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Exclusive Photos: Inside The ‘Breaking Bad’ Writers’ Room And A Glimpse At Storylines Not Pursued

If you have not read Brett Martin’s Difficult Men, Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad, we cannot recommend it enough. If you’re at all interested in the most important television dramas of the 21st century, how they were made and the people behind them, the book provides some incredible insights — Martin had virtually unprecedented access to some of the great showrunners of our time, and the writers’ rooms they ran/run.

One of the key sections of Difficult Men focuses on Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, who — in addition to overseeing one of the greatest television dramas of all time — comes off in the book as being an incredibly nice, collaborative showrunner, the antithesis of guys like Matthew Weiner, David Milch and David Chase. (Milch, by the way, comes off as completely batsh*t.) During the course of his research on the Breaking Bad section, Martin was allowed to hang out in the writers’ room during the making of season four of the show, where he occasionally snapped a few photographs — like the one of Vince Gilligan eating lunch in front of the room’s corkboard shown above — and he’s been nice enough to share some of those photos with us. They’re fascinating in that they show how extensively Gilligan and his writing staff mapped out the series ahead of time, and while Gilligan often suggests that he never knew where he was going with the series from season to season, it’s obvious that he at least had a clear, general understanding of where each season was headed before filming even began.

With that all said, the opening of chapter thirteen of Difficult Men contains the following passage…

It was an all-time record hot day in the San Fernando Valley…In an anonymous building across from an Auto Zone, the lobby directory showed the offices of a private eye, a dental supply company, a handful of financial companies, and, in suite 206, something blandly mysterious and vaguely sinister called Delphi Information Sciences Corporation. The plastic nameplate on the suite’s door did little to illuminate the nature of what such a corporation might do. Certainly it offered no clue that behind the door, under the dropped ceilings, the fluorescent lights and the hum of air-conditioning of the onetime data services office, was the most coveted workplace in Hollywood: the Breaking Bad writers’ room.

Drum roll, please…

Here, Martin describes the scene inside the room…

On the wall behind Gilligan was a large corkboard. Across the top were pinned thirteen index cards representing the thirteen episodes of the season. In the rows beneath them, more neatly printed cards…contained detailed story points. The cards looked like a pile of leaves that had faced a stiff, left-blowing wind, clustered deep under the early episodes but gradually thinning as the as-yet-unwritten season progressed. Under 413, the final episode of the season, there was only one single, fluttering card. It read in bold, matter-of-fact Magic Marker, “BOOM.”

The “BOOM” card is, of course, representative of Gus Fring being bombed by Walt in a nursing home…

As Martin also explains in the book, staff writer Tom Schnauz was “the deputized card writer” because he “had the best hand-writing on staff.” (Interestingly, Martin says that it was a joke told by Schnauz to Gilligan about a meth lab inside an RV that planted the creative seed for the show.)

Detailing more about the cards, Martin writes…

As the room worked through the episode, each beat or scene would be written on a card and pinned to the board. The last card was always pinned with a little ceremony that meant the episode was locked down. At that point, Gilligan said, it would be so fully imagined and outlined in such detail that, in theory, at least, any of the writers in the room would be able to take over and supervise production.

And, voila — here’s what the board looked like once the planning for the season four premiere was complete…

In addition to corkboards filled with index cards, Martin made note of other things pinned to the Breaking Bad writers’ room walls…

On the other walls were maps of New Mexico and Albuquerque and a detailed schematic, with photos, of Walt’s fictional meth superlab located underneath an industrial laundry.

Now for something completely random: here’s a pic Martin took of the Breaking Bad writers’ room bathroom key…

This is what Martin termed as the Breaking Bad writers’ “reference library,” featuring Methland, Murder City and books on science, divorce and money laundering, naturally…

Remember the infamous “tortoise scene?” Well, the staff kept a clay replica of that scene’s centerpiece — Danny Trejo’s explosive-laden head resting on the shell of a tortoise — in the room…

So again, Brett Martin was generous enough to provide us with some of the photographs he took inside the Breaking Bad writer’s room during the writing on Season 4, and while much of the season is clearly already mapped out in the cards, there are also several cards that don’t line up with what we actually saw transpire in season four. They were obviously ideas and thoughts the writers had about the direction of the season before everything was finalized, and I think it’s fascinating to see some of the paths not taken. Let’s dive deeper, shall we?

For instance, take a look at this photo again (Editor’s note: we’ve blurred part of this photo post-publication at the request of AMC and Sony)…

As previously noted, the “BOOM” card there is clearly a reference to what happens to Gus in the nursing home in the season finale, but there’s a card for episodes 12 and 13 concerning an abandoned subplot centered on Wendy — the prostitute who hangs out at that seedy motel early in the series — who cleans up and becomes born again. (We haven’t seen Wendy since the season three episode, “Half Measures.”) It also looks like there may have been a scene after Gus was blown up where Walt, Jesse, and Mike meet. “You blew up a good thing,” Mike would’ve said to Walt. And then Mike would’ve suggested to Walt that “No, it’s not over” yet, suggesting there were people above Gus, like Madrigal Electromotive, who would still pursue Walt.

Additionally, one card in the photo above shows that there was an early idea for a “Viking funeral” for Walt’s long-suffering Pontiac Aztec, which would’ve gotten the same point across that Walt eventually demonstrated when he sold the vehicle — that “Walter White” was dead and had been permanently replaced by “Heisenberg.” And the Ricin — unattached to an episode — clearly remains in play.

Meanwhile, the card below suggests, perhaps, that Walt had killed someone else — or that there was a different means for someone’s death — and that it involved Walt dumping a body into the ocean (this one is a head scratcher since I can’t recall any point in season four in which Walt was anywhere near an ocean, save for maybe Gus’s flashbacks to 1980s Mexico, but Walt wasn’t there for that).

This, however, is my favorite photo…

The first part of that top card — “Suitcase rolling over sand, Walt, blooded, walks alone in the desert” — probably refers to the moments after Gus confronts Walt in the desert in “Crawl Space” to warn him that Hank will need to be killed, and that it was only a matter of time before Jesse teams up with Gus, which prompted Walt to go to Saul and take up Saul’s offer to go into hiding. What could be in the suitcase? I have no idea.

But the second card — “Walt pays off man w/scar who took Brock. Mastermind Walt!” — suggests that at some point Vince Gilligan and the writers had planned something more obvious in regard to Brock, that Walt would’ve hired someone to abduct Brock and pin the blame on Gus. The direction that Gilligan chose to take, however, was not only more interesting, but more challenging to the audience. We didn’t know whether Gus or Walt was behind the poisoning of Brock, and in fact, didn’t know for sure until the very end of the season when we saw the Lily of the Valley plant in Walt’s backyard.

That is, in fact, why we love Breaking Bad so much: Gilligan put us in the same position as Jesse, not knowing who was behind Brock’s poisoning, and while an earlier idea made it obvious by showing Walt paying off the abductor, Gilligan chose to go with the more subtle shot of the Lily of the Valley plant, and let us draw the connection ourselves.

So yeah, Breaking Bad is amazing. And if you’re a Breaking Bad fan, you’ll probably enjoy the hell out of Brett Martin’s Difficult Men.

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