In an interview with Ashleigh Banfield on CNN, Bryan Cranston has called the ending of Breaking Bad into question.
Needless to say, this has spoilers for those who haven’t finished watching the show. If you’ve yet to finish it, you might not want to read on.
In the interview, Banfield says: “I wasn’t so sure that you died. I really wasn’t. Your eyes were open and I thought, ‘What if the police just take him into custody, he gets better, breaks out and just goes nuts?’”
Cranston replies, “Hey, you never saw [body] bags zip up or anything.”
Banfield then asks directly, “Is he dead?”
Cranston replies just as directly: “I don’t know.”
The interview aired a week ago, on 29 May, but Cranston’s comments haven’t been as widely covered as you’d expect. You can see the CNN clip in question here.
Essentially, the argument that Walter White may have survived is akin to “you never saw the body.” And we all know how important that is, especially in comics. Sure, we all know what the finale was intended to depict, and it’s not ambiguous. But it’s worth pointing out that, if Breaking Bad had been scheduled for another season, viewers probably would have interpreted that final shot differently.
In acknowledging the possibility that White survived, Cranston might simply be deferring to show creator Vince Gilligan, or he might be being nice to Banfield. But he doesn’t seem to be ruling out a return to the character.
In fact, Cranston’s long been quite conscious of the long shadow Walter White casts over his career, and he’s writing a memoir for Scribner about his years on Breaking Bad.
The finale of Breaking Bad became one of those few shared cultural moments, since the rise of cable TV meant you could no longer assume everyone would tune in for something like the Seinfeld finale. Breaking Bad didn’t really explode until its final season, the first half of which debuted with an unprecedented 2.93 million U.S. viewers. A year later, the second half of the final season debuted with 5.92 million U.S. viewers, and the final three episodes saw a big increase, with the finale being seen by a shocking 10.28 million in the U.S. alone.
This apparent death of Walter White in the show’s final moments pleased many, largely because the show had followed through on its story. And there’s no doubt that the show’s pending conclusion, along with the critical acclaim it had received for years, helped to generate that ratings spike. But it’s worth pointing out that the show didn’t plan to go out while it was still on top (like Seinfeld), so much as the show’s plan to go out helped put it on top.
Gilligan, with Peter Gould, is preparing a prequel series, Better Call Saul, starring Bob Odenkirk’s quirky and corrupt attorney from the show. It’s scheduled for a November 2014 debut. Like Breaking Bad, it will air on AMC.