Vince Gilligan will be the first to tell you he’s a bad planner. It’s not just that the co-creator of You better call Saul missed the closing night of his own show because he and his partner Holly had already planned a birthday getaway to Palm Springs for that night. It is that throughout his tenure with the two breaking Bad and Saulhe and his collaborators (including Saul co-creator Peter Gould) have almost never been able to chart the beats of history very far in advance. Like the characters they wrote, they constantly found themselves trapped in nooks and crannies and had to find an explosive way out.
But at least there’s no more planning to worry about for this franchise. Gilligan wrote and directed the penultimate Saul episode, which we’ve recap here, and he says next week’s series finale will most likely be the conclusion of the whole fictional universe that started with breaking Bad.
He spoke with rolling stone on the time it took to understand the fate of Kim Wexler, the constant challenge of reconciling the Saul plot with what we knew of breaking Badand why a show called You better call Saul finished with barely Saul Goodman.
You and Peter always say you can only see two inches in front of your face while the show is plotted. So when and how did you figure out what was going to happen to Kim?
The same way we always have. We work just two inches in front of our noses. I think it could have gone either way, but there was probably also an element of our reluctance to kill off his character. There were so many elements of this story that were predetermined. You can’t kill Jimmy McGill on his own show, you can’t kill any character whose fate we’ve known for breaking Bad. But with Kim, the sky was the limit. I guess it didn’t feel right to kill her. It was probably never on the table, honestly. We certainly kept smiling in silence as people stopped us on the street and said, “You’re not going to kill Kim, are you?” We let people think we might do it, but none of us wanted to. But to figure out where she ended up was in baby steps, baby steps, like all the other plots we do.
Was it more difficult in this last season than in past seasons to reconcile the ending of this show with what we know of breaking Bad?
I do not think so. I think it was really, really difficult in the first season and in the early seasons. But I must say that it had been a few years since I had been in the writers’ room before this season. I remember the early days when we were trying to figure out, “Jimmy McGill, where is Saul Goodman from? We can’t kill him! He can’t lose an eye! There are so many of these restrictions that breaking Bad put this character. But this season, man, not so much. I mean, it’s always hard. But it seemed like it was harder at first. And fortunately, we had plenty of time to find this stuff. Peter Gould might give you a different answer, but that’s how I think about it.
If you could turn back time to breaking Bad years old and ask your younger self to change one thing to make your life easier on this show, what would that be?
Oh man, you ask all the tough guys. Let me think about it, and I promise to have an answer by the end of this interview.
We’ve already talked about how you intended to reach Saul Goodman by the end of Season 1, and instead you found yourself liking Jimmy McGill. In the end, we got less than a combined full episode of the real Saul, and you basically jumped from Jimmy straight to Gene Takovic. How did you decide you wanted to touch on this era of Saul?
It wasn’t so much about wanting. And you’re right. At first, we were talking about, “Yeah, he’ll be Jimmy for a while, but obviously we can’t bait-and-switch with the public!” You can’t sell them a BOM. You have to give them Saul Goodman. And too bad if we hadn’t ended up doing it! We didn’t start like this to be perverse or mischievous. I think it finally dawned on us – but this thing about us only seeing two thumbs in front of our noses, it’s really true when you’re telling a story like this. I think we finally realized we knew what Saul Goodman looked like. You’ve seen it in many episodes of breaking Bad, so we didn’t have to tell that story again, and we had this whole really interesting story. We were fascinated by Jimmy McGill, what would turn a guy like that, who is basically a good guy, into a bad guy. And then we wanted to see more of Gene Takovic in Omaha, so we kind of ran out of time without even wanting to, and then we realized, man, the first thing that could go was Saul Goodman. And that’s the name of the show! For fans who have seen You better call Saul and I didn’t look breaking Bad If you want to get your Saul Goodman fix, I suggest you go to iTunes or somewhere else, find the most expensive way possible, and buy the series in the highest quality resolution and stereophonic sound.
This is your last time directing Rhea Seehorn in this role. In much of this episode, you just let the camera linger on her face as she reacts to things, including that great scene where she breaks down in the airport shuttle. What was it like working with her one last time as a character?
It was great! I love Rhea. Rhea is simply beautiful. And the camera loves it as much as I do. So just getting your hands on those blueprints, on that real moving bus was a challenge. The two scenes where she is driving in Florida and the one where Gene is driving in Omaha in the snow, those were shot on a soundstage in a stationary vehicle with a burnt plate. But things on the bus were a real rental car shuttle looping within sight of the Albuquerque airport. We just locked up four cameras and let them roll, and I sat there trying to get as much out of his gaze as possible. It was just a pleasure to watch her. We did two takes. We didn’t even need it. But I’m the anxious type, and I was going to have more than one take. I think we used the second, but it was just as brilliant as the first. It’s just a pleasure to watch her do her thing.
Why did you want to put Kim and Jesse Pinkman together for a scene?
I love them both so much. It’s that simple. We try to tell these stories as organically as possible, and we do. But a scene like that is, I hate to admit, just nice to write, nice to direct. It doesn’t really advance the plot. In strict, organic storytelling terms, it’s not “necessary.” But it was just fun. And yes, I love those two. I think we all wanted — I can’t remember who came up with the idea — that we wanted to see these two worlds collide. We couldn’t help ourselves.
These episodes take place after breaking Bad and after The path. From now on, they are the chronological end of this story. Do you see that as such for this fictional universe, or could you imagine revisiting it?
I can definitely imagine seeing him again. Selfishly, I would like to do it, to keep it going. But without naming names, I look around me at some of the worlds, universes, stories that I love, whether they are on TV or in the cinema. And I think there’s a certain point, and it’s hard to define, where you’ve done too much in the same universe. Leave him alone. And some universes are much bigger and more elastic. Ours is very small, Albuquerque, New Mexico, compared to some of those worlds and series of movies and TV shows. The main thing I’m afraid of is becoming too much of a one-trick pony. Yes, I could do more with this universe. And maybe one day I will, especially if I fail in whatever comes next. Then I’ll come crawling back. But right now, whether there’s more room to grow or not — and there probably is — I feel like it’s time to do something new.
Having basically done these shows and The path for over 15 years, how does it feel to come to the end?
It’s funny. A lot of people have asked me lately, and it didn’t really resonate with me. The end of breaking Bad was really a clear line, a clear demarcation. I remember being on set the last day, and everyone was very emotional. It was many years ago. It’s been 15 years now, and it was only sixth year or something, and it felt bigger, more monumental. This may not be a satisfactory answer. Maybe it hasn’t hit me yet. I think it affected Peter, I think it affected the writers and the actors. It may be a delayed reaction. Hopefully it won’t be as intense and as public as what Kim is going through on that rental car shuttle. But maybe it’s like her reaction, after six years, to crying for Howard Hamlin and all she cries for – her lost soul. I hope I’m home alone if that happens.
Okay, you promised to answer the time machine question before you go. Is there anything you would like to change breaking Bad just to make your life easier You better call Saul?
Yes. Well, you know, I’ll probably think of a good answer after I hang up. But I think it’s telling that I can’t think of a good answer off the top of my head, even after thinking about it for a few minutes here. There are certain moments where we thought, “Oh, it would be better if this character lived” or “It would be better if we could kill this character”. But none of that to our detriment, I remember. It’s a challenge: Do you want the Rubik’s Cube to be easier, if you are a Rubik’s Cube type puzzle solver? No, you don’t. Especially in hindsight once you’ve solved it. I really don’t regret anything we did.