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Better Call Saul Q&A – Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould (Co-Creators/Executive Producers)

Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, co-creators and executive producers for AMC’s Better Call Saul, talk about tracking both Jimmy and Mike’s evolution and what they’re excited about for Season 3.

Q: What surprised you most in the writing of Season 2?

Peter Gould: I think we were surprised by Jimmy’s heart. When we finished Season 1, we really felt that he was ready to take an enormous step towards being Saul Goodman as he drove away [in the Season 1 Finale], but we realized that this man is not quite ready. One of our initial thoughts was that him finding out that Chuck had betrayed him would throw away his conventional morality, but we realized that there was somebody else that Jimmy cares about: Kim Wexler. We found out that he can still be hurt and his relationship with Kim becomes very central to who he is.

Vince Gilligan: Rhea Seehorn, who plays Kim, is so very likable, wonderful, smart and winning – and I think those qualities that she possesses in real life translate into the character. You just root for her and you want to see her succeed. I am pleasantly surprised that there is as much Kim in Season 2 as there is, and I think that’s all to the good. We did not get to do much in the way of romantic relationships on Breaking Bad, but there is the possibility for something sweeter on this show. It’s been wonderful getting to write this budding relationship.

Q: This season featured even more callbacks and characters from Breaking Bad. How do you decide the balance of when and how much to do that?

PG: When we started the show, it was important that it wasn’t just a reminder of Breaking Bad. We wanted to do something that would center on a different kind of character and show the world from a different point of view. When we were thinking of who Jimmy and Kim should scam in Episode 1, we thought it should be someone who deserved it. Ken Wins was a scummy guy on Breaking Bad. That’s a good example of where we drew from Breaking Bad because the character fit into the world of Better Call Saul and served the story. A lot of the callbacks happen at points where the two shows start to naturally overlap. It felt so natural that if Tuco Salamanca got into trouble, Tio would come to clean up the mess.

VG: It’s always tricky to know when to bring back Breaking Bad characters. We want to bring them all back – we’re greedy – but sometimes you have to push aside your dessert and not eat it. [Laughs] You have to deny yourself instant gratification when you’re writing an ongoing story. You want to, in other words, parcel out the treats and the Cracker Jack surprises so you don’t dole them out to the audience too quickly. You always want to present them in an organic and meaningful manner. We talked about the idea of Marie [Schrader] being the X-ray technician in Episode 10 when Chuck is getting his X-ray because we know she was an X-ray technician during Breaking Bad. As much fun as that would be, it would probably be a distraction for the viewer and their attention would be a bit bifurcated. … We have to apply a certain amount of self-discipline to these moments and sometimes deny ourselves the pleasure of seeing someone.

Q: The show is obviously tracking Jimmy’s journey to Saul, but Mike took big strides toward being a gun for hire this year. How would you describe his internal struggle this season?

VG: When we meet Mike Ehrmantraut on Breaking Bad, he’s this amazingly capable and somewhat cold-blooded killer of men. When we meet him on Better Call Saul, he’s not really the guy we knew from Breaking Bad. He’s got the same name, he seems just as tough and just as quiet and stoic, but he’s not really a killer of men.

PG: We started to realize that Mike is a man with a code, but more than that, he sees himself very clearly. That’s a wonderful thing and a terrible burden. Mike never forgets. When he does something that he knows is wrong, he sees his misdeeds. How can someone who is so burdened by guilt, of all people, become a gun for hire? He has a long way to go before he gets there, but he definitely takes a few steps this season.

VG: We’ve come to realize that we’re not just telling the evolutionary story, or devolutionary story, of Jimmy McGill. We’re also telling a similar story about Mike Ehrmantraut. We’re hopefully giving the audience two for the price of one.

Q: How significant is it that Mike is willing to pull that trigger on Hector “Tio” Salamanca by the end of the season?

PG: I think it’s very significant, but don’t forget: he’s not killing him for money. No one has hired him. It might be pure rage, but Mike certainly has nothing to gain except a feeling of justice. Is that real justice? What kind of man is Mike if he lets his rage drive him?

VG: And he would have done it if Nacho hadn’t been standing in the path of the bullet. He’s not so cold-blooded as to have killed Nacho at the same time – he’s obviously still got his scruples and his rules that he lives by – but he was ready, willing and able to pull that trigger. You do not threaten Mike Ehrmantraut’s family, just like you don’t want to be hiking out in the woods and get between a mother bear and her cubs! [Laughs]

Q: Season 2 ends with Chuck’s diabolical plot to get Jimmy to confess to a felony. How do you think this compares to his betrayal of Jimmy at the end of Season 1?

PG: In some ways, I think what Chuck does [at the end of Season 2] is the worst thing that he’s ever done because he preys on Jimmy’s guilt and empathy. He uses Jimmy’s love for him. You have to wonder how he justifies it. I don’t think Jimmy fully understood the impact of his act of sabotage. The tragedy is that Jimmy and Chuck are brothers, but they don’t really understand each other and keep hurting each other as a result. Jimmy doesn’t understand how important the law is to Chuck and how little Chuck has in his life. Chuck also can’t see that Jimmy’s intentions, however he executes them, are usually pretty good.

VG: I think [Chuck’s betrayal of Jimmy] that we discovered at the end of Season 1 is, in a sense, the biggest betrayal. It is the wellspring of all other terrible behavior that follows. As much as I love Jimmy, I think it’s pretty reprehensible what he does to Chuck [in Episode 208]. We see Chuck’s embarrassment, his awful humiliation and the damage to his reputation and career as an attorney. Chuck, of course, plays this amazing long con on Jimmy and in that moment, he’s a better con man than Jimmy. [Laughs] What a terrible state of affairs this brotherly relationship is in at the end of Season 2.

PG: They are really two sides of the same coin. In some ways, if you could put them both together, you’d have a pretty perfect person. [Laughs] They both have empty spaces inside of them and we’re fascinated by how they got that way. One of the privileges we give ourselves on this show is to go back and forth in time. A lot of people disliked Chuck, but in Season 2, we get a little bit of his side of things. It’s like sympathy for the Devil, for lack of a better phrase.

Q: What do you want fans thinking about after the end of the season?

PG: I’m hoping the fans are worried about Kim and Jimmy. Jimmy has put her into an almost impossible position because she really needs Mesa Verde as a client, but he has gotten this for her illicitly. She’s essentially an accomplice, so how far is she willing to go? How clearly can she see Jimmy? The last couple of episodes of Season 2 ask a lot of questions and I’m interested in finding out the answers that people come up with. Most of all, I hope that viewers care about Jimmy and Mike the way we do. If they do, that’s a triumph.

VG: People are going to conjecture about who left that note on Mike’s windshield and I can’t give any indication. [Laughs] But I hope we have whetted the appetite of fans of Better Call Saul for Season 3. Rest assured, we’ve got a lot more story to tell and we believe it will be worth the wait.

Read an interview with Heather Marion, who co-wrote the Season 2 Finale.

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