Gennifer Hutchison, executive producer of AMC’s Better Call Saul, discusses why the blow up between Jimmy and Kim was so satisfying, how Nacho is only sinking into deeper trouble, and the lasting impact Werner will have on Mike.
Q: This has obviously been a big season of transition for Jimmy. What was the hardest part of mapping out his emotional story for the season?
A: The big thing this season was wanting to explore grief and how it manifests differently for different people. With Jimmy, his relationship with his grief over his brother’s death is so complicated because of his relationship with his brother. When Howard says, “I’m pretty sure Chuck did this on purpose” and reveals the insurance information, Jimmy has to realize he might have played a role in his brother’s suicide. It was about understanding how complex that emotional state could be for someone and what would be the best way to express that – the idea of him almost blowing off the grief. Where is he actually as opposed to what is he projecting? That was the challenge of the season and, furthermore, how that relates to Kim and Howard. Just playing with all that and making everyone have a different journey but a journey that makes sense.
Q: A big portion of his journey this season has been the deterioration of his relationship with Kim. How did the writers’ room approach the increasing disconnection between them?
A: Kim is worried about Jimmy and the fact that he doesn’t seem to be showing emotion. Any grief response is valid. Everybody grieves differently, but because she knows Jimmy so well, clearly something has to be going on with him. She also doesn’t want to be pushy about it. She suggests a therapist and he says no. In that moment, her feeling is: “If this is what he says is best for him, I have to take a step back and trust that and do what’s best for me.” They start on these separate paths, but they still love each other. Jimmy’s whole push is to get the business going with Kim again. As usual, he’s focusing on the wrong thing. He so often associates Wexler-McGill, the business, with Wexler-McGill, the relationship. The business is part of their relationship, but it’s that emotional connection for her that he’s just not able to express at the moment. Throughout the season, we wanted it to feel subtle and natural. Couples grow apart for whatever reason. In Episode 7, we have that montage of the gradual distancing. That was the kind of thing we wanted to do where it’s not some explosive scene in each episode – until we build to the explosive fight that happens in Episode 9.
Q: The fight was indeed explosive. How did you approach writing that scene?
A: That was a challenging scene because when you’re building tension for so long, the instinct is to let all the tension out. Dramatically, it might feel satisfying but if you release all that tension, it’s hard to figure out where to go from there. We wanted it to feel like there’s a moment where there’s a reckoning. Coming into that scene, they’re not expecting a fight. This scene is about something bad happening to Jimmy and Kim wanting to fix it, and it turns into a fight. For me, I feel like when you have fights with intimate partners, it tends to come from something else. I love that it came out of this moment where she’s trying her best to help him. It’s that thing where you think you’re fighting about one thing and you end up fighting about every problem you’ve had in your relationship. [Laughs] That was important to us. It takes you away from the pressing issue and refocuses it on if this relationship is salvageable.
Q: What does it say that Jimmy has so blocked Chuck out of his life that he doesn’t even consider why mentioning him might have been important?
A: I think he’s compartmentalized it so much that it doesn’t even occur to him to mention Chuck. What’s interesting in the scene is he says, “You want me to be so upset and I’m just not that upset.” He’s reacting to Kim because while she’s been trying not to pressure him, he’s been feeling that pressure. He becomes almost resentful. I think that’s what comes out there.
Q: Do you believe Jimmy is projecting his feelings about Chuck onto Kim during that fight?
A: I think he’s definitely projecting all the feelings he’s had about how Chuck viewed him and other people in the world and he’s putting them on her. For sure. And that’s what she’s reacting to.
Q: What do you think it means for Kim to finally unload and say all those things to Jimmy?
A: Kim is a character who is always in control. For her to let this stuff out is significant. I don’t think she intends to do it. It really is reactionary. When Jimmy essentially says she doesn’t support him, it deeply hurts her. There is a tiny element of “Oh God. Is he right?” and being defensive. So often, we get the most defensive when we believe there might be a kernel of truth in what’s being said to us. If she looks back, I think she would regret this and would want to talk about this in a more controlled way. There’s relief in being able to say these things, but there’s a frustration. After a year of holding all of that in, it’s really hard to not let it out like that.
Q: Does Jimmy realize any of what she’s saying is true?
A: I think that’s open, honestly. He hears truth in what she says, but as usual, he turns it around in a self-loathing way. The times that Kim has “lost it” and gone off on people, it’s always been in defense of Jimmy. In a sense, her going off on Jimmy is in defense of herself but also in defense of Jimmy. Although she says, “You’re always down,” what she’s saying is “I always support you” which inherently means “I believe in you.” I don’t think he hears that. He hears “I am a terrible dude.” I think it’s a really open question of how much he really hears and processes. He hears the bad reinforcement as opposed to what’s buried underneath, which is the positive reinforcement of “I stick with you because you’re worth it.” She says all of that stuff in anger, so it’s hard to hear that part.
Q: What does it say about their relationship that despite that blowup, Kim thinks they can work it out?
A: I do think there’s a thing in entertainment where you have that one big fight with a couple and they’re finished. In real life, couples have huge fights all the time, but then you take a breath. It doesn’t mean it’s not worth fighting for the relationship. I like the expectation that they’re definitely done for, but it’s a little more grounded. They’ve been together for a long time. It’s a more complex relationship than that.
Q: What was the process of creating the backstory for Hector’s infamous bell?
A: It’s such an odd bell. It’s not something that a medical professional would have given you. We always knew it had to have a story behind it. The idea of the story behind it came a little later in the process. It made all of us think of a hotel bell, so it seemed natural to go in that direction. We wanted the story to tell you something about both Hector and Lalo and underline Hector’s pride and cruelty, but then also the weird sentimentality of Lalo. [Laughs] That felt very appropriate. We wanted Lalo to feel like a Salamanca, but also have a different personality and point of view. We introduced him as a bit of a jovial and friendly guy. He seems smart, but he also has to be scary. That cruelty runs through all of them. It was a way of making him a scary person without him being the same flavor as Hector and the Cousins.
Q: Is Lalo’s visit to Gus just a head game?
A: The intent of the Gus scene was to lend a new flavor to the Salamanca-Gus relationship. He doesn’t come in and just threaten him, but there is a threat in there. He does it in that way where people so often do where it’s just a “joke.” The threat is so implicit in that. He’s also trying to take Gus’s temperature and get an idea of who this guy is because he’s never met him.
Q: How worried should we be for Nacho?
A: Every time Nacho does something to get out of the business, it just sucks him further in. Every time he tries to make things better, it makes things worse. If Nacho had his way, he would just not be here anymore, but he’s stuck between these two super scary people. The walls are closing in. Lalo is clearly smart and a suspicious person. Gus is clearly unhappy. Nacho has very little power in either relationship. It’s a scary time for him. At this point, it feels like he’s just trying to survive.
Q: How bad of a spot is Mike in now that Werner seems to have run away?
A: Mike is in a terrible position. Mike doesn’t make mistakes very often. He made a mistake and his mistake came from an emotional place of liking Werner and being friendly with him. That’s a vulnerability. I think it’s a crossroads for him of having let someone in and making yourself vulnerable. What is that going to do to him going forward? How is he going to fix what he’s done? I think Mike understands that it’s going to be a difficult situation to resolve. In that last shot of him outside, there’s that horrifying sense of responsibility. Mike’s never blamed somebody else for his errors. We know where Mike ends up and I think that’s a lesson he’s still learning on Breaking Bad. I think this will definitely play into how Mike goes forward in his relationships. He’s super walled up already, but putting up even more walls. I think this will have a profound impact.
Q: What’s been your favorite aspect of this season?
A: I was excited for this big Kim and Jimmy blowout in Episode 9 because they are a couple that doesn’t talk about what’s really going on. That was really satisfying that we got to do that. My favorite part of that is when she says, “Jimmy you’re always down.” It’s such a mean thing to say, but it’s just one of those things that happens. That was probably my favorite scene to do. That’s the stuff I love the most – those character things. [Rhea Seehorn] does it in a completely different way than I envisioned it, which is the wonderful thing about our cast. You write something and then they perform it in a way that’s even better than you could have imagined.
Read a Q&A with Michael Mando, who plays Nacho.
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