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Better Call Saul Q&A — Thomas Schnauz (Writer, Director)

Thomas Schnauz, the writer and director of  Better Call Saul Episode 9, talks about the evolution of Jimmy and Kim’s relationship, that intense scene with Lalo and the challenge of ending the show next season.

Q: In the opening scene of this episode, Kim breaks down in tears when she learns Jimmy is in fact alive. Did you ever imagine Kim would go this far with Jimmy — knowing he’s picking up cartel money for a drug lord’s bail?

A: When we first started writing the Kim character, we always knew that her moral line would edge a little bit further and further as the seasons went on. I don’t know if I exactly imagined that she’d be here with Jimmy while he’s picking up money for a drug lord, but, if you had asked me back in Season 1 would Kim Wexler get here, I would have said it’s a possibility because her moral line keeps edging closer and closer to his. His moral line is moving too. It’s sort of them together moving to a darker side as the seasons go on, and she influences him, he influences her. It’s not him pushing her. It’s the mixture of them together, the McGill-Wexler cocktail, that pushes everything to a darker side unfortunately.

These two love each other, but you could say they’re very bad for each other because they keep influencing each other to do the scam — it’s for the greater good that we do this. But really bad things can come of what they’re doing and so, instead of walking a clear moral line of good, it’s sort of a Robin Hood syndrome — we can steal from these people to give to these people. That’s the whole Acker situation — they got into it wanting to do good and it almost blew up in a bad way, but luckily they got out of it unscathed.

Q: She finds the mug with the bullet hole, but says nothing. Why?

A: When she takes his shirt off in the bathroom and sees the body trauma and gets a sense of the mental trauma that he’s gone through and then she finds this mug with the bullet hole that he’s obviously kept secret for some reason, she feels it inside that it’s best not to either attack him or question him on this thing that he’s keeping secret because he’s been through a traumatic experience. I think her sense is to go at him with a lighter touch and let him heal possibly, let him get through this until he’s ready to talk about what happened.

She knows something bad probably happened, worse than what he’s claiming, and, when he decides to go back to work in the middle of the episode when he should be home healing, that’s when she finally lets it loose. She tries to use very soft gloves when dealing with him, and he has the opportunity to tell the truth. Then he says I drank urine, that’s what this is about. And so, instead of going after him further, I think again she’s taking a very soft approach and she’s going to get to the bottom of this, but she’s not going to threaten him because he’s going to put up a defense. She’s worried about him putting up a defense and coming up with some elaborate lie, as we know that he can do, so I think she’s trying to tread very carefully as not to scare him away. When he’s ready to tell the truth, I think she’s going to get it out of him, and I think that’s her thinking.

Q: Lalo, like all Salamancas, tends to lead with emotion. What makes him think to go back and look for Jimmy’s car in the desert?

A: All Salamancas are very emotional creatures, but I think we’ve established Lalo is the smartest of them all and he’s very careful. He’s the Salamanca who will sit on a mountainside with his pair of binoculars all day long and watch and wait and look for your weaknesses and figure out how to get in. And I think he’s forgotten the part of the story that Jimmy told him. That clicks in as he’s standing there alone waiting. He’s looking at Nacho‘s car, he’s waiting for the cousins to come and something about standing there waiting for a vehicle makes him think, you know, the lawyer drove all the way out here and back and claimed that his car broke down. If I’m right, we didn’t pass it on the road. Where was it? And Tony [Dalton]’s acting did everything. As soon as you’re on his face and his eyes, you see the wheels turn, you get that he’s got a tickle about something as he’s standing there alone.

Q: Meanwhile, Mike tries to do right by Nacho and asks Gus to let him go once Lalo is gone, but Gus says no. How would you describe the shift in their relationship since the Werner incident?

A: The Werner assassination was devastating to [Mike]. We saw him spiral down out of control, but Mike is a person who — I think he says to Stacy in Episode 7 — he’s going to play the cards that he’s been dealt. He’s a soldier, and he is someone who sort of needs to be under the umbrella of a leader like a Gus Fring who can direct him and tell him what to do, where to go. It’s funny to say this about Mike who’s very independent and very smart, but, without Gus, he was kind of rudderless and spinning out of control. Gus spoke to him and said you and I both have a common interest, which is we both understand revenge and hate Salamancas for many reasons, so they have a common enemy and a common goal.

I think ultimately Mike probably needs Gus more than Gus needs Mike right now. I’m not even sure Gus completely understands how good Mike is and uses him in the future more effectively, but he knows that he’s a skilled operative who can get things done more than a Victor or Tyrus. He’s just a different thinker and and he’s cunning and has a skill level that is all Mike’s and this is a very valuable tool. So, you do your best to keep Mike on board — which is why I think he takes him down to Mexico and tries to show him this other side of him.

Q: Lalo is terrifying despite his friendly presence. Was this intentional for the character all along, or was this something that Tony Dalton brought to it?

A: I think it’s a mixture. I think our casting crew hit a home run with Tony Dalton. This guy’s a star. There was a lot of it written originally that he was intended to be this way, but then Tony just brought that extra power to it. I mean, he’s so good on screen. When I got to work with him on 410, he would just give these pauses when he was dealing with the Travel Wire fellow — these wonderful pauses, before flipping into the lie, where you just felt this guy is so dangerous. Tony has an intensity in his eyes that he’s able to bring to so much of this that it’s just great. When we shot 509, I just knew him sitting on the couch staring and asking the same question over and over again — tell me the story, tell me the story — hopefully the audience would be on the edge of their seat, like “My God what is going to happen? What is he going to do to Jimmy and Kim here?”

Q: The scene between Lalo, Jimmy and Kim was very intense. How did you decide to have Kim stand up to Lalo? How concerned should we be about Kim’s safety?

A: It absolutely felt right, especially when you had this horrible moment where she’s about to speak up and defend him, and Lalo, being the strong man, shushes her in that completely demeaning way to shut her down. We were talking in the writers room that Jimmy/Saul is not the same Jimmy/Saul that we know before and after the scene. He’s been through hell and back. Guys died, he had blood splattered all over him. He’s in a completely weakened position. He can’t even win a case against Oakley at the courthouse. He’s recovering. A year from now he’d probably be able to handle Lalo much easier than right now, but he’s just not capable.

I think Kim senses that, whatever the truth is, it’s dangerous to Jimmy if it comes out and, right when Kim steps up, Jimmy is about to crack and and say what happened. So, I think she has a sense that I have to save this guy and I have to interject here, and she does. She completely comes up with a plausible story and that moment gets him off the scent because Lalo Salamanca’s like a dog with a bone. If you’re going to get him to let it go, you better have something that gets him to loosen his grip, and she comes up with the story that saves Jimmy’s ass.

Everyone should be concerned about Kim’s safety. I mean, she’s told a lie to a very dangerous guy and just because he’s off the scent right now doesn’t mean that he’s not going to discover the truth. Leading into the Season 5 finale, Jimmy and Kim are both very worried. It worked for now, but what’s going to twig Lalo the next time he comes back? Or is he going to discover the lie and, if he does find out that Kim is lying, then who knows what that means?

Q: What does it mean that Mike is stationed outside? Is he there to protect Jimmy?

A: I think Mike rushes to the scene because he is protecting Gus’s interests. I think everything hinges on Lalo believing the lie and not knowing that Mike and Gus Fring were involved. Jimmy doesn’t know anything about Gus but, if he gives up that I was attacked and Mike Ehrmantraut killed a bunch of raiders who tried to take your $7 million, Lalo’s going to start questioning, “Well, why does Gus Fring care about me getting out of jail?” He’s going to put the pieces together. I think, on some level, yes, Mike cares — he has a relationship with Jimmy McGill and doesn’t want to see this guy murdered or tortured. But I think ultimately he is only there because he’s protecting Gus’s interests.

Q: How are you feeling about heading into the sixth and final season?

A: It’s exciting and incredibly sad. I don’t want this to end. The relationships I’ve formed here with all the other writers and producers and our crew — you want this to continue going on. When Breaking Bad ended, I didn’t know about this show. I didn’t know this was going to be a possibility and, as soon as I heard about it, I was like “Yes, I want in. This is the best possible thing for me to keep this going with such a great group of people.”

There’s the pressure of making sure we stick the landing. You all want it to end in an exciting way and you want everyone to be satisfied and also be able to tie into Breaking Bad in a way that is satisfying for the fans, so there’s a lot going on right now. But we’re only a few weeks into the writers’ room so we’ve got a long ways to go still, but I’m trying not to think too much about the very end, which will be a sad day when it comes.

Read a Q&A with Vince Gilligan, a co-creator of Better Call Saul and director of Episode 508.

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