Now that the fiery sibling rivalry of the Brothers McGill has been extinguished — R.I.P., Chuck — it’s time to sift through the ashes and assess the collateral damage suffered by Jimmy. Will this tragic turn of events in the season 4 finale of AMC’s Better Call Saul accelerate the transformation of the shifty, scrappy suspended lawyer (who hardly walked the straight and narrow like his older brother) into the downright shady Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), as seen on Breaking Bad? How critical is his relationship with Kim (Rhea Seehorn) now that Chuck (Michael McKean) is gone? How scared should Nacho (Michael Mando) be now that Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) has him in his sights? And how much will the world of Breaking Bad encroach upon this sly prequel? Before season 4 of Saul takes the stand on Aug. 6 at 9 p.m. ET, let’s depose co-creator Peter Gould.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Jimmy’s reaction to Chuck’s death is going to be intriguing — if not surprising. Would you describe it as more repression than depression?
PETER GOULD: I have to say: Jimmy’s reaction to Chuck’s death was maybe the most difficult thing we had to figure out this season. This was the thing that we spent the most time on in the writers’ room, and I would also say that the moments when the characters surprise us are the moments that I treasure, and Jimmy rocked me this year. His reaction to Chuck’s death is not at all what I expected. I don’t think it’s going to be what the audience is expecting. Not exactly. It is interesting and opens up a really different view in Jimmy McGill, and also into the man who will become Saul Goodman.
How will Jimmy’s relationship with Kim be impacted by how he processes Chuck’s death?
Jimmy McGill is a guy who has two pivotal relationships in his life — two people who he cares about deeply and, in their own way, who care about him deeply — and it’s Chuck and Kim. And he’s lost Chuck. Although, in a strange way, Charles McGill’s shadow hangs over everything that happens this season in many ways, both obvious and surprising. There are ways in which the places that we take [Jimmy and Kim] this season go to a deeper level than we’ve ever gone before. They really are behaving unlike any characters I’ve seen on TV before. I think it’s exciting, and it’s also heartbreaking. This incredible loss that Jimmy has — and all the complicated feelings he has about his brother — if he tries to pretend that they have no effect, then that means the effect is going to be seen in some very surprising places.
How much of Chuck will we see, presumably in flashbacks? Many viewers hated this character, but in that final season — and thanks to Michael McKean’s performance — there seemed to be some re-evaluation. And maybe there’s more to come.
I will say when the time came to decide that Chuck was going to die in season 3, that was maybe the most difficult decision I’ve ever been part of in the writers’ room. It was something that we struggled with. We kept trying to find a way around it, and part of the reason was that we love Chuck McGill — as funny as that sounds — and writing that character was fascinating to us.
Also, the idea that we weren’t going to have Michael McKean around in Albuquerque was also just awful. The one thing that left a little crack of sunlight for me anyway is the fact that on this show we sometimes see people who have passed on. We haven’t seen the last of Michael McKean on the show. There’s still more to say about that character.
In the last speech that Chuck gave to Jimmy, he said, “You’re going to hurt everyone around you. You can’t help it. So stop apologizing. Accept and embrace it.” Those seem to be such haunting words that presumably would hang over season 4. Is he acting out against those words, or is there a resignation and an acceptance of that in season 4?
What an interesting question. Is that a prediction that Chuck is making, or is he putting a curse on Jimmy’s head? That’s something that we think about a lot, and it comes down to a fundamental question: how much of who we are is determined just by the nature of things, by the world, by our own internal makeup, and how much comes out of the decisions that we make? People have a choice about who they’re going to be. Nobody is so far gone that they don’t have the opportunity to change their path.
Much of season 4 is about Jimmy’s desire to fit into the world and to play the game the way he knows it’s supposed to be played, but sometimes that doesn’t go along or correspond to his abilities. Jimmy McGill, for better or for worse, is a man who can always see the shortest distance between two points. There’s another aspect to him this season, which is there’s an anger in this character that I don’t know that I’ve seen before in Bob’s performance. Even in some very lighthearted moments, there’s an inner discomfort. There’s a rage that pops up, and it’s not always completely logical.
What themes echo through season 4?
Where do we have a responsibility to other people as opposed to our own desires, wants, and needs? What do we owe society as a whole versus our own particular interests? What makes a person good or evil? Is it a choice, or is it in their nature? And also: the price of deception and the price of pretending to be something that you’re not.
How will Jimmy bide his time in season 4 while he’s suspended from the law. Can we assume that he’ll be brushing up against more people in the underworld?
Absolutely. You’ll see Jimmy interacting with people in the underworld in a way that we’ve never seen before. You’re going to see some familiar faces in Jimmy’s world and also in Gus Fring’s world. I think there are some moments that people are really going to love, especially people who’ve watched and enjoyed Breaking Bad. One of the great things about Jimmy McGill is he’s comfortable in many different circumstances, and you’re going to see him in some very extreme circumstances…. Jimmy takes some risks this season. There’s no question, and he deals with people who a lot of folks would cross the street to avoid. If you’ve watched the previous seasons closely, you will have more than a clue about where this guy is going to go when it comes time to get a job that doesn’t involve being a lawyer.
NEXT PAGE: Gould drops hints about each character — how close we get to the Breaking Bad timeline
We’re inching closer to the Breaking Bad timeline. How close do we get?
When you meet one character, you open the door to one character. Another character often slips through with the first one. There are some folks who show up who are very significant on Breaking Bad, but not all of them were necessarily seen on Breaking Bad. So we are getting closer. We’re still a few years out from Walter White, but you’ll see some things that will definitely ring a bell and also show some different aspects to things that we saw in Breaking Bad. Lalo [whom Saul referenced in a season 2 episode of Breaking Bad] does make an appearance, and he is indelible when you see him.
Vince [Gilligan, the show’s co-creator] indicated that season 4 is darker and more dramatic than other seasons. That’s probably a natural thing as the show heads toward Breaking Bad territory. Speaking in superlative terms, how would you characterize this season?
This is the darkest, most dramatic season of Saul. It has more visceral action. There’s some material that has the same visceral action and impact that some of the highlights that Breaking Bad had. It gets darker. Some of the relationships go to very fraught, dramatic places that are shattering and exciting and also maybe more than a little disturbing.
You and Vince have said that you keep delaying Jimmy’s transformation into Saul because the writers keep finding rich territory to explore — and because you like Jimmy so much. How patient should fans be in looking for transformation?
We’re finding out that the road to Saul Goodman is a long and twisty one. This is a character who’s had any number of faces, we found out. He’s been Jimmy McGill. He was Slippin’ Jimmy. He became Saul Goodman, and he became Gene, the Cinnabon manager. You’re going to see some faces this season that you haven’t seen yet on Better Call Saul.
There’s been a hunger to see more of the Gene-verse; it’s actually been a little frustrating to get so little of it each season. Might we dig deeper there and see more than before?
Each time we’ve seen Gene, he’s been under a little bit more pressure. The first time we saw him, he was mostly wistful for a previous life, and then we saw him [in] season 2, and he didn’t have the nerve to push open the door that would set off an alarm, and then in season 3, we saw him yell at a cop and faint. All I can say is it seems like the screws are turning on Gene. I love the character. I love the way Bob plays him, and it would be a shame if we didn’t see an awful lot more of him.
Aside from her relationship with Jimmy, how will Kim — who’s recovering and reprioritizing after that car accident — find her way in season 4?
You could see, even in the last episode last season, that she has started to think about: What is the purpose of everything that she does, and what does she really want? And those questions are very much alive for Kim in season 4, and she’s going to act on it in ways that we weren’t expecting, but surprise us. Kim has definitely got a life and a mind of her own, and she’s not always going to do the expected thing or the thing that people around her think that she should. What is her reaction going to be to Jimmy’s reaction to Chuck’s death, and is she going to live a life together with Jimmy, or are they going to be living separate lives?
Can you give us a hint about what to expect from the other main characters, such as Mike, Gus, Nacho, and Howard?
Mike seemed to get pretty much what he wanted. He was laundering money through Gus Fring and Madrigal for a no-show job, but Mike doesn’t seem to sit well with a lack of activity. He is a man of action, and this season, you’re going to see him put all his skills to the test in a number of different ways. And we’re going to learn a lot more about how it is that Mike, the former cop with a terrible burden on his conscience, ended up becoming Gus Fring’s right-hand man.
Gus Fring wants nothing more than revenge on Hector Salamanca [Mark Margolis], and Hector’s collapse in episode 10 last season has possibly put that revenge out of his reach. We’re going to see Gustavo Fring angrier than we’ve ever seen him on this show. We’re going to see him take matters into his own hands in a very direct way, and we’re going to see him lay down one of the cleverest, most indirect plans that we’ve ever seen from this guy. This season, we get a much clearer idea of how Gustavo Fring became the man that we’ve met on Breaking Bad.
[Nacho] may have had enough of the underworld, but the underworld is not through with him, and it seems like he is an ordinary person who is dealing with forces much greater than him. The question remains how long can he stay alive? How long can he dodge what sometimes feels like an inevitable fate?
Howard Hamlin inherited his position as a partner at HHM. His father started the firm with Chuck, and now he gave Chuck the old heave-ho at the end of last season, and the next thing he knew, Chuck was dead. So Howard is going to carry a burden of guilt that will cause him to do some things that he wouldn’t have done before Chuck’s death.
And can you give us one last tease about season 4?
Keep your eye on the tequila.