Breaking Bad Writer Gennifer Hutchison on Jesse’s Best Interests and Saul’s Hello Kitty Phone

Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) - Breaking Bad _ Season 5, Episode 11 - Photo Credit: Ursula Coyote/AMC
Photo: Ursula Coyote/Sony Pictures Television/AMC

So. Many. Bombshells. To very quickly recap tonight’s Breaking Bad (and it goes without saying that if you don’t want to know what happened in tonight’s episode, you should avert your eyes from these spoilers now): Hank’s on to Walt, but wait! Walt figures out how to frame Hank for his crimes. Jesse’s on to Walt, but wait! Walt goes in for a hug! Jesse’s on his way out of town, but wait! He realizes Walt poisoned Brock! Walt grabs a frozen gun from the A1 soda machine, Jesse goes to torch Casa White … and shit! It’s over. Vulture got a hold of the episode’s writer, executive story editor Gennifer Hutchison, to talk about the careful planning that went into the big reveals, as well as the little ones (like why Jesse chose Alaska and where Saul’s Hello Kitty phone came from). Deep breath.

Jesse’s finally going after Walt! There are a few things that could have been the tipping point: finding out about Jane, getting confirmation about Mike. How did the writers decide on Brock?
There was a lot of talk about the metric of “What’s the Worst Revelation? Mike, Brock, or Jane?” The general feeling is that Jane is the worst revelation, and it feels like Jesse at this point has figured out what happened to Mike, but Brock was always something we wanted Jesse to find out. That was something we’d been talking about since Walt poisoned him. It was just a matter of placing it. When is the worst possible time this could be realized? How about the time when Jesse is actually, maybe going to be okay? Let’s do it then and ruin everything! [Laughs]

How did you work that the mechanics of Jesse’s realization?
Actually, it was torture. We toyed with a lot of ideas, like Saul telling him, or just someone actually telling him about it. But we liked the idea of him figuring it out on his own because he was right from the beginning when he thought Walt poisoned Brock. But then Walt so expertly manipulated him, planting the cigarette in Jesse’s house so it would get sucked up into the vacuum and Jesse would think he’d been the one who lost it. We liked the idea of him figuring it out from being pick-pocketed because, again, that’s what he thought had happened originally. Huell had pick-pocketed the cigarette pack from him originally. So once we decided what the trigger would be, we had to figure out what Huell would lift this time, the reason for doing it, and ultimately why Saul would take the risk of having him lift the dope. It was a long conversation working it all out.

Before that, when Jesse tells Walt to stop working him and breaks down, does he actually get to Walt? Does he hit a nerve? Does Walt feel guilty at all?
I think Walt does care about Jesse. The great thing about Walt is he kind of believes his own lies. He really does think he’s doing what’s best for Jesse. When Jesse says, “You just brought me out here to kill me,” I think in Walt’s mind he’s thinking, Well, Jesse will never say no, so I would never even think of killing him. And Walt is right in suggesting Jesse start over — Jesse should have gone into the van! He absolutely should have! But Jesse’s right, too. Walt is not being magnanimous here. He needs Jesse gone. But I think he’s convinced himself that he wants to help Jesse. I don’t think he feels remorse necessarily for what he’s done to Jesse but that he’s acted in Jesse’s best interest.

Poor Jesse. There’s even a tarantula at their meetup. 
The tarantula was definitely meant to be a reminder of Drew Sharp and also to get Jesse into that headspace of all these horrible things that have happened.

I didn’t know I could withstand more of his tears…
I know, I know. Try being on set with that! It’s amazing. It was also five degrees out with wind, so Aaron [Paul] and Bryan [Cranston] were freezing. It was January when we were filming that in the desert and really early in the morning. They were freezing and they acted the shit out of that scene. Aaron was frozen.

Let’s talk about Walt’s “confession.” I hadn’t read any theories yet that involved Walt framing Hank. Was that a twist, like the Brock revalation, that had been in the works for awhile?
Yeah, we had talked for seasons about the idea of Walt blackmailing Hank with the “I paid for your medical treatment” bombshell because it does complicate things for Hank that they took drug money, however unwittingly. It was how Walt was going to get to Hank. But the “confession” itself was a later idea. We knew we wanted Walt to blackmail him, but how he was going to do it was a new thing. The original pitch was for Walt to actually go into the police station and confess, but that seemed like a step too far because it would just make things more complicated for Walt, and we liked the idea of it being really personal instead. The only way he can really get Skyler to participate is by telling her no one’s ever gonna see it because Hank is going to understand the threat.

It was like watching a trainwreck. You know where the confession is going, it’s horrible, and yet you can’t stop watching. What were the challenges in writing it?
I remember when we were in the room, trying to figure out if we would even show it on screen or not, Vince was like, “I don’t even know. What would he say? It’s five seasons of material. How do you put it into one confession?” I just off the cuff started pitching how and he was like, “Okay, let’s do that!” Then it was, oh crap, now I have to write it. It’s tricky because Walt has to seem really sincere but you don’t want to overplay “I felt terrible.” It’s also information the audience knows, but with a different spin on it, and you have to make it not boring, or sound like a recap of five seasons of TV. I tend to get Walt monologues in my episodes, and this was definitely the trickiest one. The version you saw was actually edited down. The speech is longer than that. We shot it in on a regular video camera in single takes so Bryan memorized the whole thing, he didn’t use cue cards, and it was probably three, three-and-a-half pages long. He did it three or four times straight through. I’m hoping an unedited version of the scene goes on the DVD or something just because it’s amazing to watch him work.

Even if no one else sees the video, Skyler agreeing to help Walt make it seems like a Point of No Return moment for her. It pretty much severs her relationship with Hank and Marie.
Right, but it’s not necessarily that Skyler has strong feelings of love for Walt. What Skyler wants is for her family to be okay. Walt has this cancer diagnosis and, for me, Skyler’s clinging to the thought that if she can just make it until he dies of the cancer, everything will be okay. The kids never have to find out what they’ve done.

When Marie suggests that Walt kill himself, Skyler says that’s not a solution.
Her reaction is about suicide being a horrible thing to do to your children. It would traumatize them. Dying of cancer is horrible, but it’s not an act of violence. I don’t necessarily think it’s “I love Walt and I don’t want him to die.” It’s “This is not a way to get away with this.”

Walt’s really cornered Hank. But at the end of the episode when he leaves the police station, it looked like maybe he had an epiphany?
Hank just can’t give up even though Walt has put him in this corner. He can’t just go to his bosses and say, “This is what’s going on,” because they’ll take him off the case. When he says, “I have to be the one to put the cuffs on him,” he means it. Him leaving the office is just him going, “I can’t be here. I have to be doing something.” It’s like rejecting the idea of defeat.

Why does Jesse fixate on Alaska?
He and Jane in their drug-induced haze talk about New Zealand, so for awhile we talked about maybe he’d say New Zealand, but that felt a little more far-fetched. I remember always being in the room and saying, “I just want Jesse to get on a bus to Alaska and get the hell out.” I love Jesse and I want the best for him. Alaska still feels like a frontier in our collective imagination, like just generally a place you can start over and maybe become a bush pilot. It’s so remote and so different from New Mexico. It just felt right.

Is there a story behind Saul having a Hello Kitty phone?
[Laughs] I think that Saul sent Huell to the store one day to just buy prepaid phones, and Huell just took his arm and swept it across the aisle and all these phones fell into his cart. We just liked the idea that Saul has these ridiculous phones. He just buys whatever. It’s ridiculous to have twenty burner phones in your drawer anyway.

In the beginning of the episode, Todd is checking in with Walt. But that’s one-sided, right?
Yeah, that’s kind of it. The thing I like about Todd is he’s obviously not really a functional member of society in a lot of ways. He seems morally neutral. But at the same time, he’s super polite and respectful. The idea of the call was just, he really admires Mr. White and respects him, and you know, he just wants to make sure he’s up to speed! Just in case! [laughs] One of the things I loved in the previous episode is when he’s helping Lydia make her way through the bodies and he’s super, super nice to her. If you just saw that part, you’d be like, “Oh, he’s a super sweet kid.” But he also just shot a child for no reason. He tells that story about how the train heist went off perfectly and doesn’t even mention that he killed a kid.

Breaking Bad Scribe on Jesse’s Best Interests