Over the course of 32 episodes of AMC's acclaimed series Breaking Bad, high school chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) has transformed from a cancer patient to a smalltime methamphetamine dealer to one of the southwest's largest suppliers of the tooth-rotting drug. As the third season wraps Sunday night, White and his partner Jesse (Aaron Paul) are producing crystal at a phenomenal rate while trying to avoid suspicion from the D.E.A., revenge-seeking drug cartel killers from Mexico and the untrustworthy advice of their lawyer, Saul Goodman (Mr. Show's Bob Odenkirk, who provides the show with rare lighthearted moments).
Rolling Stone caught up with the show's creator Vince Gilligan and Odenkirk to get the lowdown on the future of Breaking Bad's loveably awful crew.
When you were conceptualizing Season Three, where did you want to take it?
Our prime motivator is this idea of taking Walter White and transforming him from being a good guy to a bad guy. Like a slow-motion, wolfman story. We're taking our protagonist and transforming him to our antagonist. In the second season, we had a bookend idea of storytelling. We wanted to further differentiate from that this season. One of the first things I said was "let's make life easier on ourselves. Let's see where the characters want to go" with the idea that Walter has made a series of poor choices and will continue to do so.
The third season feels like his actions are having a wider reach, as well.
This is true. We never want to tell the audience that crime is a bad choice. We want to show it instead and not be didactic about it. It's our job to entertain and to keep our shows as interesting as possible. It's not to preach in any way, shape or form. Having said that, crime doesn't seem like a viable option as far as life choices go.
As bad as Walt gets, people still root for him.
The thing we're trying to do is a little different than what's done in the past [on television]. We're trying to see how far we can stretch it until it breaks. Walter's been given a lot of potential outs and he still chooses to be bad. I'm not sure I want people to root for him forever. I guess I still root for him too, but I'm not sure how long that will last. We're not trying to shake people off. We're not trying to lose viewer sympathy for Walt — but the question remains, how long will people go for it? That's a really big unknown for us.
Did you intent to have other characters "break bad" this season?
For me, character is a simple motivator. Cancer is essential to the show, but in terms of cancer, I think of Walt as being a cancer to his family. He doesn't intend to be. His intentions on some levels are good. But this idea of wanting to do right for his family, that he wants to leave them something when he's gone — through his bad choices, he's instilled this moral rot. And now it's spreading to his wife, Skylar. That was a conscious decision between the writers and myself.
This season Walt's drug operation expanded into something large scale. Did you research the ins and outs of illegal businesses?
We do, but it's not as easy to learn about as something like chemistry or mathematics, because there's not a published body of information. Having said that, we've been reading a lot of books, firsthand accounts of meth production and meth addiction. We also got this really interesting textbook that I found over the Internet, an $80 textbook about money laundering designed for law enforcement. It's pretty rough going and so much is over my head. I'm no expert in the [meth] field, but there are these superlabs in Mexico. I can't remember what constitutes a superlab — it's a certain amount of product that gets produced per week. What Walt and Jesse have going is very much a superlab, because they have over 200 pounds outgoing per week. My understanding is that such labs do exist.
Is the character Saul Goodman inspired by anyone particular?
I remember during the first season of our show, I was driving around Albuquerque and I'd see these billboards for a D.U.I. lawyer. I'm not going to name any names because the guy's a real guy, but I loved them because they were so garish. Our character isn't based on that guy, but it planted a seed in my head. We came up with this clownish, bafoonish lawyer who'll take any case — who is basically in touch with who he is. But when you deepen your understanding of Saul Goodman, you understand that even with his fratboy antics, he's actually a pretty smart attorney. Unfortunately, he's always bending or breaking the law. We intended that from the get-go, too. We wanted him to seem like a clown but not actually be a clown.
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