Bob Odenkirk chose his words carefully.
The actor and comedian, perched on a sofa at his home in Los Angeles, tried to answer questions about the final season of ‘Better Call Saul’, his ‘Breaking Bad’ spin-off series, without saying a word that could be interpreted like a spoiler.
“I now know what’s going on, of course,” Odenkirk said evenly, “and I’d like to talk to you about it.”
It might seem odd that the final 13 episodes of “Better Call Saul” are peppered with so many question marks ahead of the season premiere on April 18. The show is a prequel to one of the most popular shows of the last quarter century, which means millions of people around the world already know that the character of Odenkirk, the Albuquerque cheap peddler and hapless public defender Jimmy McGill, turns into the flashy, flamboyant lawyer known as Saul Goodman in “Breaking Bad.”
But the writers of “Better Call Saul” have always had more tricks up their pinstripe sleeves.
Over the course of 50 intricately written episodes, co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have hooked viewers on a cast of characters who don’t even appear on “Breaking Bad” — as far as we know. What fate will be in store for embattled cartel lieutenant Nacho Vargo (Michael Mando); Jimmy’s ethically malleable partner, Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn); the white-shoe lawyer Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian)? How exactly do their rich stories intersect with the saga of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), the meth-cooking antihero who started it all?
“I think how ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Better Call Saul’ come together in our final season will be of great satisfaction to all fans,” Odenkirk said in a Zoom chat, appearing to consider every syllable as he was talking. .
Gould, for his part, recently confirmed that the final season will feature Cranston and Aaron Paul, the Emmy-winning actor who played Walter’s accomplice Jesse Pinkman.
“Better Call Saul,” like its hit predecessor, is set in a decidedly seedy setting: life on the fringes of early-2000s Albuquerque, a parched landscape of ramshackle strip malls, stucco motels, and caravan trailers. cheap office in the middle of the desert. Jimmy McGill starts out living in a utilitarian closet in the back of a nail salon, where he tries (and fails) to make it as an honest lawyer, but finds more lucrative opportunities as a con artist and fixer for some of the biggest in town. miserable criminals.
The series debuted in 2015, and the fifth season began airing on AMC over two years ago, in late February 2020, just before Covid shut down everything and delayed production of the final episode. Production was again briefly disrupted after Odenkirk suffered a heart attack and collapsed on set in July 2021. He resumed filming in early September and told NBC News he had recovered. Twenty-four months after the last episode aired, “Saul” feels like a welcome blast from the past in more ways than one.
The show was arguably prescient, anticipating a flurry of stories about daring con artists who range from documentaries about the ill-fated Fyre Festival to scripted projects about Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes (“The Dropout”) and fraudulent socialite. Anna Delvey (“Inventing Anna”). “Saul” is certainly the most incisive trickster story of the lot: a dark and deeply comedic yet profoundly sad portrait of a man essentially addicted to lies, utterly convinced that a shameless corner cut will earn him the respect he thinks he deserves.
“Jimmy McGill is driven by resentment and a sense of revenge. It is too often guided by feelings of pain, instead of letting things go and making choices disconnected from those feelings,” Odenkirk said. “I would judge that to be a bad choice, but that’s the character they [Gilligan and Gould] created, and they must act on it.
Soul of ‘Saul’
“Breaking Bad” is one of the flagship shows of the era of prestige television, but the artistic fecundity of “Saul” was not assured. The prequel series lacks the “Mr. Chips-to-Scarface” and struts around at a different, low-key but jazzy tempo. “Breaking Bad” was often high-octane; “Saul” is relatively quieter, with a defiant shaggy dog spirit.And yet there are plenty of violent shocks and propulsive twists as Jimmy is more deeply connected to a vicious Juárez drug cartel and the gleefully sociopathic Lalo Salamanca (a terrifying Tony Dalton) .
“Saul” is not a monster classified by Nielsen as “Breaking Bad”. But many fans and critics now think the two shows are equal, contrasting provocatively. Walter White’s descent into evil was Wagnerian in intensity, but the gradual nature of Jimmy’s moral downfall is more painful, like witnessing the slow implosion of an unlucky friend.
Seehorn, one of the show’s leading performers, was thrilled at the chance to also exemplify Kim Wexler’s stunning evolution as a character who dwells in the gray area between professional competence and ethical slipperiness.
“I find it fascinating, personally. They [the writers] left room for there to be subtext. They do that with all the characters, but she [Kim] was constantly in situations where she didn’t show her cards,” Seehorn said. The result might have been inscrutable, she added, “but instead I was encouraged to play the subtext in a way that let the audience in.”
The prequel series also delves deeper into the psyches of some of “Breaking Bad’s” pulpiest characters, like calmly calculating drug lord Gustavo “Gus” Fring (Giancarlo Esposito, annoyingly) and gritty ex-cop Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks, never better). In an interview, Esposito said he was initially reluctant to reprise his role in “Saul”, unsure he could bring new dimensions to a villain known for his stone face.
“I was suspicious,” Esposito said with a laugh, “and I had to talk to Vince about what the plan was. We had to agree that the mysterious nature of Gustavo, in terms of his past, be preserved.The prequel also gave Esposito some intriguing new notes to hit: “Gus [on ‘Saul’] is more impetuous, less reserved. His cards are less close to his chest.
Esposito’s character met a particularly gruesome end on ‘Breaking Bad’ — Google if you must, but you’ve been warned — and some ‘Saul’ fans are worried about the violence or tragedy that awaits their favorite characters. Mando – who plays Nacho, the cartel’s embattled subordinate desperate to break free from his brutal existence – said his character was pushed to the brink in season six, “with the highest possible stakes”.
“I never thought it would be a dream role for me, and it only really started to make sense at the end of that season. When you’re in it for five or six years, you can’t not really seeing outside of what you’re doing, you’re too close to the canvas,” Mando said. “The biggest surprise was how heroic and tragic and romantic the character was. I didn’t want to play a stereotypical cartel guy, and I wanted to give some humanity to this part of the world.
The end of the road
The final season, which airs in two parts – seven episodes in April and May, six episodes in July and August – pulls back the curtain on a character Odenkirk has played for much of the past 13 years, redefining the career of a fellow performer previously best known for HBO’s cult sketch series “Mr. Show.” It also closes a chapter on a surrogate family that has sprung up around the production.
“It was a real family,” Seehorn said. “We read about actors on shows all the time who say they all get along, and I hope most actors get along…but we’re real friends.”
During production for the past three seasons, Odenkirk shared a home in New Mexico with Seehorn and Fabian, a witty conversationalist who said he modeled his character’s distinctive walk on Cary Grant.
“We were like a troupe of college actors,” Fabian said with a smile. “We spent the whole day with each other and then we would meet at home around the kitchen table to talk about what happened today and what will happen tomorrow,” adding that the roommates were rehearsing and queuing together between grocery stores. and hikes.
“Patrick was the activities director,” Odenkirk said fondly. “Rhea and I were the indulgent actors – talking, talking, while speaking about their [expletive] characters,” Odenkirk joked. “We talked about motivations, theory, psychology and shooting styles, breaking them down all day. It was a beautiful friendship and partnership. »
The final season could offer some closure on what became of Jimmy after he fled Albuquerque following the events of “Breaking Bad” and reinvent himself once again as Gene Takovic, manager of a Cinnabon mall. in Omaha, Nebraska. Odenkirk said he always believed it was important that the writers didn’t completely rule out the possibility of enlightenment — or something like that — for his small-screen alter ego.
“I asked that they consider that sometimes people learn the right lessons. Walter White had a degree of self-awareness that he acquired through his selfish, selfish, and destructive path. You could call it an advantage,” Odenkirk said. “I always wondered if Vince Gilligan even believed it was possible that a human being could learn the right lessons or grow in a positive way, instead of just becoming more consumed by their weaker instincts as they get older. .”
Odenkirk’s request was to “be part of the conversation” behind the scenes, he said. But of course, the actor was tight-lipped about the end point of Jimmy McGill’s treacherous moral odyssey.
“I can’t tell you where it’s going. It’s not black and white. I wouldn’t claim the character to become a saint,” Odenkirk said, “because that’s not the case at all.”