Bob Odenkirk on the 'Better Call Saul' finale and his new Netflix sketch show with David Cross
[SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this story until you have watched “Marco,” Monday’s season finale of Better Call Saul.]
There. It finally happened. The closing moments of the season finale of Better Call Saul gave us a moment of transformation, when Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) turned his back on a plum partner job—and presumably the life in which he tried to do the right thing and sought the approval of his older brother Chuck (Michael McKean), who ultimately betrayed him. With an open road ahead, Jimmy—or soon-to-be Saul?—was now going to do things (cue Frank Sinatra) his way. How did Jimmy get to this pivotal point? How was he changed by his week in Chicago as he reverted into Slippin’ Jimmy with his old buddy Marco (who died doing what he loved—scamming people)? And where does all of this leave our corroding protagonist? Are we going to talk right now to Bob Odenkirk about “Marco” and this intriguing season of Saul? Bingo.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The end of this episode is the moment in which Jimmy “turns.” Was Chuck’s revelation the devastating blow in his starting to give up on that version of himself?
BOB ODENKIRK: I do think that, in this last episode, what he went through with Chuck is a fundamental turn for what drives him. He has been driven, and powerfully, by the desire to be worthy of and gain his brother’s respect and appreciation and support. He has faced a hard truth, which is: He will never, ever get that. It’s one of the hardest things to deal with, and I think it can crush people. What I hear in the last moments of this episode is an angry energy that says, “F— all that. I’m gonna cut loose, and I’m gonna stop trying to gain the approval of the people around me and the world around me.” There’s something really wonderful and freeing and exciting about that—and there’s also something really scary and dangerous. (laughs)
What was going through his head in the parking lot as he felt his ring? How did he get from rehearsing what he was going to say in the interview to “I can’t do this anymore”?
I just think he can feel himself going down that path again of trying to win and hold people’s approval and appreciation, and part of him is rising up and rejecting that pathway. Society says, “The right thing to do is play ball, and to help, and to be on the up and up, and to try to gain the respect of respected people,” but he’s really seeing it as boondoggle and a waste of his energy. And there’s an anger in him, too, for having been duped by Chuck.
When he says to Mike, “I know what stopped me…. It’s never stopping me again,” was it that he was done being a nice guy and adhering to society’s code? Was the battle for his soul somewhat determined in that moment? And how did you read that line?
The way I read it is he’s going to stop checking in with the world at large as to whether his moves and his choices are approved and blessed by the greater, higher power (laughs). He’s going to with his gut and his instinct, and his natural gifts as they were… He’s going to go with his inner instincts more. He’s going to trust that more than he trusts the judgment of the world. Now, I do think that people tend to overcompensate when they learn lessons. It’s a natural thing to do, especially if you feel deeply hurt by somebody or an experience. To me, Saul Goodman reads a little bit as an overcompensation for letting the world be the judge of you and your choices, letting your family be the final arbiter of whether you’re doing the right thing. Go become Saul Goodman and just cut loose, and be ethically anarchic. Maybe he’s about to dive headfirst into an ocean of pure instinct, which is wonderful, but also just as misguided as constantly wanting society’s and your brother’s approval: They’re both wrong. You got to find the happy medium.
Did that week in Chicago remind of him of what he was best at and that’s who he is? Is Slippin’ Jimmy too much in his DNA to deny?
Yes sir, I do believe that. And I do believe he also, just talking to his old friend [played by Mel Rodriguez] there made him remember what it was like to talk to somebody who loves you for who you are and not for who you should be or could be or are trying to be…
Like a brother is supposed to?
Yeah. One of my favorite movies is Leaving Las Vegas. I’ve always mulled over what Nic Cage’s character is asking for from the world. It’s a super sad movie, but it is kind of: “Could you just love me for me, even being all f—ed up? Would you just do that?” That’s what he’s asking Sera for. That’s what Jimmy experiences when he hangs out with his old friend— that kind of acceptance and love. He finally is seeing that he’s never going to get that from these people he’s surrounded himself with, and he’s got to redirect himself. But, of course, you’ve also got to have people around you who don’t unconditionally love you and want you to best and do better. So, we’ll see [laughs].
Let’s talk about the ring, which we see him wearing in Breaking Bad. We can see him literally building the character of Saul. What did you think of that touch? Will we see more of that? Is he now grabbing the ring and his own destiny?
I think you will see more. Remember the scene in the tailor shop, where he’s looking at the lime green shirt and the paisley tie? Saul Goodman is kind of boiling on a backburner in his head the whole time; he just doesn’t know it. The ring, to me, is a physical manifestation of “Don’t ever forget that kind of love and acceptance that you should be wanting from the world and that you should give yourself and let yourself appreciate and feel.” It reminds him of his friend.
Will your performance change a bit moving forward now that you are closer to becoming Saul Goodman?
You only saw Saul Goodman in his public persona and the only time you saw a crack in that was when he had a gun to his head—you saw that a few times, but only for brief moments. So while I do think that there may be a little more Saul Goodman in the upcoming season, you also saw a lot of Saul Goodman in this season. Even though he’s called Jimmy McGill, when he’s out in the desert negotiating in the second episode, that was pure Saul Goodman. Saul Goodman, as presented in Breaking Bad, was a wonderfully fun, but a little bit of a thin character, and I’m not sure he can lose that many dimensions, both because we’ve already experienced that many, and because he’s at the core of this show. You’re not only going to see him in his office: You’re going to see him go home and deal with the consequences of his choices. I don’t think he’ll ever be just pure Saul Goodman for a whole episode and never see Jimmy McGill in the course of that episode. We now have a far, far more fleshed-out character, and he’s going to remain that way.
The show felt like a different ride every week. You said from the beginning that Vince and Peter [Gilligan and Gould, the show’s co-creators] were figuring out what the show was, and what it was in episode 1 would not be what it was in episode 4 and what it was then would not be what it was in episode 9. When you look back at the season 1, what stand out to you?
First of all, I would personally be fine if it continued to be an ever-evolving and surprising story where the emphasis changes from episode to episode. One episode is wholly dark, another episode is far more comic, one deals with personal relationships on a deep level, another deals with the characters’ business relationships. I am fine with it continuing down this path—however, I do think that naturally it will find more of an equilibrium. I just can’t imagine it maintaining this level of variety in it. I thought that episode 8 had a really interesting fun, incredibly entertaining balance. It’s where it was developing the case against Sandpiper, and he was beginning to work with his brother, and he got in the dumpster—it was such a funny scene and it made use of my comic abilities… And I love the dark episodes—episode 6, the Mike episode, and episode 9, where things come to a head. I certainly would love to do more of that and see more of that. You need to anchor your show and emotional growth with those scenes and stories. But I also like the purely entertaining, multiple-balls-in-the-air-juggling act that they did in 8. I have no control over it, and I don’t want any, but I’d be happy if it went that route.
So you don’t know that much about season 2?
I don’t know a thing.
I want to ask you about your new Netflix sketch show with David Cross, With Bob and David. While it’s not Mr. Show, will it have some of Mr. Show’s sensibilities and conventions, such as sketches linking together?
Yes, it will. We have the same writers, and David and I are still David Cross and Bob Odenkirk. Over the years, we’ve occasionally watched Mr. Show, and honestly, in the course of preparing this show, we watched more Mr. Show to think about what we did there, what we liked about it, what we didn’t like about it. We’re incredibly proud of Mr. Show and thrilled that we made it and proud of the hard work we put into it and how it placed for people. Yet we also think we could write a show that’s a little bit lighter on its feet that moves from idea to idea faster. I’ve learned from being in Breaking Bad that the audience has the willingness to watch something with more of a mystery to it, an odd moment that makes their brain wake up a little, because it poses questions to them.
Our new show is an attempt to do, fun, fun, silly, silly sketch—very silly sketch—move it along faster than Mr. Show moved, and play some odd and maybe absurdist tonal moments that color the show as a whole and maybe make it a little more dreamlike in some ways. Yeah… I sound pompous, don’t I? We’re writing stuff that’s really silly. But on Mr. Show, we got into some really involved arguments, and I think we made some things that were dry and a little bogged-down in torturous thought. The logic of them was a little too circuitous and overly complex, and it wasn’t as much fun as a simple idea that’s simply funny and has a simple performance in it. So what we’re doing here is lighter on its feet, quicker moving. It doesn’t have the structure of Mr. Show. One episode, we do come out and say, “Hi,” but otherwise, we never do that. It’s a little more unmoored than Mr. Show in some ways, and yet it’s simpler in its construction. We were younger guys, we were more delighted by complex, circuitous thinking—like a college kid is, even though we were out of college, we were still grooving on that. Now we just want to get to the funny faster.
Visit EW.com tomorrow for a post-finale Q&A with Better Call Saul co-creator Peter Gould.