One of the standout episodes from the most recent (and penultimate) season of Better Call Saul was an installment called “Bagman.” Written by Gordon Smith and directed by Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, Season 5 Episode 8 found Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) playing bagman for crime lord Lalo (Tony Dalton), only to be ambushed by men with guns. Luckily, Mike (Jonathan Banks) was there to keep Jimmy from being killed, but both of their vehicles were trashed in the process, leaving the two stranded in the desert for an extended period of time. The episode was not only cinematic and thrilling, but also wildly entertaining because Jimmy and Mike—two polar opposite characters—were forced to work together to survive.
If you got a Midnight Run vibe from the whole ordeal, that wasn’t an accident. During a recent extended interview with Collider (which we’ll be sharing next week), Better Call Saul showrunner Peter Gould revealed to me that the conceit for “Bagman” was actually hatched back when he and Gilligan were in post-production on the final season of Breaking Bad. Not only did Better Call Saul not exist yet, but they didn’t even know what structure or tone the series would take. But they did know that putting Jimmy and Mike in a scenario not unlike the Robert De Niro/Charles Grodin pairing in the classic comedy Midnight Run would make for some compelling storytelling:
“As the final season of Breaking Bad was in post, Vince and I used to take these long walks down the back alley at lunchtime. The back alleys of Burbank [are] some of the uglier streets in Los Angeles but somehow very conducive to conversation. We would just talk about what the show would be, and we got more and more excited. I have to say probably 85% of the things we talked about didn’t happen, but there’s a core of things we talked about that did happen, and one of the ones that excited me the most right at the beginning was the idea of doing a sort of Midnight Run episode with Jimmy and Mike. It took us 48 episodes to get there, it wasn’t until Season 5 that we got there, but we did get there I’m happy to say.”
It’s a testament to the patience and openness of the Better Call Saul writers that they didn’t try to force this episode to happen earlier. Indeed, in the early days of the AMC series’ tenure, Gilligan and Gould teased that they intended for Jimmy to make the shift into Saul Goodman by the end of Season 1 or Season 2. We now know that didn’t happen until the end of Season 4, but the show was all the better for it. What made Breaking Bad so great, and what now makes Better Call Saul so great, is the willingness of the show’s writers to listen to their characters, and to follow interesting storytelling paths rather than stick to their initial plans. That makes Better Call Saul one of the best shows on TV.
Look for much more from Gould on Collider soon.