‘Breaking Bad’ Writer Peter Gould on Penultimate Episode — ‘What Hell Looks Like’

On Emmy-winning night, emotions run high as finale nears

Breaking Bad Writer Peter Gould

Like many a “Breaking Bad” fan, Peter Gould found it hard to focus on Sunday’s Primetime Emmys, knowing that the series’ second-to-last episode was premiering on AMC at the same time.

That Gould was the writer and director of Sunday’s episode made the experience more intense for him, to say the least.

“I was jumping out of my seat wondering what people were going to think of the episode,” Gould said in an interview Monday. “To sit at the Emmys is very, very exciting, but it’s more exciting to know people are watching an episode of ‘Breaking Bad’ you got to write and direct. I was filled with tension all day and into the evening.”


The combo brought twofold rewards: another darkly thrilling and thought-provoking segment of the show on the night it was named the best drama on TV, leading into the show’s Sept. 29 series finale.

“For us, there were so many climactic, transformative moments in the previous episode — there were huge, dramatic moments — but ultimately ‘Breaking Bad’ is really about the aftermath, the consequences,” Gould said. “And so we really needed to think about what are the consequences of Hank’s death. … What are the consequences for all the characters and especially for Walt? Where’s Walt’s head at? We were more concerned about that than plot. The plot is the plot, but ultimately we’re watching the show for characters.”

Arguably, the world opened up by the explosive events of Sept. 15’s “Ozymandias” episode provided enough transformation to fuel an entire new season of “Breaking Bad,” rather than only this most recent episode and the finale. For a show that has rationed the passage of time like an hourglass, the month-plus leap forward was stunning.

But there are no regrets on Gould’s end regarding the show’s fast-approaching finish.

“I never had a doubt in the writers room that we were wrapping it up the right way,” Gould said. “The only doubt I had was when I saw (guest actor) Robert Forster and (series star) Bryan Cranston doing the scene in the cabin. I said, ‘Oh my God, I would watch a couple of hours of this, because I think those characters are so rich and those actors are so fantastic.”

When it was pointed out to Gould that for the low, low price of $10,000, he could have gotten another hour with Forster, he laughed but stuck to his guns.

“Potentially we could have done more, but there’s also the life of the show – once things that have happened have happened, it feels like it’s racing to a conclusion to us,” Gould said.

Forster’s appearance was a special treat (and a well-kept secret). It was amusing to find out that the character, who’s the bees’ knees at relocating people with new identities and who was referred to in previous episodes under the guise of vacuum cleaner sales talk, actually did run a large vacuum cleaner shop. Gould said that was something that was debated by the writers, who ultimately decided that it made sense he would have a legitimate cover story for his big side operation.

Most importantly, Forster was exactly the guy the creative team wanted for the part.

“When we were talking about this character, we would call him Robert Forster,” Gould said. “ ‘Then Robert Forster does this, then he does that.’ We’ve done that in past: Sometimes we’ll name a character actor we kind of think of as a prototype. This might be the only time we got the prototype.

“It was so thrilling. Vince and I talked to him on the phone about what the role was. … He was such the gentleman, such the professional. He really brings it.”

Forster’s character also facilitated the escape of Saul Goodman, the character played by Bob Odenkirk and created in a season-two episode Gould wrote. Gould said it was emotional knowing that he had written his last scene for Saul, at least until prequel series “Better Call Saul” hits the air at AMC.

“The thing that was great for me (about the scene) was it was stripped bare of all his Saulness,” Gould said. “For the first time, we see him in a white shirt … he doesn’t have the Bluetooth, his patter is at a different rate. There’s kind of an honesty and rawness to Bob’s performance as he tries to talk Walt back into reality that I just find really touching.”

Gould emphasized that the “Saul” spinoff remains in its early stages.

“At this point, we’re just seeing if it’s possible to put together the people and the companies to make something happen,” Gould said. “It seems promising — I’m very excited about the idea.”

As for the remainder of Sunday’s episode, there were two aspects that Gould said were most challenging, one involving the creation of the wintry New Hampshire cabin scene in springtime New Mexico, with the snow melting rapidly and a prohibition against augmenting the setting with the fake stuff.

Emotionally, the toughest part for Gould was the murder of recurring character Andrea (Emily Rios) and the effect it had on the increasingly tortured Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).

“Watching Jesse Plemons and Emily do that scene, it was painful and uncomfortable,” Gould said. “And seeing Aaron’s reaction, which was so true and so real, was painful for all of us. Everybody left that night shaken by what had happened.”

Pretty much everything involving Jesse this season is guaranteed to shake viewers up. In a show that gives no character a free ride, Jesse has become a particularly grand pinata, though he has long since turned a moral corner that Bryan Cranston’s Walter White has failed to find.

“I think it’s a consequence of the story that we’re telling and the actions Walter and Jesse have taken,” Gould said. “Jesse had the chance to go to Hank (Dean Norris) many, many times — many times he could have stopped everything from going forward. Many times Walt relied upon him, and he came through for a guy who knew he was cooking meth. I don’t think Jesse deserves what he’s getting, but for the things that are happening, he’s not a purely innocent victim the way Andrea is.

“This episode is really (about) hitting bottom for both Walter and Jesse. This is what hell looks like for both the characters. For Jesse, hell is what happens to Andrea. For Walter, hell is really meaningless, being alone and knowing nothing he did has any (positive) consequence.”

Now, the final chapter of this hellscape established by “Breaking Bad” looms. Looking back on the arc of Walt, Gould said that over time, he found his feelings toward the man flipping back and forth.

“As soon as I read the pilot and saw the pilot, I had a lot of empathy for the guy,” Gould said. “I’m a father (who had) terrible trouble providing for my family. It took a long time for my career to get going. I spent 10 years teaching. … Like a lot of our viewers, I made a lot of excuses for Walt over the years. I don’t want to say that I liked him, but I certainly see his point of view. As repellant as it might be sometimes, there’s a Walter White voice that I can always hear ringing out. Certainly a lot of that has to do with Bryan’s performance and what Vince has done (to characterize him).

“I think the ultimate thing in some ways for any writer is to work on a character who’s going to have a life for a long time. It remains to be seen, but I think Walter White has the potential to join that pantheon.”