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Spoilers below for the Season 5 premiere of Better Call Saul, so be warned.
The last time Better Call Saul fans laid eyes on Jimmy McGill, Kim Wexler and the other beloved characters in this dark universe, it was October 2018. Basically, a whole different lifetime in today's TV climate. Thankfully, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould's Breaking Bad prequel finally returned to AMC for Season 5, with fans now fully aware that next year's Season 6 will be the series' final batch of episodes. With so much attention on the past, though, the episode's most intriguing scene was arguably the Gene-centric flash-forward that kicked everything off.
Not only did the cold open hint at Gene facing some potentially huge trouble in his midwestern hideout, but it also brought back beloved actor Robert Forster for his final on-screen performance as Ed "The Disappearer" Galbraith. Read on to find out what Bob Odenkirk had to say about Gene's future, as well as what creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould said about Forster's return.
Bob Odenkirk Doesn't Trust Gene
Jimmy McGill and Saul Goodman's arcs are generally set in stone within the Breaking Bad universe, as far as the timelines are concerned. Sure, lots of gaps are yet to be filled in with the final two seasons of Better Call Saul, but beyond Kim's overall fate, there seemingly aren't very many major changes that can go down for the character as he enters the Walter White era. However, the post-Saul future is completely up in the air, allowing Gene's sporadic black-and-white appearances to fuel the mystery.
The Season 5 premiere first showcased Gene's extreme paranoia after his hospital visit from Season 4. But just when he was feeling secure again, someone specifically called him out for being Saul Goodman, thus sending him down another rabbit hole whose exit is still unknown to TV audiences. While speaking with press at this year's Television Critics Association winter press tour, Bob Odenkirk shared his thoughts about Gene, saying the character may be aiming for a reckoning of sorts.
Gene's cracking up. I don't think he can take it. He can't do it. He can't keep his mouth shut. He can't be silent. He can't be this other person. He can't do that. . . . I don't think he can stay in that character. I think he's gotta say, 'I'm Saul Goodman,' to somebody who knew him, or to the wide world. I just wonder. You know, I'm not as great with the specifics of the rules of the universe as Peter and Vince. So what would happen if he did come out from hiding? I don't know. He was Walter White's lawyer. He had a lot of bad guys after him. But maybe there's a sense that those bad guys stopped looking for him? I don't know. Do they think he still has money from Walter White? So I don't know what the rules are there.
One has to wonder if the character now feels pretty regretful about plastering his face all over New Mexico as a way of building up his Saul Goodman branding. That shameless self-promotion has made it all but impossible for Gene to live his quasi-fugitive life in peace, though Bob Odenkirk makes a solid point that Gene's solitude is in direct contrast to the loudness of Saul's life, from his commercials to his clothing.
As a real-world comparison for Gene, Bob Odenkirk brought up the counter-culture activist Abbie Hoffman, who had famously avoided the aftermath of a 1973 cocaine bust by taking on a new identity whose ideals essentially just matched up with his actual identity. In Odenkirk's words:
I once met Abbie Hoffman. He presumed an identity because the FBI was after him, and he moved to upstate New York, and he led protests regarding dumping in the river. Basically, he just did what he did. He had a nose job and he grew a beard and stuff, had a different name, but he basically started being in the world who he was before he tried to hide. He actually did that for a couple of years; he was in the newspaper. They didn't find him, and then they did, or he turned himself in... But I imagine it's one of the hardest things to do is to go become someone else and have a different name and try to keep anyone from knowing who you were.
Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad fans also have little clue about what Saul's personal life was like during the years of the flagship series. One can always hope that Kim not only survives BCS but also makes it through BB intact, though Gene doesn't look like a man who will ever have any loved ones waiting for him at home. But will admitting his true identity be worth whatever punishment may await him as Heisenberg's lawyer? It appears not even Odenkirk knows that one just yet.
Robert Forster's Return As Ed The Disappearer
Of all the surprise cameos that Vince Gilligan brought to El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, perhaps the most touching was that of Robert Forster as Ed Gilbraith, the vacuum salesman and repairman also known for giving shady people new identities. Forster died the day that El Camino premiered on Netflix, but while many fans likely thought that was the last time the character would show up, he returned in Better Call Saul's Season 5 premiere for Gene's flash-forward.
During the AMC spinoff's panel at the TCA press tour, both Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan reflected on getting him back for both projects. When asked if there was anything further planned for Ed, Gould said:
You know, I think there was nothing specific. We would have loved to have seen Robert. We love Robert. I was so excited to get him into this episode. It wasn’t the original plan, actually. The original plan — we didn’t think that we could possibly put that location back together, do everything else for that little scene. And actually, while Vince was shooting the feature, El Camino, I got a call from Melissa Bernstein, our brilliant producer. And she said, 'Would you like to see Robert, instead of just hearing him?' And I said, 'Hell yes.' And so that scene was actually shot during the production of El Camino, at least that side of it. The other side, the side with Bob was shot, of course, directed by Bronwen Hughes, so you saw Bronwen Hughes and Vince Gilligan both directing a scene. And of course, Robert Forster — boy, I would have loved to have seen more with him.
Had Better Call Saul tried to set up Ed's return at another point in the creative process, viewers likely wouldn't have gotten to actually see Robert Forster back behind the counter for Ed's more legitimate moneymaker. It sounds like there was a basic plan to at least get the actor to lend his voice for Better Call Saul, but the timing worked out where the TV team was able to bring in a full-fledged in-person reprisal. It's a testament to his legacy and his dedication that he was able to appear in all three projects.
Following up on Peter Gould's thoughts, Vince Gilligan said:
I would’ve, too. He was — he is sorely missed. He was an absolute…I mean, he’s a wonderful actor, of course. We all knew that. But it’s just I feel sorry for anyone who never got to meet him, because he was just an absolute gentleman. And I personally would have loved to have seen more with him, and I would have loved to have worked with him again in some other show, some other movie, because he was the real deal.
Robert Forster was a perfect fit for Vince Gilligan's Breaking Bad universe, though it's a shame that Ed was such a limited role, as perfectly played as it was. One could only hope that the actor's bill of health was good long enough for Gilligan to give Ed a limited series.
The scene certainly wasn't a write-off just to get Forster back for one last hurrah, either. Though it initially looked like the Gene persona was going the way of Werner Ziegler, the character had a change of heart and decided to take care of the situation himself. A revised sense of confidence coursed through that phone call, as both Jimmy and Saul temporarily poked through the Gene exterior. What's going to happen to him next in this violent season? Could "Gene" himself get killed off by the end of the series finale?
Find out answers to some questions, if not those specifically, when Better Call Saul returns to its normal weekly time slot on AMC on Monday, February 24, at 9:00 p.m.