Better Call Saul Q&A – Executive Producer Thomas Schnauz on That Shocking Mid-Season Finale Cliff-Hanger

Better Call Saul Executive Producer Thomas Schnauz, who wrote and directed the mid-season finale “Plan and Execution,” discusses how Jimmy and Kim’s scam against Howard ended in disaster, why Gus made Lalo raise his game, and why the final episodes are so emotional.
So, after this and the “Bad Choice Road” episode, are you now officially the go-to guy for writing and directing “Lalo menaces Jimmy and Kim at their apartment” scenes?
[Laughs] It just keeps falling into my lap. It's not intentional, I swear to God. It just happened that way a couple of times. He comes in and does the horrible thing that he does and then everybody has to wait and see what comes next.
When you and the other writers were plotting out the season, did you know at the time that this would serve as a huge cliff-hanger before a hiatus?
That happened way after the fact. We broke all 13 episodes and never thought that they would air in separate runs. It wasn't until we started shooting that it started to be talked about as a possibility. We didn't change anything. It stayed exactly the same up through the news of AMC saying that they were going to air in two separate sections. We have just incredible luck with this sort of thing. Going back to the first season of Breaking Bad when the writers’ strike happened, it just affected so much of the story to come for that show. And all the things that happened this year with the pandemic and unfortunately Bob's health issues stretched things out that it just made more sense for AMC to air these things in separate runs, and it just so happened that Episode 7 had this sort of monumental event happen.
In this episode, the audience finally is clued into the full extent of Jimmy and Kim’s plan and how it all worked. How was it devised in the writers’ room?
There was definitely some piece by piece, but if I remember correctly, we were working towards the mediation and that somehow Howard Hamlin was going to be embarrassed in a way that he couldn't come back from. So, we knew that sort of at the start. As we were going along, we thought, "Oh, let’s get the Kettlemans here" as a witness to testify against Howard in the presence of Cliff Main. And then, "Hmm, if we're planting drugs, how do we make him look like he's a drug addict?" and it’s like, "Dilate the pupils." Then, as we were talking, it was, "Well, how is all this not going to get back to Howard?" Isn’t Cliff going to say something sooner rather than later?” That's when we got into the "Well, yes, he has to tell Howard, so what is Howard's next move? To confront Jimmy. And if Jimmy doesn't play along, then to catch him in the act. And how do you catch him in the act? Well, he's going to do what Chuck did way back in Season 3, which was have a detective standing by. Of course, Jimmy and Kim know this, so they do this plan.” We talked so much about what do we see on screen, what do we keep off screen? It's a lot of pieces for the audience to keep track of, but the detective switch seemed more fun to keep the audience in the dark up until Episode 7 where we realized "Oh no, he's in on it. He's one of Jimmy's guys." And how did he do it? Well, Patrick Fabian had to do a lot of heavy lifting in that scene with Cliff where he's explaining all the parts of the scam, which he does so well. We never really do so much off screen, keeping the audience in the dark, but it felt like we showed enough pieces to let the audience know what was going on but kept a few pieces back to help surprise them.
Given Howard's journey through the series, how you approach his last scenes? Do you think viewers might change the way they feel about him at all?
Going through Breaking Bad was a real learning experience about what the audience would put up with. The main character did a ton of awful things and the audience always stayed with him. I feel like that has carried over into this series where Jimmy and Kim, if you examine it, this is awful what they're doing to Howard. But somehow you are with them for the ride, and I feel like I'm laughing with them, watching Howard fall apart. When he sees the judge come into the room with that mustache and reacts, I'm like, "Oh my God, they got the hook in him.” I feel like it is very Bugs Bunny. Bugs Bunny will get away and do these awful things to these characters who maybe wronged Bugs Bunny once or twice and he goes full-out revenge. Yeah, Howard was a jerk and he put Kim in doc review, and he didn't tell Jimmy the truth. He stood by Chuck's side when Chuck said, "I know Jimmy wants to be part of HHM, but just tell him not this time. We're going to buy you out or we're going to take over Sandpiper." So, there are things that Howard has done that make you feel like "Well, he shouldn't have done that to our guys, our heroes." Now Jimmy and Kim are going way overboard, and we still feel like they're sort of justified. And Howard in that scene in the condo sort of lays it all out, all the reasons why we should hate him. Howard's well aware of all the reasons he should be hated, but he doesn't deserve any of this being made a fool of and being made to look like a drug addict in front of his peers.
Tom Schnauz directing Patrick Fabian and Ed Begley Jr on Better Call Saul
Much like Jimmy and Kim’s plan wasn’t always crystal clear this season, Lalo has also been on a mission that was mostly in his head. Do you think that going up against Gus made Lalo more methodical and Gus-like in his approach to his plan?
Yeah, I think with Hector's urging to find proof… he had to go to these extreme measures. He knew Gus is building something. What is it? Where is it? How do I find the proof? Well, he had to go all the way to Germany and then to find Casper at his barn off the clue he found at Margarethe's house. So yeah, he definitely is upping his game, trying to do this as smart as possible. The problem is he made a big mistake, which was calling Hector because he has an emotional connection to Hector. But when he made the phone call, he heard the phone was tapped. He heard the little click noises, so he knew the clever chicken man, as he said in the episode, screwed him. So, he had to rethink his plan and try to do something else to find an end around. The end around was pretending that he didn't know the phone was tapped and calling him saying, "I can't find the proof, so I'm just going to go kill him," which sends Mike and company – they're all hands on deck protecting Gus, assuming that Lalo's going to come right to Gus's house and get him, so he has to change up the plan. He has to think on his feet and change things once he knows that Gus knows that he's alive.
Even though we know Lalo is capable of violence, he generally keeps his cool. Why do you think he has such a huge outburst when he learns the phones are tapped?
He has done everything so perfectly. He's found the clues. He's right outside the laundry. He knows inside is the holy grail. All he has to do is get a picture of it or a video and show Eladio that this is what the chicken man is doing and then we can cut his throat. And then because of his love of his family, he makes this mistake and calls Hector. Although the thing was if he had sat there and watched and gone inside, I don't think he knew how well-armed the laundry was. So, he would have walked into a death trap. He would have gotten gunned down immediately if he had gone in without the phone call, so on one hand it was a mistake but on the other hand it was a stroke of luck that he didn't try to get into the laundry earlier than that.
So that brings us back to the big moment in the Jimmy and Kim’s condo. Is anything that Howard says to Jimmy and Kim landing with them?
They don't get much time to reflect after Howard gets shot in the head. As he's saying it, I think they're thinking to themselves, "This isn't true. He doesn't know me and he's lashing out. He's drunk." But there's certainly flickers in their eyes that maybe part of it is true. I think it's a wait and see now. How true is it? I don't think there's enough time in Episode 7 for them to really register how true or untrue the things he's saying. I think in the moment when he says, "You're like Leopold and Loeb. You're sociopaths," that's over the top, but if they sit down and examine it, they'll probably see that they are two puzzle pieces that fit together and make this horrible thing.
Do you think Kim will regret not telling Jimmy that Lalo was still alive?
Kim had her reasons for not telling Jimmy. If she tells Jimmy, Jimmy goes into panic mode and does what happened at the end of Season 5: they check into a hotel and shut down and they don't get to do the Howard scam. So, yeah, she's more prepared to see Lalo alive than Jimmy is, because Jimmy is convinced Lalo was dead. In the moment, she probably wishes that "Yeah, I wish I had told Jimmy that Lalo's still out there," but I think she's also under the impression that Mike and his crew are watching and guarding. So, even though she's nervous in Episode 4 and 5, she gets lulled into a false sense of security because Mike's guys are out there. What she doesn't know is that Lalo does this end around and makes them think that he's going for Gus, so Mike, suddenly they pull everybody and put everybody on Gus's house because they that's where Lalo's going. So, the people who were guarding the condo are gone.
So, is Howard’s fate simply a “wrong place, wrong time” situation? How do you think his death impacts the remainder of the series for Jimmy and Kim?
For the longest time we talked about their actions together, their days of wine and roses, their addiction to conning was going to blow up in some horrible way. And having the two worlds come together – the cartel world and the legal/conning world – just felt right for these to cross over and for something horrible to happen. Yes, Howard was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think it was important for us for something devastating to happen from their actions that they just couldn't see coming. And this is something that Jimmy should have learned. He's felt guilty about the fact that his actions, his stupid prank led to Chuck's death. He did this thing where he sabotaged Chuck's insurance, which led to his dismissal from HHM and his falling back into full on mental illness … and Chuck being so low in that moment that Chuck tipped over that lantern. Jimmy went through all the things that he did through Seasons 4 and 5, struggling with that and hating himself and sabotaging his job interviews. All those things happened as a result of the stupid stuff that he did and all the pranks that he did towards Chuck. And I think on some level… he doesn't quite understand that all those dominos that tipped over that led to Chuck's death, this could happen again. He's not quite understanding, "We shouldn't do this because we don't know what could happen. We're great at this, but something could go wrong that we don't know about, it could end in your disbarment or worse than that, in Howard Hamlin's death." So, I think he should have said no back when Kim pitched it at the beginning of Season 6, but he just couldn't say no to her because he could tell that if he said no that she wouldn't be as into him. They just feel more alive when they're scamming. It's just like drinking. You're filling some hole when you drink or do drugs, and this is what the conning does for them.
What can you say about the final episodes still to come?
I've watched all the episodes and they're super emotional. 
Better Call Saul’s final season returns Monday, July 11 at 9/8c on AMC and AMC+ For more on the final season, read our Q&As with Executive Producer Peter Gould , Bob Odenkirk, who plays Jimmy McGill , Michael Mando, who plays Nacho Varga, and Rhea Seehorn, who plays Kim Wexler, Tony Dalton, who plays Lalo Salamanca, and Giancarlo Esposito, who plays Gustavo Fring.
Better Call stars reflect on what the show means to them: