Jimmy McGill is always close to something. It could be an epiphany or a scam or a deal or a transformation or even an arrest, but promise of danger lurks nearby for the scrappy, flawed attorney played by Bob Odenkirk. As season 4 of AMC’s Breaking Bad prequel readies for launch, the prospect of metamorphosis into snaky lawyer Saul Goodman seems to be a clear and present danger, especially when Jimmy finds out that his older brother, Chuck (Michael McKean) has died. Before tuning in to the season premiere (Monday at 9 p.m. ET/PT), see what Saul co-creator Vince Gilligan had to say about the “darker” action to come, and why you should brace for impact as the Breaking Bad world increasingly enters the orbit of Better Call Saul.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Season 3 finished on a fire that claimed Chuck. What’s the first image that comes to mind when you think about the energy of season 4?
VINCE GILLIGAN: I picture two giant circles moving together, converging into an ever-largening Venn diagram, and that Venn diagram represents the overlap between two different television series, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. That area of overlap is getting larger and larger. And in season 4, the words are going to collide and merge and commingle even more than they ever have.
“Commingling” sounds almost pleasant, though I imagine this isn’t—
Now that you say that, it is kind of a pleasant image. If soap bubbles merge, that’s nice and pleasant and contemplative. If the moon crashes into the sun, or the Earth on the other hand… For a show as oftentimes as funny as Better Call Saul is, and a show that oddly enough Peter [Gould, the show’s co-creator] and I both contemplated as a comedy four years ago, it is pretty damn dark and dramatic. And the drama is only going to increase and intensify in season 4.
When Jimmy discovers what happens to Chuck, how ugly will that be? And how much guilt is he going to carry around once he puts all the pieces together?
What Peter and the writers have come up with is a really fascinating answer to that question, and I have to be coy here and not give much away. The central question of the series, when you think about it, is once you get to know and love Jimmy McGill, how did he become Saul Goodman? With every episode of every season thus far, we’ve been taking steps — some large, some small — toward devolving the one character into the other. That certainly will continue. And maybe at a faster pace in season 4. My best coy answer to that is Jimmy is definitely going to undergo some changes. They will probably not be the changes people are expecting. But they will be completely consistent with who Jimmy is at heart, and they will be surprising. Nonetheless, upon a great deal of thought and contemplation on the part of the very attentive viewers, it will all come to make sense and feel apt.
When you think about the catalysts that propel Jimmy into that final transformation into Saul, you notice that the two most important people in his life are Chuck and Kim (Rhea Seehorn), and he just lost Chuck. Will the loss of Kim in some fashion be the final straw?
We didn’t know that these characters were going to exist. In the very earliest days, we said, “Why don’t we give Jimmy a brother?” And then later on, this young lady, Rhea Seehorn, who we put in the first episode, who may or may not have worked out to be a love interest — “God, she’s great. Let’s make her more important to the story.” Three or four years later, you are rightly identifying the fact that these are the two most important people in this character’s life. And I love how that grew organically and we ourselves didn’t even know. The design was to explain how this character came to be, but we ourselves didn’t know. I love the fact that the writers can be a journey of discovery just a few months ahead, but essentially right alongside the viewers.
In trying to take out Hector [Mark Margolis], Nacho [Michael Mando] has drawn the attention of Gus, who had his own plans for revenge. To be on Gus’ radar like this seems to a very bad thing. How does that bode for Nacho?
You do not want to be on Gus’ radar. Nacho is now on Gus’ radar, probably not in a good way. I was lucky enough to go on a safari in South Africa a few years ago, and we were watching this amazing male lion. The king of the jungle. Eating a wildebeest or a zebra. And I made the mistake of standing up in the Jeep to get a picture and suddenly this lion, who had been ignoring us completely, locked his eyes on me, and I had his full attention. And everyone in the Jeep said, “Sit the hell down.” That’s what I think of when I think of Gus turning his attention on you. I think of that lion I saw in South Africa. You don’t want the lion staring at you. You don’t want to draw his attention too closely.
Mike [Jonathan Banks] was not in the season 3 finale, so I’m imagining he comes on strong early this season.
For Mike fans, watch season 4. They’re in for a treat. Something happens with Mike at the beginning of the season. He takes a task upon himself that I found very exciting and a whole lot of fun. There’s a lot of darkness in season 4 as you can imagine, based on the ending of season 3. But there’s going to be some lightheartedness and some fun stuff, too, and strangely enough, some of it may involve Mike, of all people.
In terms of Breaking Bad characters, we recently learned how Francesca [Tina Parker] came to work for Saul. Do you have a lot more surprises like that this season?
I think the audience is in for some real treats, as the Breaking Bad world comes shuddering against the Better Call Saul world, much like the Titanic and the iceberg.
How much of Jimmy McGill is there left to explore before that inevitable transformation?
That’s a good question, and I’m not being coy when I say we’re not entirely sure ourselves. There’s a lot of baby steps down this road to hell. Jimmy’s on this sad path that he’s on toward becoming Saul Goodman. And sometimes I picture it as a road through a deep thicket, through a deep, dark forest. You don’t exactly know how far down the trail you are sometimes. You don’t have any ready landmarks by which to tell you how far you’ve got left to go. And sometimes I’m not even sure if all of the writers in the writers’ room all agree at any given moment how far Jimmy is along in his devolution toward becoming Saul. I’m not sure even Peter and I necessarily agree; sometimes I think he’s closer than Peter might, and sometimes I think he might be further away. It’s an interesting story to be telling… We’re discovering it ourselves as we go along.
In previous seasons, the show has played with time, giving us flashbacks and flashforwards. Is there any chance of flashing us into the timeline of Breaking Bad?
We are not quite in Breaking Bad‘s timeline yet, but the overlap in the Venn diagram’s getting bigger and bigger. We have a subplot that very squarely gets into Breaking Bad territory and brings us into the world — or at least points us on a path toward the world of Walter White and the territory of Walter White. I can’t wait for folks to see that. It’s a really interesting subplot that is squarely in the Breaking Bad world.
How should viewers prepare for what’s to come in season 4?
Get ready for a bumpy ride. Prepare yourself for a show that’s not going to be as funny as it once was. It’s a show that gets more dramatic and gets darker with every season. Sometimes we wish it were otherwise. We look for humor. Just as we did on Breaking Bad, we continue to look for humor anytime we can legitimately find it, any place we can find it. But it gets harder and harder to find in this story. It really didn’t dawn on us for about the first season or so, but this journey that Jimmy is on toward becoming Saul Goodman is a tragedy. It’s a tragic story. When we started this show, we thought, “It’s Saul Goodman! He’s fun! He’s got the chi machine that he lies on the floor of his office and he’s getting a massage, and he’s just a colorful buffoon… It’s gotten to the point [where] I kind of dread having this guy show up completely. I like Jimmy McGill so much better. If you want to have a beer with Jimmy McGill, you probably want to hit Saul Goodman with a beer truck.
For much more intel on season 4 of Better Call Saul, head over here.