Warning: This story contains plot details from Monday’s season 4 finale of Better Call Saul, “Winner.”
The question has loomed over season 4 of Better Call Saul. Actually, it has loomed over the entire series: When, oh when, would down-and-out hustler Jimmy McGill transform into slimebag lawyer Saul Goodman?
Our best indication of transmogrification arrived at the end of “Winner,” the season 4 finale of AMC’s unpredictable Breaking Bad prequel. Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk), who had been in con mode from cemetery to law library opening, won the appeal to get his law license reinstated and thanked Kim (Rhea Seehorn) for helping him exploit the memory of Chuck (Michael McKean) for personal gain. When she realized that his teary moment in the courtroom was mere emotion peddling, her face fell, and when he informed an administrative staffer that he no longer wanted to practice law under the name Jimmy McGill, she exclaimed, “Wait, Jimmy, what?” As he walked away, turning back to assure Kim, “S’all good, man,” it seemed that the alter ego he used to sell TV commercial time and burner cellphones was becoming his dominant ego.
In other news, Mike (Jonathan Banks) literally gummed up those surveillance efforts by newest Salamanca-in-town Lalo (Tony Dalton), the great escape by hole expert Werner (Rainer Bock) from the superlab ended with Mike humanely putting a hole in his head, and Gale (David Costabile) really wants Gus (Giancarlo Esposito) to cook in that other hole. Let’s cue up some Abba, cook up some pancakes, and call up Better Call Saul co-creator Peter Gould, who explains the motivations behind Jimmy’s pivotal decision, what this sets in motion, and much more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What did it feel like to bring that moment of transformation to life after so much anticipation? Was there a sense of closure in a way?
PETER GOULD: I don’t know if it’s closure. The weird thing is, it feels like the beginning of something rather than the end of something. Jimmy, saying what he does at the end of the season, assuming the name Saul Goodman publicly — of course, he was Saul Goodman in the underworld earlier — and saying that to Kim the way he does, mostly what it does is it worries me, to be honest with you. [Laughs] Because I’m so attached to Kim and to Jimmy and to the two of them together. Sometimes in the writers’ room, we run it together and call them Kimmy. I’m very attached to Kimmy, and I’m very worried about where this takes them.
You’ve said that you kept pushing back Jimmy’s moment of transformation from as early as season 1 because you fell for Jimmy and loved exploring this character. Was it hard to finally let that moment happen? And why is now the right time?
I never felt like we were delaying it. It always felt like we hadn’t earned it. The Jimmy McGill we met in the first season of Better Call Saul was so very distant and different from Saul Goodman. And always the question we were asking ourselves and beating our heads against the wall trying to answer was, how does this guy become Saul Goodman? What we started with was, what is the problem that becoming Saul Goodman solves? And I think what we realized gradually, especially in season 4, was that the problem that becoming Saul Goodman solves is, “I don’t want to be Jimmy McGill anymore.” Saul Goodman is a choice that Jimmy makes — and I don’t think he’s made it all the way. I don’t think he’s exactly the Saul Goodman we met on Breaking Bad yet. Not by a long shot. I don’t think he’s ready to suggest murder to his clients, for instance. But assuming that separate identity is going to give him a lot of freedom. And I think he craves that freedom. Right now as the season ends, he thinks that there’s no contradiction between having that freedom of being Saul Goodman and also going home and being with Kim. We’ll see if he can have it both ways.
After Jimmy’s moment of triumph with the appeals board, Kim is stunned to see that he was faking it for the board. Does their relationship ever really recover from that moment? Especially coupled with that parking lot rooftop fight, which ended with her lacerating him with the comeback, “You’re always down, Jimmy.”
Wow! Oh, boy. That’s a great question because Jimmy has never fooled Kim before. He’s never scammed her. And now he has scammed her. But I will say two things that give me a little bit of hope for their relationship. First of all, that was an awful fight on the roof. But also, maybe it’s a door to a more honest relationship. Possibly. Because the two of them have been keeping their own counsel about so many things, there have been so many sins of omission between them: Kim started doing public defender work and she didn’t mention it to Jimmy for quite a while, and Jimmy was selling phones on the street and wasn’t telling Kim. I think they’re in a different place. There’s a little bit more honesty there because Jimmy especially has expressed his fears about the relationship. They came out as accusations, but in another way of looking at it, they are and were his fears. So it’s a question. I think it can go either way after an argument like that. And Jimmy doesn’t know that he fooled Kim. He may have scammed her, but his back was to her in that room. He was scamming the members of the board. We’ll see. I think that these two have a deep affection for each other, and I think they may have a little further to go down the road. I’m hoping.
Well, if she stays with him, it seems like she now really knows exactly what she’s getting. And she’s such a force of personality, it doesn’t seems like she would just go along with something that she doesn’t want to. Earlier this season, you told us, “One way to look at it is to say that Kim Wexler’s love and decency keeps Jimmy moored and keeps him from becoming Saul Goodman. But there’s another way to look at it: maybe Jimmy never would’ve become Saul Goodman without Kim.”
That’s true. I think scamming for both of these characters, for both of these people, Jimmy and Kim, isn’t just a means to an end. It’s a partnership. It’s a kind of dance that these two have. And for better or for worse, it’s always brought them together.
And they bring that out in each other on some level. There’s a chemistry there.
Oh, boy — there’s so much chemistry, isn’t there?
Jimmy always seemed surprised on some level that Kim liked him and felt like he wasn’t worthy of her, yet he’s angry that she doesn’t want to share that office with him. There’s so much self-loathing going on with Jimmy. I think about the line he says in this episode about Chuck loving him as a brother but not as a lawyer. Is Jimmy’s fear justified that Kim loves him as a boyfriend but not as a lawyer?
So much of this is about Jimmy’s fears about who he really is. “If she understood who I really am, she wouldn’t love me.” It’s not a crazy thing. A lot of us have gone through that. Maybe Jimmy’s just a little bit more extreme than the rest of us in some ways. In that argument, they both say some terrible things. Jimmy is much more aggressive and nasty than Kim is. But there’s also a lot of truth there — and we’ll see what they do with that truth.
One interpretation of the hearing and subsequent conversation is that Jimmy faked his tears to bamboozle the board and now he’s a ruthless huckster. But was he feeling that speech on some level beneath the surface, yet he can never let himself be vulnerable again? Maybe he even surprised himself with the emotion and used it to his advantage.
I’m hoping people take [those layers] out of it. I think those layers are there in Bob’s performance. In a weird way, Jimmy has become a much better actor. In fact, you see it in this finale. At the beginning of the episode, he’s at Chuck’s grave and he’s weeping, and to me it’s a very funny scene. He’s faking his agony at his brother’s grave, but then at the end of the episode, he’s 100 percent convincing. And I have to think that maybe one of the reasons for that is that Jimmy is using real emotion for his own ends. In other words, he’s become a really good actor. [Laughs]
In this episode we see him at his most vulnerable. He’s crying when his Esteem won’t start, which is such an amazing metaphor. We’ve never really seen him cry like that. Is that the last moment of vulnerability he’ll allow himself before the light goes out and he goes down this road of no return?
It’s a long-overdue cry. There’s a lot of reasons he might be crying in that scene. Bob and I have talked about why he’s crying in that scene, and you can come up with different reasons. I think he’s hitting bottom, and he’s hitting bottom by himself. And he doesn’t tell Kim about it. Some of it most likely has something to do with Chuck, and some of it has to do with what he said to that young woman, which is coming from his heart and is what he really believes, which is that he’s never going to fit in. He’s never going to get accepted. And maybe he doesn’t deserve to be accepted. That leads to anger, which leads him to this “screw you” choice that he’s making.… I think Jimmy is a complicated enough guy that he can think different things at different times, and I don’t think he’s, we’ve extinguished every, all the spirit of generosity that we’ve seen in this guy in this final episode of the season. I think there’s still good in this guy. And we’ll see if he has a shot at redemption.
This episode brought us the perfect Jimmy-Chuck moment that we’ve been waiting for: The brothers celebrate Jimmy becoming a lawyer by karaoke-ing Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All,” which is the perfect song choice. Placing that scene, by the way, at the beginning of the episode and juxtaposing that with how manipulative and Machiavellian Jimmy is in the final scene is just brutal. Clearly like the lyrics, Jimmy thinks life is like a zero-sum game — someone has to win and someone has to be down. What stood out to you about the karaoke moment?
Of course it’s Michael McKean and Bob Odenkirk, as these characters, singing together. On a story level, we were thinking, “If this is the episode where Jimmy comes face-to-face with how he felt about Chuck in some way, maybe we start the episode with the best moment they ever had together.” That’s how we circled around and found the idea of doing karaoke, which was, in retrospect, completely obvious because you have Michael McKean, who is the lead singer of Spinal Tap, on our show. We’ve never had him sing. And we were also thinking we have to lure Michael to make the flight to Albuquerque for a day. And you also have Bob Odenkirk who is — I hope he doesn’t get mad at me for this — the funniest bad singer I’ve ever heard. Anytime you can have Bob sing, it’s money in the bank. Part of the reason Bob is so funny when he sings is that he sings with such abandon. And he’s not afraid to sound bad. That’s very endearing. That’s something that I love about the character Jimmy McGill, and I love the way that Bob plays him. So for me, it’s a wonderful moment of alchemy. And then it’s followed by that very intimate, funny scene. Tom Schnauz wrote that whole teaser. He and I wrote the script together, and that was his, through and through. He wrote a wonderful, wonderful teaser, and I love every word of it.
The speech that he gave to the scholarship student is right up there with some of the worst things that he ever did. It’s just so harsh. That’s a dark moment.
It’s a dark moment. He’s espousing a very nasty, dangerous philosophy to a young, vulnerable person who looks up to him. So that’s bad. I think a little bit depends on what she takes from it. Maybe we’ll see that young lady again and we’ll learn what she took from that speech — and also from that experience of really deserving a scholarship and not getting it because of a mistake that she had made earlier.
How much of that speech is Jimmy giving a lecture to his younger self, which is how Bob views that diatribe?
It’s something we all do when we’re talking to teenagers and to young people. We try to say, “Don’t make the mistakes I made,” and sometimes the results are not what we expect. I think that there’s a whole mix of things going on in there. He’s definitely talking to his teenage self. He’s kind of talking to himself right now, too. He ‘s angry. He feels rejected, he feels overlooked, and he’s afraid that maybe that’s all justified. And it all comes out in this melange of this philosophy which really is, in a lot of ways, Saul Goodman’s philosophy. What’s of course interesting is that he says that to someone he’s never met before. But he hasn’t said any of that to Kim Wexler.
NEXT PAGE: Gould on Mike’s “first” kill, Lalo’s end game, Gus’ plan for Gale — and a season 5 tease
In my head, I keep going back to Chuck’s final speech to Jimmy in season 3 and those words that seemed to haunt him: “In the end, you’re going to hurt everyone around you. Stop apologizing, embrace it.” As I think of the final image of this season, I see him embracing it. Was there an element of fulfilling destiny there, that Jimmy is subconsciously or consciously embracing it?
You put your finger on it. In some ways you could look at it and say Chuck is prescient. In another way you could say he’s putting a curse on Jimmy. In another way you can look at it and say Jimmy tried to transcend Chuck’s view and now he’s given up. “I’m going to be the guy Chuck was always afraid I was.” There’s a lot to unpack. There’s a lot of anger there. There’s a lot of pain. And hopefully there’ll be some comedy. Nothing spells comedy like anger plus pain. So we may have some comedy ahead of us.
Mike has a soft spot for Werner, a man he was essentially holding hostage, and Gus leaves him no choice but to kill him. I believe that’s Mike’s first kill in his new underworld life; of course, we did see him murder the dirty cops that offed his son, but that was for revenge. In a way, did Mike just break really bad?
Mike has killed. We were pretty sure he was in Vietnam as a soldier. We know he’s killed out of revenge. We know he killed the men responsible for the death of his son. We know he was ready to kill Hector Salamanca [Mark Margolis], he was so enraged by him, but this is the first time that Mike has killed in the course of business, and it is a big transitional moment for the character. Just as we started the show with a Jimmy McGill who’s very different from Saul Goodman, we also started the show with a Mike Ehrmantraut who is also very different from the Mike we met on Breaking Bad. The Mike we met on Breaking Bad was Gus Fring’s right-hand man. He was a hired killer. And Mike as we’ve seen him up to now is not that guy. We’ve been wondering and struggling with the question of, why would he kill? [Laughs] Because this Mike is a tricky guy because he’s not materialistic at all. And he doesn’t seem to take any joy in getting away with it or in being in the crime world. But on the other hand, Mike is also a man who takes responsibility for his actions — or tries to. And in this case, in his mind, he created this situation with Werner, and he owes it to Werner to end it in the most humane possible way.
Lalo has been a welcome addition to the cast, and he appears to be more cunning and charming than the other Salamancas who lead with their fists. Mike seemed to win this first round with him, but what can you hint about what’s to come with Lalo and his desire to take down Gus? And we know he wants to learn more about Gus’ operation, but is there anything you can hint about his endgame?
It’s interesting because like you say, whereas most of the Salmancas are sledgehammers, Lalo is a different kind of animal. And he is really smart. But he is a Salamanca, and we can see that he deeply respects his Uncle Hector. And we will hear more of him. I was so excited by Tony’s performance in every scene that he had this season. He has such great chemistry with Michael Mando [who plays Nacho]. And the two of them are fantastic, and I would love to see him together with Mike. All I can say is we definitely haven’t heard the last of Lalo Salamanca.
Obviously the superlab is large part of the Breaking Bad world. But why did you decide to spend such a significant time on the creation of the lab this season?
We are fascinated by how Gus built his empire. And we also asked ourselves, why does Gus need Mike in particular? Gus has plenty of hired killers. He has an operation; it’s a very well-oiled machine. But Mike Ehrmantraut has a whole different set of skills. He’s able to operate in the above-ground world and in the underworld. And if you’re going to build a super lab, I think you’re going to need Mike Ehrmantraut.
What is Gale’s purpose in the story right now? Gus brings him into the superlab and Gale wants to cool, but Gus says not yet and seems to be keeping him at arm’s length. Will we see Gale attempt to help launch the lab early next season?
Well, I love David Costabile, so I’m always so happy to have him on the show. And by the way, David [who stars on Billions] basically had to run between the raindrops to get to do our show. He went way out of his way.… Gale is a very interesting person in Gus’ world because Gus has a soft spot for Gale. There’s a relationship that Gus has with Gale that he doesn’t seem to have with anybody else. I think that maybe Gale is important to Gus in ways that we know — and maybe ways that we don’t know.
There are so many characters and so much story to service on this show. What was your biggest frustration on that front where you wished you had more time to explore? For example, we didn’t see Howard [Patrick Fabian] that much this season.
Oh, there’s so much. Rainer Bock is such a wonderful actor, and he created this character in Werner who I find fascinating, and I’m just so sad that we didn’t get more time with that character and to learn more about him and to see who he really is. We only had Tina Parker [who plays Francesca] in one scene this season, which breaks my heart because I love Tina. We still have a chance, but I want to explore Tina’s character, Francesca, a lot more.… We had a bit of karaoke singing that we didn’t have time for [in] that final episode. Boy, I could just go on. Huell Babineaux. We love Huell. We always knew that Lavell Crawford was terrific on screen. He’s never had as much to do as he did this season, and he was great! I want more of Lavell Crawford. I’m still pining for the Kettlemans from season 1.
What’s your one-sentence tease for season 5 that fans can ponder during the long hiatus?
We know who Saul Goodman is, but who is Saul Goodman to Kim Wexler?
For more on the Better Call Saul finale, read what star Bob Bob Odenkirk had to say.
- See the Breaking Bad reunion cast portraits
- Bob Odenkirk reveals how he wants Jimmy and Kim’s story to end
- Bob Odenkirk on creating Saul Goodman — and dreading becoming him again