‘Better Call Saul’ creators, stars on nailing the series finale: ‘Sweaty palms and sleepless nights’

With the series finale coming up on Aug. 15, the creators and stars of “Better Call Saul” sounded reflective during a virtual Television Critics Association session on Wednesday. Vince Gilligan, creator of “Breaking Bad” and co-creator and executive producer of “Better Call Saul” said he appreciates that viewers allowed “Better Call Saul” to develop its own identity, and not be seen strictly as a “Breaking Bad” spin-off.

(You can stream “Better Call Saul” episodes on Philo, which offers a free trial; and on fubo TV, which also offers a free trial.)

After six seasons, and multiple Emmy nominations, “Better Call Saul” has nearly ended its story of how a small-time lawyer named Jimmy McGill evolved into the sleazy attorney Saul Goodman, the character Bob Odenkirk first played in “Breaking Bad.”

Is this the last hurrah for the characters viewers have watched during five seasons of “Breaking Bad” and six seasons of “Better Call Saul”? When a reporter asked if there were plans to do more projects associated with the “Breaking Bad” universe, Gilligan mentioned that, between “Breaking Bad,’ “Better Call Saul” and Netflix’s “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” the team had created 127 hours of “Breaking Bad”-related content.

You have to know when to leave the party, Gilligan said, indicating that he wasn’t planning on doing more “Breaking Bad”-adjacent projects. “You don’t want to be the guy with the lampshade on your head,” he said, adding that he wants to prove to himself that he’s not a “one-trick pony.”

However, Gilligan praised the team, and said he’d like to “keep the band together,” and maybe work with the creators and actors on something set in a different universe, with a different story.

“I love Albuquerque,” ​​where both “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” were filmed, said Peter Gould, the co-creator, showrunner and executive producer of “Better Call Saul.” He added that he loves Odenkirk, costar Rhea Seehorn, and Gilligan. “Never say never,” Gould said.

Both Odenkirk and Seehorn, who earned a long-awaited Emmy nomination this year for her role as Kim Wexler, said they were interested in doing something different, though as Seehorn said, “My brain goes more toward, how do I figure a way to work with these people again?”

While nobody leaked any details about what the final episode may involve, the penultimate episode saw Jimmy/Saul, who escaped from the authorities by assuming a new identity as Gene, a Cinnabon manager in Omaha, Nebraska, getting in hot water following his return to criminal activity.

Odenkirk said he wanted his character to do the right thing, but he was instead driven by self-destruction. A scam involving getting rich guys drunk and then breaking into their houses to steal their private information was “unhinged,” Odenkirk said. It had no purpose at all, other than scratching Jimmy/Saul/Gene’s itch to do something crazy, take it to the limit, and, Odenkirk thought, get caught.

“This show’s a tragedy,” Gilligan said. Jimmy/Saul/Gene is snipping off pieces of his soul, which makes viewers who have grown to care about the characters feel uncomfortable and sad.

In response to a reporter’s question about whether, in looking back, the creators would have done anything different, Gilligan mentioned a few things. In “Breaking Bad” for example, he said Aaron Paul’s teeth were too perfect. Since Paul was playing the character of Jesse, who had been beaten up several times and smoked a lot of meth, Gilligan now thinks Jesse’s teeth should have been more messed up.

Going back to “The X-Files,” where Gilligan worked as a writer and producer in his pre-”Breaking Bad” career, Gilligan regretted a mistake in an episode he wrote called “Folie à Deux.” Gilligan recalled having the character of Fox Mulder, played by David Duchovny, refer to something called “Helsinki syndrome.” Later, Gilligan realized he should have written “Stockholm syndrome,” a term for the psychological phenomenon of hostages who begin to sympathize with their captors.

Duchovny, Gilligan said, asked the writer if that “Helsinki syndrome” line was a riff on “Die Hard,” in which a fatuous would-be expert uses that phrase – the wrong one – to talk about the captive situation in the movie.

Asked if they felt tense about ending “Better Call Saul” in a way that will satisfy fans, Gilligan joked, “If we don’t win the Nobel Prize for this, I’m going to be very disappointed.”

Then, on a more serious note, Gilligan said he could talk with “unabashed delight” about the finale, because Gould wrote and directed it. Gilligan said Gould is a “modest gentleman” reluctant to sing his own praises, but Gilligan said the finale “is awesome. I can’t wait for people to see it.”

Gould acknowledged feeling stress about nailing the finale. “It’s a lot of pressure,” and very scary, he said, with lots of “sweaty palms and sleepless nights.” But those involved with the show, Gould said, are “very happy with where it ended,” and “I hope everyone else agrees.”

— Kristi Turnquist

kturnquist@oregonian.com 503-221-8227 @Kristiturnquist

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