citizen saul

A Deep Dive Into Better Call Saul’s Colorful Cold Open

“These were all carefully selected, to start with monochromatic ties and then to start introducing color. You start off and oh, it’s another season of Better Call Saul starting off in black-and-white. But wait a minute, maybe not.” Photo: AMC

The sixth and final season of Better Call Saul breaks with a tradition established way back in the series’ very first episode. Instead of the now-expected black-and-white, Omaha-set sequence focused on mild-mannered Cinnabon manager Gene Takovic — formerly Saul Goodman, formerly “Slippin’” Jimmy McGill — the final stretch of Better Call Saul begins back in Albuquerque, unfurling a bravura sequence drenched in the series’ signature saturated color palette.

In the more than five-minute opener, the camera glides through the gaudy mansion where Saul Goodman once lived while movers pack up his (many) things and move them out, as “Days of Wine and Roses,” the song that gives the episode its title, plays. Every shot is rich with detail and meaning, as well as tons of Easter eggs that allude to moments in Better Call Saul that we’ve seen or will see in the very near future. It’s so carefully choreographed that many of the movers had to be played by members of Albuquerque dance companies, because they’re the kind of people who understand how to flow naturally through a space and hit marks with precision.

To learn more about how this showstopper of a season opener came together, we asked episode director Michael Morris and Peter Gould, who co-created Better Call Saul and wrote “Wine and Roses,” to dig into the details, from the homages to Citizen Kane to the gold toilet to the appearance of a Zafiro Añejo tequila-bottle top that has played a significant role in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.

Michael Morris, director of “Wine and Roses”: This notion of directing the opener of this season — I just was like, “I get to do black-and-white. I get to do Omaha. This is huge.” And I turn over the first page of the episode, and it says, “In glorious color,” and it’s not in Omaha. I’m like: “What?”

Peter Gould, co-creator of Better Call Saul and writer of “Wine and Roses”: This season is structured very differently from our other seasons in ways that will become quickly apparent. Actually, they will become apparent as you go. It felt right to change things up because, of course, for the other five seasons at the beginning of the season, you see Gene Takovic, the Cinnabon manager. In this case, we thought we’d do something a little bit different. This just really appealed to us as we started the season. I think it’s going to have resonances that go beyond what’s obvious right now.

MM: This is a sequence about nostalgia in some ways, right? Like it’s the end of something. I think that’s why we arrived at these long, slow dissolves, which is such an Old Hollywood technique, between shots. There’s a version that we put together where I just used the shots with no dissolves in between. It went from, I think, five and a half minutes, which is what the current sequence is, to, like, nine minutes maybe.

PG: We were definitely thinking of Citizen Kane.

MM: The general approach to opening this season has a lot in common with that great sequence ending in the Rosebud reveal. The way that this sequence funnels into that one final image is deliberately reminiscent of that great, huge, what must have felt like a magical crane shot at the time, just going through the entire mansion.

The script called for all these glorious Saul Goodman-esque ties to be an opening image. My little hint at like, I want a little bit of the black-and-white glory, was actually adapting it so that we start in black-and-white, and the ties start to feather in, in terms of their color.

PG: We’re not actually doing anything technological to switch the color. It’s actually black-and-white ties and then color ties. Jennifer Bryan, our brilliant costume designer — of course, she probably has a warehouse full of crazy ties at this point. These were all carefully selected, to start with monochromatic ties and then to start introducing color. It’s also just fun because you start off and oh, it’s another season of Better Call Saul starting off in black-and-white. But wait a minute, maybe not.

MM: I had watched Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, which opens in this incredibly exaggerated color scheme and then just flips to normalcy. I think that was weirdly in the back of my mind somewhere.

PG: The house we chose to be Saul Goodman’s house in the future turned out to have a swimming pool. We ended up with the facedown Saul standee in the swimming pool, which I think reminds everybody of Sunset Boulevard. We’re all film nuts here. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a reference to something in this show, for better or for worse.

MM: As soon as I saw that pool, I was like, “I really want to do this weird abstract shot and then into the shot floats Saul Goodman looking right at us.” It just made me laugh every single time.

We had a whole other shot with a camera mounted to the standee. Hopefully there’s a Blu-ray sometime and you’ll get that shot, because it was amazing. The team built a rig, and we used a separate type of camera, to mount the camera right onto the bottom of the standee so that as you walk through the house, what you are seeing in focus is Saul Goodman’s face, but the whole world is moving behind it.

PG: That big standee that’s floating in the pool and gets put in the garbage: that’s a picture I took of Bob back during Breaking Bad. Bob and I did a Saul Goodman website together, and we did a fashion show, and I took all the pictures myself.

MM: The underwater shot, randomly, was very difficult. It took ages to get the water clear of ripples and then get in. We had to just push it and hope.

PG: The scene was filmed at a house in Albuquerque. I don’t want to say the name of the family, but they are associated with casinos and in real life, it doesn’t look exactly the way you see it portrayed. We have a genius production designer, Denise Pizzini, and she and the whole crew worked incredibly to transform the house. There are portions of the bathroom that are actually a set that was built at Q Studios. But the rest of the house, it is a real house.

MM: The gold toilet was something we threw in and made. We couldn’t find a sufficiently gold toilet. It’s hard to find, I guess, so we painted a toilet gold. And I remember we got there and we looked at it in the morning like, “It’s not gold enough.” So they had to undo the toilet and totally repaint it again. They did a brilliant job. It was gold enough by the end.

“We couldn’t find a sufficiently gold toilet.” Photo: AMC

PG: Those fantastic stained-glass windows are all real. The walk-in closet was a transformation of another bedroom that was off this large room. It took a long time to figure out that set. In fact, that was one of the first things that we started tackling this season, and we actually decided to put this scene off because, for various logistical reasons, it turned out to be better to shoot it later in the season. This season is like that — it has to do with COVID and Bob’s health and a lot of other things. There are a lot of scenes that are shot six months apart from each other.

We got very deep into the writing process before we started production on the opening. We were able to load this teaser up with allusions, not only to things that have happened already, but to things that are going to happen. And that was especially fun for us.

MM: One thing we’re proud of is that the sequence has as many future Easter eggs as it does past Easter eggs. So once you get to the end of the season, go back. Go back and press pause. It hopefully bears repeated viewing to see what we crammed into the screen.

PG: Jenn Carroll, one of our producers, generated a list, and a lot of people contributed to it, of things that would make sense to be in the house that are from past seasons. I wrote a bunch of it into the script. But then I wrote something to the effect of, “There’s going to be more, let’s think of more.”

I have to say the ones that excite me the most are things that don’t make sense to you yet. I was so excited to have the Beanie Babies, to have those CC Mobile stress balls. There are shoes that he uses to trick one of his victims back in season three. There’s a whole lot in there, and it’s just jam-packed. And then you get, at the very end, the Zafiro stopper.

MM: The last shot was super-challenging because we really were running out of light and that’s when they pull the cabinet up into the truck and the door flies open and the camera sinks down and pushes into the gutter. That was scary just because all productions are pushed for time, and that was our last day at the location and we certainly couldn’t come back there.

PG: I think we wanted to kick the season off with something that would allude to that relationship specifically. One of the questions you always ask yourself is, Saul Goodman — does he still have a thought about Kim? Is Kim in his life? And the teaser certainly says that she’s still on his mind.

MM: This is what I love about Better Call Saul. It never spoon-feeds its audience. In many TV shows, even really, really good ones and super-smart ones, there is a conversation usually about, how do we smuggle enough information into the beginning of this script to remind people of all the important things that are in play? Even good shows that don’t want to reset or use exposition do it a little bit. Peter and Vince [Gilligan, co-creator of the series] have always had the confidence to say, “Our people will know what we’re doing. They will know. And you know what? If they miss it, they’ll see it the second time.”

A Deep Dive Into Better Call Saul’s Colorful Cold Open