Peter Gould, the showrunner and co-creator of Better Call Saul who directed and co-wrote the Season 5 finale, talks about Kim’s dark side, what’s next for Lalo and Nacho, Gene’s storyline and what makes him most nervous about Season 6.
Q: What a season! The pace (and mayhem) of the show picked up quite a bit this season. Does that naturally coincide with Jimmy‘s decision to become Saul Goodman?
A: Absolutely. Jimmy putting his foot into the world of Saul Goodman has a lot of very complicated, big, explosive effects on him and his world. He’s crossed some very significant lines this season, and there’s blowback and consequences and those are epic.
Q: What was it like having Dean Norris be a part of the show this year?
A: It was so exciting having Dean come back. We had the idea in the writers room. It was one of those magical, exciting moments. Suddenly there was Jimmy and he was going to be across from a DEA agent and, as soon as we said the three letters DEA, of course we all thought of Dean and of Hank but, having said that, we didn’t know for sure that Dean would be up for doing it. Dean could have easily said, it’s fun to talk about but aren’t we finished with that character — because he certainly plumbed the depths of Hank Schrader.
I recruited Vince [Gilligan] for this call [to Dean Norris] because of course Hank is Vince’s creation. He was in the pilot of Breaking Bad, and maybe he’s the first character we’ve had on the show who goes back that far in the Breaking Bad world. We got on the phone with Dean and we started pitching some of our thoughts, and he more or less interrupted us and said guys, guys, I love it. I think one of the things that excited him and excited us was that we were going to see Hank as he was before the events of Breaking Bad, when he was just a happy guy who loved his work, loved his wife, enjoyed his day and and loved busting bad guys. I think that was appealing to all of us, to get to have Hank play those notes again and to see Dean back on the show. Dean was delightful. He came completely prepared. I was so excited to see the dailies. I don’t always watch dailies, but I was thrilled to see these dailies and he’s just great. And of course Steven Michael Quezada, having those two guys back again just brought back all kinds of memories. It’s definitely bittersweet because I would like to work with Dean Norris every day.
Q: Kim is more understanding than ever of Jimmy’s questionable choices, even brainstorming destroying Howard. Is this a reflection of how she’s changed, or of her desire to hold onto Jimmy to make it work?
A: Kim Wexler has so many aspects. She is such a complicated character. There’s so much going on there. And, as we end this season, I think one of our big, maybe the biggest question is what is going on with Kim? What is she really thinking? You can imagine that maybe she’s proposing this scam for exactly the reasons that she says, that it’s just not fair that some people get better justice than others and she wants to even the scales. But you can also feel that some of it has something to do with her relationship with Jimmy. And we also wonder how far is she willing to go? How dark is Kim Wexler willing to go? And those are all things that we are going to be exploring in Season 6.
Q: Jimmy is deeply shaken after his experience in the desert. Would you say that, even though he’s practicing law as Saul Goodman, he still has a ways to go before he’s the man we know from Breaking Bad?
A: The Saul Goodman we knew on Breaking Bad was a different kind of guy. I mean, you’ve got to wonder if the Saul Goodman we knew on Breaking Bad had love in his life. Saul Goodman on Breaking Bad was willing to propose murder as a business maneuver, and I don’t think Jimmy’s there yet. He’s been brought face to face with all the consequences of being involved in this world, and one of the things that fascinates me about Episodes 9 and 10 is another person might be scared straight by what happened. Another person might say he wants nothing to do with the underworld ever again and, in fact, if you think back to Season 1, Jimmy had his encounter with Tuco Salamanca and, boy, he wanted nothing more to do with the underworld at that point. But here we are at the end of Season 5, and he seems to be saying that he knows himself well enough to know that he’s going to get in another situation like this someday, and it’s a bleak thought and it’s a sad thought but maybe it’s a realistic thought. Jimmy has many off-ramps on his highway to hell, and he keeps driving right past them.
A: I think Mike tolerates Jimmy. I don’t think Mike has a great love in his heart for Jimmy McGill, but the truth is those two guys did go through a lot together during their time out in the desert — and he sees Jimmy is scared. He’s scared not for himself, but for the woman he loves, and I think that gets to Mike because Mike knows exactly what it is to want to take care of someone and to protect them. And Mike has tried so hard and he’s failed so often to do just that. I think in that moment he probably tells Jimmy more than he really ought to, but it’s a gesture — and it’s a gesture that I think Jimmy really appreciates.
Q: Gus and Lalo’s battle reaches new heights by the end of this episode with Gus putting out a kill on Lalo. How was it writing and directing that scene?
A: I wrote that episode with the very talented Ariel Levine. All I can say is there are big shoes to fill because we’ve had some amazing action sequences on Better Call Saul and on Breaking Bad and I just wanted to make sure that what I did wasn’t going to embarrass me or the show. But I had a secret weapon, which is Tony Dalton. Tony Dalton was a secret weapon and so was Michael Mando. And the truth is, when you have great actors, it makes the action great and those guys did a magnificent job. Of course we have a whole extraordinary crew working on the show, from the production design department through stunts and special effects, and everybody is at the top of their game and it makes it a lot of fun to come up with these crazy ideas like the tunnel under the bathtub and all the rest of it.
Q: Poor Nacho cannot catch a break. Is it safe to say that Lalo is coming after him now?
A: I think this assassination attempt has illuminated a lot for Lalo Salamanca. You certainly get the feeling that he knows that Nacho was in on it because where the hell is Nacho? And then, later on, the mercenary says that he doesn’t know who hired them, and Lalo says yes, well, I certainly do. And of course Lalo and Gus Fring have been playing a game of cat and mouse ever since Lalo showed up, and now the cold war has gotten very hot.
Q: We spent a large chunk of time with Gene in the opening scene this year. Do you think we’ll ever get a full Gene episode? How connected are the end of Gene’s journey and the end of the series?
A: Certainly if we ended the show without finding out what happened next in the Gene story, we really would be dropping the ball, so I think there’s more to be said about Gene. I want to know what he means when he says, “I’m going to fix it myself.” It’s hard to imagine exactly what Gene’s next maneuver is going to be. This show is a very unusual piece that we’re doing because it is a prequel to Breaking Bad, but the Gene sequences, in a way, are a sequel to Breaking Bad, just as El Camino was, but a different kind of sequel. Sometimes I think of this show in a way as the frame around Breaking Bad and, boy, there’s a lot of things I’d like to know about, that happen after the events of Breaking Bad and after the events of El Camino. I especially want to know what’s going to happen to Gene and Kim and Nacho.
We have a lot of room to play. It’s been a tough thing for us in some ways, and it’s glorious, but we have to keep our world consistent and so there’s a lot of things that we would have loved to do on Better Call Saul that we can’t do because of the events of Breaking Bad. There are characters who we’d love to have Jimmy meet, but they met for the first time on Breaking Bad. I remember we were working on the late seasons of Breaking Bad, and we would be bashing our heads against the wall — and Vince might be doing it literally — saying what are we going to do with this machine gun in the trunk that Walt has bought at the beginning of Season 5 in the flash forward? And I remember Vince saying all the things we could do if we didn’t have to deal with that machine gun. And for us, Breaking Bad is that writ large. But the Gene material is completely different. The Gene material is untrodden, so we have a whole world opening up to us if we choose to go there, and I’m sure hoping we do end up going there.
Q: How are you guys preparing for the sixth and final season? What are you most excited/nervous about?
A: We’ve been meeting for a few weeks and there are some ideas that are so huge, but I’ll tell you what makes me nervous is just sticking the landing. Every season that we’ve had so far we’ve always had lots of material that we wanted to put on screen that we didn’t have time for, and so we would always say, oh well, we’ll deal with this aspect or that aspect of the story next season. Well, this time there is no next season, so we have to somehow make it all work and bring it hopefully to a satisfying conclusion. All I can tell you is we’re going to do our damnedest. We have a room full of brilliant people, brilliant funny people — or right now several rooms where we’re meeting electronically [because of the coronavirus] — and the ideas are flying fast and furious and I have high hopes.
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