Even though Better Call Saul is primarily set prior to the events of Breaking Bad, series co-creator Vince Gilligan does not know where the show ends. One thing that makes movie and TV prequels so difficult is the audience's knowledge of the overall narrative, which can diminish the dramatic stakes. Several attempts to go back in the past and fill in backstory result in projects that struggle to justify their existence, as they just fill in the most obvious blanks. It's rare for a prequel to be on the same creative level as the work that spawned it.
However, Better Call Saul is an exception to that rule. Over the course of its run on AMC, it has been nominated for a plethora of Primetime Emmys and is widely considered to be one of the best dramas on television. Things may have turned out this way because Gilligan himself was caught a little off-guard by how challenging it was to put Saul together.
Screen Rant had the opportunity to attend a Better Call Saul press conference at San Diego Comic-Con, where Gilligan was asked if knowing how the show ends (with Jimmy McGill completing his transformation into Saul Goodman) made it easier. Gilligan admitted he initially thought Saul would be a walk in the park, but turned out to be the complete opposite:
"This was exponentially harder, because you have to backfill into it and you have to get all those details right. And on top of that, we don't really know where it ends. We know at a certain point it becomes the Breaking Bad story, but what happens after that? Saul Goodman/Jimmy McGill/Gene, all that goes on."
Better Call Saul is fairly layered in terms of story, as it isn't just occupied with fleshing out Saul's past. A running thread to the series picks up post-Breaking Bad, with the lawyer working at a mall Cinnabon as Gene. That storyline has a major cliffhanger that needs resolving, since the last time viewers saw Gene, he collapsed after returning from a lunch break. The integration of new characters like Kim Wexler, Howard Hamil, and Charles McGill (all of whom never appeared on Breaking Bad) was also a masterstroke, since it's very fascinating to watch Jimmy interact with them and how their relationships evolve. There's a version of Better Call Saul where it's simply Saul resolving "client of the week" cases, but the direction Gilligan went in added layers to principal players such as Jimmy and Mike Ehrmantraut.
Gilligan's point about getting all the details right is spot on as well. A key danger of doing prequels is creatives run the risk of unintentionally retconning previously established elements. It's imperative the events of Saul line up with what was depicted in Breaking Bad, particularly since its fans are very smart and know several little details. As co-creator Peter Gould noted during the conference, Saul liked to tell anecdotes about his life, and now there's pressure on the showrunners to make sure they don't contradict anything. Fortunately, they've stayed on the top of their game so far, and there's little reason to think that'll change.
Better Call Saul season 4 premieres August 6, 2018 on AMC.