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Sunday is the beginning of the end for 'Breaking Bad'
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Beverly Hills, Calif. • "Breaking Bad" is the unbelievably compelling tale of a good guy who becomes a bad guy. Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a high-school teacher stricken with cancer, becomes a meth dealer and a killer.

The final eight episodes begin airing Sunday, Aug. 11, and the fans can't wait to see how it all ends.

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

Clearly, that's not going to happen. "Breaking Bad" fans will be disappointed — outraged, even — if this show has a happy ending. Which is not the way TV usually goes. But "Breaking Bad" is not your average series.

Through 54 episodes to date, the show has chronicled Walter's journey from sad sack to menacing killer. It's been a stunning transformation.

"I really believe that everybody is capable of good or bad," Cranston said. "We are all human beings. We are all given this spectrum of emotions, as complex as they are. And, depending on your influences and your DNA and your parenting and your education and your social environment, the best of you can come out or the worst of you can come out.

"I think, if given the right set of circumstances, dire situations, any one of us can become dangerous."

Cranston proved to be perfectly cast in the role. Before "Breaking Bad," he was best known as Hal, the goofy dad in "Malcolm in the Middle." And Walter White had a bit of Hal in him when "Bad" began: a harmless, nice guy who was soon driven to the edge of despair by his cancer diagnosis and treatment, along with his fear that he would leave his family destitute after his death.

It was with the best of intentions that he began manufacturing high-quality methamphetamine with a former student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), to make some quick cash for his wife, Skyler (Anna Gunn), son, Junior (RJ Mitte) — who has cerebral palsy — and then-unborn daughter.

Cranston and creator/executive producer Vince Gilligan developed a character who has done absolutely terrible things, up to and including cold-blooded murder and nearly killing a child, yet he's perversely sympathetic. As is Jesse, which came as a surprise to the man who plays him.

"I find it odd," said Paul. "He's a drug dealer. He's a murderer, but for some reason, you really care for him. You want to protect him."

Conversely, Skyler, who learned of her husband's drug-dealing ways relatively recently, comes off as less than sympathetic.

"I just feel for her so, so much," Paul said. "I mean, she just obviously wants to protect her family, but I think the audience is really rooting for the bad guy. So Skyler inevitably ends up being the bad guy to the audience."

It's one of the layers in a multilayered series that succeeds on so many levels. Part of that success is creating characters that feel real — and create real conundrums for viewers. Not the least of which is rooting for murderers.

"My feeling about it was that, because people got so behind Walt and the reasons for him doing all these things, that they really sided with him in a way," Gunn said. "There was this feeling of, 'What if I were in that position?' There seemed to me to be a sense of putting their frustrations and their feelings of perhaps dreams deferred and things like that into the character of Walt.

"And the person who actually stood in the way of Walt the most consistently was Skyler."

Sunday's episode opens with a flash-forward that clearly demonstrates things are going to get bad. Then it picks up shortly after Walt's DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank (Dean Norris), figures out that Walt is the drug dealer known as Heisenberg.

No spoilers here, but it gets intense. And it doesn't go the way most viewers might expect.

Oddly enough, the series didn't go the way the man who created it expected. Gilligan insisted he was "not being facetious or trying to be funny" when he said, "I can't remember exactly what my original intention was." He recalled his original pitch to Sony and AMC: " 'We're going to take Mr. Chips and we're going to turn him into Scarface.'

"We abided by that for six years. But having said that, that leaves an awful lot of room for changing up the plot. I can't even remember what my original ending was. I couldn't see that far ahead."

Neither could Cranston, who "wanted this role really bad."

"But we never discussed where it was going to end up. It was just too big a subject. And as the seasons went on, I never found out. I never asked. I never wanted to know. The twists and turns of my character were so sharp that it wouldn't help me to know."

Cranston didn't find out how it ends until he read the script about a week before filming the final episode. And he felt like a member of the audience who was "just holding on … almost week to week."

The audience doesn't have to hold on much longer. The series finale is scheduled to air on Sept. 29.

spierce@sltrib.com

'Bad' ending

The first of eight remaining "Breaking Bad" episodes airs Sunday, Aug. 11, at 8 p.m.

Television • It's no secret that fans will be outraged if there's a happy ending.
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