‘Better Call Saul’: Season 5’s Most Popular Episode Was Conceived During ‘Breaking Bad,’ Showrunner Says

Better Call Saul was never meant to be an exact replica of Breaking Bad.  Yes, the spinoff prequel series had many of the same characters in it. But showrunners Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan knew that Better Call Saul had a different story to tell in a completely different way.

Still, the former show influenced the prequel significantly. Writers paid strict attention to little details in Breaking Bad, making sure everything on the timeline matched up. Better Call Saul established itself as a standalone hit. In Season 5, however, fans started seeing elements of Breaking Bad, especially in the explosive episode “Bagman.”

Gould recently discussed how the concept for “Bagman” came about during the post-production of Breaking Bad.

Showrunners knew they wanted Saul Goodman and Mike Ehrmantraut to team up

Mike and Jimmy
Jimmy and Mike | Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

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Even before Better Call Saul was an official project, Gould said he and Gilligan were intent on getting Mike and Saul (also known as Jimmy) together for a classic pairing of opposites, which he likened to Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin in Midnight Run.

“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,” Gould told Collider. “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 [Better Call Saul] would be, and we got more and more excited.”

He continued: “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.”

‘Bagman’ became one of the most highly rated episodes on ‘Better Call Saul’

Fans were delighted by “Bagman” and could instantly see the Breaking Bad similarities, thanks in part to the fact that it was directed by Gilligan. It was even filmed in the same desert where Walt and Jesse first cooked meth in the RV.

However, Gilligan said he was “a little traumatized” by putting together the technically challenging episode. “This was the single hardest thing I’ve ever directed in my life — and this was coming off of my first movie, El Camino,” Gilligan told AMC.

“I thought that would be the hardest thing ever and that was certainly the longest thing because it was a movie, but this episode 508 was as tough a job as I’ve ever had.”

Gilligan said ‘Bagman’ was the hardest project he ever worked on

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The main issues had to do with shooting in the heat of the desert.

“You could roast to death and then die of heatstroke and dehydration because this is a land that — if you were plopped down into this place without a canteen, without a hat with a big brim on it — you’d probably be dead within an hour and a half,” Gilligan said.

Plus, the episode included a car crash and a shootout, which were made more difficult by the harsh, hot conditions. He continued, saying: “On the best possible day under the best possible circumstances, that shootout would have been the biggest thing I’ve ever done as a director, and, on top of that, we had to do it way out in the middle of nowhere with a great many privations arrayed against us. It was tough.”

At least the effort was worth it. “Bagman” is ranked the second-best episode of Better Call Saul on IMDb.