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Meet the ‘Higher Call Saul’ Staffers Who Kept Its Story Straight


If there’s one takeaway from the moral and ideological universe of “Higher Call Saul” — and its similarly meditative parent series “Breaking Bad” — it is likely to be that details matter. Small decisions and non-decisions are inclined to accumulate until, to paraphrase the character Mike, who appeared in each series, we discover ourselves at the tip of a road, not necessarily conscious of where it began.

The force of accrued history was baked into the premise of “Higher Call Saul,” which ended after six seasons on Monday. However the creators of the show, which began its story — following the exploits of the morally-challenged lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), the taciturn and principled fixer Mike (Jonathan Banks) and his fastidious drug lord boss Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) — six years before the famous events of “Breaking Bad,” went out of their method to reinforce notions of predestination throughout the narrative. To an unusual degree, it spun a sort of clockwork ecosystem, teeming with portentous allusions, callbacks and foreshadowing that encouraged essentially the most passionate viewers to scrutinize its every frame.

Behind the scenes, members of the show’s writing staff were no less obsessive. Ariel Levine, a staff author on “Saul,” and Kathleen Williams-Foshee, the script coordinator, were a part of what was known internally as “the brain trust” — a gaggle of staffers who functioned because the show’s institutional memory. Working closely with a team of writers, assistants and producers — led by the showrunner and co-creator Peter Gould — Levine and Williams-Foshee maintained detailed notes on virtually every one, place, thing or event ever mentioned or implied on either the show or its predecessor.

Speaking with The Times on Tuesday, the day after the “Higher Call Saul” finale, they discussed solving hard story problems (whatever happened to Saul’s ex-wives?), making the selection to contradict “Breaking Bad” and staying ahead of Reddit sleuths. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

How long did you each work on the show and in what roles?

KATHLEEN WILLIAMS-FOSHEE I’ve been the script coordinator since Season 3 and likewise worked briefly as a writers’ assistant in Seasons 5 and 6.

The “Breaking Bad” spinoff has concluded its run after six seasons.

ARIEL LEVINE And I began in Season 1 as a postproduction assistant, worked as author’s production assistant in Season 2, a writers’ assistant in Seasons 3 through 5 after which staff author for six.

Within the writers’ room, how did you retain track of all of the history in play as you were attempting to generate recent stories?

LEVINE Within the room, determining what we could and couldn’t do, or what we must always and shouldn’t do, was primarily the writers’ assistants’ job. After I was a writers’ assistant, Kathleen and I’d use this living document I made with every established fact or character on each “Breaking Bad” and “Higher Call Saul.” So if Saul said in “Breaking Bad,” “I’ve been divorced thrice,” that will be in there. Or if Gale [a meth cook in “Breaking Bad” played by David Costabile] had a résumé that appeared in a single shot in a single episode that said he went to a certain college, that will be in there, as well. Each time the writers were discussing a selected character or event, we might speak up within the moment and tell everyone what is thought about it.

How long is that this document?

LEVINE [Checking her computer.] The ultimate version was 52 pages.

WILLIAMS-FOSHEE It was beautiful.

LEVINE We expanded it right into a spreadsheet that we called the Gillaverse Mega Timeline [after Vince Gilligan, the creator of “Breaking Bad” and co-creator of “Better Call Saul”] after which had smaller individual documents for all the recurring characters.

How repeatedly have you ever each watched “Breaking Bad”?

LEVINE During? Seven. But there are individual episodes, just like the one which introduces Saul, or the one which gets into the connection between Gus and the Salamancas [collaborators in a cross-border drug cartel] that I’ve easily seen 20, 25 times or more.

WILLIAMS-FOSHEE I’ve watched it at the least five times, right through, but probably more. When [“Saul”] was in production, we were taking a look at scenes from “Breaking Bad” each day.

How did you cope with story decisions which may contradict something that was established on “Breaking Bad”?

LEVINE We all the time desired to be as consistent as possible, but we reserved the appropriate to make your mind up that something you saw on “Breaking Bad” might need been incorrect. Ultimately, we selected to do what we felt would serve this story. Saul’s diploma on “Breaking Bad” said that he graduated from the University of American Samoa in 1986. But that didn’t work for the timeline of our show, so we modified it to 1998. Similarly, on “Breaking Bad,” Saul mentions a second ex-wife, and there’s a deleted scene from the show where he says he has three ex-wives, total. We actually talked about including a flashback scene to certainly one of his previous marriages, nevertheless it gave the look of an excessive amount of to introduce a wholly recent character. So we just had him present two previous dissolution of marriage certificates within the scene where he and Kim [Saul’s true love, played by Rhea Seehorn] get married on the courthouse.

WILLIAMS-FOSHEE It helps that Saul talks out of his ass quite a bit, because in a way it is sensible that not every part goes so as to add up. He’s just riffing continuously; that’s a part of who he’s.

What was the toughest needle to string between the 2 shows?

WILLIAMS-FOSHEE I believe the thing that took essentially the most time and reasoning was Gus and the super lab [a giant underground meth operation that figured heavily into the plot of “Breaking Bad”]. We wanted to point out how Gus and Mike got here together to drag that off, nevertheless it’s clear that the lab has only recently been accomplished within the timeline of “Breaking Bad.” We decided that not only did we now have to elucidate just how much effort and time went into constructing the lab, but that something would must interrupt them at a certain point and essentially force them to start out over.

Fans on Reddit never let any detail or perceived misstep go unnoticed. Were there any oversights that got here back to haunt you?

LEVINE I believe the thing that sometimes haunted us was stuff that was shot that we didn’t find out about, or weren’t around for. Dates were a giant issue. We were all the time shouting at production, “Please, don’t show any calendars!”

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