Better Call Saul Q&A — Director Michael Morris on the "Enormous Deaths" That Led to the Birth of Saul Goodman

Better Call Saul director and executive producer Michael Morris, who directed “Fun and Games,” breaks down the huge moment between Jimmy and Kim, discusses how Gus and Mike are both trapped by their choices, and why this episode feels like a series of elegies.
This episode opens with a beautiful and devastating montage. Tell me how you approached it logistically and also what you wanted it to say about how these recent events have impacted Kim, Jimmy, and Mike.
For the whole first part of prep for this episode, we were asking ourselves those exact questions. When you're a director on Saul… you just have to be alone with the script the first time you read it because a tone and a style often presents itself and they're not always the same. I've directed different montages on Better Call Saul, which have very distinct personalities, none of which were like this. The Dog House montage that I did a couple of seasons ago when Bob was selling his cell phones was fun and poppy and musical and almost gleeful. So it was bright colors and interesting-looking people and fun music and a rhythm to it. This one is much more constructed as a montage before we get even to the shooting and editing of it. This is a montage based around shots taking us into the next shot and transitions out of the shot, and a lot of those had to be designed and built. In one case, we designed an entire piece of wardrobe based on a transition. Oftentimes it was about me and Marshall Adams, our cinematographer, and Rich Sickler, our first AD, and Trina, the amazing producer… testing lens sizes to make sure that we could match an image of a circular light bulb with another image coming right out of it, for instance. Mark Hansen, who is the most dedicated props person anyone will ever work with, we did, I'm going to conservatively say, 25 different tests of blood consistency and color to compare it with a tomato sauce consistency and color. I mean, literally there was an entire sound stage laid out with different blood. It was incredible.
But “why” is your more interesting question. The montage is very sad to me in a way that I don't think they always are on the show. Something terrible happened obviously, and this montage was not telling us that much story about why or what happened to the person that did it. It's going to "how do you recover, how do you continue in the face of that?" We saw Mike give his advice—"you've just got to pretend it never happened" — but how do you pretend it never happened? In an effort to illustrate or dramatize something not happening, them not falling apart, them not crying in the hallway, them not being unable to get out of the car and go to work — all these things that they're not, you have to find a tone to unify everything. They are justrobots going through their day, doing their thing. Kim's helping people the way she does. Jimmy smiles at people the way he does. This is about just crowding out the noise, so we really wanted everybody to be having the same day, which meant that the camera wanted its movements to link people. It was one of the more challenging, in a really good way, things I've ever done or I've ever had to wrestle with. When I read Ann [Cherkis}’ s script, it’s what, 12 to 16 pages of wordless montage? That's ambitious. … She's not afraid of visual storytelling. So, that was really cool and a challenge.
After the teaser, we have Gus going into the belly of the beast at Don Eladio's hacienda. We've seen other pivotal moments for Gus at that location on both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Did you want this scene to echo those moments?
Absolutely. We wanted to be subtle about it because I don't think we often want to hit things too directly, but in this case absolutely, blocking-wise, I had Gus stand by the pool. There's a shot of him looking into that pool, and I think one thinks of Max there. There are the huge catastrophic events that happen there. I wanted the pool, the whole area to feel quite different when he went in this time. The pool was one of the brightest elements that we had. We made a conscious decision to basically light the scene with the pool and the fire pit that we put in. The fire pit was there to give just as a contrast element really and also to imply a little bit of a danger and a little bit of literal heat that was happening there. One of Gus's close-ups was shot in such a way that you can see the fire reflected in his glasses really clearly and I did that really as a flash-forward to the end for Gus. We know what happens to him and I just wanted a little bit of a premonition moment there. But really this scene is about menace to me and threat and all kind of about subtext. But, yes, we wanted to imply the pool very much to remind of Max. We wanted to imply the danger.
Once Gus comes out of that alive, we see him go home and breathe the first sigh of relief he’s been allowed all season. He even goes out for a drink! What did you want to convey during that sequence, particularly Gus’s conversation with the waiter and his choice to walk away from whatever relationship might be there? 
You put it really well. He's taking his armor off. It's a very simple wordless sequence. He's opening the door from a very dark thing. The light comes in quite literally and he has a weight off of him. He won. He got away with it. That's where he is in the story and just the shots of him letting the light back into the house and closing up the tunnel, I think we have a sense that this chapter is closing. You could easily end the story there for the episode. He had his big scene and he survived. But to bring him out to a restaurant we've never seen before, to meet someone we never met before—they clearly know each other a little bit. We've had hints of it that he likes wine. He likes fine things in his secret life and he's a man who so inhabits whatever role he's playing. When he's at the chicken shop, he is the best chicken shop owner you've ever seen. When he's a gangster, he's the best gangster you've ever seen. We've never necessarily seen him like this or at least very, very seldom.
This episode is full of elegies and that was really how I'd come to think of directing it. It feels like—and I'm only saying feels because I'm very mindful that there's episodes left, this isn't the end of anything—but it feels like endings. There's a finality about some of the storytelling. To me when he's waiting for this extraordinary wine bottle to come from down in the cellar and he just pays and he leaves, it's horrifyingly sad. His face changes— it's classic Giancarlo Esposito. His face changes and you realize the armor's now back on forever. I don't know what this friendship was beyond this scene, but if it was something more, we know that it will never be and most likely he made this choice never to open himself up. I think that's an unbelievable punishment for a story about a man who seemingly got away with everything.
We also go home with Mike, but he is called away for some personal unfinished business with Nacho’s father. What do you think Mike is hoping for in that moment?
The last sequence with Mike in this episode was very much a scene about two fathers and a scene about two people who have been in very similar positions but on different sides. The fence was a useful visual metaphor to keep them unified but separate, and of course, the fence then implies the thing that we expect it to imply— imprisonment. Which one is free? Are either of them free? Are they two people caged at the end? But I think for me what I took away most from that scene is about various forms of hidden punishments that are exacted. I don't think of Saul as a moral show. I don't think there's a moral compass to this guiding the writing or the making of it. I don't think anyone wants anyone to be punished. But in a human way there are consequences for things—psychic tolls that we pay when we do things that we shouldn't do. And I think we certainly see that psychic toll hit in this episode on everybody, as far as I can tell.
With Mike, we see him driven by his moral code to do the right thing and go and talk to Nacho's dad. And that's great, but it's the thing that he has over everybody else in this world. "I'm different from them because I have a moral code and I'm going to stand by it, god damnit." And he does the noble thing and he says, "Your son was brave and he took it like a man." And it's only in that moment, to me anyway, that he's confronted by what a real moral code looks like. What a real person who doesn't kill people and doesn't make the choices that Mike has made, how they operate in the world. And I think what you see in Mike, which is crushing to me, is "I'm never going to be that. I'm not that. The fact that I love my son, the fact that I love my granddaughter, that doesn't make up for the fact that I have sunk into this pit with everybody else." And I take that from Jonathan Banks's performance in just the way that he expects some catharsis out of this conversation. And he doesn't get it.
Better Call Saul Director Michel Morris
(Director Michael Morris on the set of Better Call Saul)
You mentioned elegies before, and this episode does feature a memorial for Howard Hamlin, which seems like a risky place for Jimmy and Kim to go, and yet it may have raised more red flags if they didn’t. Given the idea of pretending it all never happened, how much of Jimmy’s – and especially Kim’s – words and actions are planned versus improvised once Cheryl puts the screws to them?
It's another phenomenal question because you're getting to the heart of something that's quite subtle. Because what's really going on between them in this scene is: Where did the plan finish? "This is what we're going to say. This is how we're going to play it." Where did that end? I don't know that they knew they going to see Cheryl, and if they would it might just be a wave and a smile. Second of all, I know that they did not expect Cheryl to be as formidable as she is. And I think that Jimmy, who has the gift of the gab and is a people person and he just sells… when Cheryl confronts them and actually says, "No, no, no, that's not good enough," I think what we were playing in the moment consciously was a moment of going off-piste, like "Now what?"
I think the surprise for the characters is how good at it Kim is and by "good" I mean how shameless she is, how easily she slips into it. The subtlety in Ann's scene here is that the thing that Kim's doing is meaner, in a very basic way, than anything Jimmy would do in that moment. Jimmy would never say, "Well, I'm sure I'm wrong, Cheryl, because you knew him, better than anybody knew him," knowing all the backstory and leaving this imprinted lie. And I think it surprises Jimmy and I think he sees something that he's anxious to move away from. I don't think he's judging her. I just think he's not recognizing the Kim that he knows. But for Kim, we see in the episode, it breaks something. The concept of breaking bad is never far from the center of Better Call Saul and there's never going to be any one moment when anyone breaks bad. That's part of the beauty of it. But if there's a moment which gets close, I think it's this. I think she glimpses like, "Oh, I don't just love conning people because it's fun. I'm really good at this." And so it leads to what happens next.
We’ll get to that “what happens next,” but I wonder how you approached filming that kiss in the garage, which without fully what comes after, could interpreted a number of different ways. Is that a goodbye from her? Or more, “Yay, we did it!”? Either way, it feels like a significant moment, so how did you strike that balance?
It's such a sad moment, more sad because there isn't a scene that accompanies it with Kim explaining how she feels. What we were attempting to convey here is, again without laying it too thick in the moment, was this is goodbye. I think her mind is made up here. Certainly she goes on and takes action. She's a woman of action. But there's deep sadness. What happens next at the end of this episode for Jimmy and Kim, it was never about not loving one another — almost the opposite. And this kiss, to me, was about trying to contain all of that sadness and all of what might have been into just a look and a kiss. We tried to find a visual language that really accentuated the sadness of it and the finality of it.
And of course, that leads the devastating breakup in the condo, which is a huge moment in the series. How did you approach that huge scene, and, specifically, can you talk about the decision to end that shot on Jimmy’s back?
The key part of the beginning of this episode is the creation of Saul Goodman's office, and it's tasteful and it's being assembled. And then what happens at the end is a rejection of all of that into the absolute embrace of what Saul Goodman would ultimately become—the deeply, most Saul Goodman you can be, which is how we end. We wanted to tell the story that the snapping point for that was this. That, without Kim, the Jimmy we know ceases to exist. I had said facetiously to people, "It's funny because people have died in every episode and there's no death in this." And then I was like, "There is a death. It's the death of Jimmy in this episode and the death of a relationship." And those are two enormous deaths that are just heartbreakers.
But why stay away from his face? There are some transitional reasons of how we get into the next shot, but also it's less about seeing something happen on his face as it is feeling what he's feeling. The sound from the other room, just the wreckage and the last time he's going to see this apartment probably in some real sense. So we end on him and his back and the next time we see his face, it's not him anymore. That was how we approached that. We shot this in an unconventional way, which is not immediately apparent on the screen but I think was helpful in the playing of it.  We shot each side of this in one unbroken take from room to room and pulling back. That's why the camera moves more than the camera often moves in a scene like this in Better Call Saul. In this case it was about keeping the camera close to the emotion. So I think it was about trying to keep all of the emotional life of both of those characters in play for as much of the scene as possible and then have it be this dying fall at the end because it's just over. Rather than try and maintain an emotional peak on Bob's face, I'd rather just be in the room with him and just let it die.
Which takes us to into a flash-forward to Saul Goodman in all his glory. After all these endings and elegies we’ve discussed, that sequence seems more full of life, even though after watching this series, it’s sad to know what Jimmy has become. Do you think fans will feel differently about Saul Goodman now that we know the exact circumstances that led him there?
I never want people just to live in deep sadness… but, yeah, if you revisit Breaking Bad with the benefit of six years of Better Call Saul, you’ll have an understanding that his heart has been destroyed. The love that he's lost and that he has finally committed himself to after years of never saying the words "I love you," on-screen at least, there they are and they're not enough. How heartbreaking is that? He’s losing everything that he thought were the planks in his life forever. Everything's gone. But because Jimmy is Jimmy and then Saul is Saul, I do think he commits himself wholeheartedly to the thing that he is. And I think one of the things that doesn't make it too downbeat to me, that softens the elegy in a way or changes it is that he just is Saul. He's not living in misery. He's not living in depression eating cereal at 4 p.m. This is a guy who has just said, "F–k it. I'm reinventing myself." And I think there's something kind of wonderful. So, if someone who really smartly watches this show feels two things at once at the end of that, that works for me.
And finally, since this is your last episode in the director's chair, can you reflect on your experience overall and what Better Call Saul has meant to you?
This has been an incredible journey and an ongoing education. The secret, it turns out, to doing work that you're proud of is to work with people who take it incredibly seriously, who have an unbelievable dedication and natural talent, but who are also generous enough to let other people's lights shine. And I'm not talking about me personally. Everybody who is connected to Better Call Saul in every department -- no one is here just to make something. Everybody is here to make this thing. There's a confidence in every single stage of the storytelling, from locations to lighting to sound to music to everything. What I've learned is tthat by enabling everybody to do their jobs to the best that they can do it, you will then be able to do your job. … Everybody's there for everybody. I will miss a community that prizes that. I'll miss a community that prizes visual storytelling as an absolute constituent and not as an afterthought. And I'll miss an audience, quite honestly, that watches it in the same spirit and that loves to look at every single detail and loves to see and decode everything. I love making these shows for people who ask those questions. Nothing has made me happier. This is an elegy episode and I feel quite elegiac about the end.
The final episodes of Better Call Saul air Mondays at 9/8c on AMC and AMC+ For more on the final season, read our cast and creator Q&As here.
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