Executive producer Gennifer Hutchison, who wrote the Season 3 finale of AMC’s Better Call Saul, discusses Chuck’s mental state, why Mike was absent from the finale, and just how much danger Nacho is in with Gus.
Q: Between Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, this was your first time writing a season finale. What’s the hardest part of that assignment? What’s your favorite aspect of it?
A: The hardest part is the general feeling of pressure to deliver. Obviously, we want every episode to be as good as it can be, but premieres and finales always have that special air because you’re either setting up your entire season or you’re trying to wind up your whole season and also set up the possibility of a next season. So, you can get in your head a little bit with wanting to make sure everything is perfect, but, luckily, I work on a show where there’s so much support from Peter [Gould] and Vince [Gilligan] and the writers, and everybody’s working together to make the best episode possible. The best part about writing a finale is you do get to do so many cool and huge story things, like wrapping up character arcs for the season or having big moments. The finale has some huge things that happen, so getting to play with those is really fun.
Q: What was the discussion in the writers’ room like when it came to deciding how this season would end?
A: We often have a general idea of something we’re working towards. This season, it was very much about Chuck versus Jimmy and bringing that conflict to a head. We had been talking for a long time about Chuck getting better and then taking a huge turn for the worst. We had been talking all season about if it was something we could earn by the end of the season and how to go about doing that so it’s organic and makes sense. At the same time, that stuff is really dependent as we’re going episode by episode and what the pace of the character is. Sometimes you think you’re going to have Jimmy do something in Episode 4 and it takes until Episode 7 for him to get there because we need more moves or turns. We have targets, but we make discoveries along the way.
Q: Perhaps the biggest cliff-hanger is Chuck’s house going up in flames. What do you think that moment says about the severity of Chuck’s mental illness?
A: It’s a really delicate scene. For me, it’s really about Chuck realizing how he’s pushed everybody away that cares about him. Throughout the whole series, he’s very much been a person who’s like, “People are doing these things to me, and I’m suffering at their hand, so I’m going to take control.” He sets all those things in motion with getting Jimmy’s license suspended and breaking with HHM. In this episode, he has two huge breaks. [He loses] Howard, who has been his friend, and then when Jimmy reaches out, there’s this moment when he could actually reconcile, and Chuck chooses not to and immediately regrets it. It’s that feeling of, “I’ve created this isolation for myself.” There are a couple of choices of what you can do – try to fix it or not fix it. It seems like Chuck really is taking the route of not knowing how to even begin fixing it, and it leaves him in an desolate place.
Q: After Jimmy sees what happened to Kim, what kind of impact do you think it has on him?
A: It’s a big wake up call for him. Jimmy has so few people in his life that really ground him in who he is, and Kim really is the last of them. Obviously, he reaches out to Chuck and is completely rejected, but he loves Kim and she sees who he really is. I think he truly wants to be that person that Kim sees him being, and he’s really lost sight of that. I think it’s a direct response to Kim’s accident, and I think he blames himself in a lot of ways. “I put her in danger.” Whether or not that’s true, that’s how he perceives it, and it makes him take a step back towards Jimmy, which is not really a regression to me because Jimmy is probably the more positive person to be here. [Laughs] I think in becoming who we are, it’s never a straight line. It’s always that push and pull. I like these moments where he’s flirting with Saul and stays with Jimmy.
Q: Seeing Jimmy and Kim stare at their wall one last time is a bittersweet moment. How do you think both of those characters view that?
A: I think he’s sad to see it go because it was like, “I’ve got this. We’re here. We have this office together. We’re doing this.” I do think that last scene with them is hopeful, and I love leaving them with a sense of hope because their relationship is not a law firm, though Jimmy has felt that it is this season, and that’s why he’s been working so hard to keep it going. I think it’s great that there’s that reassurance that their relationship will continue without it. She does say, “We’ll get a new one,” so their relationship does revolve around this business, in a sense. While I do think he’s allowing himself some hope, there’s that insecurity as well. It’s such a sweet moment, and I’m glad we managed to get it in, especially because there are so many other depressing scenes of characters breaking up in a way.
Q: Kim seems to be the one person who has learned her lesson. What does it mean for her to turn her career off for a little while?
A: I like that she took a break and the kind of break she took, where she had to shut everything completely down and do that extreme thing of “I’m not doing anything except watching videos and eating chips,” is important for her. She’s very all or nothing, in a lot of ways. It’s interesting to me because I don’t know if she’ll be able to maintain balance. When she goes back to work, will she be able to have that work-life balance? I, myself, am interested in the idea of how you restructure your life when it’s clearly not working. When you’re on vacation, it’s easy to be like, “This is simple.” But when you get back to your daily grind, it’s easy to fall back into that pattern.
Q: Nacho‘s plan against Hector finally seemed to work. How much did you guys want to play with expectations regarding Hector’s health?
A: Obviously for people who watched Breaking Bad, we know where Hector ends up. For much of our audience, anytime that anything happens with Hector where he’s in the least bit of danger or his health takes a turn, it’s like, “This is it!” It’s a delicate balance of wanting to play with that, but not too much. You don’t want to constantly be yanking the rug from under people. We talked about how to dramatize it, and we’re still waiting to answer if this is the thing that ultimately puts him in the wheelchair or not, but it’s clearly a significant event for him. We wanted to make sure that story played out at a good pace and was tied into the character. We liked the idea that whatever this is is probably at least going to lead to the road that ultimately leaves him in a wheelchair. Having it grounded in the character’s story was important to us and gave us such a great opportunity to deal with Nacho and how his actions keep digging him deeper into this hole with the cartel. We wanted it to be a big moment at the end of the season, and we loved the idea of having Gus there, who is this person who hates Hector probably more than anybody else and really wants to kill him himself, having to save Hector’s life. Gus has spent this season keeping other people from killing Hector because he’s saving that for himself.
Q: Gus seems to be on to Nacho as well. How worried should we be about Nacho?
A: I think we should be fairly worried. Nacho’s a smart guy, but he’s not as smart as Gus. Very few people are. Nacho has shown that he very easily gets in way over his head, and I think he was so distracted by what was going on that he wasn’t paying attention to who Gus really is. While Mike has tried to warn him when he got the pill case, Nacho’s so wrapped up in what’s going on with his family that he didn’t process that. I think there’s some trouble going on for Nacho.
Q: Speaking of Mike, he’s not in the episode. Was that a tough call?
A: We love Mike, and I love working with Jonathan Banks, so I always want him in my episodes. But it really was a point where we were breaking the episode and there was so much going on. We were looking at Mike’s storyline and felt that we reached a pretty good ending point in the previous episode with where his relationship with Gus and Madrigal is, and left him in a place where his arc felt wrapped for the season but had potential for where it would go next. You never want to leave a character out, but we felt confident his story was in a place that felt satisfying for the season.
Q: What, if anything, from Season 3 surprised you the most?
A: It’s like everyone is in this transition phase of their life with the consequences of their actions. Every storyline kind of came to a head this season, and I didn’t expect that to thematically match up as much as it did. Everybody is living in the same world of “Who am I going to be? Am I going to be ‘A’ person or ‘B’ person?” even though Mike’s story is crazy gangsters and Jimmy’s is disciplinary hearings. [Laughs] The stakes feel so different, but on a core level, it’s about identity and making choices. Even though the plot of the worlds feels so disparate, the character part feels thematically linked.
Read a Q&A with co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould about the Season 3 finale.
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