Better Call Saul star Bob Odenkirk explains Jimmy's finale transformation
Warning: This story contains plot details from Monday’s season 4 finale of Better Call Saul, “Winner.”
There stood Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) in front of the appeals board (re)considering his reinstatement as a lawyer, and he turned on the waterworks with seeming sincerity. “I’ll do everything in my power to be worthy of the name McGill,” he assured them, clutching that letter from Chuck. “And if you decide I’m not a lawyer, it doesn’t matter — I’ll still try to be the best man that I can be.” When Jimmy received the good news in the hallway afterward, Kim (Rhea Seehorn), who’d been moved to tears by his speech, congratulated him: “I knew you could do it! I knew you had it in you!” He agreed. “Did you see those suckers???” he responded. “That one a—hole was crying! He had actual tears!”
As Jimmy detailed how he fooled them — and that she was right, it was all about Chuck — Kim’s expression morphed from elation to stomach-dropping realization: It was all an act. Jimmy told a staffer that he would need one of those DBA forms because he wouldn’t be practicing under the name Jimmy McGill. As he strode off, Kim stuttered, “Wait, Jimmy, what?” His response? “S’all good, man!” once again reviving the Saul Goodman alias he used to hawk local TV commercials and burner cellphones. (And the “S’all good, man!” was a phrase he used back in Chicago when someone asked for his name during a grift.) In short, Jimmy McGill turned what could have been a healing moment into a stealing moment — and this one will have the gravest consequences yet.
What was it like for Odenkirk to utter those words? Does he think that Jimmy will be able to become Saul and remain with Kim? And how did it feel to karaoke with the great Michael McKean? Here the standout star of the mercurial, magnetic Breaking Bad prequel breaks down the key moments from the finale — and explains why things might not actually be all good, man.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Jimmy decided to change his practicing name — and the line “S’all good, man” was uttered. What did it feel like to bring that moment to life after so much anticipation? Was there a sense of closure in a way — or even sadness, as you begin to say goodbye to Jimmy, a guy you like better than Saul? Or did it feel more like a new beginning?
BOB ODENKIRK: It feels like a new beginning. It’s weird, I like Jimmy McGill. I, personally, as a human being, wouldn’t go near Saul Goodman, but as far as the tensions within the show and playing the character and the journey of this plot, it was freeing to say that, and to go to that connecting point to pure Saul Goodman energy. I’s what everyone’s been asking about, everyone’s been waiting for, and to some extent some audience have said, “When’s it going to happen? It’s taking too long!” And everybody who said that, now that they see this moment, I think a lot of them are gonna say, “Too soon!” [Laughs] But the truth is, it’s just great. I love Jimmy McGill, but it’s just great to just get there. We’re firing all the rocket boosters off now. Sooner than you think, we’re going to be at Saul and just doing Saul things….
It’s a declaration that Jimmy is Saul now — that’s what he’s committing to, and I loved it. Like I said, it was a freeing moment for me. It was a watershed moment of joy and energy. Even though I don’t like Saul, I like playing Saul, and I like the energy that courses through Jimmy when he is Saul.
Did you expect it to happen sooner? And why do you think that now is the right time?
I don’t know if I’d say I expected it to happen sooner. I come from comedy, and you’ve got to please the audience moment-to-moment in comedy. You can only get them to hang in there for a few seconds, really, for a joke or a reward. And so this journey into drama and watching how [co-creators] Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould and the writers play out people’s tension and investment in the show, it’s amazement to me. I sit back in awe of the trust the creators and writers put in the audience, and the audience put in the creators and writers. It’s still stunning to me. In comedy, the audience turns on you pretty quickly if you’re not being funny. It’s like, “Yeah, this is done,” if you don’t make them laugh within 30 seconds, essentially, all the time. So I’m still kind of adjusting to this different rhythm — and amazed at what these guys can do, the magic they create.
I certainly feel what I shared with you, which is: There’s the moment, hooray, it’s here, oh no, did it really have to come so soon? Almost immediately I feel like, “Aww, too bad! Now he’s Saul Goodman.” And at the same time, I’m excited. Look, Saul met Walter White in Breaking Bad, and they went down that hole, which obviously looked incredibly attractive to Saul. I mean, Walter White just seemed like the perfect client, you know? A guy who’s going to keep it together, make a lot of money, and need a lot of legal help. [Laughs] It seemed just perfect, and it just didn’t go his way. I would just like to see Saul at work with Lalo [Tony Dalton] and Nacho [Michael Mando] and some bad guys, and I would like to see how that works for him. And I imagine it might work pretty damn well. I think that could be fun to watch.
Definitely. The look on Kim’s face when she realized that Jimmy was crying crocodile tears at the hearing, it’s pretty terrible. She fell for it too. How pivotal and possibly damaging is that to the relationship — or did the real damage occur during the rooftop fight when she said, “You’re always down, Jimmy”?
I think those are two sides of the same moment. Tie them together. When he hears that from her, that’s going to sit inside him, and it’s not going to leave very quickly. He’s not sure if she’s capable of really being on his side after that. And then when she sees this move from him, it’s the same thing — only from her vantage point of feeling like, “Oh, yeah, I think maybe this guy is not ever going to be on the same side again as me, of human behavior and what’s right and what’s okay. He’s gone.” I don’t know where the Rubicon is, but he crossed it. [Laughs.]
I think they’re doomed. I don’t know if they break up pretty, I don’t know if they split up in a way that’s like, “Hey, you go your way, I go mine, all the best to you.” I don’t think that’s what happens. I really think that Jimmy McGill, when he becomes Saul, for the first time in a long time feels powerful and effective. And that is an incredibly important thing for a man to feel. I won’t speak for women, but I think guys who never feel that they can let their energy run, and that they can have some control over their world — it’ll kill you to never feel that. And as wrong as it is — and I think it’s a bad choice to be Saul — it is a persona that somehow matches some of Jimmy’s strengths — many of them — with what the world wants from him, or is willing to allow him to do. So he feels strong. And that’s a very encouraging thing, especially for this character who’s really been undercut many, many times in his effort to play by the rules.
Jimmy wonders how Kim could possibly love a guy like him, yet he’s also upset that she doesn’t want to share this office with him. There’s a ton of self-loathing going on without a lot of self-awareness. In this episode, Jimmy said, “Chuck loved me as a brother, but he didn’t love me as a lawyer.” Is his fear that Kim loves him as a boyfriend but not as a lawyer valid? Is that going to be their undoing?
Yeah, I think it’s a fundamental lack of faith in what he’s capable of being, and I think it really hurts his feelings in a deep, deep way. It’s one thing for his brother to look at him and say, “You’ll never be what I am,” because even Jimmy goes, “No, I know I’ll never be on your level.” But the fact that Chuck wouldn’t even let him try — that was the thing. Chuck was like, “You’re not even allowed to try.” And that’s kind of f—ed up. In Kim’s case, she’s made a judgment, and I think she’s right. But I don’t know if she realizes how deeply it hurts him to get that stiff arm from her and be put in a place where he feels, “I’m not allowed to even almost try to play in the same ballpark she’s playing in.” If the two of them had a little more self-awareness and better communication skills, maybe they could sort it out. But they’re like anybody.
And like you’ve said, you’re rooting for Jimmy and Kim, but you’re not rooting for Saul and Kim.
Yeah. I’m sure that Peter could somehow make that work. I don’t know if it would be one too many hoops to jump through, but that’s up to them. They’ve been pretty good at jumping through hoops, I’ll tell you.
When Jimmy revealed to Kim that he was faking this emotion and bamboozling the board, do you feel like beneath the surface, he was feeling those feelings, they weren’t all crocodile tears —
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! I think what he learned was, use your feelings to manipulate people. But like a good Buddhist, don’t identify with your feelings. He is not a good Buddhist. [Laughs] There is a sad and disturbing and unhealthy fracturing of his personality that he’s gone through. But yes, he’s honestly feeling all those feelings — the Jimmy McGill inside him — but he’s got a distance from those feelings, and he’s got a distance where he’s using them to manipulate. And honestly, that’s a pretty common tactic. You see it in any kid who’s tantrumming for a cookie, you know? They actually are upset that they’re not gonna get the cookie. Are they that upset? I don’t know if they’re aware of it, but no, they’re definitely not. But you know, it works.
So, let yourself feel it and let it come out, and then when you get the cookie, forget about it, and just be happy you got your cookie. That’s what he’s doing. It’s a sad, pretty deep bit of compartmentalization and shattering of a personality. The question is, does any of that idealistic, hopeful human being, Jimmy McGill, remain? Can he reconnect with it in a meaningful way and let it guide him to a more empathetic interaction with other people? I think it does. I think people have options to grow and change, and even do it consciously. But I’m a big L.A. New Age weirdo, so what do I know?
NEXT PAGE: Odenkirk on what’s next for Jimmy, and filming that karaoke scene with Michael McKean
Now that he’s made this decision that he’s going to juggle two lives — as Saul Goodman and whatever he has with Kim as Jimmy — can he compartmentalize them? Is that the tension of next season?
I think you’re right. People feel like, if I’m feeling strong, I’m attractive. It’s true. People who are sure of themselves, who move forward and make their way in the world, even if they do it in a dastardly way or unethically, there’s a great attraction to the “I’m moving forward, and I’m getting somewhere.” You can’t help but be attracted to that. Maybe he hopes that that is going to be enough for her, is to see him feeling confident — and getting somewhere. But I don’t think they can stay together. The ways in which the character is different people at different times, and the ways in which he lies to himself and the complexity of the relationship, I think it mirrors real people in real relationships.… I don’t think these [writers] have overdone the complexity of stuff. I don’t think they just flip-flop a personality; they just allow a character to approach the world from different angles.
From what you know, where does Jimmy go from here? Does he re-establish contact with Mike and slowly worm himself into Gus’s empire?
I really can only speak to this as a fan. With what I know about the time that’s left in there for them to tell this story, in the sense that they’d like to end this piece with some acknowledgement of Gene and his world and what he can make of it; they can’t just leave him unconscious on the floor of a Cinnabon. [Laughs] They have to get him somewhere. They have a lot of work to do plot-wise. Certainly as a fan, I want to know what happens with Nacho and Lalo, and I want to know how Jimmy interacts with the two of them. When we see him in Breaking Bad, he’s on his knees, and he thinks Nacho and Lalo are going to blow him away. So, whatever he did with them didn’t go well. And Lalo — Tony Dalton’s character — is an amazing addition to our show, and I don’t know how you feel about it, but holy s—, that guy blew my f—ing mind. That line, “You’re going to die,” when he offers the plate of food to Nacho? Oh, man!!!! I jumped out of my seat! I was like, “Oh, f— yes! “You’re gonna die.” I still get goosebumps thinking about it!
We see Jimmy at his most vulnerable, crying when his literal Esteem won’t start. We’ve never really seen him cry and break down like that. Peter said that you two talked a lot about what he was crying about in that low moment. Was it the moment that the lights went out in the character?
I think he’s saying goodbye to Jimmy McGill at that moment. I think that’s his big goodbye. He just did one of the hardest things he’s ever done and will ever do in his life, which is he gives that young lady a lecture that the world will not give you a second chance. And what he’s really doing is he’s talking to himself. And he’s talking to himself when he was her age. And he’s telling young Jimmy McGill, “Don’t go with your brothers to Albuquerque, don’t trust Chuck, don’t try, it won’t work, they will never let you in.” And it kills him to do it. He’s literally yelling and lecturing himself. He’s looking at an image of himself from 10 years before, who’s still holding onto this little crazy dream in the back of his head of, “Well, I can always go to Chuck, and I can always try to fit in there, and he’ll help me.” And he’s just screaming at him, “No, you can’t. No, he won’t. No one will help you. You cannot get in in a legit manner with other people with the world.”
And it kills him to do it. He feels he needs to do it, he feels he’s right to do it, but it just hurts so much to tell himself that — and to finally cut the last strand of hope that kept him connected to the ethical world, of people who are trying and aren’t just going through the world like a berserker or a mercenary.
The opening of the episode felt like a treat to get the moment where Jimmy and Chuck are getting along, doing karaoke with the perfect song choice, Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All.” What did you love about shooting that scene?
Well, I always love seeing Michael McKean, and he really raised my game as an actor on this show. I always love performing with him, and just seeing him off stage as well. He’s a delightful person, and a genius of comedy and drama and everything. I liked singing badly. By the way, I’m singing as well as I can. [If] you’re a Mr. Show fan, you know I like subjecting the public to my voice. Because I know it’s just terrible. And I can’t help you with it. There’s no EQ knob on your TV or stereo that will help me at all, that won’t change anything about it. You’ll just have to sit there and suck it up. [Laughs]
In your defense, it’s not fair having to go up against Michael McKean.
No, it’s not fair. I mean, it’s like playing banjo with Steve Martin. That’s not going to go well. I’m going to lose. But I kind of relish it. It was a lot of fun doing that scene. There were a lot of feelings buried inside that scene. It’s a moment where Jimmy definitely feels like he’s on the road to winning everything he’s wanted, which is Chuck’s respect and love and acceptance, and he really feels like he’s getting there. And a little triumphant moment on a journey that we know does not go well, and does not end with what he wants. So it’s got to be heartbreaking. It was truly heartbreaking to do it.
Finally, I keep going back to Chuck’s final words that seem to haunt Jimmy: “In the end, you’re going to hurt everyone around you. So stop apologizing. Embrace it.” That seems to be the feeling that we leave this season with: Embrace it.
I completely agree with you that Chuck predicted the future or gave Jimmy this weird, awful outline of what he should do. I don’t know if he planted the thought, because I feel like the whole swaying effort of Jimmy’s life is, how do I marry up these strange talents I have for bulls—ing people and conning with the world in a way that gets me some kind of legitimate respect and reward? And the way he does it is by becoming Saul Goodman — at least for a while. It’s not the best choice he could make, but it makes sense. Within this bad person, there’s a lot of positive energy, within the choice to become Saul — an embracing of certain strengths that he has that work within the nefarious world that he is jumping headfirst into.
For more on the Better Call Saul finale, read what series co-creator Peter Gould had to say.
Saul Goodman, first introduced in Breaking Bad, gets his own Vince Gilligan prequel.