After Slovis came onboard in season two, the show’s palette deepened on both ends: Its shadows darkened, and its desert scenes became more sun-drenched. He also brought to the show some signature imagery—those dreamlike vistas of the sun washing over the desert as tiny people conduct their life-and-death business. The tall, slim Easterner remembers at first turning down the series once he learned it was filmed in New Mexico. “Luckily my wife made me watch it,” he says. “This show demanded things of me that no job ever has.”
In Burbank and on the sets and locations of Albuquerque, people who work on Breaking Bad tend to see it, artistically speaking, as a camel passing through the eye of a needle, and there has been a near-mania for preserving the experience. After every episode, Kelley Dixon, one of the show’s editors, conducts an insider podcast for AMC during which Gilligan and assorted coworkers reminisce, sometimes for longer than the episode itself. “I talk about how it all went down, not so much because of a sense of history but because I want to remember it,” Gilligan says. “It’s the next best thing to keeping a diary, which I have not had time to do.”
Sam Catlin recalls seeing the last index cards representing scenes pinned to the large corkboard in the writers’ room. “God, is that really how it’s going to end?” he thought. “Maybe we should all just be entombed together.”
Everyone handles the end in his or her own way. After shooting their final scene, Gunn, Cranston, and Paul engage in a prolonged three-way hug. Cranston breaks the tension, saying, “In six months we won’t remember each other’s names.”
Gilligan admits a part of him is relieved to “finally shed this overcoat. I pour a lot of myself into Walt, and some of Walt pours into me; the liquid levels constantly go up and down,” he says. “For six years I’ve been engaged in a long, slow chess match with Walter White, always examining hundreds of permutations and possibilities. And I don’t really play chess, so it’s been exhausting.”
Built into Breaking Bad from the start was the idea of an inevitable and definitive ending; there will be no Sopranos-like fade to white on September 29. “For years we’ve wondered, ‘How much more story do we have in us?’ ” says Gilligan. “I worked hard on The X-Files for seven years, and when I finally looked up from my desk, I realized the world was moving on. It’s always better to leave the party on a high note.”
Laurie Winer is a contributing writer for Los Angeles. She has been a critic for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times and is a founding editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books.