Better Call Saul Co-Creator and Executive Producer Peter Gould tells AMC.com what Season 6's (colorful!) opening teaser really means, why Mike isn't afraid to speak his mind to Gus, and why scamming Howard is so important to Kim.
You’ve already had the experience of ending a phenomenal show like Breaking Bad. Was it easier or harder to bring this show to its conclusion?
Well, it's terrifying. ... I think it was way harder because Breaking Bad I was helping Vince [Gilligan] with the show and this time I felt much more responsibility. This show's a very different animal from Breaking Bad. We've made a different set of promises. The things that the show is about are really different from what Breaking Bad was about, so it's going to have a totally different kind of ending. But that was definitely on our minds. There's no question we thought, "This is what happens at the end of Breaking Bad and this is what happens at the end of El Camino. What's the proper ending for this show?" And I have to say I don't think we had an idea at all until Season 5, and then Season 5 in the writers' room the clouds started to part a little bit about where we're going with this thing and what would be the right ending. But my God, it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.
What was the most important question (or questions) you felt you had to answer in this final season?
Oh boy. That's a big question. We really wanted to have a satisfying ending and the question that we started with on the show was we knew who Saul Goodman was but who was Jimmy McGill? We asked ourselves the question "What problem does becoming Saul Goodman solve?" And that was a big part of the show for a long time, asking that question. But now our question I think is "Who is this guy really?" He's taken on all these different masks. He was Slippin' Jimmy. He was Jimmy McGill, a legitimate lawyer. He was Jimmy McGill, a cartel lawyer. And then he became Saul Goodman. In the end, what's the core of this guy? Who is he? He seems to have been searching for an identity and trying different things, but what is he really made out of? I think that's a question the character's asking himself, even though he's not saying it out loud.
This season doesn't start with our friend Gene as we have in the past and it's even in color! Why did it feel right to break the pattern this year?
As we started talking out this season, we realized that this season is going to be a whole different ball of wax. It's structured differently. It has different concerns. It takes some turns that frankly I don't think anyone's expecting, and it felt right to help the audience understand that this is a different kind of story that may take some turns. So, [we thought] let's start it in a different way, and so we decided to show a time period that we've never seen before. We've seen the era before Jimmy McGill became Saul Goodman. We've seen some of the era of when he was Saul Goodman. We've seen Gene in Omaha, Nebraska. But we've never really seen what happened after he left Albuquerque. In Breaking Bad, you saw that he left via "the Disappearer" and was trapped in that basement with Walter White for awhile, but now we want to show what else was happening.
The other thing, of course, is that we never saw Saul Goodman's home. We have no idea what his home life is. Does he take the mask of Saul Goodman off at the end of the day, does he leave it on, what is his home life like? And it occurred to us this is maybe the perfect time to show where Saul Goodman lives and what kind of life he led. As you see from that teaser, the mask has become the man. He's pretending to be Saul Goodman and now he's living that life 24/7, or so it seems.
Once you made that decision, what else went into the conception of that beautiful teaser?
One of the things I love about the teaser is that the teaser's chock-full of Easter eggs because this guy is a little bit of a pack rat, clearly. There's so many little objects and callbacks to previous seasons that you'll glimpse as you go through that teaser, but there are also things – I've been trying to figure out what the term is – they're not quite Easter eggs. They're pre-Easter eggs. They're little things that will only make sense to you later in the season or when you've seen it all, and it was so much fun thinking of all those things. We had everyone on the crew pitching different things that could be in Saul's house. We had an enormous list that we had to narrow down, and somehow it all made sense. So, you're seeing this life that he's leading where he's more or less flattened himself into a two-dimensional cartoon character. And at the very end you see that Zafiro stopper and it's a little bit of our tribute to Citizen Kane, where you go through Xanadu, this enormous house and world that he's built for himself, and at the end you find out there's just one object that has significance, and that Zafiro stopper is sort of our little Citizen Kane sled. It's something that tells you that no matter what kind of jerk this guy has become, what kind of a heartless asshole he's made himself into, he's still holding onto some of what he had with Kim or what he has with Kim. We'll find out.
Speaking of Kim, at the end of Season 5, she's got her sights set on this plan with Howard. But it seems Jimmy is a little off of his game. Is that the PTSD from what he went through in the desert? Or is he pulling back because he's not happy with how he's influenced Kim?
Oh man, you hit all of it right there. Let's talk fundamentals. He loves Kim. He wants to stay with her. But you saw at the end of last season, he said to her, "Am I bad for you?" And soon after that, she proposes scamming with Howard as their victim. I always feel that those two things are connected. I think that she feels she wants to hold onto the relationship and the thing that lights their fire is scamming. And we've seen it before. We've seen when they were apart and they weren't getting along, that was when Kim called Jimmy from the bar and said, "We've got a live one." This is their thing. I guess some people play board games. Some couples travel or raise kittens and dogs. This couple scams. Maybe the couple that scams together stays together. We'll see.
And, of course, last season Jimmy spent a day and a night out in the desert with Mike Ehrmantraut. He saw a cartel massacre in front of him. He had guns to his head. And then, maybe even worse, because of him, Lalo Salamanca came to their apartment with a gun. And I think he's shaken. I think "he is off his game" is putting it mildly, and a lot of what happens in Episode 1 is Jimmy getting his sea legs back. I think you can see that especially in that scene in the country club. He walks in full of trepidation and I think at the moment when he's told "No, you can't get a tour," for a moment he's kind of relieved that he's not going to have to go through with this. Then he sees that he's going to lose and he sees Kevin Wachtel. He's not going to let Kevin win and that sparks him to continue with the scam. When he walks out of the country club, he's walking on air. He pulled it off.
But then you get to Episode 2 and the Kettlemans are back, and Jimmy can't quite close the deal, so Kim comes in and does it.
That's a great point. I always felt that Jimmy would have to use the stick, but I think he has a soft spot for criminals. And he doesn't really want to come down hard on the Kettlemans. But don't forget, they're scamming people who really can't afford to lose money and they're taking money that should be going to these poor folks. Jimmy seems to be more willing to overlook that. Kim, she's furious with them because those people are very much like the ones who are her clients. She spends her days helping indigent clients, helping people who can't afford good legal representation, and now here are the Kettlemans ripping them off, and I think that gets to her. I think that's the reason you hear her say, "You're going to use the stick, not just the carrot," and he says, "I think they're more carrot people," and it turns out in this case Kim is in the right. They need that stick.
Better Call stars tease what to expect in the final season:
Let's switch to another core duo: Mike and Gus. There seems to be real tension between them in these first couple episodes. What does it do dramatically to have them at odds with regards to what's going on with Nacho?
That's a great question. For Mike, I think the question is always where does he draw the line. We saw in his process for deciding to work with Gustavo Fring, he knew that bad things were going to come out of that – that that was a dark path to take. But he still has something of a moral code, and a moral code that Gus Fring does not share. Whereas Gustavo Fring sees everyone in the world as chess pieces, ripe for his manipulation. Mike draws a very bright line between people who are in the game and people who are not in the game, and Mike will not let Gus threaten the life of Nacho's dad because he knows he's met him and he knows very well that Nacho's father is a truly decent person. Mike seems to be willing to go along reluctantly with setting Nacho up, which doesn't go quite as planned, but when it comes to threatening Nacho's dad, he won't go there. So Mike is a good soldier. But even a good soldier can only be pushed so far.
What can you say about what Lalo is up to so far this season? What's going on in that calculating brain of his?
This season we're going to find out that Lalo Salamanca is kind of brilliant! He can be almost as indirect as Gus Fring, and you're going to find out how far he's willing to go and the lengths to which he's going to go to get his revenge on Gustavo Fring. Having said that, I think you're going to see him in places and doing things that you're probably not expecting. We're going to find out that Lalo is more of a chameleon than we could have ever imagined.
You recently revealed that Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul will appear as Walt and Jesse in this final season of Better Call Saul. How did you want to approach their return? Does it re-contextualize them from Saul's point of view?
You just nailed it. I love Bryan and Aaron. They're two of my favorite people in the world and if it were just about who I wanted to work with, we would have had them in Episode 1 of this show. But this show is not about Walt and Jesse. It's about Jimmy and Saul. And so we waited until we found the right way to bring them in that helps to tell the story of Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman/Gene Takovic. I think the way they show up is surprising and important, but I think the show wouldn't be complete without their participation and without seeing them. I think by the time we're finished, you are definitely going to look at Breaking Bad a different way.
You mentioned Gene there. So is it safe to assume we will seem him again?
Well, our key art shows Gene Takovic either putting on or taking off a Saul Goodman jacket, so it's a pretty safe bet that you're going to see that character before all's said and done.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 9/8c on AMC and AMC+. For more on the two-episode Season 6 premiere, read our Q&A with Bob Odenkirk, who plays Jimmy McGill.