Executive producers Peter Gould and Tom Schnauz, who co-wrote the Season 4 finale of AMC’s Better Call Saul, discuss finally seeing the appearance of Saul Goodman, the impact it will have on Jimmy and Kim’s relationship, and Mike’s heartbreaking choice.
Q: Jimmy has his license back and is filing to do business as Saul Goodman. How does it feel to finally get to this moment?
Tom Schnauz: I was on the set when they filmed this moment and I have to admit that I got chills when he said the line. We’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. When we started the series, we thought that by the end of Season 1 he would be Saul Goodman — and we were so wrong. We did it the right way by taking our time. Having said that, he is not the Saul Goodman we know in Breaking Bad, but he’s definitely on that ramp and speeding down that highway.
Peter Gould: One of the things I love about that scene is it’s not a scene just about Jimmy taking a decisive step. It’s about Kim Wexler. Jimmy seems to have run a game on not only the bar panel, but he inadvertently ran a game on Kim. He deceived her. It’s telling that the last shot of the scene is not of Jim disappearing around the corner. It’s Kim watching him and trying to understand what just happened.
TS: It was meant to be a slap in the face to Kim. Because we’re seeing this through Kim’s eyes, it’s a slap in the face to us. It should happen suddenly and abruptly. It’s like you’re watching a crash happen and you’ve been seeing it in slow-motion for so long and then the impact is devastating. That’s what we were going for. Kim has been waiting all year for Jimmy to have an emotional reaction to Chuck. She keeps wanting him to grieve in a way that makes sense to her. Finally, she thinks she sees it, but it’s all just a con. He uses the moment to offer what is expected of a person who is grieving, but then he says, “I got those suckers!” It’s really a sharp turn. He’s been stuffing down his emotions for so long that he does something unbelievable in this moment.
PG: One thing that fascinates me about Jimmy McGill is that he will use sincere emotions for insincere ends. Watching it, I think there’s a little ambiguity. In some ways, you can argue that Jimmy’s speech is sincere. There’s a complexity. One of the things that Bob [Odenkirk] brings to the character is a complexity. Jimmy McGill is not a straightforward guy. The further we get on the show, the more he surprises us and the more layers we discover.
Q: Kim is clearly shaken when she learns the truth about Jimmy’s “performance.” What is going through her head when she sees Jimmy flip the switch like that? What impact do you think this moment has on the pair moving forward?
TS: It’s a stunned reaction. You think you see something and it’s not what you believed at all. She’s numb and processing right now. That’s something we’re exploring now as we break Season 5. It’s a complicated, psychological and emotional reaction to this. She loves Jimmy and she says to him, before the hearing, “I’m with you.” So, what does that mean? Does that mean he turns into Saul Goodman and she’s still with him? Or she promised herself to Jimmy McGill? It’s a very sharp turn. We see him at the beginning of the episode standing over Chuck’s grave saying “boo hoo.” His acting is not very good. By the end, he’s Laurence Olivier. It’s a real turn. He’s tapped into something. He’s saying, about the judge, “that asshole actually had tears coming out of his eyes.” Well, so did Kim.
PG: She’s had the rug pulled out from under her. What she’s going to take from that is still a question at the end of the season.
Q: Even before the hearing, we see Jimmy’s emotional breakdown in the car after the scholarship committee meeting and his talk with the young girl who was passed over. What was the final straw that created that outburst?
PG: I’m reluctant to nail it down completely. Jimmy gives – what we call in the writers’ room – the Devil’s Locker Room Speech. In one way, it’s inspirational. There’s truth in what he says, but it’s an angry speech. It’s a speech about showing all those assholes. It’s a speech about someone who feels he’s rejected and she’s rejected, and they’re going to show all those people in the suits what they’re really made of. Why does he cry after that? We found there was more than one way to look at this. One version is that the speech he gives to that young woman is also a speech he’s giving about Chuck. He was just sitting under a portrait of Chuck, discussing his wishes. Maybe it’s about Chuck. Maybe he’s crying because he sees what he’s become. He knows whatever goodness was in him and whatever his moral compass was has changed in a way that he doesn’t necessarily like himself. There are a lot of ways to look at it. Another layer to that is that he’s in the garage and he’s by the spot where we first saw Kim. The one thing I know for sure is that this guy is in a lot of pain. We see him in that garage by himself. The audience is the only witnesses to this breakdown. He goes back to Kim and he’s a little bit withdrawn, but he seems normal. Another thing that he says in that speech is, “They don’t care that much about you. You don’t care much about them.” He’s echoing what Chuck said to him at the end of last season. These things are all swirling around in Jimmy McGill’s head. I don’t even know if he understands himself that well. Maybe that’s ultimately his tragedy.
Q: It was great to see Chuck back in the finale. What did that scene mean to you guys, particularly in light of how the specter of Chuck loomed over the ending?
TS: I think it helps show that things could have been different. If Chuck made different decisions and Jimmy made different decisions, things could have been good and they could have been brothers instead of enemies.
PG: So much of this season is about how Jimmy deals – or doesn’t deal – with the loss of his brother. If this would be the episode where some of that explodes for Jimmy, we thought the way to start would be with the best moment between these two brothers. This is the 40th episode and we’ve seen so much conflict between these two brothers and then in this moment, you see that they are brothers and there is a love between them in that moment. For us, it made the whole tragedy that much more poignant. We also knew for sure that if we had Bob Odenkirk sing, it was going to be great, and if you have Michael McKean sing, it was also going to be great. We had more singing in one of the cuts and it pained me to cut it shorter – like cutting off a limb. Those guys are so great and I just love seeing them play together. It enhanced that feeling of loss for the fact that we don’t have Michael or Chuck on the show, but it was a delight to have him back for this great sequence.
Q: Mike has to make an awful choice in the finale. Why does he choose to be the one to put Werner down? What does it mean to see Mike have to take a life in this manner?
PG: We have so many characters in this universe who don’t take responsibility for their actions. Mike truly feels the burden for everything he does wrong. I don’t know that he gets any joy out of what he does right, but I know he sure as hell carries the burden of what he does wrong. What I get from that scene is that Mike feels he’s responsible for this situation. Werner clearly didn’t fully understand what was going on. Mike didn’t make it clear to him. Mike stood up for Werner when he probably shouldn’t have. There were ways to nip this in the bud that Mike didn’t take. Going back to the words on Breaking Bad, Mike kept taking half measures. He knows that Werner is going to go. There’s no other possibility once Gus Fring has made up his mind. Mike is left in the position to either stand by and let Gus’s assassin show up or he can take this into his own hands and make it the easiest death that he knows how. Werner also sees the inevitability. He realizes he’s made a mistake that he can’t take back. The only way this doesn’t impact Werner’s wife is if he goes along with it. Mike doesn’t just shoot the guy in the head. They have this painful understanding and, ultimately, Werner dictates the terms. He knows damn well what’s going to happen while he’s out there looking at the stars. In a way, he’s making it easier on Mike – or trying to.
Q: Mike doesn’t tend to make himself vulnerable, but Werner did get close to him. Do you think this just reinforces Mike’s worldview of keeping your walls up?
PG: Mike is indirectly responsible for the death of his own son and now he’s responsible for the death of a man – who admittedly was working for a drug lord to build a meth laboratory – but Mike likes this guy. It is painful. Mike is headed down a dark path. How does this guy become Gus Fring’s assassin? Now we know part of the answer. We don’t know all the answers. Right now, Mike has killed somebody who he likes, but he’s not under Gus Fring’s orders. I think we still have quite a ways to go with him.
Q: If it wasn’t already clear, the finale shows how dangerous Lalo can be. What does it mean for Gus and Mike that he is keeping such a close eye on them?
TS: Having Lalo in town is bad news. Gus is a master chess player and Mike is brilliant and has protective police skills, but they have a real problem in Lalo. Lalo is smart, clever, and dogged. He gets a hold of the bone and he will not let go. Gus seems to be on a schedule with this Superlab and having Lalo around completely ruins his plans. He can’t move forward knowing there’s a Salamanca poking around. If he finds out the truth, it means getting driven down to Mexico and having a bullet put in your head by the side of Don Eladio’s pool.
Q: Why do you think Gus shows Gale the Superlab, even though it’s not complete? What is Gus’s next step in light of the Werner hiccup?
TS: I think because Lalo is onto things, the plan is off the table. What do you do as project manager? You gather your smartest minds and get together to figure out what the next step is. I don’t know what Gus was expecting Gale to say, but it’s just not good enough. Gus is just trying to find a direction now.
PG: You get a little bit more of the Gale-Gus relationship and there are many layers to peel back. I think the odds are good that Gale really wanted to see this lab.
TS: As we know from Breaking Bad and his notebook, Gale designed much of what we see.
Q: We didn’t see Nacho in the finale, but we know he’s still stuck between Gus and the Salamancas. What do you think he learned on his journey this season, and how might it serve him as he tries to extricate himself from this mess?
PG: Nacho is in boiling water and all the other characters keep adding wood to the fire. He has to get out of this situation. It’s not going to be an easy thing for him to do. When I see the IDs he has for him and his father in Episode 8, I’m pretty sure he’s got a plan but I’m also sure that plan didn’t include Lalo showing up at the last minute. I think one of the things he’s learned is that it’s time to make a move. When we first met Nacho, he seemed very much into the [criminal] life. He was Tuco’s sidekick and friend. He was a guy looking to make money. The funny thing is he’s climbed in the organization. He’s climbed up to the top level of management you can be in if your last name isn’t Salamanca and he’s gotten all the goodies – the great car, the pad, the young ladies – and yet, it’s empty because all he seems to feel is a desire to get the hell out. He knows his days are numbered.
Q: So, is the transformation to Saul fully complete at this point? How do you see the story evolving in Season 5?
TS: He sees a plan ahead of him. He has a client base from selling phones. I think, right now, he’s Saul Goodman to his clients and possibly Jimmy McGill to Kim. That’s where we’re at right now. There’s Jimmy McGill and Saul Goodman. When does one overtake the other?
PG: It’s a moral journey – maybe a moral descent is the right way to say it. You have to ask yourself: What is Jimmy/Saul willing to do to get what he wants? We know from earlier seasons of Better Call Saul that in the end, Jimmy wasn’t willing to ruin an elderly woman’s life to make millions of dollars. Would he make that same decision now after everything he’s been through in Season 4? To be continued. One of the things we think about in the writers’ room is the tests. How can we test this character? Right now, Jimmy seems to have two things that are important in his life. One is the anger you saw that he showed to that young woman outside of HHM, but he also has love and joy in his life. He has love for Kim. They have fun together. In some ways, he’s caught between rage and love. Which one is going to win?
Read a Q&A with Gennifer Hutchison, who wrote the penultimate episode of Season 4.
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