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The audience at Comic-Con International on Friday was treated to a preview of the fifth and final season of Breaking Bad, along with spoilers and hints about what lies ahead for AMC’s acclaimed drama.
Mike Schneider of TV Guide introduced the panel, and revealed he’s seen the first two episodes, saying, “You are in for the same ride, and let me just say that killing off Gus Fring [in the Season 4 finale] opened up a whole new set of problems for our guys, not to mention Mike.”
The preview (below) opens with a showdown between enforcer Mike Ehrmantraut (played by Jonathan Banks) and Walter White (three-time Emmy winner Bryan Cranston) over the death of Gus Fring, with Jesse Pinkman (Emmy winner Aaron Paul) between them. We see flashes that Walter will attempt to fill the vacuum in the meth market left behind by the death of Fring. Along the way he’ll try to bring along everyone else with him, either by enticement or by threat, including Jesse, Saul Goodman and his wife Skyler. And we further see him burning down the remnants of Fring’s old operation and starting up a new one. The preview was met with loud cheers from the Comic-Con crowd.
After the preview, Schneider introduced the panel: creator/showrunner Vince Gilligan and cast members Anna Gunn (Skylar White), R.J. Mitte (Walter White Jr.), Betsy Brandt (Marie Schrader), Dean Norris (Hank Schrader), Jonathan Banks (Mike Ehrmantraut), Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman) and Bryan Cranston (Walter White).
But these were no ordinary stage entrances. To begin with, Norris showed up in an outrageous Xena: Warrior Princess-like outfit. Not to be outdone, Paul and Cranston entered wearing their meth-cooking Hazmat suits, handing off a fake bag of meth to the moderator as they removed their costumes and took their seats.
Schneider started off by asking whether the transformation of Cranston’s character would continue or if it was complete. Gilligan responded with a question of his own: “How many guys think that Walter is as bad as he can get?”, eliciting a shout of “No!” from the audience. “I think there’s worse he could get,” the showrunner continued.
Asked if there were any redeeming qualities left in Walter, Cranston said, “Someone once asked me if Breaking Bad could have a happy ending, and I said, ‘Have you been watching?’ And perhaps the happy ending would be that he dies. You know, I don’t know. He’s become so toxic, and so cancerous in and of himself, so maybe that’s the way it has to go. But I truly don’t know. No one knows here on this panel what’s in this man’s head [indicating Gillian]. We don’t know what he’s going to do. We don’t ask, and he doesn’t tell us, and we like him that way.”
Asked what he’s learned from playing Walter, Cranston replied, “Every single one of us has that capability to become dangerous. Given the right set of circumstances, it could happen.”
Gilligan wouldn’t reveal whether Walter’s cancer will re-emerge, saying, “That is certainly one of the biggest threats looming out there.”
“I can think of a threat to Walter,” Cranston said, gesturing toward Norris. “That man down there, Xena, princess warrior. He’s a threat. You look really good in that, by the way.”
Addressing the evolution of Jesse, Paul revealed, “At the beginning he was just this lost kid struggling with finding his way, and he just screws everything up. … I think Jesse’s just happy to have his partner back, you know, and move forward.”
As for Skylar, and whether she can ever trust Walt again, Gunn said, “At the end of last season when she realizes that he had something to do with — that he was the mastermind behind Gus’ death, that hit her so hard that I don’t know that that’s a corner she can turn, and I think that’s a question that we’re still pondering around here. I know I am.”
Asked if Skylar would try to flee again, Gilligan said, “At some point you gotta plant your flag and stand your ground, and I think we might see Skylar do that this year.”
Turning to Banks, Schneider asked how his Mike character would deal with not being in control any more. The actor replied, “I don’t know that Mike’s ever had anything under control. I think Mike got lost a long, long time ago. I think he has people that he needs to take care of, and so he moves forward, with great trepidation.”
Banks laughed when he was asked whether he can reveal what’s in store for his character. “No, ‘cause I got handed a list of things I can’t talk about for next season by Vince,” he said, “and I’m lucky I even got asked a question, for Christ’s sake.”
Asked about in Hank Season 5, Norris said, “I think he’s got his mojo back. He was obviously proven correct. I think Hank has always been a guy that needs to be doing his job, and if he’s not doing his job he’s not very happy. He’s now back doing his job, and he’s going to be hot on his trail.”
“I’d like to take credit for Hank getting his mojo back,” Brandt, who plays his wife Marie, offered. Asked where she sees the character in the fifth season, she replied, “For Marie, it’s about her relationships. With Hank, and with the White family, and we just see more of that in this season.”
As for Walter White Jr., and what his reaction would be to finding out about his father, Mitte said, “I have no idea. I have complete faith in Vince to create this whole madness. But come on, it’s his father, he has to love his family. I’m excited to see what will happen with Walt Jr., it’s going to be an interesting ride.”
After a brief introduction of some of the writers sitting in the audience, Gilligan spoke about the process of plotting out the series, and how fluid the process tends to be. Several characters who were intended to be bit parts, or played by different actors, were switched around and reformatted as the story played out. Asked about the rumor that Gilligan was planning to kill off Jesse in the first season, Gilligan replied, “Hey, I still might. No, I would never do that. But that was the original plan, was to kill him off after he helped Mr. White gain his entrée to the business and teach him everything he knows.”
Gilligan admitted to writing himself into corner and having to find a way out, saying, “Yeah, oh man, many a time. For instance, that scene in that junkyard — Mike is right outside the door. We didn’t know what the hell to do … the brilliance of Walter White is he comes up with this all himself, whereas it takes seven of us writers working through the night to come up with it.”
Asked whether viewers will see the Germans this season, Gilligan acknowledged, “Yeah, the Germans are going to play a role this season. They are the company that bankrolled Gus, a silent partner, perhaps. It’s going to open up the world a bit.”
Hinting at new characters that will be introduced, Gilligan said, “We’re going to meet an interesting lady, a wonderful actress named Laura Fraser. I’ve never met her, but I’ve seen her in the editing room for many hours on end. She’s a former associate of Gus. She’s going to make life interesting for a couple of these folks in the panel.”
Asked about the theme of the upcoming season, he said, “This season is about winning, and what it is to stay on top.”
Cranston added, “You’d think that, after narrowly being killed and having your entire family being threatened, a sane person would say, ‘Wow, that was a close call, let’s get out of here, let’s get out of this.’ Not Walter White. He’s found a new power, and it’s his ego. He’s got this drive to be the best. He’s ready to take on the world — the tension of this last season that we show felt far more stressful than the previous ones.”
Paul continued that thought, saying, “The tone of this season is just eerie. It’s just creepy. You know that episode ‘Crawlspace,’ where Skylar finds Walt in the crawl space searching for the money, and he just starts laughing, and you have this unsettling feeling? That’s how this entire season felt.”
Cranston hinted that season premiere, which airs Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/PT, will be more intellectual than violent, and funnier than most episodes they’ve done. “There’s a lot of dark humor in this season that we were not reaching for particularly, but it’s there,” he said.
At that, Schneider prompted Paul to repeat what he felt would be the best line of the upcoming premiere. Paul smiled and said, “Magnets, bitch!”
Asked if we have finally seen the last of the Aztec camper, Gilligan replied, “You might see the Aztec again.”
Speaking to where the final 16 episodes will take us, Cranston said, “There is an expansion of our group. We have to let in a few more people to our secret. And as the saying goes, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. And that becomes very apparent, at about midway through this season, where we have some issues.”
Gilligan also noted that Jesse Plemons will join the cast. “He plays a very important character,” Cranston said.
“We’ll see a little more Skinny Pete,” Gilligan added.
Speaking to the Saul character, whom he confirmed will appear in Season 5, Gilligan said, “He’s one of the few characters who really knows who he is. He doesn’t lie to himself about who he is, but actually enjoys this world. Maybe until now, he’s in a little over his head now at the end of Season 4.”
Asked where there would be any clues early in the season as to where the series is headed, Gilligan said, “It will be right there in plain sight, in the first few moments of the episode.” Cranston added, “You saw a glimpsed= of something, in the preview we showed, from the inside of the trunk of a car. Yeah.”
Turning to questions from the audience, the cast was asked about their favorite episodes. “I loved the scene where Brian and I got to kick the shit out of each other,” Paul answered. “For me, it’s always the pilot, when I was experiencing the yin and yang of the thing, where he was as a person, and where he was going,” Cranston said. “Also, the episode ‘Four Days Out’ was great.”
Speaking to the “Four Days Out” episode, which was intended as a bottle episode at one location, Gilligan said, “Episode 5 of this season is whatever the polar opposite of a bottle episode would be.” “It’s really the first time in the history of Breaking Bad that we didn’t shoot entirely in Albuquerque,” Cranston said. “Oh, yeah, it was Santa Fe,” Gilligan added.
Asked if there were any redeeming qualities left in the White character, Gilligan said, “He does something this season that I — as a viewer of the show I would probably say, ‘You know what? I’ve lost all sympathy.’”