There are many takeaways from Stuart Richardson’s more-than-feature-length documentary “No Half Measures: Creating the Final Season of Breaking Bad,” which is featured in the “Breaking Bad” complete series DVD set. But perhaps the dominant takeaway is that after roughly 135 minutes of exhaustively chronicled behind-the-scenes footage from the last eight episodes of “Breaking Bad,” you know exactly how Vince Gilligan hugs.
And Vince Gilligan is a patter.
As the emotional season progresses in the documentary, one person after another has their final on-set wrap and one person after another gets patted on the back like they’re infants and Vince Gilligan is a parent hoping for a satisfying belch.
That’s why the documentary’s most glorious moment [for me, anyway] comes half-way through production on “Felina,” the series finale, when the hilarious Betsy Brandt — it’s mighty logical that she transitioned from this to a sitcom — shoots Marie’s last scene, gets her hug, pulls back and demands a real hug, sans patting, from Gilligan.
I kid. Actually, “No Half Measures” is full of great moments. With a running time that is, let’s be frank, just a wee bit taxing on the ol’ tailbone, “No Half Measures” manages to be simultaneously over-long, but basically indispensable for passionate “Breaking Bad” fans.
Sony Pictures TV screened the documentary for a packed and passionate theater of radio contest winners on Monday (November 25) night, ahead of the series DVD release and I was glad to see it as both a fan of the show and as a fan of the show who’s still probably planning on doing an All “Breaking Bad” podcast later this week. Knock wood.
The screening was followed by a brief Q&A with Gilligan, Bryan Cranston, Dean Norris, R.J. Mitte, Bob Odenkirk and Lavell “Huell” Crawford.
Click through for a few more thoughts on the documentary and a couple highlights from the Q&A, including Gilligan’s three “Breaking Bad” regrets, Odenkirk’s nebulous excitement about “Better Call Saul” and Cranston’s salute to fans and Crawford’s tribute to Cranston’s humility.
The first thing to note about “No Half Measures: Creating the Final Season of Breaking Bad” is that the title is a lie. AMC says that “Breaking Bad” had a 16-episode final season and I trust AMC, even if the two halves of the season were separated by a year and were produced and written separately. A more apt title would be “No Half Measures: Creating Season 5B of Breaking Bad.”
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let me say that although “No Half Measures” is, at its heart, a puff piece and a glorified DVD extra, it’s a GLORIFIED DVD extra with the kind of access that occasionally boggles the mind. Richardson’s camera was there from the first day in the 5B writers’ room til the very last shot out in the desert, the flashback scenes from “Ozymandias.” And although nearly every single actor takes time to talk to the camera and reflect on the journey — Jesse Plemons is largely absent and Laura Fraser’s natural Scottish accent isn’t heard nearly enough — the doc’s best moments are spent with people who have gotten less exposure than Cranston or Aaron Paul or even Gilligan himself.
It’s one thing to honor and revere Michael Slovis, the brilliant cinematographer whose only Emmy, oddly, is for “CSI,” but there’s equal value in going deeper and getting to know camera operator Andrew Voegeli. It’s fascinating to watch Michelle MacLaren direct an action scene. It’s revelatory to watch a post-production session with all of the editors and the sound technicians and to see composer Dave Porter look at a scene and acknowledge it would actually play better without music. Hearing Gilligan explain his openness to letting his writers also direct is validated when you watch Sam Catlin go behind the camera for the first time, or see the on-set presence of a Peter Gould or a Thomas Schnauz. You watch “No Half Measures” and you really can tell why “Breaking Bad” worked on a level that isn’t even a point of aspirations for most shows.
A few other standout moments:
*** As admirable as it is to watch Cranston act, it was even better watching him direct (ditto, actually, with Slovis, whose ability to swap hats from DP to director is worth studying).
*** Expect Anna Gunn to win one of many Emmys next year associated with “Ozymandias” and you’ll rarely get a better primer on both acting emotion and also how to direct emotion than seeing Rian Johnson work with Gunn on the scene in the street.
*** I think it’s already leaked online, but Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul doing a cold read of the finale over beers is almost too perfect.
*** So. Many. Final. Wrap. Scenes. If you’ve ever wanted to watch actors and directors and crew hug, there are over a half-dozen scenes of final wraps, including emotional speeches and presentations of signed photos.
Anyway, I strongly recommend “No Half Measures,” though I may recommend watching it in a couple sittings. It’s wicked long. I still appreciated reliving the superlative final season from a different perspective.
In the documentary and at the Q&A afterwards, it was easy to see, as anybody who has been to a Comic-Con or PaleyFest or TCA panel for the show knows, these guys really like each other and like the journey they went on together.
“We had a great group and over six years, that’s the thing that I think most of us will miss the most is the intimacy that you create working with people like that,” Cranston said. “You invest in each other and trust each other and create something that was really memorable for audiences and yourself. Everything that happened in this last year with the fervor of ‘Breaking Bad’ was just so much fun to see, no matter where you were.”
While Cranston has been enjoying that fervor, Gilligan admitted that he has mostly steered clear of reactions to the home-stretch, including some of your favorite fan theories about the finale.
“I hear a lot anecdotally, after the fact,” Gilligan said. “I heard about the theory that it was all a dream, for instance. I wish I’d thought of that. That was was amusing. That was fun. But I stay away from the Internet reaction not because I don’t care deeply what you guys think about the show. It’s probably because I care too much. I just find it’s emotionally healthier just to stay away from it. But you wind up hearing stuff anyway. Some of these great theories. What was the one? FeLiNa? ‘Fe’ for iron, ‘Li’ for Lithium, ‘Na’ for sodium? That was cool. I admit, that one [he pantomimes the theory going over his head].”
He has the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series for 5A and I’m already on the record that there’s almost zero chance “Breaking Bad” won’t get another series Emmy next year, but that doesn’t mean Gilligan doesn’t have regrets. Three regrets, in specific.
“I really think, all joking aside, I made Aaron Paul’s teeth stayed too pearly white and pristine for the entire six years and your teeth don’t look that good if you smoke that much meth or if you get your ass kicked that many times,” Gilligan said. “So what else? And Dean [Norris], we had your character say ‘DMV’ one time and then we found out later that in New Mexico it’s ‘MVD,’ Motor Vehicle Department. We f***ed that up. What else? And then the one I really hate, we had Giancarlo’s character, Gus, refer to Hector Salamanca as ‘Don Salamanca’ instead of ‘Don Hector.’ So sorry for that all you Spanish-speaking folks out there. That was a screw-up, too. But that’s about it, so that’s not too bad.”
One thing Gilligan doesn’t regret is keeping “Breaking Bad” around for too long, though Cranston has some mixed emotions on that subject.
“In a way, I’m kinda sad that we don’t have another year to go, because I really thought that maybe we could do another 10, 12 episodes, but it’s better to be finished early and proud, so that the fans and us too say, ‘I miss that show. I really miss that show.’ As opposed to saying, ‘God, is that show still on?’ You know? When you’ve stayed on too long? So he had a sense of it, of when to end it, and it’s better to hang it up and to walk away when we’re at a high and there’s no storylines diluted to try to stretch it out to another season,” Cranston says.
Cranston adds, “We were that little engine that could and we’re very proud of it and we’re so thankful to all of you and all the fans everywhere and the critics, who were able to be the conduit to the fans to try this crazy show out and take a look. We’re very fortunate.”
And what’s coming next? Well, AMC has ordered a pilot for the prequel/sequel/thingie “Better Call Saul,” starring Bob Odenkirk and if ever there were an event to give out some tasty hints about the new show, this apparently wasn’t it.
“You’d have to ask that guy Vince Gilligan, right there, who’s writing that with Peter Gould, one of the writers from ‘Breaking Bad,’ but we’re very excited about it and they’re getting started on the effort and I guess hopefully we’ll have something before next year is done it’ll be on the air, hopefully,” Odenkirk said. “And I’m just excited to put the hairpieces on and the gold socks. Pleased, everybody don’t buy gold socks, we’re gonna need a couple pairs for the show. I can’t wait to play him, but it’s a mystery to me and I’m excited about that. I’m excited to find out what these guys cook up.”
When the moderator kicked the “Better Call Saul” question to Gilligan, he used that as an opportunity to introduce all of the show’s writers sitting in the crowd. Oh well.
And, for now reason, I’m going to let “Last Comic Standing” veteran Lavell Crawford have the last word in this post and, probably, the defining word as relates to Mr. Cranston.
“This guy right here, he’s just such a normal guy…” Crawford reflects. “I call him The White Samuel Jackson, because I’ve seen him in every damn movie. I mean, he was in ‘Carwash’ and I didn’t even know he was in that black movie, but he was in ‘Django’ and everything. Damn, he’s in everything. It is incredible. And he can act! And then he teaches, he teaches people. But this was the humbling thing to me: When I was on a plane and I fly Southwest. They’re so sweet and give me two tickets to get on the plane so nobody can sit by me and I appreciate it. I was sitting there and I looked up and Bryan Cranston’s jumping on the plane, sitting on Southwest Airlines talking to this person like he’s just a normal guy. I’m looking like, ‘Man, do you know who the hell you are? On this this s***y plane with these peanuts?'”
If you have a lot of money and you like your DVD sets to come in barrels, “Breaking Bad: The Complete Series” is in stores on Tuesday, November 26.