Vince Gilligan

Donna Nelson, a University of Oklahoma chemistry professor, selects chemical substances for reactions based on safety, cost, percent yield and purity, but when she became the science adviser for “Breaking Bad,” she also had to consider how easy these chemicals were for actors to pronounce.

Nelson gave an on-campus talk Wednesday about working with Hollywood writers to present more accurate science on TV. Nutritional sciences junior Korbin Evans helped organize the lecture as a part of the Pioneering Leadership Lecture Series, which is intended to increase the success of students from underrepresented populations in science and mathematics.

“It is important that we are exposed sometime during our student career to seeing faces similar to our own,” Evans said.

Nelson said she reached out to the producers of “Breaking Bad” after reading an article about the show and seeing that Vince Gilligan, the head writer of the show, was seeking out scientific advising.

“The part that caught my eye was that Vince Gilligan said that getting the science right was important to him,” Nelson said. “They welcomed constructive comments from a chemically inclined audience because he nor any of his writers had science backgrounds, and they were having to research what they wrote on the web.”

Nelson said scientists were constantly trying to figure out ways to build a “bridge to Hollywood,” where scientists have increased input on the facts behind TV science. According to Nelson, “Breaking Bad” presented the perfect opportunity.

“Those of us in chemistry, interacting through the American Chemical Society, were always bemoaning the fact that a lot of science presented on TV and in the movies was wrong,” Nelson said.

Nelson said the classroom scenes of “Breaking Bad” were an important place to ensure the science was accurate. According to Nelson, the information conveyed in those scenes was intended to reinforce rather than confuse chemistry students, and perhaps even generate more interest in the field.

“I don’t think the public appreciates chemistry and chemists like they should,” Nelson said. “If you think about it, the fabric that they wear, their perfume, hair products, the tile on their floor, the ceilings, the carpeting, car parts, computer parts … it’s all chemicals.”

Mechanical engineering junior Stephen Garza said science deserves to be portrayed accurately on TV. He said he thinks Nelson did a good job of emphasizing that.

“People commit their lives to this,” Garza said. “This is their career, to be working on these topics, and it’s almost out of respect to pay it justice.”

Austin Film Fest: Will Ferrell headlines "Breaking Bad" creator's unproduced script reading

Sunday afternoon, hundreds of Austin Film Festival attendees lined up at Seventh and Congress streets, not for a big film premiere at the Paramount, but for a live reading of an unproduced screenplay at the theater’s smaller counterpart, the State. Why all the fuss? Well, for one, that screenplay, “2-Face,” was written by “Breaking Bad” mastermind Vince Gilligan, its reading was directed by “Looper” director Rian Johnson and its lead character was played by Will Ferrell. 

Ferrell was joined onstage by a sprawling cast including Johnson, — reading the stage directions — Thomas Haden Church, Linda Cardellini, Billy Burke and, in a surprise that got the biggest applause of the entire event, Giancarlo Esposito — “Breaking Bad's” Gus.

In Gilligan’s modern Jekyll and Hyde tale, Ferrell read the part of Earl, a repugnant Civil War re-enactor with a brutal racist streak. When the sun went down, he turned into Rodeo Bob, a gentle, sophisticated alter ego who claimed to be visiting from the future, where he lived in a dome on the moon. Haden Church played Boots, Earl’s equally bigoted comrade-in-arms, and Cardellini read the part of Holly, Earl’s long-suffering wife.

But “2-Face's” secret protagonist is a young, African-American doctor named Malcolm, portrayed on stage by “Treme's” Rob Brown. Seated to the far side of the stage despite his prominence in the script, Brown gave a charismatic performance, clearly hungry to snag the spotlight with Ferrell from several seats away. Just as entertaining as Brown’s performance was watching him and Esposito — hilarious and physical in his own right — react to some of the script’s racially charged material with mock outrage.

Ferrell certainly knows how to deliver a joke, and Gilligan’s tactile, moody screenplay gives him loads to work with, with plenty of sharp dialogue and memorably funny moments throughout the script. “2-Face” becomes increasingly dramatic as it goes on, but never loses its sense of humor, even as the characters are faced with dramatic, complex conflicts, and closes on a hopeful, dramatically satisfying note. The script shares a few thematic concerns with “Breaking Bad,” especially man’s capacity to deny his true nature and the duality of identity.

Before the reading, Gilligan revealed to the audience that he’s been working on “2-Face” for 23 years. Even so, the racially themed comedy remains sharp and relevant today, and the Austin Film Fest assembled quite a cast to honor the work of one of its most esteemed guests.

Photo Credit: Hannah Hadidi | Daily Texan Staff

Last night, Vince Gilligan’s criminal epic “Breaking Bad” brought Walter White’s devastating saga of drugs, lies and fried chicken franchises to its bloody conclusion. For many TV enthusiasts, the end of “Breaking Bad” heralds the end of an addiction, similar to the effect of that crystal blue persuasion that our beloved evil chemist cooks week after week. The withdrawal is going to be difficult, and what better way to combat its effects than by examining one of the series’ most enigmatic characters: everyone’s favorite lawyer, Saul Goodman. The show introduced Saul in the second season when our morally deteriorating protagonist, Walter, was forced to seek legal advice as his fledgling drug empire began to draw attention from the Drug Enforcement Administration. 

Unlike Walt, Saul remains relatively static throughout the run of the series. He never faces an internal crisis, nor does he ever champion a certain moral cause or disposition. For the most part, the only purpose Saul appears to serve is that of the typical, but petty, comic relief.  

But Saul is actually the immoral center of the show. When Walt is in a pinch, who is the first one to suggest the easy way out, the method that damns the soul? Who is the one that finds a man willing to be paid to go to prison for Walt? Who is the one that compares his own client, Jesse Pinkman, to a rabid dog that needs to be put down?  From the beginning, Saul has always been the devil on Walt’s shoulder, constantly persuading him to give in to his worst impulses until he’s fully transformed into Heisenberg, ruthless killer and drug lord.

So why is it that we typecast Saul as the comic relief character? If anything, we should view this man as a tragic figure so numbed to the idea of morality that he feels virtually nothing. Unlike Walt, Saul broke bad a long time ago. He sold his soul for crime and made a good deal of profit out of it, but what comes next? We know that Walt’s story is coming to an end, but what of Saul’s? 

Though Saul’s role in “Breaking Bad” ended with him relocating to Omaha, Neb. — perhaps to someday manage a Cinnabon — the Internet has been abuzz with AMC’s confirmation of “Better Call Saul,” a spin-off television series based solely on Goodman’s character. For fans of the character, this is a godsend. As a character in someone else’s story, Saul’s psyche has never been the audience’s main focus, and the chance to learn why this man’s sense of right and wrong is so hopelessly twisted is an exciting prospect. As Walter’s story draws to a close, our best hope of combating “Breaking Bad” addiction withdrawals lies in the unlikely hands of Saul, the character that put the ‘criminal’ in criminal lawyer. 

TV Tuesday

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul star as crystal meth cookers in AMC’s “Breaking Bad.” (Photo Courtesy of AMC)

Editor's Notes: The following review of the new season of "Breaking Bad" contains spoilers about the next two episodes of season four.

From its very first episode, the Emmy Award-winning drama “Breaking Bad” has been something different. Its pilot instantly joined the ranks of the best in the history of television — an intense, memorable episode bolstered by Bryan Cranston’s career-defining performance. From there, “Breaking Bad” has only gotten better, right through its astonishingly great third season that climaxed with a brutal cliffhanger.

Sunday’s season premiere “Box Cutter” dealt with this cliffhanger, which involved Aaron Paul’s Jesse one trigger-pull away from killing his first man ­— the innocent, nauseatingly cultured Gale (David Costabile) — so he and Walt (Bryan Cranston) could live. In classic “Breaking Bad” fashion, the episode dragged out the tension to almost comical lengths before the normally calm and collected Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) arrived in his multimillion dollar meth lab and brutally murdered lackey Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui).

If there’s one thing “Breaking Bad” does well, it’s the shocking moment — that “holy shit!” plot twist that leaves the viewer’s mouth agape. Ever since the show put Danny Trejo’s severed head on an exploding turtle, it’s taken almost gleeful joy in contorting the audience’s expectations, drawing conflicts out as long as it possibly can before exploding into a burst of sudden violence. While Victor’s murder doesn’t quite reach the heights of the aforementioned Trejo scene or DEA agent Hank’s (Dean Norris) gunfight with cartel assassins from last season, it’s still one of those signature moments. The ones that cause congregations around the water cooler on Monday mornings.

The next two episodes, which were made available for critics, don’t have any of those mind-blowing moments, but are still obviously the work of masters of the medium. Series creator Vince Gilligan, who cut his teeth on “The X-Files,” has made a definite habit of spacing out big events in the story, letting the space between fill with spectacular acting and mood to spare.

From the pilot episode, Bryan Cranston has been an unstoppable hurricane of acting, blowing away co-stars with ease in every episode. He commands his every scene, and even while Walt scrambles to survive. Cranston performs with a fearless confidence that marks his Walter White as one of the all-time great television anti-heroes.

Not to say the rest of the cast is slacking. Aaron Paul nailed the multitude of monologues Gilligan sent his way last season, and as he recovers from his first murder, he does equally riveting work with significantly less dialogue. Dean Norris, who shone in the early half of Season 3 before being sidelined for its home stretch, is very strong as a bullet-riddled Hank attempts to get back on his feet (literally). Meanwhile, Bob Odenkirk’s smarmy lawyer remains a fountain of hilarious one-liners and Jonathan Banks’ cop-turned-assassin gets a welcome increase in screen time without robbing his character of his dangerous mystique.

And even if the cast was weaker, “Breaking Bad” would still be the prettiest show on television. Director of Photography Michael Slovis has made a habit of coaxing some downright dazzling imagery out of the show’s harsh New Mexico landscape; and Vince Gilligan’s glacial pacing is hypnotic rather than frustrating, keeping audiences hooked with bread crumbs of greater things to come, rather than frustrating them with the fact that there’s not a huge amount of story movement.

With its second season, “Breaking Bad” became the best show on television. With its third, it became a worthy challenger to enter the realm of the all-time bests, up there with the likes of “Deadwood” and “The Wire.” And now, with its fourth, it’s primed to solidify its place among the greats, and it’s only becoming more and more addictive to see what dark, violent places “Breaking Bad” and Walter White will go next.