Spoiler alert: This column contains details about last season's "explosive" ending of "Breaking Bad."
Walter White can't stand mean bosses. When we last checked in with him in October 2011, the schoolteacher turned drug lord had engineered a bomb to a wheelchair, designed to go off just as his employer -- the meticulous, heartless Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) -- visited a nursing home.
But seconds after the explosion, the camera captured Fring calmly walking out of the destroyed room, adjusting his necktie.
"When people saw that shot, they thought: 'What kind of BS is this? What is he, the Terminator?'" said the show's creator, Vince Gilligan. "People were ready to never watch the show again."
But before fans could launch the biggest firestorm since the head-scratching conclusion of "The Sopranos," the camera wheeled around to show the other side of Fring's face: a gruesome mess that looked like C-3PO had just had a date with a woodchipper. He didn't walk away, after all; his became probably the most graphic, shocking death in TV history.
"I'd be lying if I said we didn't intend to blow people's minds," Gilligan said. "Literally."
Gilligan promises that the new season of "Bad," which starts an eight-episode run on Sunday and concludes with eight more next summer, will go to even darker places. It's all part of Gilligan's unprecedented plan to take a wholly sympathetic TV character and slowly turn him into pure evil.
When we first met White in 2008, he was a put-upon high-school teacher and car-wash flunkie who might as well have tattooed "Kick Me" on his rear end. Then he's diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.
To assure his family's financial future, he partners with a former student and starts cooking meth, an occupation that puts him directly in the path of drug dealers who assume they can shatter a mild-mannered science instructor as if he were a glass beaker.
Instead, they discover White has got an inner Satan who's more than eager to come out and play.
"People originally thought the series was an indictment of the American health system, but it was never intended to be. It was always going to be the character study of one very interesting man," said Gilligan, who previously wrote for "The X-Files." "I wanted to create an experimental television show. Well, I probably worded it more obliquely to the network at the time. Experimental sounds like code for 'I'm going to lose you lots and lots of money.'"
The most important ally Gilligan had to recruit for the ride was lead actor Bryan Cranston.
"The star of a TV show can help you rise or completely abandon you," Gilligan said. "Bryan could have said, 'You know, I don't want to have my character watch some girl choke on her own vomit. I think I need a rewrite.' If he said that, we wouldn't be talking right now. I would have killed myself."
Cranston's willingness to go along with the game plan has paid off. He's already won three Emmys for the role. And audiences have actually increased as White has gotten more and more despicable.
"I think there's a visceral thrill in seeing someone do things that we're morally repulsed by," Gilligan said. "It's the same thrill we get on a roller coaster or when we see a good horror film in which people explore a haunted house by candlelight. I mean, I admit that I was worried we might shed viewers too quickly. I lost sleep worrying about it. I don't lose sleep on it anymore."
email@example.com • 612-673-7431 Twitter: @nealjustin