'Better Call Saul' co-creator Peter Gould on the season finale and what's next for Jimmy (Saul?)
[SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this story until you have watched “Marco,” Monday’s episode of Better Call Saul.]
At the end of Better Call Saul‘s season 1 finale, Jimmy McGill drove away from the courthouse seemingly a changed man, humming “Smoke on the Water” and leaving us with one question as the credits rolled: Does we pick up next season with Jimmy doing a U-turn and returning to the courthouse so he can officially change his name to Saul Goodman? Okay, we have several other questions as well, but his literal walking away from a partner-track job at a big firm and essentially telling the world’s most bad-ass parking kiosk attendant Mike (Jonathan Banks) that he wouldn’t be letting silly little things like moral codes or other people’s approval get in the way of a big payday is a moment worthy of reflection and conjecture. “Marco” gave us a lot to process, from the transformation/degeneration of Mr. McGill (is he now an amalgamation of Slippin’ Jimmy and that law-contorting attorney from Breaking Bad?) to death (R.I.P., Marco, aka the second-to-Last Man on Earth), to deception (yes, Kennedy always faces left, and no, that’s not Kevin Costner’s face) to Bad callbacks (Belize! The pinkie ring! Kevin Costner! ). Before you endure the long, dry off-season, pour yourself your last glass of cucumber water, close your sunroof, and see what Saul co-creator Peter Gould, who wrote and directed “Marco,” had to say about this.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did Jimmy McGill just officially break bad?
PETER GOULD: Boy, you could argue that he’s broken bad earlier in the season, when he did that billboard stunt and so on. But we now saw him go on a binge. If this is a guy who’s addicted to getting one up on the other guy, he just went on a bender. You see a little bit of what he’s been holding back in his struggle to be good for Chuck’s sake.
Right, but in the final moments of the episode, we essentially see Jimmy “turn.”
How long have you been planning that move? Did you discuss having that moment come sooner, or did you always know that that would happen at the end of the season?
It’s safe to say—and I’m not proud of it— but that we thought that Jimmy McGill would become Saul Goodman a lot faster than he actually has. The reason it’s taking longer is that we didn’t really understand Jimmy. We got much more interested in Jimmy as we went along: This guy surprised us with how likable he is, how well-intentioned he is, how much he cares about other people, and those are all qualities that we don’t associate with Saul Goodman. What we found, just as we started the season, was that the journey that we expected to be more of a straight line turns out to be very convoluted and turns out to have a lot more twists and turns in it then we ever, ever expected. If you would ask Vince [Gilligan, the show’s co-creator] and me at the beginning of season 1, before we opened the writers’ room, both of us would say, “Well, he’s probably going to be calling himself Saul Goodman certainly by the end of season 1. He’s most likely going to have that office with the crazy columns, and pretty soon after that, we’ll be seeing all the characters that we associate with him on Breaking Bad, like Huell and Kuby, and especially Francesca.” But what we found was this journey’s not as fast as we thought it would be, and we’re really enjoying Jimmy McGill. And I think we’re all a little bit sorry, in some ways, that he’s going to become Saul Goodman (laughs), because as much as we like Saul, we love Jimmy.
Jimmy has been struggling with his moral code this season. Was Chuck’s revelation the big blow in his giving up on that more altruistic version of himself, and the trip to Chicago was confirmation that Slippin’ Jimmy is the identity that feels the most true to him?
That’s a good question. After the bender in this episode, he sits down with Marco [Mel Rodriguez], and he’s ready to go back to Albuquerque, and he’s ready to go back to elder law, and Marco expects he’s ripping off old people, and he’s not. Marco gives all good arguments for why he should stay in Chicago and be a lawyer there, but Jimmy’s answer is that he’s going to go back because his brother is there. I think that even though the relationship between Jimmy and Chuck has shattered—it’s changed irreparably—there is still a relationship there: Jimmy has not cut Chuck off forever. He seems to be, at least before Marco dies, intent on going back to business as usual. In Jimmy’s mind, at that point, this is a vacation from responsibility. It’s a vacation from being good. But then when he gets back, he has this opportunity to join Davis & Main, which is exactly what he seemed to want all through the season. It’s a change, but it doesn’t have the emotional weight to it, because he’s already lost any chance of gaining Chuck’s respect. So you have to wonder, as he drives off, and he seems to be in a very good mood. He clearly has some idea about what he’s going to do next, and it does not involve being a lawyer at a big, corporate firm.
Standing in the parking lot, touching the ring, what was going through his head? How did get from walking into the interview, rehearsing what he was going to say to ‘Screw this!’
Our goal was to have the audience fill some of that in and do some of the math on their own. I don’t want to trample the things that people are bringing to it, but you have to think that the fact that he’s playing with that little pink ring that was Marco’s has something to do with it. The fact, that as he drives away, he sings “Smoke on the Water,” which is sort of Marco’s theme. You have to think that those things mean that he’s not giving up on his Slippin’ Jimmy self. Who knows? Maybe he’s found a way he thinks to make Jimmy McGill and Slippin’ Jimmy both live at the same time. Maybe he’s found a way to use all his abilities. Whatever it is, he’s in a good mood about it.
When he says to Mike, “I know what stopped me. And you know what? It’s never stopping me again.” Was it trying to be a nice guy who did the right thing and seeking everyone’s approval, especially Chuck’s?
Absolutely. And the key to that is all in episode 7, because he has the opportunity to take the Kettlemans’ money, with no conceivable repercussions at all—just split it with Mike—and he doesn’t do it. The reasons he doesn’t do it are complicated. On the one hand, he saves Kim’s [Rhea Seehorn] career at HHM; he gets her moved back into her office, he brings the Kettlemans back to her, which she was being punished for losing them in that episode. He does it for Kim. But on the other hand, if he hadn’t done that, Kim’s career at HHM might not have gone so well. Maybe she would have been more open to joining him in elder law in that beautiful office that he saw. So, weirdly enough, he’s suffering for doing the right thing. Some of that is because of the way he sees himself. Some of it is wanting to live up to what Chuck would expect of him—although, Chuck, of course, knows about none of this, so it’s not about Chuck catching him. It’s about living in Chuck’s shadow or Chuck’s moral world. That seems to be something that he’s going to leave behind. If he has some great opportunity like that, he’s not going to walk away. But the question is—it’s not everyday you have a $1.6 million opportunity, so what’s he willing to do to make that happen? And is he willing to make that happen?
What’s the backstory on the Breaking Bad callback with Jimmy pretending to be Kevin Costner?
We thought that Jimmy and Marco have this scamming binge where they tear through the Chicagoland area, scamming all these [people] who were just obviously begging for a “get rich quick” scheme. Then we thought, “What’s the next morning?” In fact, the original idea, we even thought about having a party at Marco’s, and then we decided, “No, we’d have to do another montage.” They’re always fun for us to do, but it’s always a big challenge for production, and in this case, for post-production. And then we thought, “How do we get out of it?” and it was just the idea of having this woman say, “You’re not Kevin Costner!” I think it was either me or Vince or [co-executive producer] Tom Schnauz who said, “That should be the line spoken there.” As soon as the words escaped, we all went, “Yes!” and got very excited.
What questions should we be asking as we head into season 2? And is he Saul Goodman when we come back?
You’ve got to wonder if he’s Saul when we come back, but you also have to wonder what he really has cared about, all through season 1, is Chuck and Kim. Chuck seems to be lost—maybe he’s not. What is the relationship with Chuck going to be? Whatever Jimmy’s next move is, what is Kim going to think of it? Is he even going to be a lawyer anymore? When he drives away, does that mean he’s just going to drive away and scam? A lot of the fun of scamming seemed to be scamming with Marco, and he doesn’t have a Marco anymore. The big question is: What does he have in mind next? I’ll be honest with you, our thinking has evolved considerably on this topic. We spent a few weeks right at the beginning going back over all the things that you’re asking about, and we struggled with some of them, because we thought we had answers when we closed the first season, and then season 2, we had some new ideas. And I have to say, the answers surprised me and kind of delighted me. I’m hoping everyone agrees in about a year.
What’s one tease about season you’d like to give right now?
You’re gonna see what happens when Jimmy lives his own way. He’s been living Chuck’s way, he’s been living Kim’s way—what’s it like when Jimmy lives his way, and does that mean he’s now Saul Goodman? How bad is he going to be now, and what does it mean to be bad?
We didn’t see Nacho (Michael Mando) in this episode. Mike (Jonathan Banks) was in an important scene, but it was short. We saw Kim a little bit more. Are they going to play a more significant role next season? You’ve dangled a lot of story threads with them in season 1, so will they tie together next season? Or are you still figuring out how much you want to use them?
As far as Kim is concerned, she is one of the two people who’s most important to Jimmy. You’ve got to think that there’s more to that story. We’ve gotten a sense of where they are, what their relationship is, but is it going to stay the same? Is it going to evolve? What does she think of this new Jimmy who’s driving off humming “Smoke on the Water?” As for Nacho: I will say we love Michael Mando, and we’re really interested in Nacho. It’s very promising that Nacho and Mike, even though they’re on opposite sides of the table, they are doing business together. I think that’s very promising.
The show was so different week to week in tone. Before the show launched, you had said that the tone would zig and zag, giving us some very dark moments and lighter, sillier ones. Is it fair to say that you will keep the show as tonally diverse in season 2 as it was in season 1?
I think that’s absolutely fair. We don’t have characters who are drama characters and characters who are comedy characters. Mike’s a great example of that. You have Mike, in episode 6, it’s as dark as it could ever be, but then episode 9, he’s throat-punching that blowhard, Steven Ogg, who’s so funny. There’s Mike: He’s the same guy, but in one episode, his story is very dark and serious, in one episode, it’s sort of funny.
When you look back at season 1, which episodes do you think worked best and showcased what the show should be, moving forward? And what areas revealed some growing pains that you want to work on?
I know this is going to be probably not the answer you’re looking for: I love the way the show evolve and switches around. I know it will not be to everybody’s taste, to not know what they’re going to get week to week, but the truth is, just like real life is filled with some very funny situations and also filled with a lot of darkness. We’re just going where these characters take us. There are some episodes where the episode encompassed more of what the show is. But I don’t think we’re under any obligation to have each episode have ingredients the same as the other episodes: It’s not a cake where you need this many eggs, otherwise, it’s not going to rise. I think we’ve given ourselves freedom, and fortunately, people seem to be okay with it. We’ve given ourselves the freedom to go where the story takes us, so we can take an episode and go into Mike’s backstory, but also have a show where there’s a guy with a talking toilet. That’s part of the pleasure, for me. I think the comedy and the drama enhance each other. I’m so proud of the whole season; I would hesitate to pick out any particular episode. Maybe in another year or so, I’ll have more distance, and be able to say, “This is the perfect example of where we’re going, and this wasn’t.”
If anything, one of the things season 1 has done for me is to make me really interested in knowing more about these characters and seeing where they want to go next. You’re asking about Nacho—I’m very interested in seeing what Nacho’s going to do. Mike, as we’ve seen him so far, he did his first job armed with nothing but a pimento sandwich. How long is he going to be able to make a little bit of money on the side in the underworld using only a sandwich? (laughs) I’m really interested in the answer to the question.