becomes Saul, and Saul knew Walt. He was drastically affected by Walt’s life, and where he ends up at the end of “BCS” is a question that ties to his ending in “Breaking Bad.”
When Gilligan chose to make “Better Call Saul,” he opened the door to more “Breaking Bad” stories. Moreover, as he shot those black-and-white present-day scenes of Gene (a.k.a. Saul, a.k.a. Jimmy), he introduced the possibility that those stories could be set after “Breaking Bad” ended. It doesn’t really matter if those scenes take place after Walt’s death; they ask the audience to think about what happens next.
So no matter how tired anyone gets of the annual question, “Are any ‘Breaking Bad’ characters going to cameo in ‘Better Call Saul’ this season?”, Gilligan invited that kind of curiosity upon himself. Curiosity can spark great ideas, and now his curiosity seems to have gotten the best of him: With news of the movie, it seems even Gilligan now has to know what happens after “Breaking Bad.”
All of this is entirely natural.; imagining what’s next is part of life. Sure, Walt’s death should close his book, but everyone else is still fair game. Questions can be healthy, just like the “Breaking Bad” movie could be great.
But would the questions have persisted if not for “Better Call Saul”? If the 2013 finale of “Breaking Bad” was the last anyone saw of those characters, would a movie be in the works in 2018? The preceding argument says no, but that’s not the only explanation out there.
While “Breaking Bad” attracts more fans every year thanks to Netflix, the revival culture is out of control. The demand for content has sent Netflix’s budgets skyrocketing and every other content creator scrambling to catch up. There aren’t enough ideas to feed the machine, so old successes are resurrected for a second (or third) run. One feeds the other: As nostalgia flourishes, the industry prepares to produce more.
Even “The Sopranos,” David Chase’s iconic HBO drama, is getting a prequel film titled “The Many Saints of Newark.” Chase wrote the script with former “Sopranos” writer Lawrence Konner; another alum, Alan Taylor, will direct. It’s the first continuation of any kind to the series, which ended in 2007,
Imagining a “Sopranos” anything sans James Gandolfini has been difficult for some to accept, but it’s been even more difficult for fans to accept the offered ending. Chase’s series finale is one of the more hotly debated closers of all time and has driven conversation around the series for over a decade. So while “The Sopranos” didn’t produce a sequel, it inspired a decade’s worth of fan curiosity.
The same cannot be said for “Breaking Bad.” Walt’s death completed his journey and paid off on the pilot’s promise: A dying man did what he could for his family, discovered himself along the way, and died. However, both series are heralded among the best television series ever made.
The common denominator in all revivals is a demand for more of a good thing, not more of a bad thing. So once “The X-Files” petered out, few were left banging down Fox’s door for more episodes. The same can be said for other revivals that fared worse than the original, from “Arrested Development” (which still has half a season to release, but no one is hounding Netflix for a release date) to “Heroes” (remember “Heroes: Reborn”?) to “Prison Break.”
The only way to end anything these days is to ruin it, and Vince Gilligan hasn’t screwed up “Breaking Bad” at all. No one is hoping he will with the movie, either, but it may be the only way to put an end to further calls for a follow-up. After all, if death isn’t the end, that only leaves disgrace.
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