Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk breaks down Jimmy's life-changing, soul-saving move in the finale
To quote Saul Goodman: "It's never too late for justice." And while the big-dreaming, corrupt lawyer Jimmy/Saul/Gene (Bob Odenkirk) was known for his unpredictable moves and colorful schemes, boy, did he save a big one for his final act on Better Call Saul. Except this one involved [checks notes] self-sacrifice, self-improvement, and radical honesty.
Titled "Saul Gone," the series finale of Better Call Saul put all of Jimmy McGill's personas on display. And once Gene was apprehended after 16 months on the run — or of staying put at a Cinnabon in Omaha — he channeled Saul Goodman to negotiate his way down to a shockingly small sentence of seven years for all the crimes he committed for Walt (Bryan Cranston) and his meth empire. But in the end, he chose to be Jimmy McGill, or at least the version that he always wanted to be, and the one that Kim (Rhea Seehorn) was always rooting to see. The price of redemption? About 80 additional years in a federal prison. But with good behavior, and the blossoming of his soul, who knows how long he'll be behind bars?
How did Jimmy complete this turnaround? Emmy-nominated Bob Odenkirk shares his first thoughts on "Saul Gone" — and his final thoughts on Better Call Saul.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Jimmy was a man who just couldn't get honest with himself and come to terms with his regrets, and here he truly comes into his full powers and into his humanity in a surprising way. What were your first thoughts when you read in the script that Mr. Shortcut took the hard way?
BOB ODENKIRK: Hooray! [Laughs] My first thought was: "Hooray, you've given him all the feeling and intelligence that he's had this whole time. And he's embodying who he is — really the best part of himself is coming out finally. I've always felt he was capable of the choice he makes at the end to acknowledge his own part in this whole thing. And that he's not a victim. I love that he does it, and he does it because he loves Kim, and he does it because he knows that in the long run, it's the thing that's going to show her that he was always a really good guy. And not a broken snake. [Laughs]
He has this swagger when he comes clean about his role in Walter White's crimes, and he's accepting responsibility, even though it's going to cost him all this jail time. Then he looks back at Kim as if the hard job was done, but sees something on her face and realizes that was almost the easy part; he has to take it to the deeper level. Then he owns his role in driving Chuck [Michael McKean] from the law and into suicide. It's heartfelt emotion and contrition from Jimmy, not the crocodile tears from his reinstatement hearing a few seasons ago. What did he see in her face and realize in that moment that made him level up?
I think he looks at her and he knows that she knows that he's a manipulator and that he's working angles and he's capable of doing that. And he looks back at her and he realizes that in her mind, she can see this as another angle. Even though it sounds like a concession, it's another angle I am probably working. But it's not good enough to show her that I'm strong enough and smart enough to own my behaviors and the ways in which I've fallen short. And then he turns and he shares it all. And he owns it all. It's the bravest, most honest thing he can do. So far, it's something that's been beyond him, completely. He's always just tacked to yet another manipulation. And he's showing her that he'll put his heart on the line for her, and his life, his time. She's worth it.
[Showrunner] Peter [Gould] said that he doesn't know if he can be redeemed, but that he got his humanity back. How do you view him now?
I think it is redemption. He'll never again be hiding from himself, like he did through the whole series. He's realized it's not worth it, you know? And the most important thing is he's going to get to leave Earth having told the one person he cares about how much he loves them and he's shown it. He's an older guy. When you get over 50, you stop thinking, "I have three lifetimes left," and you realize, "I have one lifetime."
Jimmy and Kim share that cigarette in the interview room — a callback to the parking garage scene in the pilot. The dialogue is sparse, there's just so much there under the surface. They recognize who each other really are and their flaws, and it's incredibly bittersweet. You can't help but wonder: What could this dream team of Wexler/McGill have done if it hadn't gone down like this? What was going through your head when you saw that scene?
It's a moment of incredible acceptance, of everything that they've done of who they are, of what they mean to each other, and of what the challenge of the rest of their lives is going to be. But there's a peace. They're at peace, and they're finally able to exhale — hence, the cigarettes. I mean, cigarettes are a great way of showing that, characters exhaling. [Laughs] They are finally able to exhale all the tension and maintenance that they've had to do, of their personas and their lies and their presentation to the world — and to each other.
They're not doing any kind of presentation to each other. They're being together, fully. I love it. I love it so much! There's not a lot going on. There's a lot going on. There's a lot of characters feeling at peace, who've really never felt at peace, you know? They've just been restless, restless characters. I mean, Jimmy is the epitome of a restless guy. His brain is always moving from the time we first meet him on Breaking Bad. And now we're seeing a guy at peace with the choices he's made, with who he is and he's got love. He's got love for the rest of his life. He's got her. They each have a piece of the other one's heart. You could say they know they've f---ed it up and there's regret there. But weirdly, I don't think it's about regret at all. I think it's about acceptance—
And maybe a new chapter?
Yeah, a new chapter, moving on. And whether she's married to somebody or else or not, he knows she loves him and she knows he's worthy of that love. He's a better man than he ever was in the whole series. But he's also the same guy, because he was always capable of this because he was always smart enough to know what he was actually doing. He was always smart enough to know his own game, but, you know, it's hard for people to admit to it even if they can recognize it.
What was it like to film that interview room scene, knowing this was the final time you'd be sharing the screen together?
It was really beautiful. It was a sharing that you feel you can carry forward through life. And I think we'll feel that way about this experience, too, Rhea and I. In a way we'll never leave that set, some part of us — and it's beautiful.
That last scene takes place in the prison yard, where he gives her the famous finger guns as she's walking away. Peter said that you filmed it where she gives the guns back, but in the version that aired, she just looks at him, because they didn't want the audience to interpret it as "Kim's back in the game." She walks away, looks back at you one last time. What do the finger guns symbolize to you? Was it an acknowledgement of "What a ride that was — and we'll always have that connection"?
Yeah, I think it was a smile. I think it was a, "And the scams were fun, too." [Laughs] "And come on, we had fun, too. I mean, we shouldn't have, and our emphasis was wrong, and we've just owned up to our failings really in important ways. We've accepted them and told the world, but we also had fun and I won't forget it."
The "Let's do a scam" finger guns — that was the charming, cute "Here we go. We're off on a caper." While it's true that they're not on another caper and they won't be [laughs], it's sort of, I don't know, it's a lighthearted way to say, "And I had fun too, being with you." Even though he's admitted how much wrong they did and that he was wrong to do those things. I think it's important not to forget we had fun and good times together. And laughs. I wish they'd spent their good energy and brains differently, but that wouldn't have made for a great show. [Laughs] We want to see people do the wrong thing.
We do. How does the story continue in your head? When do they see each other next?
I think she comes to see him! I think she comes to see him once a year — every other year at the least. And I think he helps a bunch of guys in prison to get out who are innocent, or he helps shorten their sentences. He gets treated really well. And I don't think he gets out early…-ish. I don't think he gets out. I don't know what kind of dispensation they have for an 80-year-old, but I believe they have some, once you get to be that age where you can do something else. But I think he's kind of the king of the prison because he's a really, really good lawyer and a great lawyer for the kind of people in there. And he puts that to good use, probably even does some good work, like, genuinely good work. And then I think they see each other and I think he thinks she should stay married to that guy and have a life. I don't know what she does, though. She doesn't seem very happy at the water place.
She doesn't, but seems to be finding her way now that she's volunteering at that legal clinic. Even if she doesn't think she deserves to be a lawyer just yet, she's starting by answering the phones and I wonder if she'll be running that clinic soon enough. She's on a good, healing path too.
Yeah. You know, it's funny, years ago I went to Peter and Vince [Gilligan, who created the show with Gould], and I know I did this more than once. I said, "I don't know where you're headed with this character, and it might be a small percentage, but sometimes people learn the right lessons from life and the challenges they create." And in my mind, they weren't going to do that, because in a way, Walter White to me was a guy who learned about himself, but I wouldn't say he learned the right lessons, you know? And I was worried that they wouldn't let this character grow in this kind of way that I thought he was capable of, more than Walter White was capable of. Walter White had that burning ego driving him that was just so intense. And it's true that Jimmy also had — he had a bruised ego that was too easily bruised and he retained his resentments. He carried his resentments like nobody alive, and that's always a mistake.
I just felt like he was a guy who could [learn], because there was such goodness in Jimmy, too, and especially his initial efforts to win Chuck over and to pass the bar and to be respected and to be accepted in the legal community in Albuquerque — it was a real honest effort that they showed there. It was amazing what he did. And I thought, "Well, if he's good enough to do that, then he's really got a good person inside him, you know?" And I just love that they maybe — I don't think they listened to me — but how I perceive it is, everybody doesn't always learn the worst lesson from what goes wrong. It might be true that it happens most of the time, but sometimes people learn the right thing from getting their ass kicked by life.
Speaking of Walter, we see him one last time when the two of them are waiting for extraction. That conversation is interesting for a lot of reasons, including that Jimmy seems to be seeing his relationship with Walt has similarities to the one he had with Chuck.
That [scene] is so great because know this, as Jimmy, I'm just picturing talking to Chuck. He's talking to Walter White and I think that emotionally he's realizing, "Oh my God, what attracted me to this f---ing guy?" He was like Chuck. He was a smarter guy than me in a lot of ways. He castigated me. Walter White would say, "You f---ing idiot." He was like, "You're just a scumbag lawyer who's just after money." He didn't respect me just like Chuck. He needed me. I just put myself in this f---ing paradigm again! And I've got this guy who everything I say he scoffs at and treats me like shit, why do I need this person in my life again? It's that great thing of people unbeknownst to themselves find themselves rebuilding the paradigm with all the bad parts that they had as a kid. And that Walter White scenario is the same thing again. Walter is just a different version of Chuck.
Chuck, Walter — super smart guy who has a very strong sense of himself. Unwavering. Unlike Jimmy, who's a little unsure. It's true that Jimmy gets carried away with his plots and plans. He gets excited like a kid. He's like Tom Sawyer in that way: "Look what we're gonna do, we're gonna have this elaborate plan!" And he's more carried away with the plans than almost with the end game. He doesn't really care about the end game. I mean, he wants to settle that Sandpiper suit, but really he's so excited about his funny, clever, unique five-step plan that that's where he falls apart. It's kind of a likable fault because he's energized and excited. And that's fun to watch. Whereas Walter White, to me, is driven more by this really angry, really selfish and self-centered ego. Both of them are wrong in their emphasis on moving forward and what they're pursuing, but in the case of Jimmy, I just always felt there was more of a human being there that could come out in the end — a bigger soul that could come out in the end. And that's what they let happen.
In a flashback scene in this episode, Chuck tells Jimmy, "If you don't like where you're heading, there's no shame in going back and changing your path." What do you think Chuck's reaction from the grave would be? How surprised would he be to see that turn that Jimmy made?
I think his eyes would pop open. [Laughs] He'd go, "Wait, what? No, no, that can't be true!" Because the worst thing about that is it proves that Chuck was wrong, right? It really proves to Chuck that he was wrong about Jimmy, that Jimmy was irredeemable. That makes Chuck's move that kept Jimmy out of respectable legal community a shitty, selfish move, because Chuck had appraised Jimmy as being irredeemable, and this would prove him wrong. So Chuck would probably be saying, "Wait, what's your game here?" And realizing there's no f---ing game. "How could he do that? How could he just prove everything I live for wrong? And I'm an asshole. I'm a huge asshole — in the ground." [Laughs]
What was the scene that was the most challenging to film? The courthouse speech would seem to be a monster.
We shot it over three days. We had two days to shoot it. And it was really hard. It's very emotional. It's very heavy. Jimmy is fighting with himself in the scene. He's really not wanting to let go and accept what's happened and who he is. And then he finds the strength to do that. And it's a super emotional scene. And I played it with, I think, the appropriate amount of emotion. After we finished, we were supposed to be done with the set and they announced we needed to come back for just a few pickup angles. Then I turned to Peter and I said, "And can I reshoot the entire scene?"
Yeah. And people were like, "What? You're going to do it again? No, no! You did it so great! People were crying! No, no, you don't need to do it again!" And I said, "No, I think I do. I think I was too emotional." Over the years doing this show, I've become so suspicious of feelings on screen, especially tears. I really have gotten to feel like they have to be really earned. And I think Rhea's bus scene is a great example of earned tears. And I said, "I think I went too quickly, too easily to the well here. I'd like to do a more restrained version." And it was great because we came back a week later, we got the set back. It was not an easy set to get. That's a federal courtroom, so they don't just give those out. And you know what was great about it? It was better. It made more sense. We found different blocking things that I stumbled across in the course of doing it again for the 30th time. It's just better in every way, and everyone agreed when we were done. It was like, "Yeah, you were right. I'm glad we shot it again."
How do you sum up this six-season journey for Jimmy/Saul/Gene, what he ultimately deserved and what he learned about himself?
It's the person digging down into who they are and trying to come to terms with the world and what the world wants. The worst thing he did is he wanted approval from other people. You're always going to get in trouble if your main goal is to get other people to like you the way you want to be liked. You might win for a little while, but it will crack. And if that's what you define yourself by, you're going to be in a bad place eventually because you just can't manipulate what other people think of you.
He does enjoy being Saul. He's great at it. But of course, that goes off the rails for various reasons. The thing is when you're driven by resentment, you might have some wins along the way, but it's not going to take you to a better future. And that's the core of this character: He's made too many bad choices. He's been driven far too much by resentment and trying to even the score than by aiming to build a better sense of himself for the future. Life demands surrender and acceptance [laughs], and if you want to be happy — or I don't know about be happy — but be at peace, ultimately you'll come to a point where you have to surrender yourself to the world that that exists and not the one you wish existed. And I think that he does that and I'm proud of him. I'm proud of him for doing that. It's one of the hardest things for people to do, but you have a choice: You can argue and fight forever, never really be happy, or you can accept and hopefully be at peace with the world and its limitations.
Finally, do you think Marion [Carol Burnett] will come to the prison to tell Jimmy again just how disappointed in him she is?
I hope she does. I get to see Carol Burnett again. I'd do anything to get to hang out with Carol. She's the best, the f---ng best! Dude, that was the greatest time.
Or maybe she'd be at least okay with the fact that he owned it all in the end?
Yeah, she would. She's a tough, tough but kind lady. And she would totally respect it. She'd just be mad at her son. [Laughs]
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