Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, co-creators and executive producers of AMC’s Better Call Saul, discuss ending the season with such a big cliff-hanger, Chuck’s “heartbreaking” fate, how close Jimmy is to becoming Saul, and what’s next for Mike and Gus.
Q: The last couple of seasons have ended with big cliff-hangers that just scream for resolution – something you didn’t always do on Breaking Bad. Why has the story broken that way more on Better Call Saul?
Peter Gould: I don’t think there’s a big plan behind it. I think maybe you’re seeing a little bit of confidence. The endings of Breaking Bad seasons always seemed very provocative to me. There was that cliff-hanger when Hank saw the Leaves of Grass in the White’s house bathroom. That was a pretty strong cliff-hanger, so you could argue that maybe we just have more cliff-hangers as we go along.
Vince Gilligan: But we knew that year when Hank found Leaves of Grass that we were going to have a subsequent eight episodes! The season of Breaking Bad that could have – and a lot of people told us this – arguably worked as a series finale was the end of Season 4. Interestingly enough, that was the season where we had the least confidence that we would get any more episode orders. That was one of the least cliffhanger-y season-enders because we didn’t know if we would ever get to do this again. Like Peter said, maybe we have a little more confidence now, 11 years into the Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul universe. As writers, you go where the story takes you and this is where it took us this season.
Q: Chuck gets a lot of hate from the fans, but it’s hard not to feel bad for him in those final moments. Was that your intent?
PG: We know that the audience loathes Chuck. [Laughs] It’s interesting because sometimes we feel just as the audience does about things and sometimes there’s a divide because we spend so much time thinking about these characters. … We spend a lot of time with him, and if you loathe him on sight, maybe that’s not good for us as storytellers. [Laughs] … I personally think Chuck does a lot of terrible things, but I have a lot of empathy for Chuck, especially as the season went on and he confronted his mental illness. I found it inspiring and heroic that that’s what he took from that wonderful, terrible Episode 5 when he broke down in court. There’s another version of the story where that breakdown just makes him go out and destroy Jimmy, and that wasn’t where Chuck went.
VG: I can’t help but have a fair amount of sympathy for the devil here. He’s got issues, the least of which is his allergy to electricity. He’s a very prideful man who sees the world in very black-and-white terms, morally speaking. What’s tougher on him is that he’s got this corroding jealousy towards his brother, his own flesh and blood. This envy eats away at him and may be part of the reason for his allergy in the first place. I’m not excusing him, but I can’t help but wish there was another way for these two to express their love for each other. I do take him at his word that he does love Jimmy. He doesn’t behave like he does, but I think there’s love there.
Q: Chuck basically rejected the two people closest to him — Jimmy and Howard — before his relapse. Do you think in some ways his actions in the closing moments may have been a cry for help?
PG: The reasons why Chuck does what he does are deep and complicated. I think a lot of that is for the viewer to decide. I personally dragged my feet over what he does. It seems very apparent where the story was going, and I resisted it at every turn until it felt inevitable. This is a master manipulator who’s outsmarted himself. He’s been so reluctant to show vulnerability and so prideful that he’s really lost everything that matters to him. It’s ironic when Howard says to him at the beginning of Episode 10, “You’ve won.” He does win every battle, but he loses the war. At the end, he’s left by himself in this big house with presumably a lot of money, but somehow he finds it very difficult to go on.
VG: I find it heartbreaking. I think we’ve all had moments in our lives – hopefully not as dramatic as this – of moral certitude and self-righteousness where we were angry about the way someone treated us, and we rejected them and felt righteous about having done it and yet felt empty inside. I think this guy is the loneliest man in the world in Episode 10. He may feel he has the moral high-ground to eject Jimmy and Howard from his life, but it can be argued whether he does or not. The truth is Jimmy has done some really sh–tty things to Chuck. He didn’t do them in a vacuum, but the question is: Do the ends justify the means? How far do you take it?
Q: This season saw Jimmy use the name Saul Goodman and acting much more Saul-like, but by the end of the season he seems to have course-corrected a bit. Where do you place him on the sliding scale between Jimmy and Saul?
PG: These shows are about people who change. In my experience, when people change, it can seem like it happens very quickly because things have been building up almost like a volcano, but a lot of times, change takes the form of two steps forward and one step back. We’ve now seen Jimmy is able, if sufficiently motivated, to go to a very dark place. In Episode 9, he’s willing to hurt someone who is truly an innocent. He takes this poor lady, Mrs. Landry, and really ruins her life for his own gain. Can he just take that back? Obviously, Kim‘s accident is a wake-up call for him, but you have to wonder: Once he’s gone that far, how long is he going to be able to keep these big resolutions he made in Episode 10?
Q: Kim and Jimmy were at one point closer than ever, then seemed to be going in opposite directions. Do you think the accident brought them back together? How might Kim’s obvious distaste for Jimmy’s Saul-like behaviors pose problems for their future?
PG: Kim has a moral compass, but she’s not a goody-two-shoes. When we first met her, it was clear that one of the attractions that Jimmy had for her was his roguishness. When he plays his stunt on the billboard, she smiles when she sees it on TV. There’s the moment where they finally get together and kiss after they just scammed a jackass. Kim is a complicated person. I think she spent quite a bit of this season feeling very bad about what they did to Chuck and living with the consequences in a way that Jimmy wasn’t willing to address. There’s no question that it opened up a gap between them, but Jimmy would be a fool to let Kim get away from him. [Laughs] She’s the best thing in his life. Is he the best thing in her life? That’s a bigger question.
VG: It starts with having great actors. It’s something we used to worry about more than we do now. I used to be in real fear about everyone knowing where everyone winds up, but we don’t know how they got to these points. There’s just as much drama inherent in the journey as there is in knowing the final destination. Yes, we know that Hector Salamanca is not going to get killed on Better Call Saul because we’ve seen his demise at the end of Breaking Bad, but how does he get in that wheelchair? And who says we even know yet how he’s going to get in that wheelchair? There’s so much room to maneuver that you don’t realize when you’re starting off. Both we and the audience don’t know where this is going half the time, and it’s all about the journey.
Q:What does it mean that Gus seems to be on to Nacho’s ploy?
PG: One person you don’t want to cross is Gus Fring. Back in Episode 7, Mike warned Nacho about this. He warned there are more forces in this universe than Nacho knows about. We haven’t established what Nacho thinks of Gus, but we get the feeling that Gus is putting two and two together in that special way that only he can do. I think things are bound to get more complicated for Nacho rather than less.
VG: I would bet – and this is no discredit to Nacho – that Nacho’s underestimating Gus Fring because pretty much everyone does. I don’t think you want Gus Fring looking at you too closely!
Q: Mike might have gotten the least bumpy endpoint this season, after having “atoned” for the Good Samaritan he inadvertently got killed. Is Mike foolish to believe his money laundering arrangement is a one-time deal with Gus?
PG: I love the way Jonathan Banks plays those scenes. Mike has a lot of street smarts and he knows damn well that if he gets into business with Gus Fring that it’s not going to be a simple situation. I think with the way Jonathan plays it, you can see on his face that a part of him knows he’s making a mistake – or certainly a big move. He’s giving Lydia his actual identity, his social security card and he’s exposing himself. He may hope this is going to be a limited relationship, but I think he suspects he’s taking a very big step.
Q: Peter, you directed the finale, which brought together so much that happened this season. Were there any particular challenges to this episode versus others you’ve directed?
PG: It was big in every way. Of course it was very big logistically and in terms of production, but more than that, it was emotionally big. We had a lot of characters who were going outside their comfort zones. Jimmy, who we’re used to seeing floating above it all, has really been changed by this accident that Kim has had. There were some very intimate moments that those two had that I was very worried about directing, but Bob [Odenkirk] and Rhea [Seehorn] were such a joy. They handled those scenes so beautifully. The other part was the whole Chuck of it. It was so dark and so bleak to my eyes. I was a little intimidated and in fact, when Michael [McKean] started doing all those extensive scenes by himself, I found it almost frightening. When he’s breaking up his house, every frame of that is Michael. There’s no doubles in that whatsoever. He went to a very dark and scary place during all that. I found that fascinating, but it also created a dark and scary mood in me, too. Hopefully it will for the audience as well. This was an episode with a lot of extremes and it certainly kept me on my toes.
Q: What are you most excited about pursuing in a potential Season 4?
VG: I couldn’t be more proud of this show. Season 3 is our best season yet. I’m just a fan and am very much looking forward to what happens next. I’m dismayed at the fact that Jimmy McGill has to become Saul Goodman and that we’re closer to that than we’ve ever been because that will be a loss. It’ll be like a death in the family – no pun intended. I can’t wait to see what happens next, although I suspect it will have some tragic overtones. I would think there’s a lot more story to tell [with Gene] in Omaha and beyond.
PG: So much happens at the end of this season and the characters aren’t aware of what’s happening. When Jimmy finds out what’s going on with Chuck, I want to know what the implications of that will be. What’s going to happen to Howard? What’s Gus’s next move? What’s going on with Hector if he gets pulled into that ambulance? Is this the stroke that puts him in the wheelchair? Those are all questions we’re still working on. Most of all, like Vince, I’m rooting for Jimmy to stay Jimmy but I also enjoy seeing bits of Saul. I’m very excited to see what happens when that guy starts to emerge.
Read a Q&A with executive producer Gennifer Hutchison, who wrote the season finale.
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