Eight Things We Learned From The Two-Hour Breaking Bad Documentary
Featured in the recent series box set, 'No Half Measures' gives us a final intimate look at the hit show, including a few surprises.
Breaking Bad fans have handled the end of Walter White’s story in various ways, some more disconcerting than others. Whether it’s over-analysing the shades of mustard worn by Gus Fring, attempting to buddy up to Aaron Paul via Instagram, or watching the show’s entire run in reverse, no imminent spin-off can boil away the fact that we’ll never again see Walt and Jesse in the same frame.
But while the story may have come to a close, the celebration still rages, and thanks to the recent release of the Breaking Bad box set, fans can now sink their teeth into a two-hour behind-the-scenes documentary. So if you’re cringing for a Cranston fix but don’t have 120 minutes to spare, here are eight things we learned from No Half Measures: Creating The Final Season Of Breaking Bad.
1. Breaking Bad might never have happened
“So let me get this straight… This is about a high school chemistry teacher, middle-aged, children, he has cancer, decides to go off, and become a crystal meth dealer?”
When the pilot script for Breaking Bad was brought to Sony CEO Michael Linton, he very quickly took the following dump on Gilligan and Co.’s dream: “That is the craziest and worst idea for a television show I’ve ever heard, and I don’t really care who writes it, that’s nuts.” But before you label Linton as an unofficial member of Uncle Jack’s Nazi Party, the man couldn’t help but be moved by his staff’s belief in the idea, eventually went against his own instincts to greenlight the show, and in the process, saved his face from a whole lotta egg.
2. Bryan Cranston’s improvised on-set antics sound more entertaining than most television shows
Is there anyone else you’d rather have at your party than Bryan Cranston? For an actor that brought such dramatic heft to Walter White, you’d expect a too focused, always brooding, don’t-look-me-in-the-eye kinda thespian, but if this doco is anything to go by, Cranston’s professionally jovial attitude provided the necessary levity when working on such heavy material.
But don’t be slighted; Cranston’s tomfoolery isn’t merely the result of uncontrolled ADD. The man uses his inner-adolescent for noble purposes: to not only create an atmosphere of ease for a cast and crew too versed in the concept of overtime, but to help his fellow performers deal with confronting moments (what did he do when Aaron Paul found it difficult to curb the emotion that came with filming the show’s final scene? He let his tidy whities drop to his ankles, of course).
3. Nobody watched the first season
When Gilligan hosted a cast and crew screening for the pilot of Breaking Bad, most knew that they’d just witnessed something special, but not everyone was convinced. While the ol’ sony CEO was entertained by the show’s first hour, he still didn’t believe that it created a powerful enough engine to give charge to a series. You’d think that by the end of the first season he’d be eating his words, but the fact of the matter is that nobody was watching. The ratings were abysmal, and if it weren’t for the glowing reviews from television critics (and Bryan Cranston’s Emmy nod), the show might never have been renewed. That’s right, TV critics actually did something for the greater good.
4. One of the biggest contributors to Breaking Bad’s success is some guy you don’t know
According to Gilligan, Breaking Bad had two fathers: one being old-pro Cranston, and the other being a softly-spoken Eastern European cinematographer named Michael Slovis. You might notice that after the first season the show took on a much grimier, more distinct visual style, which as the seasons progressed only grew darker in tone and palette. You can thank Slovis for that. He quickly established himself as someone who could not only help Gilligan achieve his vision but better it, so much so that he was quickly recruited as one of the show’s primary directors. Breaking Bad’s success owes a lot to bald men, and perhaps none more than Michael Slovis.
5. Creator Vince Gilligan is a goateed embodiment of good
I’ll save you the trouble: no matter how much you scrutinise every frame of every shot of every scene in this two-hour doco, you won’t find a single instance of Vince Gilligan being anything other than the nicest guy that ever lived. Every word from the man’s mouth is imbued with pragmatism, kindness and modesty, and one wonders how the hell he created such a sticky show filled with such despicable characters. At one point, Gilligan basically deflects all credit for Breaking Bad‘s success by claiming he sometimes feels he’s “just along for the ride”… and he means it. In a medium dominated by ego-centric showrunners (cough Sorkin, cough Harmon), it’s refreshing to see a creator who’s truly grateful for the talents and skills of his collaborators.
6. RJ Mitte is not as affected by CP as Walter Jr.
As the seasons progressed, RJ Mitte proved himself to be more than just that kid with that condition — he could go toe-to-toe with Cranston and Gunn without the luxury of complex characterisation. But what’s even more startling is that the young actor has no trouble walking, and much less trouble speaking than his character. One cannot help but be impressed when Mitte struts into the room with the air of a GQ model, casually shaking Paul’s hand while fighting off the leers of female crewmembers. If you didn’t appreciate Mitte’s performance before, you will by the conclusion of this doco.
7. There is way too much on-set love for a show involving meth
In all honesty, No Half Measures is a bit of a back-patting love-fest. You can’t help but think it’s less a peek behind the curtain for fans and more a scrapbook of memories for the cast and crew, but for some reason that doesn’t diminish the watch. Seeing a group of skilled folk who have worked their collective asses off for six years genuinely appreciating and caring for each other is kinda heart-warming, even when it gets cringe-worthy. Perhaps the most emo moment comes when Cranston and Paul express their undying love for each other, collapsing into each other’s tear-smeared arms. If that doesn’t lead to a lump in your throat, there’s a strong chance you’re a sociopath.
8. Breaking Bad’s toughest episodes were helmed by a female director
The Cousins attack Hank with an axe. Gus Fring poisons an entire cartel. Walt instigates the simultaneous stabbing of nine prison inmates. Hank and Gomey shoot-out with the Nazis. Some of the most testosterone-filled and operatic moments of Breaking Bad came from another unsung hero of BB — Michelle MacLaren, the show’s most skilled director of action. MacLaren’s deft handling of tension and tone makes her more than a director to watch (she’s already overseen some of your favourite Game Of Thrones episodes), and it’s only a matter of time before she’s running her own show. I can’t wait to see what’s up her sleeve.
Jeremy Cassar is a screenwriter from Sydney.