Better Call Saul creator explains why the show revived Breaking Bad's Hank and Gomez
'It was not a foregone conclusion that Dean would do the show,' says Peter Gould.
Warning: This story contains plot details from Monday's episode of Better Call Saul, titled "The Guy For This."
As the drug empire expands on Better Call Saul — inching ever close to methscape as seen on Breaking Bad — it is bound to attract the eager eyes of law enforcement, specifically the Drug Enforcement Agency. And in the ABQ, whenever someone says DEA, you say... ASAC Schrader.
tIn the third episode of season 5, the blustery cocksure agent Hank (Dean Norris) and his loyal right-hand man Gomez (Steven Quezada) became the latest friends from Breaking Bad to pop up. When Krazy-8 (Max Arciniega) popped during a drug bust that tied back to the biggest cartel around, Saul (Bob Odenkirk) was “asked” by Lalo (Tony Dalton) to represent the in-custody Krazy-8. And into the precinct strolled Hank and Gomie, who ultimately bit on Lalo’s master plan to have Krazy-8 (who was known as a DEA informant in the Breaking Bad era) dangle intel that would supposedly lead the agency to the next levels of whatever drug business was operating in town. It certainly elevated the chess game between Lalo and his intra-cartel rival Gus (Giancarlo Esposito).
Meanwhile, Kim (Rhea Seehorn) took more advanced measures to try to reach the cantankerous elderly hold-out sitting on Mesa Verde property — and she seemed to be struggling as she threw caution and beer bottles to the wind. As for another angry old man, Mike (Jonathan Banks) continued to spiral by waging war with some local troublemakers. Let’s find some nice housing options in our price range, eat mint chocolate chip ice cream until our toes turn blue, peel out in a cool car, and dial Better Call Saul co-creator Peter Gould, who, when it comes to discussing "The Guy For This," is the definitely the guy for this.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: As we approach the Breaking Bad timeline and the empire expands, it seems logical that the worlds of these shows would collide more. How long have you been waiting to bring Dean and Steven in — and, specifically, why now?
PETER GOULD: Oh my god, what a thrill it was. Look, we love Dean. We love Steve. But those characters had a perfect, devastating end on Breaking Bad. So when we were talking about this season, we didn't say, “Oh, let's bring this character and that character back.” But once we started thinking about episode 3, it seemed obvious that Jimmy would be facing off against two DEA agents. And as soon as you say the letters D-E-A in our world, that means Hank Schrader. So we got very excited and we started talking about the scene, and of course [Better Call Saul writer-producer] Ann Cherkis just wrote a tour de force, that very long scene in that interrogation room. It's fantastic.
But it was not a foregone conclusion that Dean would do the show. I was a little bit nervous about it, because we really liked what we talked about and I was very excited to get him back. But we had to call him. So I roped Vince [Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad and co-creator of Better Call Saul] into the call. [Laughs] Vince created the character, Hank Schrader, way back in the pilot of Breaking Bad, and I wanted him on the call. So Vince and I got on the phone with Dean, and we were a little bit nervous. And we started pitching what would happen. But mostly we were pitching that there's something else to say about Hank Schrader that we should revisit him. And frankly Dean could have easily said, “You know, guys, I've got lots of other things going on. I think we did that character and I don't want to open that up again.” But he didn’t. He pretty much interrupted us as we were pitching and said, “Guys, I love it!”
It was wonderful to have him back, and he and Steve Quezada both really just brought it. That scene is a special favorite of mine. If you look at page count, that's a very long scene for a television show. [Laughs] Ann and I looked at each other, because the only note we had from the network was, “Can this scene be longer?” That's a very unusual note for a television show to get; usually everyone's telling you to make things shorter. And in this case, everyone was enjoying these characters so much. I couldn't be happier to have Dean back in our world. We actually went to some trouble to hide him from public, while he was in Albuquerque. And he's just a wonderful guy.
Were you doing a secret operation in which you gave him a Jedi robe, like Bryan (Cranston) and Aaron (Paul) wore to protect Cranston's secret cameo in El Camino?
Well, that was a whole level of secret-service craziness on El Camino, which I’ll let those guys talk about. There were private jets involved. For Dean, we just kept the profile very low. And Dean is known to occasionally visit Albuquerque. Somehow, we managed to slip him under the radar.
Hank is onto these dead drops now, which are obviously compromised, as they’re part of this chess game between Gus and Lalo. What hints can you drop about the next episode, as the game heats up with Hank involved?
Once Hank picks up a trail, he's not going to give up. So you can pretty much guarantee that Hank is going to pursue any opening or any hint as far as he possibly can. You're going to see Hank Schrader on the hunt.
Elsewhere in the episode, when Kim opens up to the hold-out about her childhood — which involved moving from house to house, and her freezing toes — he says, “You’ll say anything to get what you want.” One thinks about the previous episode where she says, “I don't want to lie to my clients.” Not that this guy is a client, but you get the sense that she strives to be honorable. That scene works in different ways, whether or not you think she was telling the truth. Was that story true?
I'm going to leave that open right now, but I will say: you get a better idea of whether that story was true later in the season. If it is a true story, it's interesting that there's never a feeling that Kim has shared this with Jimmy. If it's a true story, it’s a true story she's sharing with this guy who's a relative stranger. And it is an interesting thing that sometimes we open up to people who we barely know.
Jimmy is playing that little game with the bottle at the end of the episode and Kim one-ups him by throwing the bottle — and then he ends up joining her. Is she starting to cross the line that she's been dangerously blurring? We’ve talked about Slippin’ Kimmy before, but that just felt a little ominous. Is she now in a “F— it!” phase?
Boy, I love the way you put that. She is so frustrated. She feels boxed in by her role as an attorney. This job of working for Mesa Verde was so important to her and such a triumph for her, but now she's realizing or finding that being the bank lawyer doesn't always mean being the good guy. So I think that she's torn. She's torn between her consummate professionalism and her sense of what's right and what's wrong. And this is a person who is deeply frustrated by the situation that she has really put herself in, and we'll see where that goes. But for me, it is a “F— it” moment. It's a moment of release. It's a moment of a little bit of chaos and it's interesting to know that even Kim Wexler — with her perfect ponytail and her poker face —has a chaotic side to her.
Saul's life seems to change forever when Lalo informs him that he's essentially on retainer. As Nacho tells Jimmy, “it's not about what you want — when you're in, you're in.” Saul was fine handling the low-grade threat of dealing with low-level criminals, but does he realize what he's walked into?
Jimmy took a step through a doorway and he thought he knew what was on the other side, but he's finding out there's a whole world on the other side of that door that he didn't really know about or think about. Last season we saw Jimmy selling drop phones, but he sold them to a biker gang, he sold them to a lot of petty criminals, he sold them to people who were paranoid about the government. He wasn't really involved in anything that felt dangerous or violent. And when you walk into a garage and you see Lalo Salamanca, you don't have to see him do anything dangerous or violent to know that you have entered a whole different world. And the knowledge that he's stepped into that world is going to change him. And it certainly changes his view of the world. I think maybe he could back out now. He could change his mind about being Saul Goodman. Possibly. I don't know if he's going to do that, though.
Mike needed that photo of the Sydney opera house taken down at the bar, and then he acted out with that street gang. It's alarming to watch that sequence. Are we entering a dark night of the soul for him before we see him as the Breaking Bad-era Mike? Does the murder of Werner [Rainer Bock] begat the Dawn of Killer Mike?
He made a decision that was probably a good decision for him in episode 1 [of season 5], which was he told Gus, more or less, “Take this job and shove it.” But just getting away from Gus, he's still not away from his conscience, and he knows what he's done. Werner is certainly on his mind. I think his son is on his mind. And now we've seen in episode 2 that you can't even keep his emotions locked down with the one person in the world he wants to protect the most. He loses his cool with his granddaughter. He seems like he's a little bit out of control now.
You mentioned that Hank is on the hunt next week. What else awaits in that episode?
Jimmy is tested in a whole different way. And I think his encounter with Lalo and the world of the cartel has really changed his outlook in ways that you're going to see.
To read what Dean Norris had to say about what it was like to play Hank again, head over here.
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