Better Call Saul finale: Creators on scrapped Breaking Bad cameo
[SPOILER ALERT: This story contains plot details from Better Call Saul‘s season 2 finale, titled “Klick.” Enter the land of Salamanca at your own risk.]
When Better Call Saul finished its second season on Monday night, one thing was clear: Jimmy had better call a lawyer.
Our shifty-attorney protagonist Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) had pulled off a near-perfect crime, doctoring documents prepared by his professionally infallible brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), a move that achieved its goals: It sent the Mesa Verde account back into the hands of Jimmy’s girlfriend, Kim (Rhea Seehorn), where Jimmy felt that it rightfully belonged, and it drove his sibling — the very one who had tried to destroy his legal career — nuts.
But then it became clear that the Chuck part of the equation worked too well. Chuck was so consumed with proving that his error was actually the devil’s handiwork of Jimmy, he wound up passing out at a copy shop, hitting his head on a counter, and undergoing a battery of tests at the hospital. (The worst nightmare for someone suffering from electromagnetic hypersensitivity? Probably a CAT scan.) When Jimmy learned that Chuck had feebly raised a white flag and quit the law, he had a change of heavy heart — a pang of brotherly love mixed with frustration — and confessed his copy-shopped sin to his brother, hoping to change Chuck’s mind about abandoning the vocation at which he was so gifted. Chuck acquiesced, and then asked him: “You do realized that you just confessed to felony?” To which Jimmy flippantly replied: “I guess, but you feel better, right? Besides, it’s your word against mine.” What he did not know was that Chuck had secretly recorded their conversation, pressing the “STOP” button on the electronic device with a hairbrush. The con artist had been out-conned by his older brother, leaving us with a cliffhanger at the end of this successful season to dangle from for the coming year.
And that wasn’t all: We also saw our contract-killer-in-the-making Mike (Jonathan Banks) venture out to the desert to take out Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis), but was not to able to get a clean shot (Move out of the way, Nacho!), so he spared a life. Two, actually. And then … a car horn in the distance. It’s Mike’s car. Someone had jammed a tree branch into the horn and left an ominous note on his windshield that simply and chillingly warned “DON’T.”
You’ve got questions. We got series creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould on the line for just a few minutes to answer a few pressing questions about “Klick.”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Jimmy is in quite a jam now, thanks to the con artistry of his brother. How did you come up this plot twist, and with Chuck being the one to break bad in a way? And then there’s the irony of Chuck believing that Jimmy is not worthy of the law, but the way he pulls all of this off is to prey on the humane, good side of his brother.
VINCE GILLIGAN: Yeah, but what he did was technically not illegal. It’s even legal in the state of New Mexico to tape someone without their knowledge, provided that the use of that tape is not for commercial gain. So you can call him as immoral as hell, but he always seems to operate within the letter of the law. I think that’s the black-and-white way he sees the world.
PETER GOULD: There’s no question that Chuck did something that he’s never done before, but I don’t think it’s about the tape per se. It’s about he faked being sick. This is a guy whose mental acuity is absolutely key to his identity. He cares more than anything about the fact that his brain works. And you’ve got to think for him to fake having lost his mind was a huge move for him and cost him a lot and probably wasn’t something that he really wanted to do. But boy, did it work.
GILLIGAN: And by the way, we agree with you. We’re just telling you what Chuck thinks. [Laughs] But yes, it was a pretty sleazy move. But then honestly, the move that Jimmy did before that was pretty sleazy too. So these two are in a vicious spiral, as they say.
GOULD: They’re down in the mud.
On a scale of a 1 to 10, how effed is Jimmy right now?
GILLIGAN: [Laughs] We’re not sure ourselves. We’re plugging away at season 3 and there’s a case to be made that he’s indeed pretty effed.
GOULD: But then there’s an alternate case that maybe he’s not. [Laughs]
GILLIGAN: We’re trying to figure that out. After we do our interviews today, we’re going to be back in the writers’ room trying to figure out that exact question.
Did you specifically not play the moment when Jimmy realizes that Chuck is going to screw him because you want to save that for the season 3 premiere? And is it possible that Chuck doesn’t exactly know when he wants to play the confession card yet — perhaps he’ll blackmail him to stop practicing law. Or does Chuck already have a plan in place?
GILLIGAN: Well, there’s an old writers’ room saying: Don’t write past the ending. And the ending to us seemed to be the revelation to the audience that it sure looks like Jimmy’s in trouble, and that Chuck had done something extraordinary for Chuck, which is to use electricity and electronics to his benefit. And to be as good as a scam artist — perhaps it could be argued even a better scam artist than his Slippin’ Jimmy scamming brother. But yeah, it seemed like the right moment to end the season, and where it goes from here, we’re as interested to find out as anyone.
How long was this con? We know he’s sick, or believes he is, but to what extent has he been faking and manipulating Jimmy?
GOULD: To me, when I watch the episode, the moment is very clear. Jimmy leaves and Chuck pulls the space blanket back over his shoulder and goes out to the garage. At that point, it looks to me that he is a man on a mission. So I have to think that this plan has come to him fully formed, and he is damn smart.
GILLIGAN: I agree with what Peter just said, and I think the impetus of the plan came from his realization that his brother was not going to put him away in some home for the insane and tuck him away and have him committed. And I think the perversity of that moment is: Gee, I realize my brother loves me more than I thought he did. Maybe I can use that love against him.
When I talked to Bob Odenkirk about the finale, he said, “Chuck is a f—ing asshole.” Your response?
GILLIGAN: My response is that I actually have a lot of sympathy for the devil in this case, so to speak. Jimmy does some things that if I were Jimmy’s brother, I would have a problem with as well. Jimmy, for all his good reasons for doing bad things, is doing a fair number of bad things nonetheless. He is not abiding by the strictures of the New Mexico Bar, to say the least. And he’s not being a particularly great lawyer a lot of the time. But his heart is in the right place. Chuck, on the other hand, does a lot of terrible things, but I have a fair amount of sympathy for that particular devil because I feel sorry for him more than hate him. I feel sorry for him because he’s kind of damaged. And I’m not talking about the allergy to electricity; I’m talking about that damage of feeling unloved and unworthy on some deep, fundamental level. That deep level of envy he feels toward his younger, prodigal brother. He’s so smart and so accomplished, it’s just sad that he has that giant howling void in the middle of him, the giant hole that can’t be filled by accomplishment.
We thought we were seeing the end of Jimmy McGill at the end of last season. Could this be the fall of Jimmy McGill and will Saul rise from these ashes?
GOULD: This is something we hash out every day in the writers’ room, and we’re going to find out. Without a doubt, it feels like Chuck is about to make some really big move against Jimmy. And I think one of the questions is: Jimmy is the guy who will run to his brother’s aid when he needs to. Is that still going to be true after he finds out that he’s been played, and he’s been had? These brothers have suffered such a rift already — what’s the next step? At what point does Jimmy’s love, respect, and caring for his brother become permanently broken?
NEXT: Gilligan and Gould on the possibility that Gus left the note for Mike
I know you just started work on season 3, but from what you know already, can you give us one cryptic hint about next season?
GOULD: I think folks can definitely think about: Who writes a note that says “DON’T”? That’s one of the things we talked a lot about. It’s a very interesting approach to stopping Mike from shooting Hector. Of course, the fast way to stop Mike would have been to simply kill Mike.
GILLIAN: Or try to.
GOULD: Or to try to make an attempt. But once you’ve got the drop on Mike and you know what he’s up to, and he doesn’t know you there, why unfold it in the particular way that it unfolded?
When you start to think about who might have left that note, your mind immediately goes to Gus Fring, given his future ties to Mike and ties to Hector through the Juarez cartel. Fair assumption?
GILLIGAN: Fair assumption. [Laughs] Yeah.
GOULD: I think we’ve tipped our hand.
GILLIGAN: Yeah, I think we have. I think we did last night on Talking Saul. We’ve got some very [smart fans, who deduced that an anagram of the first letter of this season’s episode titles spells “FRINGSBACK”].
GOULD: Having said that, I would be very sad if people were expecting to see that character right away on season 3. Right now, this is a guy — I’m talking about Gus Fring — who often works very indirectly. This is not somebody who is not easy to access. On Breaking Bad at times he was a little bit like the man behind the curtain, like the Wizard of Oz, not so easy to get to see. So, none of this is to say that suddenly you’re going to be seeing an awful lot of that character once we come back.
Is Kim [Rhea Seehorn] willing to go further down the Jimmy rabbit hole to help him here? And/or is she going to wind up as collateral damage in the brothers’ struggle?
GILLIGAN: Maybe it’s neither. It doesn’t have to be either/or. I will say, people are rightly asking: How come we don’t know about Kim on Breaking Bad? And these are all questions we ask ourselves every day. And how far is she willing to go and will she become collateral damage? These are excellent questions that we are addressing every single day. It doesn’t look like there is necessarily a happy ending at the end of all of this, but I don’t know, maybe it’s possible. We’re trying to figure that out, and we’re glad people are asking the same questions we are.
Vince, you said earlier this season that you had planned a really big cameo appearance by a Breaking Bad cast member in the finale, but were rightly talked out of doing it by Peter. Now that the dust has settled, who was the actor and what was the context?
GILLIGAN: We talked about it at length in the writers’ room and I thought it would be a fun idea. Since Chuck was in the hospital and was about to get a CAT scan, I thought it’d be fun for Hank’s wife, Marie, played by the gorgeous Betsy Brandt to be the one operating the machine, since as we know she’s an X-ray technician. I thought it would be a great and organic opportunity to bring back one of our fundamental Breaking Bad characters, and Peter and the other writers rightly talked me out of it. Not because they don’t love Betsy just as much as I do but it would have distracted the viewer in the moment. It was a big moment in which we wanted to stay squarely inside of Chuck’s head as he goes through the terror and the agony of the scan. If our attention was diverted by Betsy, it would sort of dull the moment as it were, dramatically.
GOULD: And you can’t do a Betsy Brandt scene without having a great Marie moment, and how are we going to make that a great Marie moment and still keep the focus, as Vince says, on Chuck?
GILLIGAN: So we killed our darlings as Faulkner might have said.
GOULD: It hurt, though, because we miss Betsy.
So she might return down the road?
GILLIGAN: Anything’s possible. We love her, we love our key players from Breaking Bad. We’d love to see all of them, selfishly speaking. The problem for us is to be self-disciplined enough not to just throw them all willy-nilly into every single episode.