‘Breaking Bad’: Vince Gilligan Discusses the Hardest Plotline to Write, ‘I Would Pound My Forehead Against the Wall, Literally’
There’s an unwritten rule in storytelling that if a gun is introduced at the beginning of a tale, it must go off before the end. This applies to movies, books, and television shows — a gun should never be casually inserted as a prop. It needs a purpose.
Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan found out about this rule the hard way during the final season of the award-winning drama series. Many fans and critics consider Breaking Bad the greatest television show of all time. But that doesn’t mean the story of Walter White turning evil was easy to tell. And Gilligan recalls that one incident involving a machine gun gave him a whole lot of trouble.
Walt acquires a huge machine gun at the beginning of season 5
There are plenty of Breaking Bad storylines that Gilligan and the writers figured out along the way. They had a rough idea of what the story was but were amenable to changing it when necessary. For example, the character Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) was supposed to be killed in the first season, but writers quickly pivoted once they saw the chemistry between him and Walter White (Bryan Cranston).
However, things didn’t come so easily when it came to that machine gun. Gilligan said it took way longer to figure out how to use the gun than he or the writing team expected.
Vince Gilligan had a hard time incorporating the gun into the story
When Walt first bought the gun, Gilligan assumed they’d figure out its purpose eventually. He just underestimated how difficult that task would become.
“I figured, ‘Wow, 16 episodes. Oh man, we got all the time in the world. We’ll figure it out.’ No idea what the hell Walt needed this thing for, which was so idiotic in hindsight,” he told CinemaBlend.
“And I gotta tell you, the reason I remember it very distinctly is because working on the final four or five episodes of Breaking Bad, and my writers very astutely reminded me over and over again, whether I wanted to hear it or not, that we needed to work this machine gun thread into the storytelling. At a certain point, I so did not want to hear it, and furthermore, I would have these flights of fancy where I would say, ‘You know what? Let’s pretend the machine gun thing never happened.’ And they would say, ‘Okay. We can do that, but what’s the point?’ I said, ‘What would we do without the machine gun?’ And they would, again rightly say, ‘Well, it doesn’t really matter what would do, story-wise, without that because we gotta pay that thing off.’ Then I would get mad and sometimes I would pound my forehead against the wall, literally, because I don’t know why, that helped. Or at least I felt like it did.”
Heisenberg uses the gun to take out Uncle Jack and his crew
As expected, the showrunner rose to the challenge and eventually found a way for the gun to go off that made sense in the story. Knowing that a machine gun would be overkill for taking out one person, and knowing that Walt needed a way to take out the white supremacists who were holding Jesse hostage, Gilligan decided to rig the gun into the trunk of a car for a highly creative shooting scene.
“So, I don’t remember the big eureka moment. I remember, obviously we talked about, well, what do you need a machine gun for? It’s not just for killing one guy, it’s for a whole squad of guys. So, slowly but surely we started to figure out, ‘Well there’s gotta be a gang in there somewhere,’ and the white supremacist gang led by Uncle Jack came into being. As always, we tried to play chess 20 moves ahead, but that’s as hard as it sounds. It’s really hard to figure that stuff out,” he said.
Ultimately, that shooting scene is one of the most memorable of the show. Even if it didn’t come easily.