Jimmy McGill will be behind bars for a very long time. But he may have just saved his soul from eternal damnation.
In the beginning of the series finale of Better Call Saul, the always-dealing, never-quite-honest, charismatic, emotionally bankrupt lawyer (Bob Odenkirk) — who had been hiding out as a Cinnabon manager in Omaha — was finally nabbed by the police. And just when he seemed at his lowest, holed up in jail, he channeled his powers for good. Or make that Saul Goodman. He impressively negotiated the feds down to a 7-year sentence for a long list of crimes. But after learning that his ex-wife Kim (Rhea Seehorn) had come clean on her end, he schemed up a new plan, seemingly turning on her for an even lighter sentence.
How low would he go? The answer is... no. Turns out, it was all a ruse, and with her in the courtroom, he owned up to his full role in Walter White's (Bryan Cranston) meth empire. And then he unearthed more of his soul and truly communed with himself, accepting responsibility for all the misdeeds in his life, especially what he'd done to his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), who was driven to suicide. Gene may have transformed back into Saul, but Jimmy shed that hollowed-out Goodman shell and became the person he always wanted to be — but was just out of reach. And it only cost him 79 more years of his life. (But with good behavior…)
How did Jimmy pull off his biggest move? Where does that leave Kim and Jimmy? Is this truly the end of the serpentine road? Let's call the main office and let them know they're going to need a new manager, trust experience (and Oakley), crack open a pint of Bluebell mint chocolate chip ice cream, and light up a cigarette (in color, with everything around it still in black and white): Co-creator/showrunner Peter Gould is here to break down the key moments of the epic send-off that was "Saul Gone."
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Jimmy was a man who couldn't transact with his pain and regrets, as we were reminded by in those flashback conversations with Mike [Jonathan Banks] and Walt. How did you arrive at the idea that Jimmy McGill would follow Arthur Jensen's orders and atone? What drew you to the idea that Mr. Shortcut chose the hardest way possible to make amends and surrendered truly to the world at large, not the one he tries to create in his head with Saul Goodman?
PETER GOULD: I love the way you put that. It felt right that Saul has been in court so many times as an attorney, and now he's there as a prisoner. And it felt right that he's made a mockery of the justice system, and now he's part of it. He's gone from being one of the people in the courtroom who runs the courtroom to be the subject. And that just felt right. But he does have agency and he makes this choice when he hears about what Kim has done. I don't think it's a choice from the head. I think it's a choice from the heart. "I'm going be honest for once, even though it's gonna cost me dearly." [Laughs] And he makes a big change in this episode.
It costs him everything but his soul and Kim. After he gets honest about his role in Walter White's crime and accepts responsibility, he looks back at Kim, as if he's done the right thing. But then he sees something in her face and continues. And then he opens up deeper and more personally, owning his role in driving Chuck from the law, and into killing himself — real emotion and contrition, not the crocodile tears that he fooled the hearing board and Kim with several seasons ago. Did seeing the look on her face remind him that he wasn't quite there yet, that there was much more heavy lifting to go? And he could show her that he could still be someone worthy?
You can see when he makes his entrance to the courtroom, he's almost cocky. He comes into that courtroom as Saul Goodman and he leaves as Jimmy McGill. He's cocky because he knows he's going to confess, but boy, is he going to wow them with his confession. And that's why he's dressed in the Saul suit. He's going to take his medicine, but he's going to get his moment in the spotlight before that. And when he looks at Kim, I think it awakens a more human instinct. He's talked about the things that he's accused of, but the things that no one in the courtroom has accused him of — like what had happened with Chuck — those are the things that weigh just as heavily on his conscience. And that's why he goes there. And all through the episode with Mike and with Walt, that's exactly where he wouldn't go. When he talks about his regrets, he picks out something that's kind of superficial. I love the way Bob and Rhea play it.
Greg Lewis/AMC (2) Bob Odenkirk as Gene and Rhea Seehorn as Kim on 'Better Call Saul
How much progress do you think Kim has made moving beyond punishing herself and heading toward reparation and healing through doing what she loves to do, helping those in need? We see her volunteer at that legal clinic, and even if she doesn't think she deserves to be a lawyer yet, she can at least start at the bottom by answering phones.
I think she's back on the path. And you can see in the way that Rhea carries herself in that final sequence that she's come into her own again. You can draw your own conclusions, but it's hard for me to think that she's going to leave it answering phones. I think she sees there are people who need help, and in fact that office that she walks into is very much like what she described earlier to Cliff [Ed Begley Jr.], way back in episode 4, and it's very much what she wanted to do in the first place. So I have high hopes for Kim Wexler.
The audience gets to see Walt one more time, when he and Saul are waiting for extraction by the Disappearer near the end of Breaking Bad. How much does Jimmy see that his relationship with Walt is similar to the one he had with Chuck?
There's some of that there. That's the note Walt hits at the end when he says, "You were always like this." And I think the reason why that rings for Jimmy is that is exactly Chuck's take: "You are who you are and that's who you're going to stay." And that's the question of the episode: Is that true? I think by going into court and doing what he does, Jimmy in some ways maybe breaks himself free of Chuck's curse.
Marie [Betsy Brandt] makes an appearance, putting a face on the hurt that Saul caused in the Breaking Bad era. She almost came back in a previous season while working as a lab technician, but you said it felt too distracting. What felt right about this? And was there talk of bringing Skyler [Anna Gunn] or even Walt Jr. [RJ Mitte] into the courtroom?
We would've loved to have, RJ Mitte and Anna Gunn back. First of all, I think we wanted one person to be the voice of this. And when we thought about it, their relationship to what Saul did is more complicated, especially because in some ways, Skyler was his co-conspirator, and you can imagine the part of Skyler's deal — she's a big part of the evidence against Saul if they were going to take this to trial. So it didn't feel logical for either one of them to be there in court. And the only reason that Betsy's character is in the earlier scene is that she's got the DEA connection. Because you wouldn't normally have a victim actually coming to a sentencing negotiation. She's flown all the way to Omaha because she wants to finally lay eyes on this guy, who's the only one left to really bear the burden of what happened to her husband [Hank, played by Dean Norris]. And to her family.
Jimmy and Kim two share a cigarette in the interrogation room, a cool callback to the parking garage scene in the pilot. We could send that scene right to TCM right now; I'm not sure if Jimmy did build a time machine so you could film that decades ago. The dialogue is sparse, but there's so much there. It's bittersweet and intimate. It seems that they now truly understand each other and recognize who they each are, warts and all. What emotions did you want to conjure?
I think there's an honesty between them. I find it very sad because the question of the show is: What might have been? What might have been if they'd both had more belief in themselves than in their relationship? But they both come out of this. It's a very grown-up moment. I don't know if it's a big thing to say — I think they still love each other in some way. There's so much regret and so much connection in that scene that it really touches me. In some ways, it's a downbeat ending, but in other ways it's a hopeful ending because he's won his humanity back. I don't know if he's redeemed himself; that's a big word. I don't know how you redeem yourself after the things he's been part of. But he has won his humanity back and he is truly Jimmy. And she's the only person there who's calling him Jimmy. Everyone else in the prison is calling him Saul. She truly sees him. And I think he sees her, too.
In that very last scene of the finale, there's so much distance between them with those two security fences. He gives her the double guns, which carry heavy meaning on the show, and she stares at him and walks away. But she looks back one final time. It's a huge decision to select the final images of the show, and I heard you were back and forth on what they would be. What options did you consider, and what did you love about this one?
I spent a lot of time trying to decide whether to end in the interview room scene, with the two of them leaning against the wall, or to end with her leaving the prison. And it felt incomplete to me to leave them against the wall. For one thing, it felt like maybe there was more story there [laughs] in a weird way. And it felt more honest to have her leave the prison because, of course, she does have to leave. But whether she'll be back or not is for the audience to decide.
[Kim] originally shot the guns back, but we decided to use the version without. We started feeling that folks would interpret this as "Kim's back in the game" — and we didn't want that!
There's still love between Jimmy and Kim. In your mind, do you know when they see each other next?
[Laughs] You know what? I have a thought, but I'd rather not close everything up for the audience. This is our last episode in this universe, and my fervent hope is that people are going to be thinking about these characters and imagining what happens next.
Bob described the series finale shoot as "f---ing grueling." What was unique to this challenge?
I don't know that the audience is going to see how grueling it was because the courtroom was certainly an issue for us. We wanted to use a real courtroom, and it was very hard to find one that would pass as a federal courtroom in Albuquerque. We were worried that we're going to have to build it, which was an undertaking. And I don't think it would've had the reality that we were hoping for. And lucky for us, the Supreme Court in the state of New Mexico came through for us — even with COVID restrictions, which were one of the great obstacles. They allowed us to use a gorgeous courtroom on the top floor of their building. It's a very unique courtroom. It has a skylight, which I haven't really seen before, it was only available on the weekends. So we had to switch the whole crew to working Wednesday through Sunday.
We had a giant snowstorm that actually stuck a good portion of the crew at a location. We shot at a prison, which was freezing cold and also was a working prison — it was very sobering and upsetting, let's put it that way. We were out in the desert shooting a scene that was supposed to be in the blazing heat [laughs] and it was actually damn cold. Last season we shot in the desert and it was way too hot. And this time we shot in the desert, it was way too cold, so we just can't win.
Also, you look at Bob and he's playing almost every single version of this character in one episode. He's playing the guy out in the desert with Mike, he's playing Saul as he was in Breaking Bad, he's playing Gene terrified and running. He's playing Saul Goodman, negotiating like a boss. And so his appearance changes, his demeanor changes, his core changes. And then you reveal who this man really is. This person who's been experimenting so much with different sides of himself and who's made so many terrible decisions actually makes a decision he can live with. It was a very complicated episode.
What do you remember saying to Bob and Rhea when you called "Cut" for the last time and said, "That's a series wrap on Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn"?
There were a lot of tears. The whole crew is standing there in masks, incredibly moved, having finished an extremely difficult season. And certainly Bob's health scare [he suffered a heart attack] was a big part of that, then also COVID. Bob and Rhea both gave very moving speeches to the crew. And then we unveiled the gifts for both of them. There were miniatures made this season for each of the cast members, so Bob got a reproduction of Saul's office, and actually, I bought one for myself because I love it so much. Rhea got her apartment balcony.
You've said that you'd like to move on to other projects, but that you will "never say never" about returning to the Breaking Bad universe. How cracked open is the door? And do you have some ideas kicking around for one day down the road?
I think we're going to put it aside for a bit. But look, this world is so rich and these characters are so layered and these actors are so wonderful that we'd be crazy not to at least wonder and kind of daydream about what the other possibilities are.
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