It’s Monday morning in Albuquerque, and Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn are playing Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler, who are playing a dopey brother-frazzled sister team, who are playing an employee in a local-government office: Their elaborate ruse involves crutches, a leaking container of breast milk, and stealth document swapping. “It’s the classic breast-milk con,” deadpans Odenkirk during a break. “It’s been done for so long — since they discovered breast milk.” “Same as the shell game, really,” adds Seehorn. Surveying the shady scene, co-creator Vince Gilligan coyly offers: “It’s one small slip for Jimmy, one big one for Kim.”
The next day, the scheming has been replaced by screaming. Jimmy leaps out of his beat-up Esteem on a parking-garage roof and drops some life-altering news on Kim. When Kim’s reaction falls short of expectations, he lashes out, and things are said by both that may forever change this intriguing, important, and ill-defined relationship. “If they’re on a roller-coaster ride this season, this is that last terrifying drop,” teases Gilligan. “You’re not sure if the wheels are going to come off or not.”
As you see, each day of Better Call Saul‘s fourth season brings a different vibe — and the audience a step closer to the troubling transformation of Slippin’ Jimmy into snaky, oily lawyer Saul Goodman. A transfixing character study mixing melancholy, mischief, and malevolence, AMC’s Breaking Bad prequel has formulated its own identity, as evidenced by 23 Emmy nominations. And now, as exacting restaurateur/drug kingpin Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) eyes more cartel power and further aligns with world-weary ex-cop/parking-lot attendant Mike (Jonathan Banks), things are looking Bad-der than ever. “This is the darkest, most dramatic season of Saul,” declares co-creator Peter Gould. “Some of the relationships go to very fraught, dramatic places that are shattering and exciting and maybe more than a little disturbing.” Adds Odenkirk: “The Breaking Bad world within our world is growing. It’s going to swallow us — and that’s okay with me.”
The question of when and how Saul will swallow Jimmy looms larger, especially after he learns that his disapproving brother Chuck (Michael McKean) has self-immolated. In the season 3 finale, Chuck leveled his sibling by saying that Jimmy never mattered to him — and that he should embrace his destiny as a delinquent. “I think those words turn the whole series,” opines Odenkirk, who dreads Jimmy’s inevitable transformation: “It’s hard for me when he’s Saul — and that’s what he’s becoming. I’ve enjoyed the fact that Jimmy has a conscience.” According to Gould, killing Chuck was the hardest decision the writers made in the first three seasons (though he’ll return in flashbacks), and Jimmy’s reaction “was maybe the most difficult thing we had to figure out this season,” he says. “The moments when the characters surprise us are the moments I treasure, and Jimmy rocked me this year.”
To that end, don’t expect Jimmy to softly commune with his grief. “A massive compartmentalization goes on in his heart and in his mind,” shares Odenkirk. “It’s like a fracture inside of the character.” Cracks in his new veneer will surface, however. “Everywhere he looks, and every person who says something that could be construed as critical, is Chuck, staring at him,” he adds. The suspended lawyer bides his time in a new line of work that exposes him to underworld figures — perhaps one or two from Breaking Bad — and he has more sides of himself to show before Saul metastasizes. “You’re going to see some faces [of Jimmy] this season that you haven’t seen yet,” says Gould. And that also might apply to fellow lawyer Kim, who has been resetting her priorities post-accident. “Her lines in the sand are bizarre,” notes Seehorn, adding: “It’s not like she loved Jimmy despite him being a con.”
Elsewhere, Mike isn’t content cashing a paycheck as a Madrigal security consultant in name only. “He takes that very seriously,” hints Banks. Chuck’s ex-partner Howard (Patrick Fabian) carries “a burden of guilt that will cause him to do some things he wouldn’t have done before Chuck’s death,” says Gould. Gus must alter his revenge plan for cartel partner Hector (Mark Margolis), who was temporarily felled by vengeance-seeking henchman Nacho (Michael Mando). “We’re going to see him take matters into his own hands in a very direct way,” teases Gould, “and we’re going to see him lay down one of the cleverest, most indirect plans.” Esposito warns ominously: “Macho Nacho doesn’t really realize how dangerous Gus is — and he is going to find out.”
Danger lurks not just in the past, but the future. Odenkirk hints that Cinnabon boss Gene is “on the run.” And the time-tinkering show will unveil Saul scenes set in Bad times. “We have a subplot that very squarely gets us into Breaking Bad territory,” says Gilligan. “The Breaking Bad world comes shuddering against the Better Call Saul world — much like the Titanic and the iceberg.”
While you brace for impact, Gould leaves this cryptic hint about season 4: “Keep your eye on the tequila.” Best to keep the other one on the breast milk.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.