It’s the end of Better Call Saul Season Four. I recapped the finale, “Winner,” and I spoke with Saul co-creator Peter Gould (who ran the show on his own this year, while Vince Gilligan mostly focused on development) about the season, with full spoilers coming up just as soon as I can see the Matrix…
In my recap, I argued that the season’s final moments — where Jimmy revealed to a dismayed Kim that he had just scammed the appeals board to get his license reinstated, then announced that he’d be changing his professional name to the one we all know — was the proper arrival of Saul Goodman. Gould doesn’t quite see it that way, and articulated why. He also dropped hints about how much longer the series might go — and what we might see of both Saul and Cinnabon Gene along the way — the importance of the Super Lab Story, why Gus remains more of a mystery than Jimmy or Mike, and a lot more.
Is he Saul now for real — in spirit as well as name?
That’s something we talk about so much in the writer’s room: What does it mean to be Saul Goodman? I think calling yourself Saul Goodman is certainly a big step along the way. But ultimately, it’s about behavior. It’s the same question we’ve been asking for four seasons: what’s Jimmy willing to do to get the things that he wants? That’s a question that we’re going to have to answer in detail in Season Five. I think the litmus test we always use is is he ready to start advising his clients to murder people to further their business interests? It doesn’t seem like he’s there yet.
Have you given any thought yet to whether you’ll call him Jimmy or Saul in next season’s scripts?
Jimmy’s taking the name Saul as a professional marketing strategy (at least to start with). My guess is that we’ll call him Jimmy as long as Kim does.
Do you have a sense yet of how much story there is left to tell, now that we’ve come to this moment?
I think we’re closer to the end than to the beginning. I think it’s safe to say that. We’re still figuring out exactly how many more episodes there are. On the other hand, this show, like on Breaking Bad, we give ourselves permission to move back and forth in time. We already know that we’ve seen a lot of Gene in Omaha. We’re thinking maybe there’s another chapter to this story that happens, post-Breaking Bad. Possibly.
Where does Kim stand in her feelings for both Jimmy and con artistry at this point?
Kim is a complicated character. She’s someone who has her own sometimes faltering moral compass. She enjoys conning with Jimmy, as we saw with the Coushetta con. But they have this explosive argument in the next episode. They both bring up a lot of pain and anger and issues that they’ve kept very quiet about through the whole season. These are two people who don’t discuss their feelings easily. Kim is keeping her distance from Jimmy through most of the finale. You can see it as Jimmy is scamming in the cemetery. She asks him how it felt. She’s trying to understand where he is. He’s a little bit opaque to her. And then there is this wonderful moment to her at the end of the episode where he opens his heart in a way she hasn’t seen since Chuck died. It seems like Kim is seeing the man she fell in love with to begin with: the vulnerable Jimmy, the guy who sometimes sees shortcuts but ultimately has a good heart. And then when they get out of the hearing room, he says it was all a scam. So I think Kim is really knocked back on her heels at this moment. We’ll see what the repercussions are going to be. Having said that, I think there’s still a really deep attachment between these two people. Jimmy, for his part, doesn’t seem to even scan the idea that he’s taken Kim in. He may feel that he’s taken in the board, but it doesn’t even occur to him that Kim’s buying what he’s selling. There’s a lot to deal with. Opening moments of Season Five, there’s going to be a lot to unpack.
The audience loves Kim and is worried about what’s going to happen to her. How does that impact your plans for that character?
The greatest compliment that we could get is that people are emotionally invested. SO much of that is due to Rhea Seehorn’s performance, which is so unique, so full of conviction, so real. Rhea brings a depth to this character. This is a character who, back in Season One of the show, really didn’t show up that often. We didn’t fully understand how important Kim was until we watched Rhea and started to understand: how can Jimmy feel about having this person in his life? What does Kim Wexler mean to Jimmy McGill? What does Jimmy McGill mean to Kim Wexler? She has grown to be at the center of the show. If the audience is worried about Kim Wexler, all I can say is, so are we.
Why did you want to delve into the construction of the Super Lab? What has it told us about who Mike is now and what his relationship with Gus is?
The question we’re trying to answer is how did the Mike Ehrmantraut we met at the beginning of the show become the Mike Ehrmantraut of Breaking Bad, who was a killer for hire, and Gus Fring’s right-hand man. It’s not an easy question to answer. This season, Mike was finally ready to work for and with Gus. The question was always in our mind: What is it exactly that Gus needs Mike for? He has access to many killers. But Mike is in a category of his own. Mike is a man, like Gus, who can walk in the light and in the darkness. He can work in the above ground world, in the world of society and also in the world of crime. Gus needs this guy, because he is planning to build this Super Lab, and it has to be kept secret. I have to say, I was always fascinated by how you build something like the Super Lab. When I was a kid, I would watch the James Bond movies and see Blofeld had a hollowed-out volcano, and I’d wonder, “How did they do that and keep it secret?” Like with everything in this show, we’re fascinated with process. It seemed a task that was worthy of the talents of Mike Ehrmantraut.
The show has given us very different sides of Jimmy and Mike from who we knew on Breaking Bad, but Gus is much closer to who we met there. Is there another side to him that you want to, or can, explore here?
Gus Fring is such a fascinating character. The question is, how much do you need to know? How much of the fascination is mystery, and how much of that mystery do you want to answer? How much do you want to fill in? It’s certainly something we think about. We learned a lot about Gus, in that we learned how central Hector is to [him]. We’ve learned about the twisted relationship that he has with Hector Salamanca. It seems to me that at the end of this season, we have this character Lalo entering the scene who seems very much like he’s going to test Gus. He’s going to see him in a way no one else in the cartel sees him. I would love to see more about Gus. Frankly, I always love to see more Giancarlo Esposito. He is fascinating, a wonderful actor. I think you’re right that the Gus on this show has a lot in common with the one we meet a few years later. But one thing I think Giancarlo has brought to it is he’s done a lot of very subtle character work. The Gus Fring on Better Call Saul is maybe a little bit more emotional. Maybe he doesn’t have quite the control over himself that he does on Breaking Bad.
When you wrote the original Saul Goodman episode for Breaking Bad where he mentions Ignacio and Lalo, how much, if any, thought did you give to who those guys were?
[Laughs] The answer I want to give is “zero.” We wanted to indicate that Saul Goodman had been in life and death situations before, and he had left a trail of people who were angry at him, who maybe he’s done wrong. And also that he might have some cartel connections, which of course becomes important on Breaking Bad. But as far as actually seeing Ignacio and Lalo? That was the furthest thing from my mind.
And now you’re somewhat bound by the notion that they’re still in play when Breaking Bad happens. Is this another corner you’ve painted yourselves into?
Oh god, yeah. Alan, we have painted ourselves into so many corners here. You asked how much longer the show runs. One of the questions is, how can we answer as many of the questions we’ve raised as possible before we’re through? But having said that, it’s all in the context of a story about people. We never want to write scenes just to answer questions about Breaking Bad. We want to write scenes that are about people who want things, about their desires and their souls. But at the same time, boy, Saul Goodman says, “It was Ignacio!” You’d be kind of interested in knowing what he’s talking about.
Did the flash-forward with Saul and Francesca during the events of Breaking Bad make you more or less interested in telling more scenes set in that era?
I’d say more. I’m more interested in seeing Saul Goodman as Jimmy becomes Saul Goodman. The thing that just amazed me, to the point of going cross-eyed, was how Bob and Tina Parker both went back, years and years, and recreated their performances. They were wonderful. Bob’s Saul Goodman is as fascinating as ever, as quick-thinking as ever. So, yeah, I am interested in seeing more Saul Goodman. We’ve been thinking of doing a scene like that from the beginning of the show. For various reasons, we couldn’t make it work dramatically. We really felt the clock ticking at this point. Jimmy McGill is getting closer and closer to becoming Saul Goodman. So cutting forward to the Saul Goodman years has less and less impact the longer we go. We felt that if we were going to do this, we had to do it right about there.
But specifically, would you want to do more scenes explicitly set around what was happening with Walt and Jesse? The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead version of Breaking Bad?
Sometimes, we call it “the running between the raindrops” version of the story. It’s something we debate constantly. This show is already such a Rubik’s Cube of trying to keep our worlds and our people and their psychology consistent. That would be a difficulty 10, like they say in gymnastics. We will see. I’m interested in seeing it, but really only if there’s something at stake for the characters. I can’t believe we’re in Season Four, but the reason we made it here is that we’re not just thinking about how we fill in elements of Breaking Bad. We’re really trying to tell the story of Jimmy McGill. Now we’re also telling the story of Kim Wexler, and the story of Mike Ehrmantraut. So the scenes that are on the show have to have great importance to these characters. They can’t just be scenes that we’d like to see because we’d love to see the Breaking Bad era. Having said that, it is fascinating to think of having moments on the show take place during the Breaking Bad chronology. You could imagine some day cutting together both shows and weaving them together.
Having said that, I think that would probably be a terrible idea!