Peter Gould has worked on all five seasons of Breaking Bad. But prior to Sunday night, he had only written and directed one episode (season four’s “Problem Dog”). Last week, Gould was tasked not only with following the action-packed greatness of “Ozymandias,” but also having to slow down the frenetic pace with Sunday’s episode “Granite State.” To say that Gould knocked it out of the park would be an understatement. “Granite State” is rich, poignant and, at times, downright heartbreaking. We sat down with the writer/director to break down several of the episode’s most important moments.
This season has been moving so fast. Did you worry at all about pumping the brakes?
Absolutely. You always worry about how people are going to see things, but the truth is that we had to take a moment to explore the consequences. The whole show is about, “Where is Walt’s head at? Who is Walter White?” And that was unfinished business after the last episode. In a weird way, we just had to go courageously and do the things that we thought were right for the show.
Let’s talk about the Robert Forster opening. How did you manage to keep that a secret?
Everyone has been so focused on other things about the show, and Robert was even at the premiere. I was kind of wondering if we were going to give it away, but I guess nobody gave it a second thought. Robert has been a prince and has not said anything at all. I really wanted to give him a little tiny bit of a movie star introduction at the beginning of the episode with it starting on his feet and tilting up.
Tell me about the scene with Robert, Walter and Saul.
One of the questions when we’re working on the show is always, “Where is Walt’s head at? What’s he thinking? What’s the progress of his character?” He’s somebody who hasn’t stayed the same. In this episode, we actually had some trouble at the beginning, until we realized that this was about him losing his heart. Heisenberg – if there really was such a being – died when Hank did. That was the breakthrough on the episode because, at first, we didn’t know if he was depressed or what his reaction would be. The scene starts off as typical Walter White. He’s making a plan! He’s going to strike back! But, ultimately, it’s not the right thing to do, and it’s not something he can do. So we have Saul, as usual, giving good, grounded advice that Walt doesn’t want to listen to.
It’s almost as if he goes into Heisenberg mode and, for the first time, Saul just shuts him down and tells him “It’s over.”
It’s like Walt keeps trying to conjure up the spirit of Heisenberg and he’s just not there. He keeps rubbing the lamp and the genie doesn’t show up.
Let’s jump to the Todd and Lydia meeting. The word was that Jesse Plemons came up with the idea of drinking from the cup where her lips were in the previous episode. Was it his idea to have tea while he waited too?
That was scripted. Jesse is a very, very inventive actor, and he has a grasp of this character that I think is really special. In that scene, he turns around way further than I think Lydia would like him to. The other thing was this great moment at the very end of the scene where he plucks a thread off her jacket. He actually dares to touch her. I just love that moment. The other moment that I just love that took me completely by surprise is earlier in the episode when he’s watching the video of Jesse talking about “that dead-eyed Opie piece of shit.” Todd is watching and gives this little smile. I don’t know how you interpreted it, but I always interpreted it as him saying, “Oh, that Jesse Pinkman.” [Laughs] I think Todd really likes Jesse.
I think he does, too, and I think he looks up to Jesse because he was Walt’s friend.
I think you’re absolutely right. That little smirk was all him. The best thing in directing is when you see something that’s great. We were lucky enough to do that there.
When Walt arrived in New Hampshire, Twitter exploded with mentions of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. You do realize you just sold a bunch of copies, right?
[Laughs] I love it! We weren’t allowed to show the cover, of course, because that’s a Fox property. At a certain point, in the way the scene was written, we had a whole series of movie titles, and Bryan and I realized that it was just so much funnier with one. I love the way he delivers that. When we were in the writer’s room, whenever that title came up it, for some reason, it always brought smiles to our faces. Not to say anything bad about the movie which, frankly, I haven’t seen, but it’s just. . . you can imagine that that would be Walter White’s least favorite movie to watch.
In that scene, Robert Forster’s character tells Walt, “If you look around it’s kind of beautiful.” That’s what someone’s been trying to tell Walt for seasons now, but he’s never slowed down to see what’s happening.
Robert Forster is almost giving Zen advice, which is, “Be here now. Be in the moment. Try to just experience where you are.” And that is truly a prescription for health for Walter White. It’s the last thing he wants to think about – who he is, what he’s done, where he is. He just doesn’t want to think about it. I just love the way Robert delivered that line.
Then the hat. That front-lit silhouette of Walter putting on the hat. . . Beautiful.
That’s conjuring the spirit of Heisenberg.
For the last time maybe?
If you leave the hat hanging on the horns of a deer head, you’re probably done with it. You’ve got to wonder if he left that hat up there in the cabin with the deer.
Then the next person that Forster brings out there finds the hat.
[Laughs] Oh, that’s a great idea! I love that! Okay, wait a minute. That may end up in the finale now. [Laughs] You never know what might happen.
When Walt retreats from that gate and says, “Tomorrow,” you know that he’s broken.
I love scenes with minimal dialogue. I mean, not always to make a fetish out of it, but Walt says so many words in this episode and, for me, that’s one of the most evocative moments. He’s lying to himself again.
When Jesse breaks out of his little prison, there’s the one-shot of him balancing on the bucket. Obviously he had to do that jump and grab himself, right?
He did. Aaron absolutely did that stunt himself and he clung to the bars and it was really physically taxing. He also had to climb that chain-link fence a number of times. I couldn’t tell him to slow down because he had to be going balls out, but we actually had trouble keeping him in frame because he was moving so fast. I think there is one brief shot that’s not him, but it’s just him clinging to the bars from below. Every other shot in that sequence is Aaron Paul, and I think you can tell. It makes such a huge difference. He’s so game, I can’t even tell you. The guy just comes to play every day.
It’s amazing to see his transformation through the seasons.
It was kind of a relief to see him at the Emmys, because I don’t think I’ve seen him without prosthetic makeup in quite a while. It’s nice to see his whole face with no cuts or bruises.
This episode also gave us the horrifying moment where Todd shoots Andrea. We’ve seen a lot of crying lately, but this one went back to that guttural, almost silent weep. It’s as if Jesse has nothing left inside.
I knew that Aaron was going to do something amazing there, but it was really beyond what I expected. It just raises the question for me, “What is left for this kid?” He seems to be broken.
Todd’s last little nod, “It’s not personal” before he shoots Andrea is so damn creepy.
That’s Jesse Plemons. The great thing is, though, that Jesse is not playing Todd creepy. It’s just the way he is. He’s just a guy who has been doing what he has to do. I think that’s great. He never forces it.
Back in the cabin, Walt is doing his chemotherapy treatment. There might be people that have forgotten about the cancer because there’s so much going on.
That was something that we knew we had to show – just how sick he really is. He’s a very, very sick guy. You can wonder, “Why is he doing chemo?” He’s not willing to give up yet.
That moment when Walt says, “Stay a little longer,” that just broke me. It knocked me down.
That was the moment of hitting bottom, when he asks his employee to stay for money and play cards. I love the way Bryan played that. He’s so vulnerable and Robert gives him, apparently, nothing. Robert’s character knows exactly who Walt is and what he’s done.
But Robert doesn’t want to stick around for too long, because you never know what Walt could still do.
You’re absolutely right. You’ve got to think that Robert’s character has handled all kinds of drug dealers and people on the run, but he knows not to get entangled in Walt’s world.
Let’s move to the end of the episode. The quote I wrote down is, “For us it’s always been about science first.”
This is what it comes down to, that science moment being the last disrespect.
These two people are really at the top of the world, and who interviews you when you’re at the top of the world but Charlie Rose? They really seem to be decent scientists who just made it big, and the contract with Walt is heartbreaking but also kind of delicious. It was just so much fun to do that and to get to shoot with Charlie Rose. Once that footage was put into the scene, it really does seem like a totally different world, doesn’t it?
Were you nervous about going back so far to the early part of the show?
The thing that we’ve learned is to trust the audience. Our audience is so detail-oriented that we just trusted that people are going to follow the story and remember things. If not, hopefully they’ll know that there’s some rhyme or reason to what’s going on there. We really trusted them, and we’re in a new environment where people can re-watch things or go back over things and discuss them on the Internet. I think that’s great for this kind of serialized show. We can do cause and effect and the cause can be 20 episodes before the effect. We really try not to leave anything unused. We really try to use every part of the cow.
Is that how you tied it back to the beginning? With the show’s original musical theme? I don’t think we’ve ever heard that played as score before.
You’re absolutely right. Dave Porter and I discussed this a little bit, and I thought it was absolutely the perfect move. It was his idea, and I think his logic was that this beat in the story is really about Walt becoming what he’s going to become. He’s been in a state of transformation through the whole show and this moment is, in some ways, his final transformation. What he is now, in my mind, is not Heisenberg or Walter White. This is somebody who is, for better or for worse, a fully different person, and I think that it feels so right that the theme that’s been playing through on the title suddenly reaches a crescendo because, now, here he is. Here’s the guy we’ve been waiting for.