This article contains spoilers for Better Call Saul’s most recent episode, which we recapped here.
Thomas Schnauz, who joined Breaking Bad in Season Three and stayed through the conclusion of the prequel series, is the writer with the longest tenure in the entire Heisenberg-verse, surpassing Better Call Saul writers Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould. And in a sense, his involvement dates back even farther because it was him who first alerted Gilligan about a recent story he read about mobile meth laboratories, which set the wheels in motion for his old friend.
With the last episode, appropriately titled Breaking Bad, which shows flashbacks of Saul Goodman’s early encounters with Walter White and Jesse Pinkman (Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, reprising their legendary roles), Schnauz’s time as both a writer and director comes to a close.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Schnauz discussed a variety of topics, including how the chance to work with Cranston and Paul again came about, why the writing team thought it was crucial to juxtapose the Walt and Jesse scenes with what Saul is doing as Gene from Cinnabon, and much more.
You need to invite Walt and Jesse to this show at last. How many times throughout the years was this concept brought up? Was it simply postponed so you could decide it later? Have you ever considered not doing something? I believe we always had faith that they would return at some point. Just when or how was unclear to us. We started discussing this particular event in which Gene was reverting to his previous behavior. We can now clearly see how the breakup with Kim and her decision to withhold information about Lalo’s life from him for those reasons actually shattered Jimmy McGill as a person, which is what led him to transform into Saul. We don’t hear what occurs on the call he makes to Florida after the one he makes to Kim Wexler at the side of the road in this episode, but something on that call seems to bring back all the sorrow from the past and his need to hide it once more. Saul Goodman is his drug of choice because it’s the most effective treatment for him. Because of this, we thought it was a suitable place to alternate between the two eras. Additionally, it contributes to the resolution of some plot points from subsequent episodes.
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Peter once told me he wasn’t sure whether it was a good idea to depict events on Breaking Bad from Saul’s perspective since it would be like “racing through the raindrops.” Was there ever a time when he or another person in the room objected to you doing this? I strongly advocated for the phrase “let’s run through the raindrops” starting in Season One. I intended to drastically jumble the timelines. No one, I don’t believe, suggested, “Let’s not do this.” We may have all been debating whether or not to do this as the last season approached. And if we thought it would succeed, we would just proceed. And in this place, it seemed to work. For some reason, we discussed doing it in 610, “the previous episode,” but it seemed like we didn’t have enough Gene at that point to claim that switching between the two timelines actually works. He pulled the con in 610 to get Jeff to stop bothering him, but after that, he felt an adrenaline surge or whatever chemical it is that makes him forget about the agony. But after making that call, the agony returned and was severe. He smashed the phone and kicked the glass because he was in pain and needed to take the medication. And then he returns to it.
Did it make you feel more confident that Bryan and Aaron could simply perform those roles again if you brought them back after seeing them in El Camino in a sequence that was set not long after what they were portraying here?
I wasn’t really sure how it would pan out. Before we shot 602, I had to create this sequence for episode 611. The only time that Aaron and Bryan were accessible together was while 602 was being recorded, so we captured this during that moment. For Westworld, Aaron had to maintain certain standards for his facial hair. We could only do it at this time, which was in April 2021. In order to ensure that we wouldn’t be in trouble if we filmed this scene so early, I had to script it. Fortunately, it was self-contained. I took this picture of Bryan and Aaron posing like goofballs during a costume fitting while I was in my hotel room. And I was overjoyed. The day prior, we had a practice where everyone was locked in and the RV was ready to leave. It truly was a time warp. Being on that set and shooting with those men in that situation was absurd. I can’t express how well they did in assuming those positions enough. Bob in particular. As you watch Bob in the situation, you see how much more Saul Goodman-like he is than Jimmy. The character is so dissimilar than Jimmy McGill.
Aaron is now an adult. He no longer has the boyish appearance he had in Breaking Bad. Additionally, I couldn’t help but notice that the entire time the setting is dark and that he is wearing a beanie. Was he attempting to hide his age in that way? Yeah. I mean, I dread the day when people begin combining Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul into a single entity. Giancarlo and Banks are the only two who are older. Thoughts such, “Oh, Banks kind of looks the same” come to mind when watching Better Call Saul, but when compared to a scene from Breaking Bad, the differences are glaring. When you see Aaron, it will be similar to Saul and Breaking Bad. Although Bryan appeared remarkably unchanged, the beanies undoubtedly made a difference. It was merely done to prevent a lot of issues. Keeping the beanie on contributed considerably to the illusion. He doesn’t look like a skinny kid, I know people will continue to comment, but you either accept it or you don’t.
Was the RV inside set still in use after all these years, or did you have to create a new one for this episode?
That was all constructed. We had airbags that could shake and lift the vehicle off the ground.
Did you guys know what the call was going to be about when the Saul/Francesca flash-forward in Quite a Ride presented the idea that she would need to be at a pay phone on a specified date and time?
The call was added after we broke the episode in the writers room, so I wasn’t only unaware of what it would be about at first, I wasn’t even aware that it would be in the episode. After the season was interrupted and they realized we needed something, Peter and Ann “Cherkis” added that to the episode. I have no idea what they were considering! What the hell is this, I thought as soon as I saw it? Gordon “Smith” and the others make fun of the fact that I disagreed with everything, yet it somehow ended up in my lap and required my attention.
Gordon mentioned a flag the writers had placed earlier in the series during our discussion a few weeks ago. This flag would need to be addressed. This was it? That was the flag we planted, indeed. It’s not like there’s a gun in the car’s trunk. Answering is simpler. We can picture Gene calling Francesca from Omaha. We discussed Gene’s plans and the occasion for his need to speak with her. He would, of course, want to know the weather in Albuquerque and how things stood there. Is there any heat? Can I take a moment to unwind? Because his dread of being recognized dominates his existence as Gene. We discussed the questions he would ask Francesca.
You may put some Breaking Bad plot points to rest during the call, such as the revelation that Skyler struck a deal with the prosecution. Was it crucial for you to make this clear? There wasn’t much significance to it. I was just trying to picture what Francesca would say about finishing up and where everyone was.
You also responded to a burning query that arose as the last episode of Breaking Bad approached: Does Huell simply remain imprisoned in that DEA safe house for the remainder of his life?
I detested shattering that delusion. I hoped to continue that in some way. But that needed to be addressed. Jimmy is friends with Huell. They were, it turned out, quite near. So he felt compelled to inquire about Huell. And Kuby, we had wanted him for a Season Five episode, but “Bill Burr” wasn’t available, so we turned to Steven Ogg once more. He also brings up Danny. My aim was to have Pryce return and take over as the owner of the Laser Tag facility under the guise of Danny, so we gave him the real name Daniel Wormald. It simply didn’t transpire that way. However, it is who Gene is referring to when he says Danny in this context.
Why, in your opinion, is Mike working on Saul Goodman’s inquiry when he already has a highly lucrative position with the Gus Fring company?
I believe this is the case since Saul Goodman is a prominent figure in the area and has a pulse on many current events. Gus Fring uses it as a channel for information. If Mike knows Saul well, it’s a way to learn more. Aside from the Fring organization, it’s also a decent cover job. For Mike, I believe it works both ways.
On Breaking Bad, there are times when Saul looks unaware of Mike’s true allegiances, and there are times, such in when Mike threatens him in Full Measure, when it seems obvious that he is aware of who Mike’s true employer is. How much did you discuss the nature of their relationship when filming this particular episode and during the years that you produced this show? To see what was said, we had to go back and rewatch certain scenes. Nothing will ever be perfect, after all. The writers of Breaking Bad had no idea that there would ever be a prequel series featuring all of these characters. So, hopefully, it won’t seem like we’re circling around to make everything right. And we made an effort to watch every scene from Breaking Bad to make sure that the transition from point A to point B seemed natural and believable. We bend a little bit from time to time, but hopefully it won’t break.
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Even though we know that Gus was intrigued by the blue meth when Gale told him about it, Mike appears to be truly disdainful of Walt when Saul inquires about him. Is Mike pretending to be Saul or does he not realize Gus is interested? I believe Mike would advise Gus not to become involved with this man. The investigation is over, and he is aware that Walt is a moron who has no idea what he’s doing and will either be caught or murdered. Walt’s cleverness or a lot of dumb luck are the only ways they have ever managed to escape sticky situations. Walt and Jesse both ought to have been repeatedly apprehended, jailed, or killed by Tuco or whatever. However, they managed to get through. Gus was not going to help Walter White, but Gale was gushing about what fantastic meth this was. Gus was inspired to pursue excellence in everything, from poultry to the pharmaceutical industry.
It certainly felt like the six-season narrative came to an end when Kim left Jimmy a few episodes ago, and we then saw the hard cut to Saul Goodman. The title rubric for these final two episodes has altered from earlier in the season—there are no longer any episode names in the this-and-that fashion. The opening title sequence has changed, and the episode’s actors are now the only ones listed in the cast credits. Are you approaching these past four episodes as though they were from a whole separate show? All of the choices on who received credit and how the credits would appear were made much later, after the shooting. We really wanted that 2001 scene of the caveman throwing the bone in the air and it turning into a spaceship when we broke these episodes, the conclusion of 609. In 609, Jimmy McGill is actually struck by a truck, and presto, we are in the future. Saul Goodman is him. We spent some time talking about that, and I believe it was very productive. Additionally, Gene was hinted to in all of these season-opening teasers, so I believe it would have been odd if we had simply done another teaser to announce Gene’s demise. What is Jimmy McGill’s emotional conclusion after all of these changes? Gene was a fleeting “I’m hiding” moment that he was unable to control. He never dealt with the anguish of losing his brother, Kim, or seeing Howard’s passing. None of it was handled by him. When Chuck died, Howard went through the process of healing himself. He accepted responsibility for it, sought counseling, and completed all the stages Jimmy should have completed. As a result, all the hidden issues Jimmy has been denying will now come to the surface. We want to figure out how to handle that. In the last episodes, that is the direction we’re going.
That 2001 clip is excellent. But was there any debate around the want to portray more of Jimmy’s progressive change into Saul or of his starting the company the way we see it on Breaking Bad? We proceeded very cautiously from a group of people who believed he was going to be Saul Goodman at the conclusion of Season One. We frequently asked ourselves, “Is he Saul Goodman now?” Not exactly. We seemed to have reached the breaking point when we lost Kim in the course of events. I don’t believe that we would have benefited from witnessing any additional steps.
We discussed the fact that Saul Goodman decides it is okay to kill someone when he is extremely, truly full. Jesse says there are options when they discuss what to do with him in my introduction to Breaking Bad, One Minute. That character is very dissimilar to Jimmy and to early Saul. There were some events that took place that he did not observe that led up to that point. We did discuss whether or not to depict those: Should we see a scene where he feels like someone must perish? We discussed a scenario in which Saul tells Mike, “Well, if this guy is gone, it would be extremely useful,” and Mike replies, “You want this to happen?” I believe they depicted this on The Good Wife. One of the scenes we were asked to pitch but never produced.
There is a universe in which Kim Wexler’s entrance into the bedroom to continue packing her belongings is the last thing viewers or listeners ever see or hear of her on this show. Was that ever given any thought? People are aware, I believe, that discussing her destiny and what transpired by the time the series ends is impossible. But we wished to prolong the suspense for a little while. Because of this, we are unable to hear what was said on the phone, but we do know it was quite disturbing. Just what it is, we are unsure. Future events, in my opinion, will make things more evident. When Lalo vanished, it was the same situation. What the hell happened, thought the speaker. When will he return? That seems to be part of the same logic that went into Kim, in my opinion. We want the viewers to wonder what the heck is going on as she departs.
Finally, aside from Vince and Peter, you have written for this franchise the longest. Is it a coincidence that you ended up with the final episode that neither of them wrote nor directed? The order of the episodes is not an accident; it is chosen very early on. But at that time, we don’t know what occurs in them. It was not my goal to receive what turned out to be the midseason finale. The season was supposed to consist of 13 episodes, but due to Covid’s limits and Bob’s health, we had to split it into two halves. And it just so happened that a really dramatic event occurred in that one, making it suitable to serve as the midseason finale. But the fact that Vince and Peter advanced to the finals while I finished third from the last is not arbitrary.
However, you were fortunate in that you got to guide Bryan and Aaron.
Once we said, “Yeah, they’re coming back,” I was certain it would air in Vince’s episode 612 because we were saying, “Yeah, they’re coming back.” However, we dismantle these things naturally. It just seemed like the proper time to see these guys today after we started talking about Gene’s tale. Peter and Vince concurred that the moment was now. Vince’s episode, in my opinion, should have been the one that got me, but that’s just how the news broke.