'Breaking Bad' writer talks last night's episode, 'Granite State', and what it is that Walt has become

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Image Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC

SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you haven’t seen “Granite State” yet.

If you’ve somehow managed to recover from last night’s penultimate episode of Breaking Bad, well, we might have some bad news. Now comes the time when you have to wipe your eyes, get up off the floor, and start reanalyzing everything you felt about last night’s events — down to Walter White wearing long johns.

Now that Walt seems to have found his own personal hell, and Jesse is stuck in the firm (and very evil) grasp of the Nazis, the world we once knew — where blue meth flooded the streets run by Gus Fring, and Walt Jr. didn’t tell his father to “just die” — is gone. We’re left with a dying and very broken Walt, and a Jesse who probably wishes he was dying. So let’s talk about it! With only one episode left to end the beloved series, what is happening with Walt? Is Saul really gone? And just who is Todd? We talked with Peter Gould, co-executive producer and writer of last night’s episode, “Granite State,” about all things Heisenberg, New Hampshire, and more:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This episode felt so much like this big setup for the finale, but at the same time, it was very successful on its own. Going into it, it felt like there was too much to do in terms of getting us to the flash-forward and answering questions. What was your approach to writing this episode?
PETER GOULD: The way I saw it, this was anything but setting up for the finale, because for me, the episode was really about people hitting the worst of the worst, about hitting bottom. I think Walt in particular. He’s always kind of skated on the surface of the events that have happened, and now finally he’s alone with himself and he has to see into himself a little bit, and that’s as painful as it could be because of all the things that he’s done. That’s how I felt. We always used to say, “When is Walt really going to see himself for what he really is? When is he going to really see himself kind of the way we did in the writers room when we are our most judgmental?” Then we would say, “That’s the end of the show.” When he really sees himself, that is the very end. For me, that was the privilege of getting to do this particular episode, because this was really about taking Walt to that final stage of change.

This cabin of solitude seemed like Walt’s ultimate and final punishment. Even the small things were off. For instance, I found it so upsetting to see Walter White, Mr. Tighty Whities, in a pair of long johns.
I love that.

But you all were crafting his ultimate punishment. Did you ever consider ending the show like this, with Walt alone in his personal hell?
We did. And part of the flirtation for the episode, if you didn’t know there was another episode left to come, I was really hoping that you would watch the episode and say, “This is the end? It’s going to end not with a bang but a whimper? Where’s Heisenberg?” The man has lost his mojo, he’s lost his energy, which I think ultimately is the thing that we love about him is his energy, his springing back, and that’s gone. He just becomes this drained little man, and I think it creates, for me anyway, it creates this frustrating suspense because you want him to act, but the truth is, everything he’s done, every action he’s taken has just made things worse. It’s all turned to ashes in his hands. So in a weird way, he’s lost his confidence. And then also he has this impossible problem, which is to make any meaning out of this, he needs to get that money to his family, and that’s absolutely impossible, isn’t it?

Right. Which brings us to the bar. So I have to ask: Was bringing Gretchen and Elliott back always part of the plan?
It’s tricky. I can’t say too much because … the story’s not over yet. And there’s a lot of story yet to come in the next episode. I’ll tell you one thing: It was so thrilling to get Gretchen and Elliott back into the story and to get Jessica [Hecht] and Adam [Godley] back in, Adam especially, not having appeared since season 1. It really felt like completing the circle. We also had a few other characters who showed up, like Carmen Serano, who plays Carmen at the school. And seeing the school again. We really wanted to take the story full-circle in some ways to show the things that had changed.

Also, talking about the phone call, I feel like ever since last week’s phone call with Skyler, Walt has been almost trying to conjure up Heisenberg. And then in this episode, he starts to put on the hat and he can’t do it, and by the end you feel like he flips that switch, and you have Gretchen saying, “The Walt I knew is gone,” and having that parallel. What was it about Gretchen and Elliott’s interview that really set him off? She talked about the brilliant man being gone, but they also claimed he had nothing to do with their success.
There’s so much that goes on in that moment. There’s a lot of switches being closed, I think, in Walt. There’s emotions about the past, but then there’s also something else that we’re going to follow up on. A lot of that moment is going to be explored, what went on there. I’m trying to say enough without saying too much.

This Walter White-Heisenberg situation feels a lot like Jekyll and Hyde. Was that last scene him officially flipping that switch and breaking bad? Is Walt gone?
That’s such an interesting question. I can tell you the way I saw it: The way I see it is that Heisenberg is gone. He keeps trying to kind of evoke the ghost of Heisenberg, the thrill of feeling powerful, and it’s not there. It’s gone. It died when Hank died. It’s just not there. It died when he saw baby Holly. And then in the end, what is happening in my mind, and obviously we’re leaving it up to the audience to some extent, in my mind, what’s happening is he’s becoming something new. And it’s not Walter White; It’s not Heisenberg; it’s something new. And that’s what I think Dave Porter picked up on when he had that great variation on the Breaking Bad theme at the end. Dave and I both agree he’s sort of, in this episode, he’s becoming what he’s going to become, and we’ll find out what that is in the next episode.

That’s a great cliffhanger for Walt, because now we have to talk about poor Jesse. Did you ever consider letting him get away?
Absolutely! We thought about it, but the thing about Jesse — and it’s interesting, we have so much empathy for him — but sometimes we would step back in the writers’ room and talk about what this guy has really done. If he were a real person in our lives, what would we think of him? And the truth is, Jesse has done terrible, terrible things. He’s helped terrible, terrible things to happen. He could’ve stopped Walt after the child was shot. He could’ve stopped the whole thing. He could’ve gone to the police. What he ended up doing at the end of this season, he could’ve done that earlier, and think of all the death and destruction that would’ve been stopped. So I think to us, in one way, we love Jesse and we want good things to happen for him, but in a lot of ways, he’s created the situation himself. Todd, Jesse Plemons’ Todd was not doing the things we’re seeing now before he met Jesse and Walt. So, we would’ve loved for him to get away. Maybe if we had had more episodes, there would’ve been more episodes of Walt in New Hampshire and more episodes of Jesse’s escape from the Nazis.

So let’s talk about Todd. This show has seen some great bad guys, but in my personal opinion — and correct me if you don’t agree — I feel like Todd is the first genuine sociopath. I feel like he brings Jesse ice cream, and he does these things that he thinks are socially correct, but I don’t necessarily think he feels anything, much like he can shoot someone without feeling anything.
I think you’re right. I think that Todd seems to be missing a piece. He seems to be missing a piece. Maybe it’s a piece of empathy; maybe there’s part of his soul that just doesn’t seem to be there. And he doesn’t understand that other people aren’t the same way. I think that’s part of the key, is he sort of thinks in the back of his mind that he and Jesse can still be friends. In his mind, everything he’s done has been logical. You never see Todd doing anything out of pure emotion. There’s a rational explanation for everything that he does, and it’s very clear, but the fact that he doesn’t seem to suffer from any of it is what makes him seem so soulless. I think Jesse Plemons is just brilliant at playing the character. There’s a moment, especially early in the episode, when they’re watching the video of Jesse talking about the train robbery, and he calls Todd the dead-eyed Opie piece of sh–, or something along those lines, and Jesse Plemons gave this little smile like, “Oh, that Jesse. I really like that guy.” And I think he genuinely does like Jesse and he would like for things to be better between them, but he just doesn’t see it.

Right now, Walt and Jesse are going through their own personal hells. I feel like all of Walt’s moments are catalysts leading up to something. Do you view Jesse having to watch Andrea getting shot in a similar way, or are they more of a punishment? How do you view what Jesse’s going through?
It’s not like we’re punishing Jesse because we’re sadistic, because that’s the thing that happens in the story. When you get into this world of crime, the people who get hurt aren’t just the people in the game. That’s the illusion. That’s the heroic illusion of criminals is that if you’re in the game, then you’re taking the risk, but the truth is, people who aren’t in the game get hurt every day, and really that’s, in my mind, that’s justification. People make up reasons for doing the things they want to do, and I think our responsibility dramatically is to be honest about what could happen. So we didn’t really see it so much as Jesse being punished, per se, but this is what happens when you get in business with Nazis.

Finally, we have to get to Saul’s exit. Is it his exit?
Yeah, could be. It could be.

Well with the spin-off being a prequel, did you all ever talk about killing Saul?
We sure did. We sure did. I don’t think there’s anything that we didn’t think about doing, but we felt that Saul is sort of like the cockroach that survives the atomic apocalypse. So he would find some way to get out with his skin intact. He’s smart enough and wily enough that he would. And in fact, the reason why he’s still alive is because he’s useful for Walt, and then Walt wants him to come to New Hampshire to plot his comeback, which is kind of pathetic in its own way. But we definitely thought about killing Saul. That would’ve certainly precluded the spin-off, I think. We’d be perfectly willing to do it if it were the right thing for this show, for Breaking Bad. We’re always trying to do what’s right for the show.

I did love that he had that moment where he stood up to Walt in the basement, even if Walt was bent over coughing.
He did. I think it’s a measure of how much less imposing Walt is at this point, that he really has lost his mojo. Also, Saul’s had it. Saul has been genuinely terrified of Walt. We talk a lot about Bob [Odenkirk] and how funny he is, but the Saul character had a real arc in these seasons where he came in, and he just didn’t take Walt seriously at all. Then Walt becomes more and more trouble, and then finally, he realizes that Walt’s a serious threat to Saul’s life and livelihood. I think Bob did a wonderful job with all those scenes, especially. I was so proud of that scene in the basement.

Absolutely. So are there any plans or teases you can share about the spin-off?
I’m so excited at the possibility. It’s still all in the planning, negotiation stages. Vince Gilligan and I have definitely sat down, and we spent quite a bit of time talking about it before we knew it was something that we felt really excited about and wanted to go forward with. There’s not a lot to say yet, but hopefully it will come together. I would just love to do it because I love working with the people involved. And also I love the character. I think there’s a lot more to say about Mr. Saul Goodman.

Any advice for viewers going into the finale in terms of pacing themselves, properly medicating themselves, etc.?
I think they should do some deep breathing. Sit in a comfortable chair. Try not to eat for 45 minutes before. Each of these episodes screened, and I’m so excited about the response. I think Vince really stuck it. I think it brings home everything that we’ve been doing. I think it’s totally true to the show that we’ve done so far. I really hope people like it.

Breaking Bad‘s series finale airs Sunday, Sept. 29, at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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