NEW YORK – The supply is running low and you know there won’t be more. “Breaking Bad” stands to leave its fans reeling.
For five seasons of wickedness, this AMC drama has set viewers face-to-face with the repellant-but-irresistible Walter White and the dark world he embraced as he spiraled into evil. With the finale coming at 9 p.m. Sunday, who can say what fate awaits this teacher-turned-drug-lord for the havoc he has wreaked.
This is more than the end of a TV series. It’s a cultural moment, arriving as the show has logged record ratings, bagged a best-drama Emmy and even scored last week’s cover of The New Yorker magazine.
Up through the penultimate episode, “Breaking Bad” has been as potent and pure as the “blue sky” crystal meth White cooked with such skill. Judging from that consistency in storytelling and in performances by such stars as Bryan Cranston (White), Aaron Paul (sidekick Jesse Pinkman), Anna Gunn (who just won an Emmy as White’s wife) and Betsy Brandt, the end likely will pack unforgiving potency.
But one thing is dead sure: It will be beautiful.
“Breaking Bad” often has been described as addictive, and if that’s so, the look of the show is its own habit-forming drug. Michael Slovis, the series’ four-time Emmy-nominated director of photography, has been cooking up that look since the series’ sophomore season.
“I go for the emotion in the scene, not to overtake it, but to help it along,” Slovis said. “With ‘Breaking Bad,’ I recognized very early that I had a story and performances that could stand up to a bold look.”
The action is centered in Albuquerque, N.M., which invites sprawling desert shots and tidy manicured neighborhoods; washes of light and jagged sun-drenched expanses.
The look of the show makes the most of its setting, and also the technology by which viewers see it: In an age of digital video, with the smallest detail and the sharpest resolution visible to the audience, Walter’s battered mobile meth lab could be clearly discerned as a speck against a vista of deserts and mountains. A doll’s disembodied eyeball bobbing in a swimming pool had chilling vividness.
And don’t forget the show’s visual signature: “Breaking Bad” was never afraid of the dark.
Slovis recalled how in his first week as director of photography he was shooting in Pinkman’s basement.
“Jesse and Walter are down there cooking meth, and I turn off all the lights and turn the back lights on. There’s smoke and shafts of light coming through the basement door and I go, ‘This is what I came to do!’”
“We have some interesting extremes in lighting, thanks to Michael and his fearlessness,” show creator Vince Gilligan said from Los Angeles.
He invoked the fancy artistic term for this, “chiaroscuro,” which means the use of strong contrasts between light and dark.
“‘Breaking Bad’ has become known for beautiful bold lighting,” he said, “and Michael became an indispensable part of the ‘Breaking Bad’ equation.”
Now the end of “Breaking Bad” is nigh. But through tonight’s final fade-out, Slovis’ influence will remain, capturing the “Bad” times you can’t turn your eyes from. He’s a series star who’s out of sight, yet controlling what you see.