Better Call Saul creators on the return of multiple Breaking Bad characters
[Spoiler alert: This story contains plot details from “Witness,” Monday night’s episode of Better Call Saul.]
Titled “Witness,” the second episode of Better Call Saul‘s third season gave us plenty to see: a guy playing cards, a different guy doing a word jumble, one gas cap left in the middle of the road, two kinds of tape jobs, an inelegant wall-scaling by Howard, and a brutal Jimmy-checkmating by brother Chuck.
That was far from all, though. AMC’s Breaking Bad prequel delivered a tasty treat in the form of a visit to Los Pollos Hermanos. Trackee-turned-tracker Mike (Jonathan Banks) followed a sequence of suspicious activity that led back to the chicken restaurant and decided to send in Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) to see what kind of business that a dude with a backpack appeared to have at this establishment every day. And through Jimmy’s (attempt at a) covert op, we got our first new glimpse at proud Los Pollos Hermanos owner and drug baron Gustavo Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), who was last seen in the season 4 finale of Breaking Bad fighting a losing battle with a wheelchair bomb. Here, in an earlier, more, well, full-faced time, Gus used his highly honed skills of observation to deduce that Jimmy was up to something, and he seemingly called off whatever meeting was supposed to happen. When Jimmy left empty-handed and reported back to Mike across the street, one knowing look from Gus informed us that the game was indeed on again, especially when Mike realized that his plan had been foiled, as his gas-cap-hidden tracker was no longer attached to a car and was left in the middle of the road with a ringing cell phone.
Gus wasn’t the only Breaking Bad alum to resurface in “Witness.” Francesca (Tina Parker), Saul Goodman’s bribe-seeking receptionist, walked into the legal office run by Jimmy and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) to apply for a job and was hastily hired by Jimmy; she was blissfully unaware of all the shady clients she would be greeting in years to come. There was also a brief cameo by Gus’ henchman Victor (Jeremiah Bitsui), whose throat will eventually meet the business end of a boxcutter, and who was seen driving away from Los Pollos Hermanos, with a gas cap most likely in his possession.
Speaking of things in people’s possession… Jimmy was laboring under the delusion that his relationship with Chuck (Michael McKean) was actually taking a turn for the better, but then that delusion was ripped away like tape off a wall; tipped off by Kim, who was tipped off by a jittery, manipulated Ernesto (Brandon K. Hampton), Jimmy learned that Chuck had actually recorded his damning document-forging confession. And so he came charging into Chuck’s house, kicking in the door, expressing disbelief and anger at being played (the word “asshole” was thrown around), breaking his way into a desk drawer and destroying the tape before threatening to burn the house down. Howard (Patrick Fabian) and the card-playing PI then walked into the room, and when prompted by Chuck, they both said they were, in fact, witnesses to what just happened.
Remember when you wondered just how screwed Jimmy was at the end of the season 2 finale, when you discovered that Chuck had secretly recorded their conversation? Yeah, that feeling again. But, you know, worse. Better get Saul creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould on the line to review the events of “Witness”:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What can you say about the level of s— that Jimmy is in at the end of this episode?
VINCE GILLIGAN: Jimmy is in deep doo-doo. Jimmy is entering a world of pain as Walter Sobchak would say in The Big Lebowski.
PETER GOULD: We’ve seen that Jimmy is an expert guide to the criminal justice system, but he’s about to enter it in a very different way.
GILLIGAN: And I think he can’t believe it. At the end of this episode, he can’t believe the depths that his brother would sink to. Having said that, if you look at it on a slightly larger scale — these two brothers, it’s been a bit Spy vs. Spy with these two. These guys have been out to get each other for a while now, and it does look to be about ready to erupt in all-out war.
Jimmy is so devastated by that betrayal, as you can see in his conversations with both Kim and Chuck.
GILLIGAN: Absolutely. Jimmy is caught flat-footed. Just in shock here at the level of betrayal that his brother seems capable of.
GOULD: Because Chuck really used Jimmy’s empathy and care against him. I think it takes Chuck by surprise. I think Chuck is expecting Jimmy to scheme against him. He doesn’t understand how incredibly hurt Jimmy is, and that is what you see at the end of episode 2 — Jimmy is thrown into a rage that Chuck wasn’t even expecting because Chuck doesn’t understand how he’s damaged his brother.
Chuck is taken aback as you can see in his eyes… Is this also because he knows what’s coming next? Is this why we see Jimmy in the orange jail jumpsuit in the trailers for season 3?
GILLIGAN: It looks like what’s going to happen next is going to involve the authorities, for sure. If you’ve been watching the show closely and seeing those behind-the-scenes photos — seeing the images of Jimmy in the orange jumpsuit — you probably now have a good guess as to how that’s going to come about.
Gus seems to pick up on what Jimmy is doing pretty fast, even if he doesn’t know exactly what Jimmy is doing. Gus seems to calls off the drop, but he wants to learn a little bit more about Jimmy and what he’s doing there when he confronts him at the trash can. What can you tell us about this scene that brought together Jimmy and Gus?
GILLIGAN: That was a fun scene to shoot. I was lucky enough to get to direct that. We were in the Twisters restaurant in Albuquerque that doubles for Los Pollos Hermanos for two solid days shooting that scene. It was like old home week. It was wonderful seeing Giancarlo back. As to the actual question you asked, I just think Gus Fring is the smartest guy in the room, no matter what room he’s in. He has this uncanny sixth sense, so to speak, and when Jimmy McGill blunders into his sanctum, into his territory — Gus Fring is probably in the back of the restaurant in his office when this happens, the antennae go up, and he just knows, “Oh, something is amiss. I feel a disturbance in the Force.” Jimmy is no match for this guy, and Jimmy walks out of that building none the wiser, having no idea he just met with the capo de tutti capi — the boss of all bosses. I think that’s what’s so delicious for the fans, in watching that scene, that they saw these two worlds collide that we’ve never seen together before Breaking Bad days. That’s why it was so much fun to shoot that scene.
What happens now with Mike? Would you call it game of chess? Cat and mouse? All analogies are welcome.
GILLIGAN: To me, you have one guy playing chess and one guy playing checkers here, when I talk about Jimmy and Gus Fring. When it comes to the guy waiting outside in the car, when it comes to Mike Ehrmantraut, I think yeah, we’ve got a pretty interesting chess match going on here.
GOULD: Of course, at the very end of the episode, Mike finds out he’s been checkmated, and then we’ll wait for episode 3 to find out what that means — because Mike discovers that gas cap with the tracker in it, and this drop phone in the middle of the road. So he has a choice at that point. He knows he’s been made, he could turn around and he could try to disappear again, but he has to stay. And I think there’s a wonderful moment that Vince directed when he decides to pick up that phone because he cannot let this go, no matter how dangerous it might be.
GILLIGAN: I think Mike is to be forgiven for losing this — if you think of a chess match — because he played wonderfully, but he’s up against the master. He’s up against a character of both series who is arguably the smartest guy who we’ve ever seen in this universe. I’m reluctantly including Walter White [Bryan Cranston] in that estimation. Walter White, I think, is a close second in brilliance to Gustavo Fring, but it’s no shame in being a close second or third to that guy. He’s just so overpoweringly brilliant.
And it’s not just Gus who returns. There’s a Victor cameo, and we get the origin story of Francesca. How did you decide on her?
GILLIGAN: [Laughs]I felt the hot breath of fans breathing down our necks for two solid years now wondering, hoping, “When is Francesca going to show up? When is the wonderful Tina Parker going to be back?” I think fans are going to be very pleased, very excited to see Francesca back. But I think they’re going to be just as quickly shocked by how different Francesca’s character seems to be in this early stage of the story, six years before the events of Breaking Bad. She seems like this wonderful, hopeful young woman who has her whole life ahead of her. She’s this dewy-eyed naïf who seems happy to be there, and seems like a wonderful assistant. Obviously, Saul Goodman is going to crush the life out of her for years to come.