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”It's less than 48 hours. Oh my God!”
Just over 48 hours ago, 1800 fans (myself included) gathered at the Centre for Performing Arts for a Vancouver International Film Festival (Film and Television Forum) event called 'One Last Cook: A Special Evening With Breaking Bad Creator Vince Gilligan.' The sold out crowd was treated to a Q & A with the genius behind the Emmy winning drama moderated by LOST co-creator Damon Lindelof as well as a screening of Gilligan's favorite episode. Well, 'favorite' might not be completely accurate since those in attendance would learn over the course of the evening that the former X-Files writer (a series which called Vancouver home) isn't very fond of superlatives, but he did still select one installment of his creation to show the audience. It was "Face Off," a fantastic choice for several reasons, not the least of which is that the Season 4 finale is an impeccable 'hour' of television.
"Walt poisoned Brock. That's what that means."
The other reasons for selecting "Face Off" not only illustrate Vince Gilligan's genius but also, perhaps, his inability to (or justified disinterest in) pick(ing) a favorite Breaking Bad installment. I was actually surprised he went with one that he himself wrote and directed since Gilligan is known to be very generous with credit when discussing the show's brilliance, however, after watching the episode again it makes so much sense. What immediately follows the explosive fourth season finale? Well, the Season 5 premiere, obviously, and "Live Free Or Die" cold opened with the infamous flash-forward to Mr. Lambert having a birthday breakfast at Denny's while waiting to see a guy about a very big gun. So, pretty much right where last week's incredible "Granite Slate" left off and tonight's "Felina" could very well begin. Gilligan, you sly devil. And before the devil took the stage, Damon Lindelof did and was nice enough to explain to the audience what the final shot of the Lily of the Valley meant.
”Say hello to my little friend.”
Lindelof was a great moderator, well researched and very quick on his feet (as you can tell from the few quips I've highlighted throughout the article) while the guest of honor was clearly overwhelmed with the turnout and response. 'One Last Cook' was originally going to be held in the 420 seat Rio Theatre but it quickly became clear that the size of that venue wouldn't suffice and VIFF made the decision to move the event and ended up selling over four times that number. And watching "Face Off" with so many people was a pretty amazing experience and the capacity crowd gave Vince Gilligan a standing ovation when he was introduced. Lindelof quickly addressed the elephant in the room, the impending end of the series, and made it clear that he wouldn't be asking any questions about the finale. Except one. The moderator listed two things we know about Breaking Bad and "Felina" (the 'Mr. Chips to Scarface pitch and the M60) before inquiring if Heisenberg would utter the famous Tony Montana line?
”You say it like you didn't make it up.”
Gilligan didn't want to spoil anything but could say with confidence that we wouldn't hear those words from Walter White. The 'Man Who Knocks" will surely have his own iconic phrase if and/or when he goes out in a blaze of glory. Even though Gilligan expressed his aversion to picking his favorite things about his own show, there were several questions from Lindelof (and submitted by fans on twitter) about the best Breaking Bad moments or lines as well as the hardest kills or challenges. Like the fans, he's also a fan of the 'knocks' line and when Walt proclaims 'I am the danger.' As far as moments, Gilligan was especially proud of the bathtub through the floor and rattled by Jane's death. Krysten Ritter's Jane got quite a lot of discussion as that moment was also cited as the possible point of no return for Bryan Cranston's character as well as a slight sticking point with the network. It's not that AMC were insisting that Breaking Bad couldn't have a scene that disturbing, they were just concerned that if it went to those depths that quickly, well, how much darker could it get? They had no idea.
”You made your own bed. Now lie in it and choke on your own vomit while someone watches.”
The first idea for Jane's death was even darker though, with Gilligan having pitched that Walt would actually shoot her up with more herion to cause the fatal overdose. That was one of many, many changes that occurred in the writer's room over the course of the series, some simply because better suggestions altered the original plan while others were the result of unforeseen circumstances, like Aaron Paul being way too talented to kill Jesse off in Season 1. Another interesting change that the creator discussed on Friday night was how Tuco Salamanca was supposed to be the big bad for the entire second season but Raymond Cruz had to return to TNT's The Closer. The result? The writers were forced to create another adversary and Giancarlo Esposito's Gustavo Fring was born. Fring's death, which we watched less than a hour earlier, was also cited as the hardest to orchestrate because the character was simply too smart to trap. How do you kill someone so careful? Well, writers putting in a lot of hours to work out the logistics. As far as the most emotional death, that occurred when the cast and crew had to say goodbye to Jonathan Banks' Mike Ehrmantraut.
”The network that plays Porky's 2 over and over?”
Lindelof and the fans also had a lot of questions about the genesis of Breaking Bad, from where the initial idea came from to what it was like shopping the drama around to different networks. The 'Archimedes in the bathtub' moment occurred when Gilligan and fellow X-Files writer Tom Schnauz were discussing what to do next and the latter suggested turning to crime after reading an article about a meth dealer. Gilligan was interested in the idea of turning a character who was a 'schlubby' middle-aged guy into a forceful villain. When it came to pitching the idea, he knew that there were only three networks that would allow the adult nature of the content on their air but HBO, Showtime and FX all said no thanks. Breaking Bad seemed dead until AMC came calling, looking to add to their original drama roster that at the time only consisted of (the still unaired) Mad Men. The first scene that they ever shot, only the third episode of television that Gilligan had ever directed, was Walt on the ride along with Hank watching Jesse escape by falling from the building.
”Where does one keep Danny Trejo's head?”
The last scene they filmed, on the other hand, was the flashback cold open that kicked off "Ozymandias," with the return to the RV and events of the pilot as a fitting way to end production on the series. Other interesting bits of trivia that came up during the evening, including that the creator took home Tortuga's head and it is located 'somewhere' on Vince's property. Lindelof also asked about Gillian's stand on piracy and the creator acknowledged that the issue is very complex, sure he'd like people to pay to watch Breaking Bad but illegal views also contributed to the show being part of the zeitgeist and viewed on televisions all over the world. He has the same reaction when he spots unlicensed merchandise, in the end he can't help but smile at the 'I am the one who knocks' t-shirts even though it's revenue they might not be seeing or were able to put into the series. There were also a few questions from yellow suited 'superfans,' both of them bringing up Gray Matter and wondering how the missed opportunity shaped Walt as well as if Gilligan had a 'Gray Matter' of his own.
”Gale had a soul.”
Of course, as we saw in "Granite Slate," Walt hasn't forgotten how he could have been part of a legitimate scientific empire and the fact that his former colleagues are trying to erase his contributions inspires his return to Albuquerque. (There was also a third 'superfan' who was cosplaying as tighty whitey Walter White but his contribution to the evening was just attention seeking and creeping everyone out, especially Damon Lindelof.) In the end, Lindelof did once again address the finale but only to allow Gilligan to discuss the process and pressure behind crafting the last show. The Breaking Bad creator mentioned his favorite series finale of all-time, M.A.S.H., and how it didn't need to pull the rug out from under the audience to be satisfying, in fact, it delivered what it promised all along. That's not to say there won't be some surprises in "Felina," only that Vince Gilligan prefers the sense of dread that Hitchcockian suspense delivers over shock for shock sake. And we'll find out the specifics soon enough...
”The greatest television show of all time.”
The series finale of Breaking Bad, “Felina,” airs tonight at 9 p.m. ET on AMC. Created by Vince Gilligan, the series stars Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, R.J. Mitte, Jesse Plemons and Bob Odenkirk.
Event photo courtesy the Vancouver Observer.