It's been nearly six years since "The Sopranos" series finale aired on HBO, and viewers still can't agree on whether it was a brilliant ending or one of the most frustrating cheats in TV history.
Fans of "Breaking Bad," which begins airing the final eight episodes of its five-season run on August 11, need not worry about such a confusing conclusion, because the series' creator, Vince Gilligan, and his writing crew have cooked up a closer that will leave us completely clued in to what's to become of chemistry teacher-turned-drug king Walter White.
"Breaking Bad: The Fifth Season," the new Blu-ray and DVD boxed set from Sony Home Entertainment, contains the first eight episodes of the show's final season, along with a wealth of bonus materials like cast and crew commentaries on every episode, deleted scenes, outtakes, "Inside Breaking Bad" Web episodes, featurettes on Season 5's train heist scene and Jonathan Banks's Mike Ehrmantraut, an episode of "Chris Hardwick's All-Star Celebrity Bowling" with the "Breaking Bad" cast, and "Chicks 'N' Guns," a new supplemental scene shot just for the Blu-ray and DVD release.
And Gilligan talked to Yahoo! TV about what lies ahead with the last eight episodes, teasing, "We've got some stuff coming up we're very much looking forward to people seeing."
Most "Breaking Bad" fans are probably looking at these next eight episodes with a mixture of "I can't wait!" and dread, because then the series is finished. How are you feeling about the last eight episodes?
You know what? You described it very well. I am looking forward to the end, and I'm very excited for people to see it, and part of me wants them to have seen it already, but then part of me wants to savor it and wants it to last for a long time, which is actually going to be the case because the damn thing doesn't go on the air for, it feels like, another year or so. (Laughs.)
I'm sad for it to be over, but I feel like we ended it at the right time. I don't feel like we made a mistake, which I'm happy to be able to report.
Where do the episodes stand right now? Are you editing, or are they completely finished?
We're editing, we're sound mixing, and we are color timing the episodes. I think two or three of them are already completely done. I think four of them … I lose track. We're about halfway through all of them, and with each one that we finish, I get a little sadder. It becomes a little more real to me. I'm sitting here in my office doing this interview, and I'm looking around, and I'm thinking, "Jesus, I've got to box everything up pretty soon, because we're going to be losing these offices by the end of the month," or the end of June, I guess. It's really starting to become real to me, and I'm getting pretty sad about it.
But as I said before, the one saving grace to it is that as sad as I am that it's ending, it feels right that it's ending now. If we had artificially tried to come up with another, I don't know, season or two, of stories, I really think we would have hit a point where we would start treading water creatively. I just don't want to do that to the characters, and I don't want to do that to the fans. I like stories, be they movies or TV shows or books. I like stories that know when to wrap it up, and it means a lot to me and to the writers of the show and to all the other folks who work on it to end this thing as properly as we can and in as satisfying a manner that we can. That's very important to us.
You've said before that things have changed along the way — most famously, Jesse wasn't supposed to live past the first handful of episodes — and that the series ending has been a work in progress. At what point did you decide how the series would end? Not necessarily what would happen in the meantime, but, definitively, what would be the fate of Walt and Jesse and everyone in their lives?
You'd be surprised how late in the game we came up with the actual ending. We were still trying to figure out how the show was going to end, gosh, probably back in November or December of last year, and we started shooting these episodes in January. Actually, no, I'm sorry, we started in December. We started a couple weeks before the Christmas holiday. We were trying to figure out the ending right up to the very end, practically, right up to the beginning and the middle of production.
But as far as when we knew we were going to wrap it up, we came to a decision along with Sony Television and AMC Network as to how many more episodes we should have. There were certain economic realities involved, but really, both companies were very respectful as to the story and the storytelling of it all. They asked my opinion on how many episodes I thought we honestly had left, and I threw that over to my writers, my six writers, and we sat around for quite a lot of hours trying to figure out exactly how much story we had left. This number of 16 episodes turned out to be, in hindsight now, pretty much perfect. I hope audiences will agree. When we had that number, we knew what we were working toward, and we knew exactly how many hours we had left to fill story wise, and we set about filling them and figuring out exactly how it's going to play out.
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When people talk about the outcome for Walt, it's usually in terms of will he die, will he go to jail … will the show end ambiguously, like "The Sopranos," or will Walt get some sort of ironic justice like Vic Mackey in "The Shield" finale? It sounds like you really wanted a very satisfying, definitive resolution to Walt's story. Is that true?
That's very safe to say. Definitive doesn't mean that a story couldn't go on after that point, although I have no plans for that. Not to give away any particulars of our ending, but it is indeed very definitive. You know where things stand at the end of these eight episodes that are upcoming. In figuring them out, we said to ourselves, we are the first viewers of this show. We're the first fans of this show, these six writers and myself. We sat around for, God, countless hours, thinking to ourselves, "How should we end this thing? What is the ending that would satisfy us the most?"
When you think of that, you try to think of it in terms of being a chess player. You try to think of all the possible moves you could make and the possible outcomes and permutations of those moves, and we went down a lot of blind alleys in that process. But the question we kept asking ourselves was twofold. One was, where is Walter White taking us? Where is he heading as a character? You try to tell a story organically in that sense and let the characters dictate to you, the writer, where they're heading. You don't want to push them in directions they wouldn't normally go. You don't want to be artificial in your storytelling.
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But on the other hand, in an inorganic sense, we ask ourselves what would satisfy us. Is the most satisfying ending the most unpredictable ending, or is the most satisfying ending something that you do see coming, or is it some combination of the two? I don't want to give away the ending, of course, but we spent thousands of hours, hours and hours, just trying to figure out the answer to that very question. Hopefully we have. I feel very good about it. It's an ending that satisfies me. Hopefully viewers will feel the same way.
The finale also isn't just about Walt. Viewers have come to be just as invested in Jesse and Hank, for instance, and Walt's family. How tough was it to steer the finale toward an ending that would be satisfying not just for Walt's story but for these other characters, too?
Oh, supertough. (Laughs.) Because you're right, you're exactly right, it's not just Walt's story. In the perfect ending … I don't know if there is any perfect in this world, but there's as close as we can get to it, and that is the goal, getting as close to it as possible. Any truly satisfying ending will not just sum up and resolve Walter White's story, it will sum up and resolve Jesse Pinkman's story and Hank Schrader's and Skyler White's and Marie Schrader's and Walter Jr.'s. Yeah, you want to give everybody their due, and so yeah, it was a real headache trying to figure out how these threads play out. You don't want to leave open ended questions and loose threads. You want to tie everything up in a neat bow, in a neat and yet organic and believable bow. That's the task that I think everybody sets for themselves when they're trying to come up with an ending to a story. That's certainly how we approached it
The "Breaking Bad" finale seems destined to be one of those powerful, thought-provoking TV events that necessitates taking a long drive the next day and contemplating the meaning of life.
(Laughs.) I appreciate your enthusiasm for it. We've got some stuff coming up — before the series finale even — that's going to leave you needing a cold washcloth on your forehead. We've got some stuff coming up we're very much looking forward to people seeing.
NEXT: More new TV DVD releases including, "Pretty Little Liars," "The Lone Ranger," and "Wilfred"
Other noteworthy new TV DVD releases:
"The Lone Ranger: Collector's Edition" (Classic Media)
The July 3 Johnny Depp/Armie Hammer movie has stirred up new interest in the Masked Man, aka the former Texas Ranger played by Clayton Moore — with his faithful Native American companion Tonto (played by Jay Silverheels) — in the 1949-57 ABC TV series. This attractively packaged set looks like a coffee table book and houses 30 discs with all 221 episodes of the series, plus two "Lone Ranger" movies, three episodes of an animated "Lone Ranger" series, an original radio broadcast, and a 1959 episode of "Lassie" featuring a guest appearance by the Lone Ranger.
"Adventure Time: The Complete First Season" Blu-ray (Warner)
"Adventure Time: The Complete Second Season" Blu-ray
The Emmy-nominated Cartoon Network series (which sprang from a cartoon short that became an Internet hit) is easily one of the best animated series on TV. It's a delightfully odd and funny story about a boy named Finn and his best friend, a magic dog named Jake, who can talk, shape-shift, and shrink and expand himself at will. Finn and Jake live in the post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo and go on silly but fun adventures to do things like save a houseplant's soul and help Finn return to his usual state after Magic Man turns him into a foot. Both sets are loaded with extras, including audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes (even a cheeky "Behind the Scenes of the Behind the Scenes" video), and, with the Blu-ray sets, UltraViolet digital versions of each episode.
"Pretty Little Liars: The Complete Third Season" (Warner)
The fourth season premieres on June 11, the show's already been renewed for Season 5, and a spinoff series, "Ravenswood," premieres later this year … it's time to catch up with this soapy, guilty-pleasure ABC Family teen drama if you haven't yet. Bonus material in the boxed set include unaired scenes, alternate endings, and a gag reel.
"Falling Skies: The Complete Second Season" Blu-ray (Warner)
Season 2 picks up three months after Professor Tom Mason (Noah Wyle), the civilian resistance leader vs. the alien invasion, willingly went off on an alien ship. The rest of the season unfolds his motivations and the humans' efforts to fight back against the invaders and ends with a surprise arrival that should keep the drama high for Season 3, which premieres on TNT June 9. Bonus features in the boxed set include audio commentaries with Wyle and the show's writers and producers, a set tour, and featurettes on the writers, how the aliens and the spaceships were created, and co-star Terry O'Quinn.
"Rawhide: The Sixth Season, Volume One" (Paramount)
"Rawhide: The Sixth Season, Volume Two"
Clint Eastwood (not yet an Oscar winner) is back for the sixth season of the eight-season western, which aired on CBS from 1959-1965. In these 31 episodes, his cattle-driving Rowdy Yates hangs with guest stars like Barbara Eden, Elizabeth Montgomery, Burgess Meredith, Frankie Avalon, Denver Pyle (Uncle Jesse!), and a 21-year-old Beau Bridges.
"Wilfred: The Complete Series" (Shout! Factory)
Here they are, all 16 episodes of the original, 2007-2010 Australian "Wilfred" series that led to the delightfully quirky and funny FX series starring Jason Gann and Elijah Wood. Gann, the series creator, dons the doggie suit in this version, as well, though the original Wilfred is quite a bit darker than the American version (not that Wood's Wilfred hasn't caused his fair share of ruckuses, of course). The boxed set, which also includes bloopers, outtakes, and making-of featuretttes, makes a fun marathon for "Wilfred" fans anxious for the third season premiere of the FX comedy on June 20.