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Buying into the official book on Breaking Bad

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The subtitles of all 62 episodes are dissected for both transparent and hidden meanings.

Also under a microscope: the color palette, the carnage, deadly chemicals, getaway cars and the “Challenge Coins” given to cast and crew at the end of each season.

Through it all, creator Vince Gilligan is expansive on subjects ranging from what he might have changed about a character (Jesse Pinkman’s teeth remained “a little too perfect”) to the bend-over-backward pains he took to “get the audience on Walter’s side when we first meet him.”

Breaking Bad: The Official Book, lavishly illustrated and annotated, ends up weighing in at 224 soft-cover pages at a retail price of $19.95. The series finale originally aired back on Sept. 29, 2013. If you still don’t know the outcome, this probably isn’t for you. Otherwise indulge yourself with a book that deeply scratches the itches of fans who want to be further in the know.

Gilligan, via a new interview and excerpts from those in an earlier digital version titled Breaking Bad: Alchemy, does his level best to lay it all out anew. Even though it’s his overriding opinion that “the person least able to talk about a book, a painting, or whatever it is, is the person who made it.”

It’s all edited by film historian and author David Thomson, who also asks the questions of Gilligan and other behind-the-scenes maestros. What The Official Book doesn’t have are interviews with any of the series’ on-camera stars. So know that going in, but don’t consider it a drawback. The off-camera people who waved all of those Breaking Bad batons are also worthy of spotlighting. They include series composer Dave Porter, who’s asked, “Do the actors influence the music you source or create?”

“I became extremely adept at watching Bryan Cranston’s forehead for just the right wrinkle in his furrowed brow to know when the music should start, and just the right moment of fatigue and weakness out of Dean Norris’s character,” he says. “They didn’t tell us what to do, but they made it a very clear path.”

Thomson reveres Breaking Bad -- and then some. “As a movie critic, I feel that no American film of the twenty-first century has matched the achievement of Breaking Bad,” he says in a lengthy introduction. “Nothing on the ‘big’ screen has had its range and grandeur, or found a beauty that comes so organically from its subject . . . No theatrical movie has a fraction of its inventiveness, maintains such a high level of dialogue, or goes so deeply into character and acting.”

So basically he’s a fanboy, although he doesn’t write like one or ask vacuous questions of Gilligan and others. This can be a wordy book, with Thomson making statements more than asking questions during his new interview with Gilligan. On Page 24, for instance, Thomson gets off a 143-word riff, to which Gilligan replies, “Right.” But he also succeeds in drawing Gilligan out. For instance: “In those final episodes of Breaking Bad, nothing was beyond discussion, and we talked about the idea of flashing forward to a scene in which a 21-year-old young woman is in a meeting in a lawyer’s office, watching a videotape on her birthday, and receiving money. And we would put the audience into this moment, and it would take place two decades after the events of Breaking Bad.”

The young woman would have been Walt’s grown-up daughter, Holly, whom he provided for in an ingenious way during the final episode. But this particular flash-forward never got beyond the writers’ room.

Gilligan since has endured CBS’ cancellation of his Battle Creek police series while basking in favorable and sometimes ecstatic reviews for his Breaking Bad prequel, Better Call Saul. But he doesn’t expect to ever top or equal Breaking Bad.

“It scares me that I’ll never remotely hit those heights again,” he tells Thomson. “I’ll never be able to figure out what it is I did right the first time around.”

The first “Official” book gets it right most of the time. It’s not coffee table-sized but is beautifully illustrated as such. You can page through it time and again, picking up the words at your leisure while continuing to appreciate the views.

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