Steering Saul’s Destiny
♦ Better Call Saul season four started on Monday on AMC in the US and on Netflix yesterday in the UK and here’s its executive producers and co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould talking to amc.com about the new run of the show. Warning: spoilers ahead…
Q: Many fans were surprised that Chuck is actually dead. Did you intend for the ending of Season 3 to be less ambiguous than it was received? Was there ever a consideration of Chuck surviving?
Peter Gould: The comparison I can think of is Breaking Bad when we had that season that ended with Jesse shooting Gale in the face. Maybe it didn’t seem as ambiguous to us as it came off in retrospect. Having said that, I think it would have been kind of cheating to end the season the way we did and then to take it off the table in Season 4. I think we knew in the writers’ room that this was an irrevocable decision, although we certainly talked about what the options were. As much as possible, we like to play fair with the audience. That’s something I learned from Vince on Breaking Bad. Sometimes it’s better to play with your hand on the table so people can trust the storytelling.
Vince Gilligan: Twists and turns are great as long as they’re fair and they’re not what our Breaking Bad writer George Mastras used to call “schmuck bait.” You don’t want to schmuck bait the audience. The truth is all you see is that little flame flickering in the window at the end of Season 3, so having Chuck survive could have happened. … My theory about why it’s so oblique at the end of Season 3 is that the writers wanted to leave a little wiggle room to bring Chuck back if we could figure out how, but this really was the right decision for the story and the evolution of Jimmy McGill.
PG: There was always wistful discussion about having Michael McKean on the show. It was one thing to lose Chuck as a character and it’s another thing to not have Michael working with us.
Q: How would you describe the impact of Chuck’s death on Jimmy and his behavior this season?
PG: We’ve all seen so many dramatic and wonderful kinds of cinematic or television mourning and we’ve seen what it looks like for someone to be rocked. We spent a lot of time thinking about how Jimmy, specifically, mourns Chuck – and not just mourns him but how he goes through this incredibly traumatic but also very complicated event. Jimmy’s relationship with Chuck was anything but straightforward. I believe there was so much love and connection between these two brothers, but they truly did not understand one another. Jimmy was blind to things going on beneath Chuck’s success and Chuck hated like hell that he was jealous of his younger brother. There was a lot more to it. It’s a very complicated process for Jimmy and complicated for us to figure out. Sometimes we talk about spoilers and mysteries, but for me, the mystery of this season is exactly what’s going on between Jimmy’s ears. He becomes a mystery to Kim, to us in the audience and a mystery to himself. His actions reflect how deeply he’s been shaken and how much this has changed things, but his attitude is surprising.
Q: With Chuck gone, Kim is really all Jimmy has left. How much is Jimmy aware of that fact? How is their relationship impacted by Jimmy’s spiral this season?
VG: Chuck’s death is going to loom over everything and everybody – well, not necessarily Gus Fring [Laughs]. Jimmy loves Kim, but does he sometimes take her for granted?
PG: The Jimmy McGill we’ve gotten to know over three seasons has two people that are really central to his life – one is Chuck and one is Kim. In some ways, he does take Kim for granted but he’s taking the lack of another person in his life and it puts an awful lot of pressure on that relationship [with Kim]. Kim is a wonderful partner for Jimmy in so many ways, but she can only follow him so far. We’re going to find out that that relationship is going to be tested sorely this season.
Q: Leaving aside her relationship with Jimmy, how do Kim’s feelings about what’s happened to Chuck affect her personal and professional decision-making this season?
PG: Her life has a lot of dimensions to it and one dimension certainly is her love for Jimmy, but another is her professional life. Kim does not seem to be a person who just looks for the whole meaning of her life in one relationship. She cares about her work. Last season, she lit the candle at both ends with almost fatal results and she’s still trying to understand what her direction should be. We talk a lot about Jimmy’s relationship with Chuck, but Kim also had a relationship with Chuck and participated in taking down a sick man last season. Chuck’s death is going to be a wake-up call for Kim also. Kim’s very much searching. She’s proven she can be a successful attorney. She’s climbed that cliff, hanging by her fingernails, and proved that she can make a living and be important to a lot of people professionally. But she’s starting to ask herself, “What’s the point? Is there more to it than making a living?”
Q: Howard was as close, if not closer, to Chuck as Jimmy. How would you describe his next steps in terms of dealing with that loss?
PG: There’s no doubt that Howard has a professional relationship with Chuck. Chuck is very important to Hamlin Hamlin McGill. The last time we saw Howard, he had really triumphed over Chuck. He managed to push Chuck out of the firm, so it’s an open question because their professional relationship seems to be at an end, but as we learned in previous seasons, Howard’s father started the firm with Chuck. These two go way back. It’s really anybody’s guess how Howard’s going to handle this both professionally and personally.
VG: I think Howard’s reaction might surprise the audience, especially in terms of how their professional relationship ended.
Q: Where is Jimmy on the sliding scale leading to Saul Goodman? Was Chuck’s death the final straw?
VG: That’s always a good question. Sometimes in the writers’ room, you don’t necessarily know where you are in the midst of the forest. You don’t quite know how far along you are on the trail, if there even is a trail. When we look back on the show, personally, I’d have to think this is probably the most important piece of the puzzle. If you think about it in terms of an analogy of masonry, maybe this is a capstone but it doesn’t mean the brick-laying job is done yet. There might be more bricks to lay still. At Comic-Con, on the Better Call Saul panel, someone asked, “Who would you rather have a beer with: Jimmy McGill or Saul Goodman?” [Laughs] There was an online poll and way more people would rather have a beer with Saul Goodman. It kind of blew my mind. I would much rather hang out with Jimmy McGill. It’s a tragedy that Saul Goodman is ultimately going to be the end result of this process, but I’m not sure the audience is completely on the tragedy spectrum with us. [Laughs]
Q: How is Mike adjusting to his new arrangement with Gus/Madrigal this season? What can you say about how that partnership evolves in Season 4?
PG: Last season, Mike asked Gus Fringe for a favor. You could tell that Mike has his eyes open. He knows that there may be a return. There’s going to be a price for what Mike asks of Gus, but we haven’t seen what that price is going to be yet. The Mike Ehrmantraut I saw in Season 3 killed for revenge and he almost killed Hector out of passion and revenge, but he is anything but a cold-blooded hitman. I don’t think we’ve answered it yet, but the question is: How does Mike end up going to work for Gus Fring and doing what they call “wet work” at the CIA? As the season begins, it’s still quite a puzzle. He’s not driven by a desire for glory or money. He’s still driving the same crappy car and living in the same tiny house with the same tiny TV. It seems like he’s taken care of a lot of his granddaughter’s future needs, so what’s the next chapter in the story? I’m fascinated by Mike. He’s such a man of few words and the way Jonathan Banks plays him, you see all the depth behind those haiku-like words that he gives us. There’s certainly going to be a lot of Mike this season.
Q: Nacho seemed squarely in Gus’s crosshairs in the Season 3 finale. Despite sidelining Hector, has Nacho jumped from the frying pan into the fire?
PG: Gus Fring is a brilliant chess master, but he is not superhuman. We saw that he took notice of Nacho. How much Gus has put together is an open question, but I have to say Nacho seems to be able to handle Tuco Salamanca pretty well and did pretty well handling Hector, but I would hate to cross Gus Fring.
VG: You don’t want Gus Fring taking notice of you! [Laughs] You can’t fool Gus Fring.
Q: Better Call Saul is increasingly converging on the Breaking Bad timeline. Any teases about what goodies Breaking Bad fans might expect this season?
PG: Fans of Breaking Bad are going to see some familiar faces – not necessarily the ones you’re expecting, but there are some very rewarding moments. You’re going to find out a lot about the behind-the-scenes of how things got to be the way they were on Breaking Bad.
VG: Now might be a good time for the fans of Better Call Saul who are not necessarily up-to-date on Breaking Bad [to catch up]. You can absolutely enjoy this season of Better Call Saul without seeing Breaking Bad, but your appreciation of some of the stuff that’s going to happen would be amplified by knowing Breaking Bad a little better. It’s 62 hours. You’ve got time!