“Breaking Bad” cut deeply Sunday: The show lost a hero. (RIP, ASAC Hank Schrader). A fan favorite was tortured. Viewers witnessed the heartbreak of a shocked son, and were torn up by a baby girl’s first words, fear and tears. An evil empire crumbled, once and for all, and a family was completely destroyed.
So many feelings. To help calm the internal chaos, “Breaking Bad” co-executive producer Moira Walley-Beckett, who wrote Sunday night’s episode, “Ozymandias” (named after the 1818 Percy Bysshe Shelley sonnet about the mighty who have fallen), talked to TODAY about the show's events.
To begin, she had a cameo at the car wash in the episode, which led to one of the few moments of levity on set during filming of this episode.
"There were all sorts of hilarious pitches on who I should be. I wanted to be a meth whore. They had to dial me back. I was just a patron," she revealed. "But there’s a little-known fact where [director Rian Johnson] and I punk’d the crew and we had a whole comedy sketch worked out. The unseen footage is that I have a nervous breakdown while I’m shooting because I’m so stressed being in front of the camera. And Rian has to keep coaching me. And I bump into Anna [Gunn] during my exit and she drops her phone. And I have this pill bottle in my purse that I put Altoids in and finally Rian out of fake frustration comes stomping onto set and pulls the bottle out and shakes all the pills onto his hand and I eat them out his hand just in chewing mad, rabid desperation. All this while the camera is rolling. There’s a whole gag reel. At first the crew was horrified—gosh, Moira’s falling apart? Can she really not take the token and leave? They put it together when I chewed pills out of Rian's hand like a dog. We enjoyed ourselves that day."
The following is an edited and condensed version of the interview:
Q: How does it feel to know that you kept America from sleeping?
A: I’m a little shaky myself from (Sunday) night’s episode. Twitter’s gone mad. People have heart problems and insomnia and asking me to pay for their therapy bills. Pretty fantastic response, actually. I was going for painful. Rian Johnson ("Looper"), who I adore and respect enormously, invited me to do the director’s cut with him in the edit bay. So I got to be involved in an unprecedented way all the way to the final mix. But then watching it (Sunday) night with a group of friends who are big fans and hearing the intakes of breath and the exclamations and the heartbreak. I got to live it all over again, like it was brand new for me. That’s why I’m so emotionally hung over today. It was incredible.
Why did the writers decide to show Walter White on the run in the future? We know going into the desert showdown that he will survive.
It makes a pretty exciting promise for things that we can’t even begin to piece together when you see him and he’s turning 52 and he’s putting bacon on his eggs at a diner and he’s got a beard and he’s clearly really sick. And he’s buying an M60. It makes a big and exciting promise for what the end of the series could be. How do we get to that flash forward? That’s the question we wanted people to be asking.
Was Hank's death a topic of debate? Did you consider Walt killing him directly?
There was a lot of conversation about it. We knew he would die but it was a question of where it was going to fall in the final eight. However, it was never a question of how he would die in terms of dignity and honor. We knew we wanted Hank to get to go out like a man and then we figured it out from there. We considered a lot of options. I mean, we never saw Baby Holly with a gun but we considered a lot of options. It was a pretty massive, intense conversation breaking these final episodes. And trying to make it as satisfying and organic and true and unexpected as possible.
Walt had two moments of kindness in the episode. He was willing to give up his $80 million to save Hank and he deliberately exonerated Skyler in the telephone conversation. Are you setting us up to be on his side again?
Well, the moral ambiguity is a cornerstone of the series. We’ve always tried to legitimately confound expectations and put people in the moral position of rooting for somebody who’s become a cancer to himself and everyone around them. There will always be room for discussion about what vestiges of Walter White remain within Heisenberg and vice-versa.
That phone call! Bryan Cranston was amazing!
He was amazing! And it was amazing to be there watching him do that phone call. It was a highlight of my whole "Breaking Bad" experience — getting to watch that portion of Bryan’s performance. What’s really super cool about our actors, they are such consummate pros and they love each other so much that Bryan was on set for Anna’s portion of the call on the day that we shot that. And Anna came to the location and was on the phone with Bryan for his portion of it. So they were in the moment, for sure.
You mentioned Baby Holly. She broke a lot of hearts and there's a campaign to get the actress nominated for an Emmy next year. We heard her first words, we saw her fear. How did you get her to do that?
You never know what you’re going to get with a tiny little person because beautiful little actresses of their age don’t really know what’s happening. And we have two baby Hollys and their moms are always right there. There are enormous restrictions when working with children that are appropriate in terms of you only get them for 20 minute increments. This is really emotional stuff. We really just kind of got lucky that the baby Hollys were giving us what we needed within a scene. Certainly, seeing Skyler pounding on the window of a pickup truck was really scary. But in the restroom scene with Bryan, her mommy was just three feet away. And I didn’t script the baby saying “Mama.” I scripted that Walter would come to it himself as he stood Baby Holly up and looked in her face and realized he was doing the wrong thing by her. And then, when he stood her up, and she looked over his shoulder at her 'Mama' and started asking for her, Bryan the consummate actor rolled with it. We just got some movie magic. It was just incredible. It was more than I could have hoped for — it was like the moment that I wrote on meth.
What are your favorite moments from the episode?
Jesse’s (Aaron Paul) reaction when Walt says, “I watched Jane die.” At first, you think it’s an apology and you see Jesse’s little death in that moment. When Skyler says, “Enough. Don’t say one more word,” I get chills about that. I feel honored to pen that moment. Bryan’s great performance during the great phone call where he’s saying one thing and feeling another. I got so lucky that this was my final episode of "Breaking Bad." It’s a very, very special episode to me.
What can we anticipate for the ending?
I can say you’re going to have more uncomfortable nights on your sofa. I can say that.