Time for the final day of Comic-Con, and the final Comic-Con appearance of “Breaking Bad.” The AMC drama was a big hit last year in Ballroom 20, despite not being an overtly Con-friendly series, and the farewell panel has been updated to the convention center’s enormous Hall H. On hand will be stars Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Betsy Brandt, R. J. Mitte, and Bob Odenkirk, plus creator Vince Gilligan. Assuming the ballroom wifi holds up, I’ll be live-blogging the whole thing, so check back frequently for updates.
11:17 a.m.: We’re running a couple of minutes late already. With “Doctor Who” coming in for a 50th anniversary panel immediately after this one, seats are in as high a demand as I’ve seen so far at the Con. The line for people still hoping to get into H (where odds are probably very poor until at least “Community” is over) is snaking practically to the Mexico border.
11:21 a.m.: And we’re off! Chris Hardwick’s back in Hall H to moderate this one. He talks up the show’s 13 Emmy nominations this year and says “BB” will “go down in history as one of the best shows” in TV history. He plugs the final season premiere August 11 at 9 p.m. Unsurprisingly, AMC has picked him to host the “Taking Bad” after-show, notes how many people complain about his enthusiasm on “Talking Dead.” “I understand that tonally the shows are different, so I will give ‘Talking Bad’ the respect that ‘Breaking Bad’ deserves,” he says. He says the show will be “more of a retrospective of the series,” since it didn’t exist in earlier seasons.
11:22 a.m.: A trailer of where we’ve been until now, starting with Walt in the pilot running over his pants, through all the highlights (Krazy-8, Tuco, Tio’s bell, Tortuga’s head, the meth boy, introductions of Saul and Gus. many “Bitch”es from Aaron Paul, Jane’s death, the plane crash, the Cousin and their shootout with Hank, the box cutter, the crawl space, Tio’s final bell, Skyler in the pool, the train heist, the prison massacre, all the way through to Walt opening the trunk on the mahine gun in the future, among others.) Suffice it to say, the show makes for an exceptional trailer.
11:26 a.m.: The cast comes out. Dean Noris is not dressed as Xena this year, but Cranston has entered wearing one of Walt’s trademark drab green shirts and glasses. The effect is really disconcerting. And awesome.
11:27 a.m.: Ah, now I know why Cranston looked odd. He was wearing an incredibly realistic Walter White mask. Underneath, he’s grown his hair back out and looks more like Hal or Tim Whatley. He walked the floor in the mask, tried to use a higher voice to pretend like he was a fan who made the mask. “So it was fun meeting you, and you met me.”
11:28 a.m.: Hardwick asks Gilligan to sum up the emotional experience of both beginning and ending the series. Gilligan didn’t forsee any of this happening, including being here in Hall H. Hardwick says it’s incredible that a show like this is in this room. Paul: “Yeah, bitch!” Paul has lost count of the number of times people yell “Bitch!” at him.
11:30 a.m.: Was Walt always this bad guy, or did the experience really change him? “I think every single person can run the gamut of emotions,” Cranston says. “Under the right circumstances – desperation, need greed, depression – you push those buttons at the right time, and anyone can become dangerous. And that’s what happened to Walter White.” Cranston says many people had many questions about when he made the turn from Mr. Chips to Scarface, and he feels it happened in the very first episode when Walt decided to cook meth.
11:31 a.m.: Cranston is just staring at the mask now, and has put it over his mic stand so he can talk into his own face. “You are an attractive man!” he tells it. Hardwick brings up Walt’s first chemistry lesson of the series about “growth, decay and transformation.” Cranston says the entire series is about change. He basically has to put his lips on the mask’s lips to be heard. This is disturbing and hilarious. And now Cranston is making Paul talk into the mask. Paul: “Ohmigod, what’s happening?”
11:33 a.m.: Paul is talking about Jesse’s transformation from a knuckleheaded kid who was impressed by Walt into the scarred adult who wants to stay as far from Walt as possible. Hardwick asks what it’s like to shoot these emotionally horrible scenes. Paul says while the show is dark, “The set is very loose and very comical,” because of Cranston. “He’s the most professional person I’ve ever worked with, but also the most immature man I’ve ever experienced.”
11:35 a.m.: Scattered cheers for Skyler after Gunn is asked about her evolution. Gilligan told her that she was a parallel to Walt, “in that she had dreams deferred.” Life threw both of the Whites some curveballs. “I think she’s got the same kind of things living inside of her that he’s got inside of him, so when she finds out what’s going on with him,” rather than turning him in, “she very specifically stays in the situation and thinks she can outsmart it in the same way he thought he could outsmart it.”
11:37 a.m.: Does Gunn think this is a good family? “It was always my belief that they really love each other,” she says. Through all the power plays between Walt and Skyler, “I think they continued to try and reach through that.” Even at the end of season 5A, they were still trying. “It’s not a normal family, but what makes a normal family?”
11:38 a.m.: What was this experience like for Mitte? He turns 21 in August, and started the show when he just turned 14, so he spent his teenage years on the show. He wouldn’t be who he was today without the show, Bryan and Anna, and everybody. “Most people had high school,” he says. “I had ‘Breaking Bad.'”
11:41 a.m.: Hardwick notes how one-dimensional Hank seemed at the start, and how incredibly human he is now. Norris loves Hank. “I think he’s saddled with morality, and he can’t get around it,” Norris says. “He’s the one guy – his conscience won’t allow him to do the wrong thing, to his detriment. He could’ve lied about beating up Jesse Pinkman and avoided getting his head almost cut off by a couple of Mexican dudes, but he didn’t. I think he’s that guy.”
11:44 a.m.: Many cheers for Saul when Odenkirk’s name is mentioned. “I’m just a big fan of ‘Breaking Bad’ who got a good seat,” Odenkirk says. Hardwick asks what Odenkirk thinks of Saul: “He’s a sweet fella. He’s very good at law. He’s got taste and clothing and office architecture. He knows how to put on a show. He’s a fun character to play. It’s all written. Everything I say is scripted.” Because of his background, fans assume he improvises. “The key to Saul, and Vince has said it to me, and I’ve had fans say it, is he’s good at what he does. That’s the thing. You see a lot of boobs on TV, they’re always fun to laugh at… but in the case of Saul, he’s funny, and yet he actually gets stuff done.”
11:45 a.m.: Gilligan tells the familiar story of having known Cranston from an “X-Files” episode, and not being aware of “Malcolm in the Middle” when he tried to cast him. But he says it’s an advantage to have funny actors on a dramatic show. “Comedy is a lot harder to do than drama,” he explains. “I would hire a comedian every day of the week to play a dramatic part. If they have the chops to play comedy… they can certainly do drama, it seems to me.”
11:49 a.m.: Fan questions! First up, a guy in a white Heisenberg t-shirt asks what the cast’s favorite iconic “BB” moments are. Cranston recites “I am the danger! I am The One Who Knocks!” He says the most impactful scene he shot was when Jane died, “And Walt had another turn in his character. That was horrific in many different ways playing it.” Paul is fond of “Yeah, bitch! Magnets!” He also tells the story of the “robots?” line from “4 Days Out,” where Walt is trying to teach Jesse another science lesson on how to recharge the RV. They were shooting the scene at the end of a long day and week, and then the focus puller said, “Man, I wish you would’ve told Walt you wanted to build a robot!” So Cranston and Paul faked a problem with the camera just so they could do one more take and Paul could improvise that line.
11:50 a.m.: Gilligan jokes it cost $180,000 in CGI for Walt to toss the pizza onto the roof. Cranston says it was an enormous pizza that he needed two hands to hold up. The box was rigged so the pizza would slide out when it landed. “I kinda guessed the weight of it, and the trajectory, and what it would have to be, and we just rolled. First take! Bam, up it goes, lands on the roof, everything perfect.” He says the special effects guys had monofilament lines set up to pull the pizza up if he failed. Gilligan says Cranston couldn’t do it again on ensuing takes.
11:52 a.m.: Gilligan talking about the number of times they reconfigured the series based on how much they liked an actor, citing Mark Margolis’ performance as Tio Hector. It was such a small role, “It was like getting Michael Jordan to coach your pee-wee basketball team,” and they made an effort to keep bringing him back. “You learn things about actors,” he adds, noting that the original conception of Hank wasn’t nearly as interesting as the character became, “because I didn’t know Dean well at that point.”
11:54 a.m.: Betsy Brandt couldn’t make it because she’s filming “The Michael J. Fox Show” in New York, by the way. A fan thinks the moment Walt turned into a full-fledged villain is when he poisoned Brock, and wants to know how Walt physically administered the poison. “That’s an excellent question,” Gilligan says. The writers would always tell the story of “the Evil Juice Box Man. The way we worked it out on our timeline is he had just enough time to do it, but it would’ve been very tricky indeed.” They figured he crushed the poison up, stuck it in a juice box, and got into Brock’s school. “That’s our inner story, the writers and I, for how it happened. It would’ve been very tricky timing, but he was a motivated individual at that point.”
11:59 a.m.: Was there a point in any character’s evolution that the actors had a hard time accepting? Norris wasn’t happy with Hank not being able to walk for a while after the shooting. Mitte has always enjoyed playing Walt Jr. and has no complaints. Hardwick wonders if Mitte is ever annoyed that Jr. hasn’t figured out what his dad is up to; Mitte admits that if it was him, he’d have seen it coming long before now. Odenkirk: “I think Saul does everything right, and I’ve never had a problem with a single move he’s made. What can be said? He’s the most perfect character in the show. He has his life in balance… He’s the Zen master of the show.” He has so much fun playing the scenes where he’s being attacked by his co-stars, but thinks the hardest thing for Saul is when he wanted Jesse to go visit Brock. “There was some real emotion in Saul, he was clearly feeling he wanted to get this family together.”
12:00 p.m.: Gunn said she had a hard time understanding Skyler at the beginning of the series. Gilligan helped her understand “that she is not a person who is ever going to sit in the corner and wring her hands and weep,” but be really strong. Gunn is much more overtly emotional than Skyler, who’s pragmatic and action-oriented. Was there any part of her that had a hard time with the pregnant Skyler smoking? Gunn had the fake pregnancy belly on and was smoking at the strip mall, “and there were some horrified people looking out of a restaurant. They didn’t take that very well.”
12:02 p.m.: Paul had a hard time with Jesse shooting Gale. “He killed probably the nicest guy on the show,” he says.
12:04 p.m.: Cranston again brings up Jane’s death. The original version of the script had Walt explicitly pushing Jane onto her back when she started choking to be sure she died. Cranston says AMC and Sony gave Gilligan a note that this was too quick for an act that egregious to happen. Vince came up with a different plan, and they worked it out on the set, where Walt jostling Jesse would accidentally put Jane on her back. “The culpable moment for Walt is when he recognizes the girl could die, and what does he do then?” He loved the way the note from the network and studio made the scene better.
12:06 p.m.: Gilligan says one of his proudest moments was in season 1, in episode 4, when Walt gets the offer from Gretchen and Elliott to pay for his treatment, and he declines and goes back to cooking meth. “It was the moment that we all of us, in the writers’ room, argued about it a lot and asked ourselves, ‘What the hell kind of a character is this who would turn this down?'” They realized in that moment that Walt was “prideful to a fault,” and they realized exactly what they really had with the character.
12:11 p.m.: A female fan from Ireland suggests she’s in the minority by having Skyler as her favorite character. How do Gilligan and Gunn feel about other fans villainizing her over the “hero” Walt. (Cranston: “Did you have to use the air quotes?”) Gunn says she and the writers were confused about that reaction at first, but, “In a show, you need a protagonist and you need an antagonist,” and this show has the anti-hero as the protagonist, which puts the audience behind Walt. “If she becomes somebody who becomes really sympathetic and you start siding with her too much, then I think it weakens how you feel about him.” She also thinks “it says some things about the way some people may see women and men, and roles of wives and husbands. But that’s a very complex subject.” Gilligan says the audience isn’t a monolith, and have different reasons for liking characters. He cites a conversation with a writer for “Key & Peele,” who told him, “People don’t like characters who are powerless,” and Skyler finds herself in a box, which begins after she tries to kick Walt out of the house again and he insists she call the cops on him. “People don’t want to identify with powerless characters,” he says.
12:13 p.m.: Last question: what is Walt’s current motivation and drive? Cranston: “Empire. He’s in the empire business. His ego is peaking. He’s never felt this before in his life. To have this kind of power as an adult, he’s never ever had that. And it got to him. He succumbed to it like it was an aphrodisiac.” Gilligan suggests Walt also wants to put back the pieces of his family at this point.
12:14 p.m.: Does Vince think people will be satisfied with how the show ends? Vince is sad the show is about to be over, “But I am satisfied by the ending. I hope you will be, too. Everyone in front of the lens and behind it is very happy with it.”
12:19 p.m.: They just showed us the complete pre-credits sequence of the August 11th episode. I won’t say anything about the content, save that it is fantastic. The panel concludes with the cast getting a standing ovation from Hall H. Very nice.
Back in a few minutes with “Doctor Who,” folks…