AMC airs the highly-anticipated Season 4 finale of Breaking Bad entitled Face Off on Sunday, October 9 at 10 PM ET. A showdown is brewing between Bryan Cranston's Walter White and Giancarlo Esposito's Gus Fring, which should make for an explosive finale. Series creator Vince Gilligan recently held a conference call to discuss the Season 4 finale. Here's what he had to say below.
Executive producer Vince Gilligan talks Breaking Bad's Season 4 finale
There are some questions about that last episodes with the parking garage, you know, whether Gus, you know, got some version of his spidy-sense tingling or something? Is it more a case of just like he had some sort of epiphany or came to some realization or changed his mind about something there in that moment?
Vince Gilligan: I think it's a good question and I think it stems not from the parking garage itself but I think his spidy-sense started tingling back in the previous scene when he was talking to Jesse. That was kind of, you know, strange sort of subdued behavior on the part of Jesse. And I think that it's that moment I think that it all stems from is when Jesse's sort of eyeballing him very intent with this very controlled but not completely controlled anger simmering underneath. I think that is the spidy-sense that you speak of. But I think, you know, this is an amazingly smart individual who has not come as far as he has without being very cautious and being one hell of a chess player. And I think all of those things contribute to his sixth sense if you will.
Are we going to be left to draw our own conclusions as to how the ricin got to the kid or will that be spelled out for us?
Vince Gilligan: You have to wait until Sunday, but I think your questions will be answered, yes.
A lot of things on Breaking Bad have been left ambiguous like - it seems like they were left ambiguous like Gail's murder, you know, some speculation that it didn't actually happen when really you intended for us to know. What are some things in the series that definitely are supposed to be ambiguous?
Vince Gilligan: I suppose one thing that springs to mind is perhaps Gus' background. Certainly as we've left it up to this point it's kind of ambiguous as to who Gus was before he met Don Eladio and became involved with the Mexican drug cartel. We see in Episode 10 of this season that his wife is spared even though this kingpin, Don Eladio played by Steven Bauer, is so very angry at him and feel so insulted. Nonetheless, he's allowed to live and the question arises, you know, who was this man back in Chile. And that is definitely a bit ambiguous and purposefully. I guess I've got two reasons for it being that way. One of it is we may want to answer it later on in Season 5 or perhaps we won't and maybe we'll just leave it to the audience because it seems to be sometimes the audience's imagination is as good or better than anything that we can think of.
Could you talk a little bit about the construction on a couple of themes? The final theme from Crawlspace and then the scene between Aaron and Bryan with the revolver and, you know, the imprint that it left on Bryan's forehead? Talk about how you constructed these scenes and did they come out exactly the way you imagined them?
Vince Gilligan: It's funny, I'll start with the last one first. I was the director on the scene with Aaron (Paul) pointing the gun at Bryan and I was just telling Bryan Cranston a few days ago he had not seen the finished episode and I said, I was standing right next to you on this stage for, like, nine hours and you're acting out this entire scene. And I had to wait until I saw it in the dailies until the cut footage to realize that you had the imprint of the gun left in your forehead. I didn't realize he was pressing that hard against your forehead. And I didn't even see it. It's weird because as a director I'm usually not tucked away behind the monitors. I'm up close so I can talk to the actors and I was right next to the man and didn't even notice that until I saw it on film. I don't know why that it that it would work out that way. But I'd love to take credit for it, that was just the brilliance and commitment of the actors, that was Bryan Cranston grabbing that gun and pressing it into his own forehead until it left an imprint. I think it's a wonderful detail. I think it's one that people will note and comment on like yourself. And I wish I could take credit for it and say that I wanted it there and I planned for it but I didn't. It was a lucky accident at least on my part. And the previous scene you asked about, that was a scene directed by a man named Scott Winant who's a very wonderful director and a real benefit to our show as the second episode he had done. And that that amazing shot coming up out of Crawlspace was shot on our sound stage and that whole crawlspace exists as a built set that's built up about four feet off the ground. And they had this amazing wench system to lift the cameras straight up and it was something the grip department had built out of just, like, winches and stuff they had gotten down at, like, Pep Boys or something. It was a pretty amazing thing that they had built. It was a - that was a really brilliant shot that the director planned and the grip department and our wonderful director of photography, Michael Slovis, executed. It's just one of my favorite shots of the season.
You mentioned lucky accidents in regards to the scene with Bryan and Aaron but how much of a lucky accident is it that you guys are in New Mexico and not Riverside County where I think you originally planned to shoot it?
Vince Gilligan: You know, it's like you just said, nothing against Riverside and that'd be a lot closer to home. I could visit the set more if we shot in Southern California but I agree with you. There's a series of lucky accidents that add up to this show. I can't even believe this show's on the air in the first place. I just feel like I've been blessed, you know, by the existence of this thing and that I've won the lottery or something. But that is yet another example in a long line of examples of how despite my best efforts otherwise the show turned out better for the things that I didn't originally intend. And you're right, I mean originally this show was written to take place in Riverside and instead we went to New Mexico to take advantage of the rebate offered to film production. And man, we've never looked back because New Mexico is a great place to work, the crews are wonderful. I have actually wound up owning a condominium there that we use as a major set on our show when I'm not actually staying in it. And it is - it allows - more than anything else, shooting in New Mexico allows us to make our show look like a modern day western. I mean it really does take place in what used to be the old west in and around the, you know - New Mexico and the beautiful clouds and the amazing Sandia Mountains and the scrub and the tumbleweeds and the prairies and all of that really does add up to a very interesting and unique look for the show that I'm so glad we have. You know, if it'd been Riverside County it'd been a very different show indeed.
I want to also ask you about Dean Norris. I mean he's really kind of come out of nowhere and you beat the hell out of him every year and he still hangs in there.
Vince Gilligan: He does. He does. What would you like to know about him specifically?
I think his acting has grown. And I just want to know how you're working him and how you feel about him as an actor?
Vince Gilligan: He's a wonderful actor. He's such an interesting person, Dean is. I guess when I was first writing the pilot I conceived of Hank as being not much more than a foil for Walt in the sense that Hank was supposed to be everything Walt wasn't. He was going to be a hell fellow, well mad, and a guy who could just walk into a room and take it over by sheer force of personality. And he was all the things that Walt was not and perhaps wanted to be. And I didn't think of him initially as much more than, you know, a logistical component, you know, a necessary story component to the show. But then we hired Dean Norris - and when you first Dean too, if any of you have been fortunate enough to meet Dean or talked to him you know what I'm talking about. He's this hell fellow, well-met guy. And yet the more you talk to him the more you learn about him, the more you realize this is a guy who went to Harvard. This is a guy who reads books like most people watch TV. This is a guy who has a lot of layers to him and once I got to know Dean and realized who he really was deep down inside it colored my perception of the character of Hank. And Hank became a much more nuanced character and he became more integral to the show than I ever initially intended him to be. And all of that is due to Dean Norris and to his wonderful abilities playing this role and to his depth of character and all the interesting facets that he possess as a person. So yes, there's a lot more to Hank than there would have been if not for Dean Norris.
Sometimes when a season ends on Breaking Bad you do a cliffhanger and sometimes you don't. What sort of goes into the decision about whether or not you're going to leave people really hanging? And how did you come to the decision for whenever this season ends?
Vince Gilligan: Well, a very good question. I guess the thing that's always constant when we make these decisions is what's the most entertaining ending we can give to a season. And I guess we work from that desire outward and onward. We just try to come up with a moment that will literally leave people talking, that will have them, you know, talking about the show. I don't want to talk about this one. I don't want to ruin it for you guys who haven't seen it there but last season we ended with, obviously ended with Jesse pulling the trigger, that was a definite big cliffhanger. I guess the season before was the plane explosion, which I guess in a sense was a cliffhanger. I guess we would do it in every season pretty much except the first season we kind of got the wind taken out of our sails a little bit because of the writer's strike, the last episode of Season 1 was never intended to be the last episode. The short answer I suppose is that we, you know, showmanship. We're trying to keep things as interesting as possible and give folks a reason to tune in the following season.
As far as where things stand on the future of Breaking Bad, it seems like it's pretty much a done deal. There will be one more season, I think 16 episodes possibly aired in two batches. Are you pleased with the outcome of all that?
Vince Gilligan: I'm very pleased. This show will best be served by its creators knowing when it will end. If we're to work to a satisfying conclusion or if we have any hope to work towards a satisfying conclusion we need to know exactly when our last episode will be. And we have that now. And I feel blessed to have that knowledge. Now it's completely on me and my writers to actually come up with a satisfying ending and if we fail in doing that we've got no one to blame but ourselves. But it's a wonderful thing that we're allowed here because most TV shows, you know, end after a certain number of seasons, in-between seasons, you know. Very often the call comes when a show's on hiatus that, well, you're not going to have another year so sorry about that. And that's just the nature of the beast. And that's why, you know, with the knowledge of that that's why I feel so lucky to know we've got 16 more and it's up to us to build toward the most satisfying conclusion we can humanly arrive at.
I was wondering if you have the series finale or the final scene written in your head already?
Vince Gilligan: No, I wish I did but then again I don't wish I did because that would leave a lot of invention. You know, there's a lot of invention left to be done on Breaking Bad. We've got 16 more hours to fill and honestly I don't exactly know where it's all going to wind up. And I think that's a good thing. My writers and I, when we get back in the writer's room in mid-November, we're going to do it the same way we've always done it, which is sort of build it brick-by-brick and sort of very carefully pick our way through the story. I guess I'd love to say I did know where it was all going to end. The best I can say is I've got hopes and dreams for the characters but I don't have any solid plot moments for them yet. And I have certain questions that I know I want to answer that the audience probably wants answers to as well. But other than that I would say, no, we're going to find it when we find it starting in November.
At the end of next Sunday's finale are we going to be going, what the hell is next season going to be about? Or are we going to be going, oh, so that's what next season is about?
Vince Gilligan: I don't know, that's a good question. Probably a little more of the former, I don't know. Hopefully you're just going to say wow when it's all over.
I think you've described this season both in your interviews and actually in the season sort of between Walt and Gus as a chess match and obviously the finale being called Face Off and sometimes the titles on the show are pretty literal. So what tease can I squeeze out of you about maybe this showdown that we should be expecting for the finale this week?
Vince Gilligan: Gee, if I ruin anything for you you'd be bummed. Let me think, what can I say? What coy thing can I say that doesn't ruin anything? The title, Face Off, is strangely appropriate and that's about all I can say. I'm really looking forward to everybody seeing the last episode. I came out really well and I think - I'm hoping, as I said a littler earlier I'm hoping, the main thing people say when it's all over is wow.cIt's the culmination of a lot of, as you said, a lot of chess playing, a lot of gamesmanship over the course of not just 13 episodes of Season 4 but gamesmanship that occurred between Walt and Gus prior to Season 4.
When you guys are writing and you get to the point where you have to poison a little kid like Brock, what goes through your minds? Like are we going to kill him off? Are we going to kill him alive? What sort of things are you guys thinking about when you get to that point?
Vince Gilligan: We're asking ourselves all those questions and more. The writer's room is a confounding place to be in and a fun place as well. I always liken it to being on a sequestered jury that never ends. But essentially it's six writers and myself sitting around a big table and discussing ad nauseum every possibility that we could think of story wise. And yes, so anything is fair game. Anything is on the table. The most horrible thoughts we can conceive of as humans are there to be put forth and discussed and examined and usually ultimately discarded but I mean we do some pretty wild things on the show which is clear from watching it. And the only way you get to those kind of points in the script stage is to be kind of free and easy and courageous with your ideas no matter how stupid or ill-advised they may be in the writer's room. It's important to have a safe writer's room in that regard. I don't ever want a writer's room where my writers are afraid to throw out an idea because it may be too weird or too evil or dark or too stupid. You know, you don't want to berate anyone for their ideas.
Breaking Bad airs its Season 4 finale Face Off on Sunday, October 9 at 10 PM ET.