‘Better Call Saul’: Vince Gilligan Breaks Down Why ‘Bagman’ Was the ‘Single Hardest Thing’ He’s Ever Directed

Vince Gilligan has faced some challenges over the course of his career. The Emmy Award-winning writer, producer, and director intentionally pushed his own boundaries during the five seasons of Breaking Bad and beyond with El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. But according to him, the most difficult moment of his professional career occurred on the sandy desert set of Better Call Saul.

Gilligan hasn’t been very involved with recent seasons of Better Call Saul — he’s left it in the capable hands of co-showrunner, Peter Gould. But Gilligan did come back during Season 5 to direct the pivotal episode “Bagman.” The result is a true masterpiece — though to hear him tell it, none of it came easily.

[Spoiler Alert: Spoilers ahead for Better Call Saul Season 5, Episode 8, “Bagman”]

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

Vince Gilligan agreed to direct the episode with no idea what it was

Show co-creator Gilligan knew he’d be contributing his talents to Season 5 at some point, he just didn’t know which episode he’d be put in charge of. But when he was introduced to the material of “Bagman,” Gilligan said he was “flattered,” but “a little traumatized by the whole thing.”

“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 said during an insider interview with 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.”

Shooting in the desert posed some unique challenges

Jimmy and Mike
Jimmy and Mike in the desert | Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

During the episode, Jimmy and Mike struggle under the blazing sun with almost no water to sustain them. Gilligan confirms that even with food, water, and umbrellas for shade, the episode was physically demanding for the cast and crew.

“Just the idea that we’re going to be shooting out in this location in murderously hot weather, miles away from the nearest source of water, in a land where there are tarantulas and scorpions,” Gilligan said. “You could roast to death and then die of heat stroke 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 praised the producers for ensuring no one got hurt while subjecting themselves to such a dangerous situation, including cholla cactuses — the same one Jimmy stabs his foot onto in the episode — with “prickly spines longer than a toothpick and needle-sharp.”

Jimmy McGill
Saul Goodman | Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

The gunfight and the car crash were extremely challenging to shoot

Two of the hardest scenes of the episode to accomplish were the gunfight and the car crash. But Gilligan says it was all made possible thanks to the talented crew.

“It was just crazy hard. It was two of the biggest set pieces — one in particular at the shootout was probably the biggest single set piece scene I’ve ever directed. So even in 72-degree weather, with plenty of Gatorade on hand and whatnot, inside a soundstage, that would have been a hard scene for me to do.”

He continued: “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.”

And for the car crash, he likewise doesn’t take a lot of the credit beyond having the vision.

“You have to have an ambulance on site. You have to have guys ready to put out fires, literally. I mean, just the logistics that went into this — and I take no credit for any of this. Being a director is the best job in the world because you come up with whatever shots you want to get and then you draw them out maybe on a piece of paper and then you wander off and have a sandwich… It’s a great job. I would highly recommend it.”

Gilligan says ‘nothing good’ ever comes from going out in the desert

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Though the 53-year-old showrunner is proud of the end result, ultimately he says it would take a lot for him to return to the desert to shoot another episode.

“If [Peter Gould] ever asks me to do it again, there’s going to be a lot more pushback next time,” Gilligan says. “…As far as our characters, they should probably stay the hell away from the desert too. It’s a beautiful but deadly land in which nothing good is going to happen when you’re in Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul.”

“There’s nothing good to come from going out to the desert,” he concludes.