Walter White

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

If you thought you saw Walter White around campus this week, it might not just have been your Breaking Bad withdrawals.

Bryan Cranston has been in Austin doing research for his role as Lyndon B. Johnson in “All the Way,” a play by UT alumnus and Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Robert Schenkan.

The play, which is moving to Broadway after a well-received run at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Mass., begins just after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, an event Cranston remembers from his childhood.

“I saw the effects it had on the adults around me. It destroyed them, grown men and women just in each other’s arms weeping,” Cranston said.

Cranston was only seven years old when the assassination occured, but knew it was an event worth his attention.

 “That was my introduction into politics,” he said. 

Cranston drew directly from that moment in bringing LBJ to the stage.

“Knowing that impactful nature it had on me, I was looking forward to being able to dig in and present this,” Cranston said.

Cranston said he relishes the research process and loves the ritual actors engage in of “voluntarily putting ourselves in the position of beginner, time and time again.”

“You want to be able to get the sensibility of the man,” he said. “The more that I read about him and the further my research takes me, and the more that I talk to people that knew him, I glean a little bit more each time.”

Cranston was also able to make a physical connection to his character by way of some of the museum’s artifacts.

“The ranch, the cars, the bed — what he wanted around him and what he felt, from a material sense, represented him — that’s very informative too, of a character, to see all the different articles he had around him,” Cranston said.

The 57-year old won three consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his portrayal of Walter White on the just-concluded series "Breaking Bad" but didn’t worry about being restricted to similar roles in the future.

“Walter White, and the work behind it, has given me tremendous opportunities, so it’s up to me now to change the tide,” Cranston said. “When I left 'Malcolm in the Middle' I had two offers to do television pilots — sweet, goofy dads — which I did for seven years, so I easily turned them down. If I decided to take that, it’s my own damn fault for pigeonholing myself.”

Cranston wanted to make a similar move after "Breaking Bad" to avoid Walter White type roles for the rest of his career.  

“If I took on characters like Walter, then it’s my own damn fault for getting back into that comfortable ruck, perhaps," Cranston said.  "So you want to keep changing the direction and challenging yourself and trying things you may not have done before, that you’re intrigued about, or even scared about.”

When asked about the similarities between his two most recent characters, Cranston noted that although they were both presented with extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances, both of them made conscious decisions about their roles.

“Walter White was a man who was desperate and made desperate decisions, and then got caught up in ego and hubris and greed, and then got what he deserved,” Cranston said. “You could say that Walter White was ignorant, much more so than LBJ. LBJ knew the scope of his office — no doubt about it, it was what he wanted and he knew the complexity of it and the difficulty. And he was ready for it.”

"Breaking Bad" ends on a high note

SPOILER ALERT: This article discusses the series finale of "Breaking Bad."

It’s tough to immediately discuss any series finale without letting hyperbole seep into your opinion, so take my thoughts on tonight’s roundly satisfying “Breaking Bad” finale with a grain of salt. Better make that an extra-large grain of salt, because in the immediate afterglow of “Felina,” I’m fairly confident “Breaking Bad” has produced one of the very best finales of any television show, a conclusion that brought the series full circle narratively and stylistically.

There was only ever one way “Breaking Bad” could really end: with Walter White finally fulfilling the death sentence he was handed in the first episode of the series. This final season made it especially clear that things were going to end badly for Walt, and the fallout from his ascent to drug kingpin has been devastating to watch. As repulsive as Walt became, though, the series never forgot whose journey it was following, and the last two episodes have been an exercise in convincing us to root for our protagonist one last time. Last week saw Walt at his absolute lowest, wasting away in a remote cabin, and the finale found Walt trying to make some measure of penance for his mistakes.

Even as Walt sought redemption, “Felina” didn’t hesitate to show us the ugly aftermath of the chaos our hero has wrought. Skyler has landed in a cramped shell of a home, her family in ruins. Walt Jr. has cast off his father’s name for good, going by Flynn. And in the most quietly devastating detail of all, Marie’s home has lost its trademark purple decor, her countertops and curtains colored a mournful black after her husband’s death in pursuit of Heisenberg.

Walt’s final scene with Skyler was equal parts apology and goodbye, and it was satisfying to see him finally coming to terms with the lies he’d been telling himself all series long. Newly crowned King of Acting Bryan Cranston has always been beyond reproach, but he brought a resignation to Walt’s realization about his true motives for entering the meth game that showed exactly how deep the little soul Walt has left runs.

But it was the reintroduction of the Schwartz family that truly completed Walt’s arc. The only way for Walt to safely secure his family’s future was to put his trust in the very first people who wronged him, who instilled in him the festering bitterness that would someday spawn Heisenberg, and by forcing Walt to find his own measure of reconciliation, the series brilliantly brought its hero full circle.

No one has suffered more at Walt’s hands than poor Jesse Pinkman, and Aaron Paul has brought endless supplies of shattering gravitas to the final season. Jesse’s salvation at Walt’s hands feels almost like a happy accident, but there was no moment in the finale more simultaneously uplifting and heartbreaking than Jesse’s escape. Once he’s finally freed himself from Walt’s shackles, Jesse speeds away from his own personal prison, his howls of glee morphing into anguish (or vice-versa) in another indicator of the messy, uncertain emotional terrain “Breaking Bad” proudly occupies.

Though Walt spends the finale apologizing his way into his grave, “Breaking Bad” still found a way to reward us for our investment with a grandly theatrical triumph that the season had been (intentionally) lacking. Though a mounted machine gun and a brutal blood splatter on the camera is far from the series’ most unexpected or creative moments, it was hugely satisfying to see Walt etch out one final victory, and director Vince Gilligan milked maximum tension out of Walt’s attempt to put his plan into motion.

As Walt dies on the floor of a meth lab, the camera lifts away from him. It’s a shot that’s highly reminiscent of one of the series’ finest hours, “Crawl Space,” which ended with Walt having a maniacal, cackling breakdown in a dirty hole beneath his house as the camera practically vibrated away from him in disgust. But where that shot was a terrifying harbinger of the chaos to come, this finds a Walt who’s finally secured his family’s future and made things right – or at least, as right as they’ll ever be. It’s the closest “Breaking Bad” could come to a happy ending, leaving us with a Walter White that’s finally at peace.

How do you write the final word on “Breaking Bad”? It’s impossible to bottle everything that made the show truly great into a single paragraph (or article), and it’s a fool’s errand to try. With Walter White, Gilligan and Cranston created an antihero who will comfortably fit in the all-time pantheon, equally informed by the characters that came before him and influential on those that will follow. Around him, they built an audaciously plotted, visually and thematically rich narrative, and like a perfect chemical reaction, it all came together to form one of the very best shows to ever grace television.

But like I said, don't forget about the grains of salt.

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.