Better Call Saul Q&A — Gordon Smith on the Big Showdown Between Gus and Lalo 

Writer, director and executive producer Gordon Smith, who wrote “Point and Shoot,” the most recent episode of AMC's Better Call Saul, discusses Gus and Kim's first encounter, why dying isn't the only bad thing that can happen, and the superlab's surprising foundations.
Q: How did you approach this episode knowing it would be your last one ever for the show? And what was it like re-teaming with Vince Gilligan, who also directed your Season 5 episode "Bagman"?
I think I approached this episode the same as usual. The work, I mean, was the same process as usual — asking where we were in the story and what came next. But once we'd really broken the story, carded it out, that kicked off a year of endings. Now we're done breaking, now I'm done outlining, now we're shooting it... And the shooting took a long time. We have this teaser that could not be shot in Albuquerque. So it was an ending on an ending on an ending. The teaser in fact was the last thing we shot. It felt right that it was Vince and me and producer Jenn Carroll on the beach at the end, playing with shoes with [director of photography] Marshall [Adams] and [special effects coordinator] Werner [Hahnlein] and [A-camera operator] Matt [Credle] and as much of our crew as we could have. Just a sunset and a beach and a goodbye to the show.
As for re-teaming with Vince, he has been a mentor and supporter of mine for a long time. He's just very generous. And when I've been on set with him as a writer—since he's an executive producer and co-creator of the show as well as the director, he could easily override me, just make all the decisions and not look for or take input. But that's never the case. He pitches ideas, which are always great, but if there's someplace where I push back a little—say hey, does that work with this or that somewhere else in the story—he'll hear that and take the feedback. We'll have a discussion and figure out what works for both of us. He trusts me to be the writer, thinking about the writer things. When he's directing, he doesn't want to be writing, too; I think he respects that there's someone else there whose input he can lean on. He's got enough to do as a director!
What was it like writing the episode that ushers in a new phase of the story, where the harassment of Howard is well and truly over and now it's about the consequences of Kim and Jimmy's actions?
We didn't really approach it like that since we didn't know at the time that the season would be aired in two parts. When we were breaking it, we were just thinking about what comes next, not what are the consequences for all these people. It was less about pure consequences than just continuing to play out all the cataclysmic events of Episode 7. I feel like Jimmy and Kim were done with their move versus Howard, but Lalo's move had just started. I think they're still in the thick of things here. The real consequences start to land on them when they're sitting on the bed at the end of the episode, sitting with the weight of everything that's happened.
Were there any Easter eggs in this episode?
I can think of one, but it's a big one.  When Jimmy is getting tied up by Lalo and just as the gag is being put into his mouth, he manages to say, "It wasn't me. It was—!" And he's going to complete the line as "Ignacio." You can kind of hear him say that through the gag, even. And that's the first line that Saul says in Breaking Bad Season 2, Episode 8, when the gag comes out of his mouth. He's carried the fear of Lalo around with him all that time, from the moment this gag goes in to the time it comes out, those years of story time later.
I enjoyed the character detail of Gus removing his tie—and rolling it up carefully in that meticulous way of his. Most people would remove a tie to relax, but Gus isn't like most people and he does it in a stressful situation. How did you come up with this brilliant move?
This was something we pitched in the room, I'm pretty sure. We were looking for a gesture for Gus at this moment that could signify his state of mind. Something to do, so that he didn't have to stand there conveying "I'm thinking." Not that Giancarlo can't get that across, but it's nice, if you can, not to maroon your actors standing in place. We came up with this and we were talking it through and, like you said, it's the opposite of relaxing. Even having that small gesture of rolling up his tie—he could have yanked off the tie and thrown it down and that would have meant something else, or casually loosened it like a partier at the end of a wedding and that's something else again. The small details about his gesture give it weight—how tight he rolls it, how controlled the action is. There's nothing else in the rest of his bearing that tells the viewer "I am a live wire" but that's what you hopefully feel from that gesture.
Gordon Smith on the Better Call Saul set with director Vince Gilligan(Writer Gordon Smith, pictured to the left of executive producer and director Vince Gilligan, on set of this episode).
You got to write the first encounter of Kim and Gus! Can you talk me through the importance of that encounter?
Kim is very aware that she's talking to Gus—not as "Gus Fring" per se, the man, but she knows the voice on the other end is the unmoved mover at the center of all these bad things. It was a fun scene to write, for sure. They're in such different emotional states. And in just a handful of words, Gus figures out the real play. He gets that Kim's a cat's paw. She says Jimmy talked Lalo out of it and Gus realizes nobody talks Lalo out of anything, so there's something else afoot. He's just that smart. But it's great to have these two massive forces in our world—Kim and Gus—brush against one another. It's like an inverted version of Gus's meeting with Jimmy in Season 3. She knows what Gus is, even if she doesn't see his face or know his name, while Jimmy sees the man in the flesh but is completely ignorant of his real importance.
Since viewers know that Gus is alive in Breaking Bad, how do you create tension in a scene, like the one with Lalo in the laundry, where it seems like his life is in danger? Or was it more about Lalo's fate at that moment?
One thing we've been saying all along and loudly protesting is that death is not the only bad thing that can happen to you. There are falls from grace, there are ruptures in life that can lead to worse consequences, or leave you just as broken. In this scene, the tension is both about what's going to happen and how—Gus lives, but how? Even if he doesn't die, he could be badly injured and get a scar that we don't know about. Does Lalo get away and get to Don Eladio? If so, how does Gus get out of that? And if Lalo doesn't survive, how does Gus turn that around? 
So there's the particularities of the scene that create some tension, but of course the bigger question for this scene is Lalo. As far as he's concerned, he has Gus dead to rights. Every step he takes is one more nail in Gus's coffin because he's getting this all on camera. He's seeing the holy of holies.  And you want to know—is Lalo going to get what he wants?  What's going to happen to the camera? Of course, we find out the answers to both questions by the end of the episode.
Why was it time for Lalo to die?
Obviously, we didn't want to lose Tony Dalton. He's an incredible actor and an incredible presence on set—there to do the work, there to play in the best sense. An anchor. As Lalo, he brings this charm as well as this sinister-ness to the character, and that flavor was so important to the last two seasons, so we were loath to let it go. But we're hurtling towards the end here, and we felt like we'd earned this clash of our titans. These are our two most capable characters, our biggest big-bads. The smartest two characters, certainly on our cartel side of things. And maybe Lalo could have been injured and gotten away, and then Gus would have to hunt him down while keeping him from getting to Eladio. But we'd done that story already, really, with Nacho in the first part of this season. We felt like it was doing the character more of a service to give him a big sendoff, to give him everything he's worked for and then take it away. You know, he gets there, he gets through Gus's men, which isn't easy.  He even gets to see the superlab! Really gets confirmation of all these things, but he has to die to do it. I really like that last moment, when he gives that little laugh as he's gurgling on his own blood. It's like, "You f–k. You got lucky.  I had you." And he's not wrong!
Gus came out OK, but did the way this all played out change/damage the way he views Mike? Their last exchange was pretty tense…
I think there's a little bit of an acknowledgement that they're not the perfect pair. This all happened because Lalo's better at chess than Mike. Mike is probably better where strategy is about applications of force. I mean, Mike gets pantsed here. They all did. Gus caught on, but even he's a beat late. Mike tries a finger wag at Gus because of the risk he took, but when they're having their postmortem, Gus is like, "Everyone dropped the ball here." He's not about to take a scolding from Mike. And that felt right to us.  These guys aren't blood brothers. They're tight, but it's professional. Even in Breaking Bad, when Gus cuts Victor's throat, Mike pulls a gun on his boss. And then goes to work for the man who killed Gus! So we always knew they weren't purely copacetic. I think we see that tension here between them.
Where did the idea come from that Howard and Lalo would end up together under the ground of the superlab? They were in Breaking Bad all along and we never knew it!
That came straight out of the writers' room. We knew we were getting close to the end of the episode. We talked about whether we could end on Jimmy and Kim sitting on the bed with their thousand-yard stares. And I think that would've been a legit way to go! But we really felt like we could give Howard and Lalo a final moment of rest, almost a funeral. I think both Alison Tatlock and Vince both pitched the superlab, and it's the kind of thing you hear and get chills and go—is this too far? Is it too much? And more importantly, does this screw up something we're not thinking about with Breaking Bad? Is there some reason not to do it?  So we talked about it a lot, and then we were like no, this is too good and feels right. It adds a little bit of flavor that this superlab was built on a foundation of death. And after we figured out that's where it ended, we broke the teaser as a sort of wraparound.
Now that the instant shock of Howard’s death is over and the Lalo threat is neutralized, what can you say about how Jimmy and Kim move forward?
Slowly.  Carefully.  Haltingly.  Badly.
Now that we're nearing the end of Better Call Saul, can you reflect a bit on the legacy of the show, as well as what it's meant to you?
I do hope that people continue to find the show. It's a show that rewards patience. And I think both shows reward rewatching; you can watch once and pick up one set of things and then again and there's a whole new understanding. And now, you can watch one show and learn things about the other. And I'm hoping people like how we ended this show. It's a very different ending than Breaking Bad, but I think it's emotionally true to Jimmy and his journey.
As for what the show's meant to me, that's almost too big a question to answer. It's the show that my career has been based off of. It was my first professionally produced writing credit, my first time directing. I started my career as an assistant on Breaking Bad. I like to say that Vince and Peter [Gould] have failed to shake me off, like a tick. I've been very, very lucky that they gave me the chances, took the risks on me that they have.  It's sort of a miracle, especially these days. Bringing it to a close has taken a lot of time and emotional energy and labor and made me sentimental across so many dimensions. These are people I've worked with for over a decade, spent literally tens of thousands of hours with, living through so much life. I'm going to have to figure out now who I am without the show.
The final episodes of Better Call Saul air Mondays at 9/8c on AMC and AMC+ For more on the final season, read our cast and creator Q&As here.
Better Call stars reflect on what the show means to them: