Ann Cherkis, a co-producer of AMC’s Better Call Saul and the writer of Episode 6, discusses how the show decided to reveal Saul Goodman, what it means for Chuck to finally accept that his illness might not be real, and the return of Lydia from Breaking Bad.
Q: You joined the writers room in Season 2. How was it coming back this year with a season on the team under your belt?
A: Having a season under my belt certainly was very helpful. I came back in a much different place than when I started. I did feel more comfortable, but anytime I’m in the room in any season, I’m still always going to feel that little flutter in my stomach. I want to do well and contribute the best that I can. I’m always a little nervous, which is probably a good thing. You don’t want to be too complacent. We all work really hard in that room, and I know by the end of the day, we’re just spent. Even if you’ve been doing it for a long time, I don’t know that it gets easier. It was intense, like it always is. It certainly wasn’t easy. It’s never easy.
Q: How is the Saul writers’ room different from other shows you’ve worked on?
A: This is only the second television show that I’ve worked on… Having said that, this room is very different than the previous room I worked in. I spent most of my career up until about three or four years ago doing features. The transition to television is a big one because you go from being alone all the time to being in a room with a bunch of people. I was really excited about that because it can be hard writing alone. I liked going to an office and being with people. … With this room, I’m not going to say it’s super serious because we laugh a lot, but it’s more intense [than the previous writers’ room] in that we have the luxury of talking about things in such detail that it doesn’t feel casual. I think what comes out of it is so amazing. The work is so detailed and complex.
Q: You got to write the birth of Saul Goodman! How did you and the other writers work out the details of that significant moment?
A:We had lots of conversations about where Saul comes into this. We had always talked about his birth being something that came out of a practicality. We’re now at the point where the bar hearing is over, and he has to figure out what he’s going to do after he’s been suspended from practicing law for a year. In order to fulfill the terms of the PPD, he has to do two things in this episode: One, he has to make phone calls to his active clients and inform them that he’s no longer practicing. We see him doing that and then, he remembers he can’t advertise as a lawyer anymore, and he has these ads that are running.
So, it came out of this idea that he was going to go make commercials, which we always loved. He has a history of that and it felt like it was in his wheelhouse to do. What I loved about how we worked it out is that the birth of Saul Goodman comes from this split second decision that he makes. Jimmy is very off-the-cuff and spontaneous. He realizes he can’t do this commercial-selling himself as a commercial director because all of his clients know him as Jimmy McGill, a lawyer you can trust, and he has that burst of inspiration. I love the way the commercial turned out, and Kim‘s reaction was very fun to write and see come to life.
Q: Even though this Saul isn’t the guy we know from Breaking Bad, what qualities were important to make this a distinct character from Jimmy?
A: We wanted it to look similar to the commercials we see on Breaking Bad – cheesy. [Laughs] We wanted his personality to be super big, and we wanted a lot of quick cuts and for it to be super garish with the star wipes and the words flashing and his big gestures. We wanted to get as close as we could to how we’ve seen Saul Goodman sell himself in the future. As viewers, we’re all aware we’re watching a performance. When Kim says her line, “That guy has a lot of energy,” that guy means that’s somebody else. The cheese factor came not only in what Bob was saying but the post-production part of it. We put in the star wipes and we wanted it to look sloppy because Jimmy would have put it together quickly.
Q: Even without the commercial, we sense a change in Jimmy during his interaction with Rebecca about Chuck. Has this experience with Chuck hardened Jimmy?
A: Absolutely. I think a door in his heart has closed. Bob pulled it off so well because you could really see and hear in his voice how he’s gone cold and disowned his brother. Of course, it’s Jimmy, so even though he feels this way, I think he’s always going to have these lingering thoughts about feeling this way, but I think this is a crucial step in him becoming Saul Goodman. Something inside him has broken and this is one of the things that begins that [transformation], but I don’t believe it’s the only thing.
Q: Chuck is also committed to making some drastic changes. How much did Jimmy’s stunt (or the embarrassment of it) open Chuck’s eyes?
A: After the end of Episode 5, Chuck has his so-called “breakdown,” and I do think he was profoundly shaken by that moment in the court room. It’s the very first time he’s even considering the idea that his illness might be a mental condition and not a physical one. We see him slumped down on the floor, and he really is terribly broken. I don’t think we’ve ever seen him in that state of mind. He starts to play around with holding the battery and almost tests himself to try to understand how it could be in his head. That is what ultimately propels him to take that journey out of his house and make that phone call. I love that sequence so much. He’s calling for help, and it’s a heroic moment for him. He’s so full of pride that the idea that he could actually admit he was wrong and needs help is a huge moment. I feel very grateful that I got to write that moment and see it happen. It’s a big turning point.
Q: Did this plot bring up new discussions in the room about just how real Chuck’s disease is?
A: Absolutely. We knew we were going to have Chuck explore the fact that this may be mental. Once we made that decision, we took it from there and tried to find a way to portray it in a realistic way for someone like Chuck. It’s very interesting because he’s got a tremendous work ethic, and he’s very precise, and you’ll see those qualities come into the way he’s handling this journey to get better.
Q: Also, in this episode, Hector makes a big request of Nacho. Do you think Nacho is second-guessing his career choice, now that Hector wants to involve his father’s business?
A: I definitely think he is. The stakes have really ramped up for him. Once Tuco went to jail, Nacho was clearly given some sort of promotion within the organization. We see him doing exactly what Tuco did back in Season 2. He probably liked the fact that he got promoted, but he’s starting to see what comes with that. We wanted to show that Nacho is very good at putting on that game face, but I hope you do see these moments where you realize he’s not happy about the way things are going. You see a glimpse of vulnerability, and Michael [Mando] does a fantastic job. Everything is right there on his face. For Hector to bring up [Nacho’s] father’s business is one of the worst things that could happen because his family is completely innocent, and we assume his father has no idea of Nacho’s other life outside of the upholstery business. I think it terrifies him. We see that pill that drops on the floor at the end of the episode and clearly, Nacho has some sort of plan.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned that your episode would re-introduce both Gus‘s laundry/super lab and Lydia?
A: I was so excited. So much happens in this episode! We write on index cards and put them up on our boards when breaking episodes, and there were a lot of cards! It was a lot of fun to write those scenes and even more fun to be on the set and see those scenes come to life. I had never worked with Giancarlo [Esposito] and had never been in that building where the laundromat was on Breaking Bad. As a viewer and fan, it felt very iconic to be there. It was a very brief scene, but I loved that I got to work with and meet Laura Fraser [Lydia]. She was just fantastic. She slipped right back into that role. I loved how we reveal her. It’s such a great way to bring that character back. I love that we’re getting into Gus’s origin story. It’s early in their working relationship, but what’s interesting is that this Lydia is different from the Lydia we meet on Breaking Bad. On Breaking Bad, her life is threatened, and she’s very nervous. This is a much more casual Lydia, even though Lydia is not a casual character whatsoever. [Laughs]
Read a Q&A with Mark Margolis, who plays Hector Salamanca.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10/9c. For the latest information and exclusives sign up for the Insiders Club.