So, how is Breaking Bad going to end?
"I think everybody will be satisfied with the ending, where we hug it out," star Bryan Cranston joked Friday at the final Television Critics Association panel for the AMC drama. "Walt has a large reservoir of good to be shared with everyone else, and he spreads his joy throughout the last eight episodes. ... All is forgiven."
Given everything we know about the show and Cranston's character, that seems highly unlikely. But when creator Vince Gilligan pitched a series about a cancer-stricken high school chemistry teacher who begins cooking crystal meth to provide for his family (from Mr. Chips to Scarface, he called it at the time), even he had no idea just where it would end up. "I can't even remember what my original ending was," he says. "I couldn't see that far ahead. I couldn't see the forest for the trees."
For his part, Cranston actually preferred not knowing Walt's entire journey from the beginning. "As the seasons went on... I never asked. I never wanted to know," he says. "The twists and turns of my character were so sharp, it wouldn't help me to know. I was holding on week-to-week, much like the audience was."
As the final eight episodes begin (Sunday, Aug. 11 at 9/8c), Walt has walked away from his meth empire, which he took by force after murdering former boss Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), his key enforcer Mike (Jonathan Banks) and nearly a dozen other men involved in the operation. Despite taking the business global and earning a storage locker full of cash, Walt's actions have alienated him from his partner Jesse (Aaron Paul).
"He's just emptied out," Paul says of Jesse. "He just wants out of the business and wants to stay as far away from Walt as possible. Walt's true colors were definitely revealed to him at the end of last season. He's terrified of this man and he wants nothing to do with him."
But has Walt truly become a monster over the course of the series, or was the monster buried within him from the beginning? Gilligan says that as time has passed, he believes it is the latter. Cranston agrees. "I really believe everybody is capable of good or bad. We're all given this spectrum of emotions, as complex as they are, and depending on your influences... the best of you can come out or the worst of you can come out. Given the right set of circumstances, any one of us can become dangerous."
But Cranston also says that Walt's transformation began as an answer to his unhappiness with his life. "His emotions were callused over by the depression," Cranston says. "Receiving this news of his imminent demise allowed that volcano of emotions to erupt. When it did, he wasn't... accustomed to knowing where to put his emotions and how to compartmentalize it. It just spewed over everyone. And it got messy."
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But just how messy will it get before the end, especially now that it seems that Walt's DEA agent brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) knows Walt's secret? Naturally, Gilligan is keeping that secret as long as he can, even though he's eager for fans to see what he and his writers came up with.
"How do you satisfy everybody?" Gilligan says. "The more you listen to everyone, I find the more fractured your thinking becomes. Along the way, I felt the best way to come up with something that most people would like was to satisfy ourselves. I am very proud of the ending. I am very cautious in my estimation in general of how people will respond to things. I hope I am not wildly wrong in my estimate that most people are going to dig the ending."
Breaking Bad's final eight episodes begin airing Sunday, Aug. 11 at 9/8c.