Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

Breaking Bad 'a violent sprint to the finish line'

Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul tells Chris Schulz how the drug-dealing show's fifth and final season will be its darkest yet.

Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jess Pinkham (Aaron Paul) in Breaking Bad. Photo / Supplied
Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jess Pinkham (Aaron Paul) in Breaking Bad. Photo / Supplied

It's an image that's likely to stay with Breaking Bad fans forever: the hideously disfigured face of drug kingpin Gus Fring staring into the camera one last time as he adjusts his tie before collapsing to the ground.

His shocking death was the result of an ingenious wheelchair bomb at a rest-home, the culmination of four seasons of brutal intensity, gruesome violence and spectacularly black humour as Walter White's suburban drug dream claimed yet another victim.

As horrific as it was, it's exactly the kind of thing Breaking Bad fans have grown to love - and demand - over four addictive, must-see seasons of what many critics call the best show on television.

With the show's end looming, showrunner Vince Gilligan's ambition to turn Bryan Cranston's cancer-ridden meth-mastermind from a simple high-school chemistry teacher into a man as ruthless as Scarface is heading relentlessly towards a blood-splattered climax.

But after some of television's most inventive deaths - like season one's body-in-the-bathtub acid disaster, the heart-wrenching drug-related choking death in season three, and season four's severed head jammed on a turtle - can Breaking Bad really get any darker?

Aaron Paul - who plays Walt's lovable but easily swayed sidekick Jesse Pinkman to perfection - not only says that it can, he confirms that it will.

"It's such a violent sprint to the finish line," Paul says. "It was incredible to see how it all played out. I think everyone is going to be very pleased with how it goes down."

It's a bold statement, especially after the oh-so-controversial endings to similarly fanatical shows The Sopranos and Lost. But it could well turn out to be true. Gilligan is known for his fastidious quality control, and the first eight episodes of season five screened in the US last year to rave reviews.

They're debuting on New Zealand TV screens starting on Tuesday (SoHo, 8.30pm), ahead of the US debut of Breaking Bad's highly anticipated final eight episodes on August 11.

With each season better than the last, there's no denying that Breaking Bad is bowing out at its peak - something Paul was initially sceptical about.

"Before we started shooting the final [episodes] I was like, 'No, we can keep going'. But it's good that [Gilligan] ended it when he did. I think everyone wanted more. But Vince said he wanted to leave it with people wanting more. He didn't want to keep going where people are like, 'Oh, Breaking Bad used to be such a great show. What happened?'

"He didn't want to stretch out the storylines. He wanted to keep it all very nice and tight and powerful."

Breaking Bad's characters know about power: Many are drunk on it. And it's true that Walt has an especially powerful hold over Jesse. Their relationship has veered between schoolteacher and pupil, to father and son, to major league business partners playing a high stakes game of cat-and-mouse.

But heading into the final season, has Jesse finally had enough of riding the drug roller-coaster with his partner-in-crime?

"It was such a rough, awful ride. It was this dysfunctional, father-son relationship. He truly loved Walt, he was the father he never had. Now he doesn't really have anybody. He's just alone, and he's terrified. He's scared."

If anyone on the show deserves a happy ending, it's Jesse. But Paul isn't promising one.

"You definitely hope for a happy ending. But I can't guarantee that," he says, bluntly.

Gilligan spilled more details recently, telling The Daily Beast website the show's conclusion would be "victorious".

"Anyone anxious that there won't be resolution enough at the end of [the last season] can rest assured that the story very much reaches resolution. It will not end in any kind of open-ended sense," he told the website.

The possibilities are endless - does Walt's wife Skyler finally dob in her wayward husband? Could Walt's DEA agent brother-in-law Hank finally unmask the drug figure he knows only as Heisenberg? Does Jesse finally turn on Walt? Or could Walt's cancer return? However it ends, Paul says it will be worth going back to re-watch the show from the start.

"It's such an adrenaline ride. Even though Walt's doing such awful things, you kind of get wrapped up in it, and his ego. [And] each episode was very special, that's why people keep going back and re-watching them. The episodes never really get old or tired."

Paul is obviously as much a fan of the show as the rest of us. He even tears up a little and has to pause when asked how he feels about doing his final promotional interviews, calling it "sad" and "bittersweet".

Paul says the cast and crew all got tattoos on their last day of shooting: Some the "BR-BA" logo, others the quote "no half measures". And as for the rumoured spin-off featuring Walt's comically dodgy lawyer Saul Goodman, Paul will say only that actor Bob Odenkirk is "excited" about it.

Even though he already knows what happens, Paul admits he's already biting his nails ahead of the Breaking Bad finale.

"People love the adrenaline rush the show gives you. It's such a roller-coaster of intense emotions, and it's beautifully shot. It's moving art. I feel so blessed to be part of it.

"I really can't wait for you and everyone to yell and scream and cry during the final eight episodes. It ends perfectly."

What: Fifth and final season of Breaking Bad.
Who: Actor Aaron Paul who plays Jesse, Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) meth-making sidekick.
Where and when: SoHo, Tuesdays, 8.30pm.

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