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Originally published August 1, 2013 at 5:15 AM | Page modified August 1, 2013 at 6:11 AM

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As the end draws near, it’s hard to let go of ‘Breaking Bad’

“Breaking Bad” has come a long way since its under-the-radar launch in 2008. Millions of viewers are anxiously waiting for the final episodes of the dark drama.

Los Angeles Times

ON TV

‘Breaking Bad’

Returns Aug. 11, 9 p.m. Sundays, AMC

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Five months after scoring his second Emmy for playing tortured junkie Jesse Pinkman on AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” Aaron Paul paraded around a massive soundstage at Albuquerque Studios, carrying another kind of prize on his back.

With a playful grin, Paul was giving his bride-to-be, documentary filmmaker Lauren Parsekian, a piggyback ride as other members of the “Breaking Bad” cast and crew began preparing a night of shooting that would stretch past midnight. Eventually, the couple approached Bryan Cranston, who stars as Walter White, the cancer-stricken chemistry teacher turned lethal criminal mastermind and Pinkman’s partner in crime.

Cranston eyed Paul’s passenger: “Well, this makes sense, Aaron,” he joked. “I’ve been carrying you for the past six years!”

The banter was illustrative of the loose camaraderie of the company, far from the distractions of Hollywood. Executive producer Michelle MacLaren, directing the episode, was in good spirits as around 50 actors and technicians moved into position.

But on this February evening, it was anything but business as usual at the home base of the show, which has grown in five seasons from a low-profile cable entry series to one of prime time’s most elite and honored dramas. Production was gradually winding down — the scenes being filmed were for the show’s final episodes, which will start running Aug. 11.

Just a few minutes after kidding around, Paul and Cranston slipped into “Breaking Bad” mode for a scene in which Pinkman and White (aka the deadly drug kingpin “Heisenberg”) are talking on the phone. The explosiveness of their conversation, flavored with words of violence and rage, exposed two characters very much on the brink.

The white-hot exchange between the mesmerizing duo is but one guarantee that the series is not going gently into the good night — which will be welcome news to the devotees who have clung to every brutal twist and turn of White’s hellbent mission to build a drug empire, no matter what the cost to friends and family. Last season’s episodes contained a kaleidoscope of calamity — an attack on a police station with giant magnets, a breakneck heist of a train in the desert, the gunning down of an innocent boy who unwittingly witnessed the robbery and White’s murder of henchman Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks).

Now as the saga of White’s journey from “Mr. Chips to Scarface,” as creator Vince Gilligan puts it, winds down, major questions remain: How large will the final body count be? And will Walter White, who first turned to crime after his cancer diagnosis to provide money for his survivors but then betrayed his family, poisoned innocent children and wreaked havoc throughout New Mexico, be punished for his crimes? Will his cancer, which had been in remission, return?

The ultimate outcome has made the end of “Breaking Bad” perhaps the most anticipated TV finale since the curtain dropped ambiguously in 2007 on “The Sopranos.”

The hoopla is a long way from the show’s under-the-radar launch in 2008. The cast was primarily below-the-line character actors, and the best-known performer was Cranston, who seemed an unlikely choice for a dramatic lead since he was coming off seven seasons of playing goofy father Hal on “Malcolm in the Middle.”

Gilligan, who had a notable writing and producing stint on the landmark series “The X-Files,” was uncertain whether there was an audience prepared for the darkness of his sinister brainchild.

Even after AMC picked up the series, he never envisioned “Breaking Bad” lasting six years: “Not even close. I thought we were lucky to make the pilot in the first place. Once we were up and running, I would have said we would last two seasons, maybe at the outside four seasons.”

“Breaking Bad” received immediate critical acclaim during the first season, which only grew. Cranston’s three consecutive Emmy victories for lead actor in a drama series boosted interest, and viewership increased.

Cranston, who just scored another lead actor Emmy nomination, said the countdown to the final installments has been “a mixture of dread, anxiety, excitement and thrills. There’s been a lot of tears, rejoicing and lamenting. The full spectrum. The whole thing ends in a very ‘Breaking Bad’ way. I think fans will embrace it.”

Sitting in a darkened room of the studio during a break, Paul, who was again nominated for his role as Pinkman, seemed the most upset about the approaching end. “My heart starts to race a little when I think about it,” he said. He decided to relive his “Breaking Bad” experience by watching all the episodes from the pilot. “It’s very hard to let go,” he said.

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