Bob Odenkirk doesn't remember anything about his heart attack last summer — not the CPR, not the three defibrillator zaps that brought him back to life and nothing from the eight days he spent recuperating at Albuquerque Presbyterian Hospital. Even the week after he went home is sketchy. He vaguely recalls his wife, Naomi, and adult kids, Nate and Erin, being with him and time spent with his "Better Call Saul" co-stars (and Albuquerque roommates) Rhea Seehorn and Patrick Fabian.
But that's it. No white light moment? I ask him. No encounters with St. Peter or a dearly departed pet?
"No," Odenkirk answers. It's a hot day, the Santa Ana winds are blowing and we're sitting indoors at a poolside restaurant at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, sipping mojitos, far removed from the day Odenkirk collapsed on the set of "Better Call Saul." I express a little disappointment that Odenkirk cannot offer me reassurance about an afterlife.
"You're disappointed? I'm disappointed," Odenkirk says. "I wanted to have that tale to tell. I wanted to tell you which of my relatives was first in line to greet me. I wanted to see Abraham Lincoln playing chess with Elvis Presley and get in on that game. I think Lincoln's probably going to win. But only after Presley throws the board across the room and knocks Lincoln's hat off."
Odenkirk, 59, chuckles. But just a little. He thinks about his near-death experience often and, yes, on one level, he feels a bit cheated. If his heart is going to stop and he's going to turn bluish-gray because he isn't breathing and if they have to put the paddles on him to jump-start his pulse, he would have liked just one grand, existential moment of awareness and maybe a couple answers about what's next. Instead, he just got a big blank space.
Of course, that's not all he got. Odenkirk also received a monumental outpouring of love from complete strangers on social media — platforms he calls "this horrible thing that has degraded us" — and that he remembers. Odenkirk still can't wrap his head around the kindness directed his way. He's not a warm-and-fuzzy guy. His comedy career — Chicago club stages, writing for "Saturday Night Live," creating and performing "Mr. Show" with David Cross, all chronicled in his excellent memoir "Comedy Comedy Comedy Drama" — has been predicated on the idea that the best humor comes from a place of anger. And that people are stupid. And that life is dumb.
And sure, audiences do treasure Saul Goodman, the fast-talking attorney who provided "Breaking Bad" with moments of comic relief and turned into a cautionary tale and tragic antihero on "Better Call Saul," now in its final run of episodes.
"But Saul's not a good guy," Odenkirk says. "He's very selfish. So I don't think it's that."
This ignites a good-natured debate — it won't be our last — about how "Better Call Saul" made us feel something deeper about Odenkirk's character, introduced as Jimmy McGill, a man of many talents, one of which is scamming. He's a scamp looking for approval, foolishly, it turns out, from his older brother, memorably played by Michael McKean. And when that relationship turns sour (to put it mildly), it fuels frustrations and resentments that Jimmy can't leave behind.
Anyway, we feel something for the guy — and for the actor who has played him for a decade.