WARNING! Spoilers follow for Breaking Bad and all three seasons of Better Call Saul. Having just wrapped up its explosive, emotional roller coaster of a third season and being renewed by AMC for a fourth, Better Call Saul is shaping up to be even greater than its predecessor Breaking Bad. In Breaking Bad, Saul Goodman was merely the comic relief, featured only in scenes where he was required to act as meth tycoon Walter White’s ‘criminal’ lawyer. But with Better Call Saul, he’s fleshed out into a deeply flawed, real human being with more dimensions than even his bald, goateed client. His real name is Jimmy McGill and he was driven to the dark side because he didn’t feel appreciated. There’s a beautiful tragedy to the fact that Slippin’ Jimmy tried to go straight and managed to get a law degree whilst working in the mail room of his brother Chuck’s firm HHM – and then Chuck silently halted Jimmy’s progression at the firm. This led Jimmy down the dark path that led to his fudging of Chuck’s documents to invalidate his case, breaking into Chuck’s house to destroy his confession tape, and leading Chuck into a mental breakdown in court. This prompted Chuck’s partner to delicately ask him to retire which all eventually led to Chuck’s suicide in the Season 3 finale. Jimmy’s relationship with Chuck is even more complex and troubled than Walt’s relationship with his DEA agent brother-in-law, Hank Schrader. Here are the fifteen most interesting behind-the-scenes facts about the Breaking Bad spin-off that could well be the best show on TV right now.
15. The cast and crew have all worked together before
Many of the actors and producers have previously worked together (aside from on Breaking Bad, of course). Bob Odenkirk and Julie Ann Emery (Betsy Kettleman) were both in the first season of Fargo. Raymond Cruz (Tuco) and Jonathan Banks (Mike) both appeared in the Gremlins movies. Patrick Fabian (Howard Hamlin) and Rex Linn (Kevin Watchell) were both in CSI: Miami. Michael McKean, who plays Jimmy’s brother Chuck, previously appeared in one of Vince Gilligan’s other shows: The X-Files spin-off, The Lone Gunmen. However, despite knowing Gilligan from that show, it was actually Walter White actor Bryan Cranston who recommended him for the role, having appeared with him on Broadway in All the Way. McKean had already appeared alongside Odenkirk in an episode of Odenkirk’s HBO sketch comedy Mr. Show called “Life Is Precious and God and the Bible.” Interestingly, All the Way was adapted for TV on HBO, with Cranston reprising his role as former President Lyndon B. Johnson.
14. The show contains some anachronisms
Just like Breaking Bad’s mention of Osama bin Laden’s death in a scene set years before the U.S. government shot his face off, Better Call Saul takes some liberties with its historical setting. Being a prequel to Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul begins taking place in 2002, which is six years before Walter White is diagnosed with cancer and begins his journey toward meth kingpin-dom. This would mean Season 2 is set in 2003, although a Kia Soul can be spotted on the street, which didn’t come out until 2007, but that can be easily excused, and Season 3 is set in 2004. The scenes in the mall with Jimmy and the old ladies is filled with current corporate logos, not the 2004 ones. However, the 2004 setting would explain why Kim got her movies at Blockbuster in the Season 3 finale and didn’t just watch them on Netflix. But one must ask, where did they get that location? Aren’t they all shut down and dilapidated by now?
13. Better Call Saul is technically brilliant
Ever wonder why the shots in Better Call Saul are so freaking beautiful? The technical aspects of Better Call Saul are pretty fascinating. Breaking Bad has a kind of grainy, filmic look, which give it the look of a ‘70s thriller like Taxi Driver or an early, pulpy Tarantino movie, because it is shot on 35mm film. But the image of Better Call Saul is much cleaner and crisper than that, because they shoot it digitally on 4K. And because the storyboarding calls for shots from inside Chuck’s mailbox or inside a coffee cup, in order to maintain the 4K resolution, the crew use a very compact Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 camera. They also used a RED Dragon 4K digital camera in smaller locations like Jimmy’s car or his office.
12. Jimmy and Kim’s new secretary is also Saul’s secretary
In Season 3, Jimmy and Kim hire a secretary for their new office called Francesca, played by Tina Parker. When they interview her, Jimmy is much more enthusiastic about her candidacy than Kim is, and he ends up hiring her. By the end of Season 3, they have to give up the office and let her go, thanks to the injury Kim sustained in her horrific car crash and the suspension of Jimmy’s law license, thanks to Chuck’s jealous meddling. Francesca will be back at some point or another, mind you, because she’s Saul Goodman’s secretary throughout Breaking Bad, the same one who took a bribe from Walt after he broke the office window while breaking in to find Saul. Speaking about getting the call to return to the role of Francesca, Parker said, “My first reaction was, “Holy crap!” – which is a nicer word than what I actually used. What’s cool is that it’s Francesca at an earlier time in her life, so she’s totally different from the Francesca we know from Breaking Bad. [She’s] starting out with positivity and energy. She’s so sweet. It’s fun to delve into that, and I really didn’t know what they were going to do with her until I got the scripts.”
11. Peter Gould knows you hate Chuck
Better Call Saul co-creator, writer, and executive producer (as well as original creator of the Saul Goodman character), Peter Gould, knows you hate Chuck McGill, but Gould also has “a lot of empathy” for this character. Gould said, “We know that the audience loathes Chuck. It’s interesting because sometimes we feel just as the audience does about things and sometimes there’s a divide because we spend so much time thinking about these characters. We spend a lot of time with him, and if you loathe him on sight, maybe that’s not good for us as storytellers. I personally think Chuck does a lot of terrible things, but I have a lot of empathy for Chuck, especially as the season went on and he confronted his mental illness. I found it inspiring and heroic that that’s what he took from that wonderful, terrible episode 5 when he broke down in court. There’s another version of the story where that breakdown just makes him go out and destroy Jimmy, and that wasn’t where Chuck went.”
10. The entire show began as a joke in the writers’ room
Better Call Saul grew out of a joke amongst the Breaking Bad writers in the years they were writing latter show. Vince Gilligan, the creator of both shows, said, “It started as a lark in the writers’ room. I love writing for the Saul character and love putting words in his mouth. We’d come up with some phrase and say, “You know, when we’re doing the Saul Goodman show, we’ll be able to…” And we made that comment so many times that it started to dawn on us that it wasn’t a lark but a potentially good idea. All good jokes have a core of truth to them. Looking back, we were joking about it so much because it really was an exciting idea to us.”
9. Michael McKean might return as Chuck
At the end of the dark Season 3 finale “Lantern,” Chuck McGill sits at home in the middle of the night after tearing his house apart, repeatedly kicking the coffee table has the lantern that is lighting the room, sitting on it. Eventually he kicks it enough that the lantern falls off, ignites a fire on the floor, and Chuck seemingly commits suicide by burning his house down. However, his death is not actually shown, leading to speculation that maybe he didn’t actually die and could be heroically saved by Jimmy in the Season 4 premiere or something. Chuck is definitely dead, as revealed by his actor Michael McKean in an interview with Collider: “It seemed like this was kind of the end of Chuck’s chapter in the life of Jimmy McGill slash Saul Goodman. It’s almost like the rock and a hard place – they can’t be too comfy together for too long or else you have to ask, what is the point of having Chuck? If Chuck is the person that Jimmy cared for and took care of, and who transformed into his antagonist, and then transformed into this wreck – this person who has no choice but to try and fix himself and has no tools for himself – it seemed like a logical step.” However, “Lantern” may not have been Chuck’s final episode, as Better Call Saul executive producer Peter Gould has since indicated that Chuck could return in a flashback scene in the future.
8. The producers don’t know why Chuck killed himself
According to Peter Gould, the reason why Chuck kicked the lantern over and burned his house down with himself inside it is up to the audience to interpret for themselves. He said, “The reasons why Chuck does what he does are deep and complicated. I think a lot of that is for the viewer to decide. I personally dragged my feet over what he does. It seems very apparent where the story was going, and I resisted it at every turn until it felt inevitable. This is a master manipulator who’s outsmarted himself. He’s been so reluctant to show vulnerability and so prideful that he’s really lost everything that matters to him. It’s ironic when Howard says to him at the beginning of episode 10, “You’ve won.” He does win every battle, but he loses the war. At the end, he’s left by himself in this big house with presumably a lot of money, but somehow he finds it very difficult to go on.”
7. Saul’s wishes for the future came true
In the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad, “Granite State,” as Saul is sitting in the relocator’s basement with Walt, waiting to be whisked away to a new life, he described to the former Heisenberg his “best case scenario” for the future: “If I’m lucky, month from now, best case scenario, I’m managing a Cinnabon in Omaha.” The relocator creates a fake Nebraska driver’s license with Saul’s face on it and the name “Gene.” When we catch up with him in his new life at the beginning of Better Call Saul (and every subsequent season of the show), he’s now the manager of a Cinnabon in Omaha, Nebraska, and his name is Gene. The fact that these scenes are in black and white is an homage to Alexander Payne’s movie Nebraska, which was shot in black and white and features Bob Odenkirk in a supporting role alongside Bruce Dern and Will Forte.
6. Better Call Saul was very different in the early stages
Better Call Saul was very different during its early stages of development. After Breaking Bad ended, AMC were eager to continue the brand and keep the fan base coming back to their network and bringing them lots of revenue, so they asked Vince Gilligan to expand the Breaking Bad universe and create a new show for them. He considered doing a show about the events that surrounded Walter White’s (SPOILER!) death at the end of Breaking Bad, but that would ruin the ambiguity of the ending. In the beginning, it was debated whether or not the show should be a half-hour comedy series, but in the end, they settled on the hour-long drama format. The show is all the better for it, fleshing out the Jimmy McGill character to create a three-dimensional character study, not just of Jimmy, but of Chuck, of Mike, of Kim – everyone. Gilligan wasn’t originally going to run the show like he has been – he was going to develop the show throughout Season 1 and then hand the reins over to co-creator Peter Gould – but he enjoyed making the show so much that he decided to stay on full-time.
5. There are more familiar faces from Breaking Bad than you think
Sure, you recognize Bob Odenkirk as Saul, Jonathan Banks as Mike, Raymond Cruz as Tuco, Mark Margolis as Hector Salamanca, and Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring from Breaking Bad. But there are some other familiar faces that have cropped up that perhaps you missed. For example, the nurse who tested Brock for ricin poisoning and tried to calm down a panicked Jesse is the same nurse who treats Chuck when he goes crazy after being exposed to electricity at the end of season 1. Ken, the smarmy stockbroker whose car Walter White blows up, is the same guy who Jimmy and Kim trick into paying their expensive bar tab in season 2 of Better Call Saul. In the season 2 episode “Gloves Off,” the that man Mike buys his guns from is the same guy who sells Walt the gun he eventually uses in the series finale of Breaking Bad. Domingo Molina, better known as Krazy-8, appears in Better Call Saul to make cash payments to the Salamancas, often coming up short. In Breaking Bad, he’s the guy whose sandwiches Walt cuts the crusts off of and then strangles to death. Also, those pesky, creepy cousins have returned to Better Call Saul briefly to terrorize Mike.
4. Chuck was never supposed to be a bad guy
As the show’s co-creator Vince Gilligan explained during his Reddit AMA, Chuck McGill was never intended to be an antagonistic character when he and Peter Gould were first conceiving the show. He was merely Jimmy’s eccentric brother with a strange allergy to electricity that might just be a mental disorder, who knows? But as the story progressed, they realized Chuck should be the one holding back Jimmy’s career in spite of all the care he provides for him. As Gilligan puts it, “[The] idea of Chuck being the “bad guy” was a late addition to Season 1. We were probably working on episode 7 when the idea dawned on us that Chuck had been the reason Jimmy had never moved forward at HHM.” He then added, “When that idea dawned on Peter Gould and I, along with our writers, we got very excited. But back to an earlier answer, this points out one of the things I love most about writing for TV. There are enough episodes and enough lead time (if you’re lucky) for writers to change the direction of a story midstream. We took advantage of that in Season 1 of Better Call Saul, and in the past for Breaking Bad. It’s a great creative opportunity to have at one’s disposal.”
3. Better Call Saul is riddled with connections to Breaking Bad
The salon in which Jimmy has his little office at the beginning of the show is the same place he offers to Jesse Pinkman to launder his money in Breaking Bad. Also, that office is located on Juan Tabo, the same street where Gale Boetticher lives (and where Jesse shoots him in the face). Saul Goodman already told us his real name was McGill back in Breaking Bad during his very first appearance on the show. Years later, he gets his own spin-off and his real name is revealed to be Jimmy McGill. In Breaking Bad, Saul Goodman drives a 1997 Cadillac DeVille. This car is actually featured in Better Call Saul, as Jimmy parks his rusty,old, yellow (with one red door) Suzuki Esteem right next to this same Caddy in a parking lot. Also, the key fob Saul puts in Chuck’s mailbox when he goes to visit is the same key fob that Walter White used to set off the machine gun in the Breaking Bad finale.
2. Aaron Paul might finally appear on Better Call Saul soon
The whole reason Saul Goodman began his stint on Breaking Bad in the first place was because Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) was already a client of his and wanted a ‘criminal’ lawyer to represent him and his meth-cooking partner Walt. So, when exactly does Jesse become one of Saul’s clients? Aaron Paul has been dropping hints about a possible appearance on Better Call Saul ever since it first aired in 2015. Just before Season 2 aired, he said that he’d been in “serious talks” with Vince Gilligan about possibly appearing on the show, but later told The Huffington Post that they had ultimately decided against it. And then, a few months prior to Season 3’s airing, he was asked about a possible appearance and he cryptically said, “God, I hope so. Maybe I already shot the…We – They just wrapped the last season.” Ellen DeGeneres pressed him on it and he said he “could be” returning. Ultimately, again, he did not appear in the show. However, Paul did say, “They wouldn’t want to throw Jesse in just so the audience could see him in the background. He’d have to really enter the story,” and there wasn’t really the chance for that to happen in Season 3, since Jimmy wasn’t practising law. But he’s now adopted the Saul Goodman moniker and he’ll be practising law again in no time, so Paul could be showing up in Season 4 next year. Fingers crossed!
1. The fire and ice theory
Peter Gould, who used to write for Breaking Bad and now acts as the co-creator and executive producer of Better Call Saul, added a post to his Twitter page that outlined the importance of color in Better Call Saul. This is known as “the fire and ice theory.” Characters who are evil or immoral wear red clothing (i.e. “fire”) and characters who are good of heart with strong moral fiber wear blue clothing (i.e. “ice”). The symbolism goes even further than that, too – the shade of the red or blue indicates exactly how good or bad the characters are. For example, Tuco is wearing a red shirt when he kidnaps Jimmy and the two brothers and takes them out into the desert at the start of Season 1. And when Nacho talks Tuco down and saves his victims, he can be seen wearing a blue shirt. However, Nacho wears a red shirt when he goes to Jimmy’s office to talk about ripping off the Kettlemans. And consider this: Jimmy’s yellow car has one red door…