Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk breaks down THAT Breaking Bad-era scene
Warning: This story contains plot details from “Quite a Ride,” Monday’s episode of Better Call Saul.
It. Finally. Happened. The worlds of Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad collided on Monday night, and for a few brief minutes, we were introduced to — or rather reminded of — the slimy legal snake into which Jimmy McGill eventually will devolve.
The opening of “Quite a Ride,” the standout fifth episode of the fourth season of AMC’s Breaking Bad prequel, did not reveal the confluence of events that will prompt the big-dreaming, corner-cutting, currently suspended attorney to fully transform into Saul Goodman, but it gave us a fully realized Saul in a charged, crowd-pleasing scene. There was Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), running around his Greek-columned office, frantically grabbing wads of cash and other essential belongings (the shoebox!) while annoyed assistant Francesca (Tina Parker) followed his orders and shredded documents, agreeing not to cooperate with the authorities. Saul then dialed the mysterious Cleaner, requesting an immediate pick-up. Yes, it was a scene ripped right from Breaking Bad — or rather, from the Breaking Bad era, somewhere between “Ozymandias” and “Granite State” — when the walls came crashing down on Walt’s (Bryan Cranston) criminal enterprise, and the meth king wound up briefly sharing a room with Saul in the Cleaner’s (Robert Forster) basement before being dispatched to New Hampshire, while Saul was bound for Nebraska.
Back in BCS times, a few years earlier: Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) took great pains and Mike (Jonathan Banks) took long car rides to find the perfect engineer to build the super lab; Kim (Rhea Seehorn) seemed to take a page from Jimmy’s book and self-sabotage her legal career by turning her back on Mesa Verde; and a track-suited Jimmy ran a crafty, illicit cellphone business out of the trunk of his car and rang up semi-mad stacks to the sounds of “Street Life” before a trio of hoodlums beat him up and stole his money. In the episode’s final scene, he updated his PPD officer on his employment/activities, telling him of his lofty plans to grandly return to the law after his suspension and make a name for himself as a damn good attorney. Based on everything you know in Breaking Bad — and what was certainly reinforced in this episode’s Saul flash-forward scene — Jimmy had quite a ride, but hardly the one he had imagined for himself.
Even though it’s not yet Nov. 12 at 3 p.m., let’s ring up the man who brings the hammer down to Chinatown — Bob Odenkirk — to reveal what it was like to skip ahead (slip ahead?) and become a shell of his former self once again.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your immediate reaction when Peter [Gould, who created the show with Vince Gilligan] and Vince told you that you’d be playing Saul in a Breaking Bad-era scene that showed us the moment when it all came crashing down and he decided to flee?
BOB ODENKIRK: I was thrilled. Part of me — it really comes from comedy — just really wants to make the audience happy. I was satisfied and pleased at the notion of playing Saul and being back in the office and giving everybody a moment of that character that they love so much and was so entertaining to people. To go there for a few minutes and be that guy and give them that flavor made me really, really happy. Plus, it’s fun to play him. The truth is it’s easier to play Saul than Jimmy. It’s not as rewarding. Jimmy is a rich character with so many angles — there’s so much complexity to the guy that it’s a more rewarding character. But Saul is kind of pure fun.
After playing Jimmy for so long, how did it feel to get back into Saul for that moment? Was it like, “Let me remember how to get in the mindset of this old — and different — character that I used to play”?
For sure. Because Saul is pretty much a schemer and he doesn’t have the self-reflection, he’s shut off part of his brain that has self-awareness and thinks about the repercussions and his hopes and dreams. He’s dashed all those and hidden them away and he just looks to the easiest, quickest fix or profit that he can see. He’s simple to play, relative to Jimmy. And it’s a lot of fun. I don’t think a show where you’re just Saul all the time would be great fun to do. Because he’s burned a lot of himself down. Chuck [Michael McKean] burned his whole self down, and Jimmy is burning big parts of his psyche down.
Anything notable about shooting that scene in Saul’s office or just re-entering that world?
The giddiness that people felt, the glee that people felt at seeing that office, everyone on set, all the crew were just ecstatic. I think it made everybody even more amazed at the story that Peter and Vince have told, having come out of that character, you know? Because the character was intriguing and fun, but he was not the most — there wasn’t a whole lot going on there. I mean, he’s just a schemer who talked fast and thought pretty fast. And outside of that, there wasn’t much else. And I think now that we know this guy, to go into that office and see him in that version of himself — such a thinned-out version of who he is inside — you can’t help but smile, because you know a secret that he doesn’t know. You know who he is, and you’re like, “Wow, dude. You really went down!” [Laughs.] “You really came way down on the scale of human value.”
Saul’s cutting through the Constitution to get the shoebox was a nice touch. He’s hiding behind the Constitution in a way. And that’s the box of mementos from his previous life that Gene kept as his place, right?
Yes, you have seen that stuff. There are videotapes of his commercials and there are passports. I’m sure there’s money in there. And there’s that little Band-Aid box that has the coins that he found in season 2 of Better Call Saul when he had a flashback to his youth and his dad’s store. He told the story of his father and how he perceived his dad as a person who was taken advantage of too easily and he really despised his father for that, which makes him feel bad. I think that has to do with that Neff episode [“Breathe”] when he went to the copy shop and he called them losers because they believed his sales pitch. It made him angry because in his mind, it was such a bald-faced show that he was putting on and how they could not see that just pissed him off. He just couldn’t take it, and I think he’s really talking to his dad there and saying, “You’re a sucker, and I couldn’t stand to be around you.”
NEXT PAGE: Odenkirk on the next Breaking Bad flash-forward — and the “untold heartbreak” to come
You’d think maybe the first Breaking Bad-era scene with Saul would be the construction of Saul’s office. Instead it’s the destruction of it, when it all comes crashing down for Saul, which juxtaposes nicely against that final sad moment of the episode, where he tells the PPD office about all of his hopes and dreams for when his suspension is up, and how he’s going to get a new office with Kim [Rhea Seehorn] and it’s going to be bigger and better than before, and he’s going to be a damn good lawyer and have more cases and win them…
Yeah. He didn’t do any of that. None of that happened. He may have that in the back of his mind that that’s what he’s going to do, he’s going to build another office and he’s going to share it with Kim, and everyone’s going to be on the up and up, and supportive of each other. But I just think not a single action he’s taking is leading in that direction, so I think he’s really lying to himself. All that remains is that little golden dream that is not being acted upon in any other way with his behavior.
Will we pick back up on that day he fled town later this season, or will we be skipping around the next time we revisit this era on Better Call Saul?
I believe we’ll be skipping around the next time we revisit this era.
What can you say about Nov. 12 at 3 p.m., and will we see that later this season?
We’re going to see that. [Laughs.]
Anything you can hint about that?
I can’t give you a hint because I don’t have any idea.
These flash-forwards into the Breaking Bad era really seems to rip open the door for any Breaking Bad character — say, Walt or Jesse — to enter the story, doesn’t it?
Absolutely. I think it’s a wonderful thing. The fans of Saul at this point, they’re down for this journey, and they’re not just Breaking Bad fans who are waiting for Breaking Bad to return. At this point, we’re in season 4, we’re into so many stories, and the tone is different in a way, although it is maybe getting closer to the Breaking Bad kind of vibe, with more menace in the world and more violence. But it’s just really nice to just go there and just give them Saul. Stop feeling like, “Are we going to see him?” But just go there and get to see him.
Even as Walt turned evil on Breaking Bad, many fans still rooted for him. Here, Jimmy continues his descent into the underworld. When Jimmy is knee-deep in this phone scam, you feel bad for him when he gets beat up and his ill-gotten money is stolen. How bad should we feel for Jimmy?
I think you should feel really bad for him. I think he’s a very good guy who made a real effort to be a good person, and to find the use for his talents. And if he’d been given a fair chance, if his brother hadn’t harbored such resentment toward him, he maybe would have gone and been a contributing member of society, been a good person. But he’s learning the wrong lessons, and he’s learning selfish cynical lessons, angry and resentful, and it’s a terrible shame. It doesn’t need to be like that. So I think his story is very sad. Now, his story isn’t over when he becomes Saul. I really, really believe that’s true. While it may be more fun to watch a person disintegrate, I do think people sometimes make the right choices in life, and they do try to grow. And they can even come out of real tragedy and pain and say, “Well, I’m not going to do that again.” I’d like to see if that story would be told, but I’m not telling this story, I’m acting in it.
There are several turning points for Jimmy when we are left to wonder: If something had broken his way, would he have gone in a different direction? After deciding to take Kim’s advice and see a therapist, he bumps into Howard [Patrick Fabian], who is not doing well in therapy, and decides to flush the therapist’s number down the toilet. How much of a turning point/lost opportunity was that?
It’s a huge lost opportunity. If he took the time and he got somebody else’s point of view — if he got an empathetic and somewhat structured point of view on his frustrations and all the things in his life that have not gone his way and depressed him — he might be able to pull himself out of the downward slope that he’s on. But he just makes a weak and scared choice. He doesn’t want that self-reflection to go that deep. He’s a character who’s capable of self-reflection, but it’s going away. That dimension of himself is definitely going away.
In Jimmy’s conversation with the PPD officer, it seems like he’s setting himself for massive disappointment, and, as you said, he’s doing nothing to set himself up for success. When some or most or all of these things don’t happen when his suspension ends, how much of those things are going to be the catalyst for his demise — and/or is there more untold heartbreak?
Oh, there’s more untold heartbreak. That can be your title. There is more untold heartbreak to come. Definitely. There are multiple elements to his downfall, and who knows? Maybe he gets to put his life back together again. I don’t know. Because we don’t know where the story ends. I know when we started we thought it ended with Saul, but of course, now we have Gene, and there’s a real good chance that the story carries on with Gene.
What can you say about what awaits Jimmy in the next episode?
More comedy than you’ve ever seen on the show. I get to do some pretty unbelievably silly stuff that fits in with the character, and it’s the closest to the comedy work I’ve done of anything I’ve done on the show so far. I get to be really silly.