[WARNING: This story contains plot details from Monday night’s episode of Better Call Saul, “Off Brand.”]
Looks like Jimmy has a new career! And a familiar name.
Monday’s, er, transformative episode of Better Call Saul — you know, AMC’s Breaking Bad sequel that focuses on the evolution of scrappy lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) into slimy lawyer Saul Goodman — brought the moment (or at least an early, work-in-progress version of it) that viewers had long been awaiting. While we briefly witnessed Jimmy use the alias Saul Goodman during a petty scam gone awry in a season 1 flashback (R.I.P. Marco), here he truly began the path to committing to character. Series creators Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan had said that they initially planned to transform Jimmy into Saul somewhat early in season 1, but because they really liked this Jimmy fellow, they decided to postpone any sort of metamorphosis until later in season 1, and then that chess move was delayed until season 2, and then… here we were, halfway through season 3, and we still hadn’t spotted the new old guy. But the end of “Off Brand” gave us a preview of Jimmy’s flashy, trashy alter ego, even if it wasn’t quite the Saul we came to know on Breaking Bad as the lowlife-representing lawyer with a drawer full of burner phones.
To recap: With the help of Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and a surreptitiously placed cell phone battery, Jimmy managed to only get a one-year suspension from the board for breaking into the house of Chuck (Michael McKean), whereas his ailing (or “ailing”) brother Chuck had been pushing for permanent disbarment. With no income and half an office requiring a rent check, Jimmy devised a nifty scheme to recoup the money he spent on a bunch of unused commercial time to advertise his legal business. And so he appeared on television in a Panavision hat, goatee, and shades, playing himself off as a flashy TV producer/advertising guru who promised to turn business owners into TV stars to sell their product. (His crafty way around the rule that he couldn’t sell the ad time he purchased was to charge people to produce their commercials and he’d throw in the ad time for free.) Between a flurry of star wipes, he effused lines like, “You can’t afford not to be TV!” and “Look at you! You’re a triple threat — great service, great products, and most of all, that face! You’re a star!” and “I can make you a TV star for a price you can afford. Call me, Saul Goodman; the world needs to know about you and your business. Call me now!'” After absorbing what she just saw on the TV, and Jimmy explaining that Saul Goodman stood for “S’all good, man,” a somewhat speechless Kim remarked, “That guy has a lot of energy.” “It’s just a name,” responded Jimmy with a shrug and a sip of beer.
Of course, we know that it will be much more than just that when he enters the Breaking Bad timeline — and possibly sooner. Perhaps Better Call Saul executive producer Peter Gould could shed some light on what we just saw? Let’s pick up the phone and call now!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Look who came to play this episode! Saul Goodman. Where you been hiding that guy?
PETER GOULD: Well, that’s a good question. For the first time — well, actually the second time, to be honest with you — we see Jimmy use the name Saul Goodman. Of course, in a flashback back in season 1 [“Hero”], we see him use the name when he was conning one of his marks with the watch game, when he was with his friend, Marco [Mel Rodriguez]. But this season, here he is, on television, calling himself Saul Goodman. Where have we been hiding him? He’s been hidden in plain sight.
This was not the way we expected to meet Saul again. Was this nascent version of the Saul Goodman we came to know in Breaking Bad born out of a search for how Jimmy will fill his time during his suspension? Or did you fall for the idea of star-wiping Saul and then figure out when and how to deploy him?
As a rule, we’re very, very linear in our thinking. And the way that this came about was really just by saying to ourselves, “All right, he can’t be a lawyer. What are the results of that?” And one result, our research told us, and Ann Cherkis, who wrote this episode, helped figure it out, is that he has to call or contact all his current clients and let them know that he can’t practice law. And then we thought, “He can’t advertise,’ and then it occurred to us that probably the way he would have bought his advertising was in a package because it’s cheaper that way. And it really took off from there. I can’t remember the exact moment of inspiration when we realized that he had become a TV commercial director-producer, but we were delighted by it, because of course that’s one thing that we’ve always known about Jimmy — he’s got this wonderful sense of showmanship, and all this salesmanship, so it just felt like a very natural thing. And, of course, what name is he going to use if he’s not going to use Jimmy McGill? We know in the past he’s used Saul Goodman. It always sounds so straightforward in retrospect, but I’m sure like everything on this series, it took us at least a week or two of banging our heads against the wall.
You and Vince initially thought we’d see Jimmy’s transformation into Saul Goodman in season 1, but ultimately you kept delaying it. And now we have at least an early version of him. What were some of the different ways of introducing Saul that you toyed with?
I don’t want to reveal too many of our ideas because we may still do a lot of them. [Laughs.] The question that we’ve come around to is: What does it mean to be Saul Goodman? We’ve always said that the arc of this show is how Jimmy McGill becomes Saul Goodman. And now we’ve seen him call himself Saul Goodman, but is he really Saul Goodman? What does it mean to be Saul Goodman? To us, looking back on it, it’s more than just changing your name, and maybe even more than having that crazy office with the columns and the Constitution on the wall. Maybe the thing that seems most distant from Jimmy is Saul’s willingness to just roll over the welfare of other people for his own purposes. Saul Goodman, when we first meet him on Breaking Bad, is perfectly willing to suggest murder as a business strategy. I don’t think Jimmy McGill or even this version of Saul Goodman — that would be far, far outside his scope. So even though he’s calling himself Saul Goodman at the end of this episode, I think we’ve got a ways to go.
How seriously does he take this new vocation as TV director/ad man? And how long do we follow him on this specific journey of hustling for ad time to pay his office rent?
He’s got a real problem, which is he’s got thousands of dollars to recover here. And that money means an awful lot to him. But what means even more to him is that office. The office that he has with Kim. If you cast your mind to season 1, Jimmy proposes to Kim that they have an office together, and I use the word proposes advisedly, and it feels so much like a marriage proposal that she declines, and he is so crushed by his inability to get that office. I feel that somehow in Jimmy’s mind, having this office with Kim is linked intimately with the romance that he has with Kim. So the question is: How far is he willing to go to keep that office? And how far is he willing to go to keep that relationship with Kim Wexler? And I would say he’d go pretty far, because this seems to be the most important thing in his life.
You said that we may see other incarnations of Saul Goodman. Could we see the real Saul Goodman as early as 12 months from now, when Jimmy returns to the law as a new man — that man being Saul Goodman?
You’re thinking way further ahead than I am. [Laughs.] Or at least I was as we broke this season. We have this dramatic problem, which is that he’s not going to be a lawyer for a year. But on the other hand, it’s very important to him, or it seems to be, that he will be a lawyer in a year. After all, what was all that conflict about in episode 5? It was, “Is he going to be a lawyer?” If Jimmy had been willing to say, “All right, I resign my law license,” they wouldn’t have had to go through that whole hearing. So it’s central to him. And you can guess why. There are a lot of good reasons why. He worked like hell to become a lawyer, and I don’t think he’s going to let his brother take that away from him. In my mind, I think he has every intention of going back to the law once he sits out this year.
Right. But the question is: As Jimmy McGill or Saul Goodman?
That’s a good question. Right now, the reason he’s calling himself Saul Goodman is that he wants Jimmy McGill to be able to practice law and do elder law. He’s made a successful business, and I think he’s hoping that it’s just on ice until he comes back.
After watching more of the Jimmy-Chuck drama unfold, especially in episode 5, you have to wonder: Does the lawyer version of Saul Goodman that Jimmy becomes serve as an eff-you to Chuck and everything he stands for?
I love what you’re saying. The one thing you know is that Saul Goodman is probably Chuck’s worst nightmare. [Laughs.] And we know that whether Jimmy admits it or not, Chuck looms large in Jimmy’s life and in his mind. It’s an interesting thing. People do things and characters do things for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes they seem to be solving a problem in the moment, but the way that people solve their problems, I think, often reveals a lot about who they are and what’s going on inside them. Is Saul Goodman just a screw-you to Chuck? More to come.
NEXT: Gould on the return of Breaking Bad‘s Lydia, and the Jimmy-Kim relationship