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[This story contains spoilers for the series finale of Better Call Saul.]
“Face the music. You walk in with your head held high, you’ll be the John Dillinger of the Metropolitan Detention Center. How bad is that?”
That was the parting advice that Saul Goodman gave Walter White in Breaking Bad’s “Granite State,” and nearly nine years later, the con artist formerly known as Jimmy McGill has taken his own counsel in Better Call Saul’s series finale, “Saul Gone.” Saul Co-creator Peter Gould wrote and directed both of the aforementioned episodes, and quite fittingly, he made sure that Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) took a roundabout way towards accepting responsibility and permanently shedding the Saul Goodman persona.
Up until the eleventh hour, Saul was on the verge of finagling a generous deal that would’ve put him behind bars for seven years in a country club prison, but he ultimately came clean about the extent of his crimes, in hopes that Cheryl Hamlin (Sandrine Holt) will forego a civil suit against Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn), given her own involvement in Howard Hamlin’s (Patrick Fabian) death. Of course, Jimmy also wanted to show Kim that the good man she fell in love was still in him, somewhere, and that he was capable of showing sincerity and remorse, something she’s wanted to see from him since he manipulated the bar committee into reinstating his law license at the end of season four.
Like the main character, the series finale itself was also taking shape at the last minute as Gould and his collaborators had to make some tough choices.
“First of all, the finale was considerably longer than what aired. There were some directorial flourishes that got cut,” Gould said Tuesday in response to The Hollywood Reporter’s question during an AMC-hosted virtual press conference. “There were also a couple scenes of the [opening] chase that we took out. It was important to all of us, especially to me, that it feel like another episode of the show and not feel excessively weighty or slow. And so there were some very nice performances that were minimized.”
Gould also vacillated on which Kim and Jimmy scene should end the series.
“I was on the bubble about the very last scene in the prison yard. There was a version that didn’t have that; it ended with the two of them smoking,” Gould added. “I went back and forth on that for a while, and ultimately, having watched them both, it felt more honest to end with the two of them apart, rather than the two of them together. We struggled in the editing, more so than most episodes. Maybe it was the extra pressure of it being the finale that caused me to teeter a few times, much to the annoyance of everyone in post-production.”
The intimate smoking scene serves as a bookend to the series premiere’s (“Uno”) parking garage scene that first introduced viewers to Kim and Jimmy’s unusual love story and cigarette sharing. For Odenkirk and Seehorn, it was the perfect way to wrap their filming experience.
“It was the easiest scene we ever shot,” Odenkirk tells reporters with a laugh. “It was a lot of feelings from six years of working with each other and playing these people. It’s one of the few times where one of them isn’t trying to manipulate the moment and push some argument in some direction. They could just exist next to each other, something they very much like to do.”
Added Seehorn: “It was the very last scene we shot of the series. This is them at their best. It’s a horrible place, but they’re without artifice and armor, and sort of maskless to each other, which is the best part of their relationship. [Jimmy] was very caretaking, steadying her hand. He tries to make her laugh a little bit, somehow letting her know it’s OK, because he can see that she’s scared for him.”
The finale also revisited “Granite State,” specifically the time period in which Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Saul bunked together in Best Quality Vacuum’s basement, while Ed Galbraith (the late Robert Forster) put the finishing touches on their new identities. And looking back, Odenkirk now sees Saul’s relationship with Walt in a whole new light thanks to a key familial relationship on Saul.
“That was a very impactful scene. Saul-Jimmy finds himself in a fucking room with a guy who’s just like his brother Chuck [Michael McKean] and he realizes he’s done it yet again,” Odenkirk says. “He’s put himself in a relationship with an older, smarter guy who treats him like shit, who he can’t gain any respect from. Isn’t that the way of people in real life, where they reenact these relationships they had as a child? It’s Jimmy realizing he’s rebuilt that [Chuck] relationship with Walter White and hating himself for it and wondering how he could ever get out.”
When Saul co-creator Vince Gilligan was developing El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, he utilized the Saul writers’ room as a sounding board, and the room largely opposed the idea of Jesse ending up in jail, having just escaped confinement and a literal pit of despair. But now there’s more to the story as Gould already had an inkling that Jimmy was fated for prison.
“[Vince Gilligan] pitched us potential endings to El Camino and one of the ending was very similar to this, except for Jesse,” Gould recalls. “Of course, it was beautifully pitched and beautifully thought-through, but I got a cold breeze on my back. I just felt so strongly that the right ending for Saul was to be in the system, the system that he’s made light of and twisted around for his own purposes. So some of us said, ‘What about another ending for Jesse?’ So in terms of the ‘trilogy’ of the shows, it feels very elegant that Walt dies, which he was always going to do. He dies on his own weird, twisted terms. Jesse suffers greatly. He’s in a prison of his own for quite a while and then he gets away to start healing. And of the three of them, Jimmy gets his soul back, but he’s going to be incarcerated for some amount of time. So it just felt right that these three protagonists each have their own ending. [Better Call Saul] certainly throws Breaking Bad and El Camino into a different light.”
Better Call Saul is now available on AMC+.
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