Breaking Bad: How Far Can Walter White Fall?
Bryant Cranston and Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
In Breaking Bad's fourth season, Walter White may finally accept what viewers have known for a while now: Walt is not a good man.
When viewers first met Walt (Bryan Cranston), running around the desert in tighty-whiteys after his first kill, his plight as a terminally-ill-chemistry-teacher-turned-crystal-meth-maker was still somewhat relatable. But after telling a mountain of lies, collecting boatloads of cash and committing a few more murders, Walt now seems about as black as his alter ego Heisenberg's porkpie hat.
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"He has accepted who he is and embraced who he is," Cranston tells TVGuide.com. "For the first three seasons, even though he was doing some dubious things, he was able to try to hide behind that cloak of 'I'm doing it for [my family],' Now he knows. He's been seduced."
So how do viewers root for Walt? After years of wrestling with that question himself, creator and executive producer Vince Gilligan says viewers have probably stopped rooting for his main character, and that's OK. "With every step Walt takes toward criminality and darkness, Walt becomes less likable. But also with every step he takes, he becomes more interesting," Gilligan tells TVGuide.com. "The more episodes we make, the more I realize that it's not just about being likable; it's about being interesting. It's about being dramatically gripping."
And the show's fourth-season premiere (Sunday, 10/9c, AMC), which is as intense and addictive as Walt's blue meth, has no problems on that front. The new season picks up right after last year's cliff-hanger: In order to prevent their boss Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) from killing them, Walt dispatched his partner Jesse (Aaron Paul) to murder Gus' backup chemist, Gale (David Costabile). Regardless of whether Jesse's aim was true, Walt and Jesse are almost certain to be living in fear this season.
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"The next question very clearly becomes: How does Gus react? Was Walt right in his estimation of Gus, or was he wrong?" Gilligan teases. "If Gus Fring gets his hand forced... he's not going to be very happy about that. So, what is he going to do in return? What's Walt and Jesse's life going to be like? They are living under a new sort of work environment and with a potential death sentence over them."
But don't expect Walt to just roll over. As hinted in the Season 4 trailer, in the game of kill or be killed, Walt will be on the offensive, again with gun in hand "Walt knows that his time is limited," Cranston says. "He knows that, given the opportunity, Gus will kill him and get rid of him. There's no, 'You've done well. Here's a watch; go into retirement.'"
Walt is far from the only victim of his moral decline. By being forced to pull the trigger at Gale's house, Jesse has suffered a loss of innocence, Gilligan says. The result is a Jesse who is not only using again, but one who turns his entire life into a nonstop high. "Jesse's much more raw this season," Paul says. "He's very distant, and he's turned to just utter chaos and destruction to keep his mind busy. When he's left alone in his own thoughts, that's when things can get kind of dangerous and scary for Jesse."
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And things could also get scary for Walt. "When Walt came in, he turned Jesse's life completely upside-down," Paul says. "He's done horrible, horrible things to Jesse, and a lot of things Jesse doesn't even know about. So if any of those things are revealed, there's going to be some hell to pay for sure."
Unknowingly suffering as a result of Walt's bad decision-making is Hank (Dean Norris), Walt's DEA Agent brother-in-law. After surviving a shootout with two cartel assassins originally sent to kill Walt, a bedridden Hank's only way out of his depression is to once again resume his pursuit of the elusive Heisenberg, with the aid of some new evidence about Gus' operation. "Despite Hank's physical limitations, you'll be surprised where he's going with this," Cranston says. "Just as the physical noose of staying alive tightens [on Walt]; the legal noose tightens."
Perhaps the only person working with Walt is his wife Skyler (Anna Gunn). After learning Walt's secret last season, she seems even more intent on helping him launder money the smart way, by buying the car wash where Walt used to work part-time. "Skyler is nothing if not pragmatic," Gilligan says. "Of course, there's the old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. You can be as pragmatic and smart as you can be and still be headed down the wrong path with your life."
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Gilligan still favors his original conceit for the show: He wants to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface. So where does Walt now stand? "There are some things ahead in Season 4, some twists and turns and some character evolutions or devolutions that I think are going to surprise people," Gilligan says. "I can definitely say that Walt is a lot closer to Scarface at the end of this upcoming season than he is at the beginning."
Does that mean Walt will somehow get out of this alive? "Walter White and Gustavo Fring are the Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky of the meth world, if you will," Gilligan says with a laugh. "When two people play, there's got to be a winner and there's got to be a loser. I suppose you could retire amicably from the game with no winner and no loser. But this is Breaking Bad, so I wouldn't count on that."
Breaking Bad premieres Sunday at 10/9c on AMC. Watch our interview with Paul below: