As one of the taglines for final season of Breaking Bad said: "All bad things must come to an end." Ending a great series, though, is such a challenge for the writers and creators of the show. How many times do the writers actually come up with an ending to a series that satisfies the audience? After the Breaking Bad series finale, Vince Gilligan revealed five endings he and his writers didn't use for Breaking Bad in a candid conversation with editor Kelley Dixon on the Breaking Bad Insider Podcast. Rarely will a showrunner be this honest about what he or she actually pitched as possible endings to a show that were never used. So listen and learn from the podcast below.
Spoiler alert: if you haven't watched the last episode or the final season of Breaking Bad, this post and the podcast below, by their very nature, are full of spoilers. Just in case you didn't figure that out already.
The first 33 minutes of the podcast include Gilligan's revelations about the alternate endings that he and his writers considered for Walter White and why they wouldn't have worked.
1. Jesse dies. Walter tortures Jesse's killer.
This isn't technically an alternate ending, but more of an alternate version of the entire series. Before they even shot season 1, but after Gilligan had written the pilot, he pitched a gruesome scenario to AMC and Sony television executives. In this alternate version of Breaking Bad, Jesse would get killed in season 1 or 2, and Gilligan explains, "Walt is so filled with rage at the drug kingpin that kills Jesse, that he's out for revenge."
This was a character that they never had in the series, but Gilligan says that elements of this character could be found in Gus Fring, Tuco and Krazy 8. Walt somehow captures this guy and shackles him in a basement. Walt then sets up a shotgun across the basement pointed at this kingpin with a trip wire. Ultimately, Walt wants this guy to kill himself. Then Walt starts "lopping off bits of this guy" very precisely, starting with the toes and working his way up, "cauterizing with a blow torch."
Walter works very systematically, returning each day at the same time to torture the bad guy. The guy is such a badass that he won't trip the wire, and the torture continues for weeks. Walter Jr. was going to stumble upon this place and discover this "poor guy." Junior was going to try to help him, lean in and give him some water. Somehow, the kingpin realizes this is Walter's son, and only then does he pull the trip wire to kill both Junior and himself.
Gilligan pitched this idea in person to AMC and Sony executives. He admits that everybody in the room sized him up with a look that said: "You are seriously f*cked up."
2. Skyler kills herself.
Gilligan explains that he was "leaning toward" Skyler committing suicide, but the other writers said it was "a bridge too far." Gilligan admits the other writers were right. Here's how Gilligan pitched the idea:
Desperate, Walt and Skyler would be on the run, holed up in a Motel 6. Walt would come up with a plan, and try to talk to Skyler about it through the closed bathroom door. When Skyler won't answer, Walt would open the door and find Skyler in a bloody tub.
3. Skyler leaves with Walt and the Disappearer.
Gilligan described another scenario where Skyler leaves with Walt and the Disappearer, but he and the writers could never figure out how to get Junior to come along. The whole writing staff, Gilligan included, believed if Junior didn't want to go with the Disappearer, there was no way to force him to go.
4. Walter goes out Rambo-style and takes out a bunch of police.
When they introduced the M60 machine gun at the beginning of season 5, Gilligan admits they didn't know how Walt would use it. They were "planting the flag" with Rambo's machine gun, and they knew "something cool [had] to happen with that." Uncle Jack, Kenny and Todd didn't even exist yet in the writers' minds. Ultimately, the M60 helped them come up with the gang of creepy Aryans.
But before they came up with the Aryan gang, they batted around a few other ideas on how Walter could use the M60. Gilligan and the writers wondered if taking out a bunch of bad guys was too obvious. They also wondered if Walter actually wanted to get caught so he could get credit for his work as the mastermind behind the purest meth on the market. One scenario had Walter using the M60 Rambo-style on a bunch of police coming to take Walter away. That didn't feel right, though, because Gilligan and the writers felt that Walter should use the M60 on guys that were worse than him.
5. Walter saves Jesse from the Aryan gang in prison, mowing down the whole prison population.
Another version of the series ending had Walter rescuing Jesse from prison just before the Aryans are about to knock Jesse off. In this scenario, Walter just takes out the entire prison with the M60.
But as Walt's cancer returned, Gilligan admits, "it felt wrong [for Walt] to go out like Rambo, brauns over brains. Walt, never on his best day, was Rambo." Very late in the writing process, they came up with the garage door opener contraption to automate the process. Gilligan says that he and the other writers always liked it when Walter came up with a MacGyveresque solution to his problems.
Why the Actual Ending of Breaking Bad Works So Well (and Why It's Called "Felina")
Gilligan describes their approach to the ending of Breaking Bad by defining what he calls "organic vs. inorganic storytelling." Gilligan defines "organic storytelling" as letting the characters tell you where the story goes, whereas "inorganic storytelling" in this particular case is the writers deciding on a specific end point for the story, driven by the question: "what is the ending that will satisfy us the most?" The writers combined organic and inorganic storytelling by planting the M60 at the beginning of season 5 without knowing how Walter would use it, therefore letting the character make decisions about a device that the writers introduced.
Gilligan also explained that he and his writers had a lot of lead time to go through all of the ideas for the series ending. This meant first, they could pitch and discard the bad ideas, then the mediocre ideas, then finally come up with the good ideas. Gilligan admitted that they really didn't think way ahead of themselves. Instead, they mined their own history by looking at moments from earlier seasons to see if they could use them in later episodes. This made those moments feel like they were planted as seeds earlier in the series to set up the final episodes.
"Felina," the title for the final episode, comes from the Marty Robbins song "El Paso" that plays in the Volvo as Walter tries to steal the car. Gilligan explains that the man in the song "El Paso" kills another man because of his love for "wicked Faleena." The man leaves town, but eventually returns on his horse because his love for Faleena is stronger than his fear of death, and he gets killed upon his return.
Gilligan felt that the story in the song captured the essence of Walter's decision to return to Albuquerque. Writers assistant Gordon Smith and script coordinator Jenn Carroll pointed out to Gilligan that if they changed the spelling to "Felina," the title becomes an anagram of "finale."
Gilligan gives a lot of credit to his team of writers for coming up with better ideas, as well as credit to the editors, producers and the rest of the Breaking Bad crew. Ultimately, he believes for the finale, "[it] felt right and proper that [Walt] went out on his own terms. He went out like a man."
Personally, I think the ending of Breaking Bad was perfect, but maybe you have other opinions. How do you think Gilligan and his team should have ended Breaking Bad? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.
[via The Wrap]