In my review of the Better Call Saul season 2 finale, I noted that Saul has essentially become two shows in one: the legal and romantic adventures of Jimmy McGill, which occasionally offer reminders of the show where we first met him; and the rising criminal career of Mike Ehrmantraut, which at the moment is hip-deep in Breaking Bad villains – but not necessarily the one everybody's waiting for.
Earlier today, I spoke with Saul creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould about the finale, the character who was implied (in a puzzle that fans online solved before the producers were expecting them to) but not shown, juggling the two shows in one, the great supporting performances by Rhea Seehorn and Michael McKean, and more. Their answers (with full spoilers, of course) are coming up just as soon as I want coffee but I do not want cream…
You guys did an interview with Rich Eisen yesterday where Vince was laughing as he said that you didn't have a deal with Giancarlo Esposito yet. Was there ever going to be a version of the finale where Gus appeared?
Vince Gilligan: No, no, no. Like we said on Rich's show, we report this a bit sheepishly: we truly did not realize how smart our fans are. That is to our detriment. We thought that we would have more control of this little puzzle we put into the titles (where the first letters, rearranged, spell out “FRINGS BACK”) where we thought that today, Peter could Tweet, “Hey guys, check out the titles of this season! You might find something interesting embedded in them.” That way, as people were asking the question – “Who could have left that message in the windshield of Mike's car?” – the little clue could have pointed to an answer to that. But because these folks are so smart, and because they got ahead of us, they changed the story on us, suddenly it looks to the world like, “Oh, man, Gus should have been in that episode. That was a bit of a bait-and-switch!” The clue got out way before the intended time for it to get out.
It was never the intention for Gus to be in that episode. And to take it a step further, people should not assume in any way, shape, or form that they'll see Gus in the first episode of next season. It's possible they will. It's also possible, if not more possible, they won't. Gus is a character, as we know from Breaking Bad, who casts a very long shadow, and has a great many agents doing his bidding. He's a guy who's very hard for Walter White to pin down when Walt met him, and I think that will continue to be the case. That is his character, as I understand it. He is not a guy who reveals himself very quickly.
You have basically two shows in one. The Mike show very much had its roots this season in Breaking Bad, and Jimmy's show at the moment has very little connection to Breaking Bad. How do you find yourselves juggling those two shows to make sure they both feel in balance with one another?
Peter Gould: We savor and love the scenes where we can put Bob (Odenkirk) and Jonathan Banks together. Those guys are so wonderful together, and we love those characters talking to each other. Having said that, sometimes the story doesn't want to go in that direction. We're constantly thinking about this. One of the things that seems to work for a lot of folks, and works for me, is that these two characters are on parallel tracks. Mike's track is certainly a lot more violent and has a lot of physical, kinetic impact, but Jimmy, too, is using his skills to the best of his ability to get what he wants. Sometimes, both these guys have skills that lead them down a dark path. What we're hoping is that there is a unity there to it all. I never think of it, personally, as one more overlapping with Breaking Bad than the other. But it is true that the Breaking Bad characters have come more organically to the Mike side so far.
Vince Gilligan: To that, I'd like to add that we were really nervous in the early going when Mike's story started to diverge from Jimmy's. We thought, if the peanut butter isn't in the same physical space as the chocolate, you don't have the Reese's cup. But the more we do this, the more we realize that this bifurcation of the story is not necessarily a bad thing. Now I see it almost as a benefit: folks get two shows for the price of one. Having said that, we are always very happy when these two worlds collide, and we will continue to look for moments to make that happen. Maybe there will be more of them in season 3. No promises, but you can be sure that these two will be working together, because when we saw them on Breaking Bad, Mike was Saul's private investigator. We know the Titanic's going to hit the iceberg eventually. We just don't know where.
Even more than the Salamancas, the character who generated the strongest reaction this year seemed to be Kim. I saw a lot of people saying that she's the most likable character in the entire Breaking Bad universe. When did you know that Rhea Seehorn was going to be up for all that you asked her to do this year?
Vince Gilligan: Pretty quickly last season. Even having said that, she is so wonderful, so talented. She is cute as a button, has charisma to spare. Every time we give her something that we know she's capable of, she still manages to surprise us with the depth and complexity of the emotions that she shows us.
Peter Gould: One of the things that we love about her is that she's so damn watchable. There are a couple of scenes towards the end of the season where she has big moments that are completely silent. You just watch her, everything that's happening there. We knew that she could do that last season, and I think she can take everything we throw at her and run with it. It was a matter of where the focus of the story took us. And this season was so focused on Jimmy and Kim that it gave us an opportunity for us to do a lot with her. I love that scene in the bar in episode 6 where she's contemplating calling Schweikart, and you can just see all the different tides rippling through her. Then, her deciding to break bad on her own. That's one of my favorite moments of the season, and it's sheer movie acting: these little emotions and ideas flickering across your face. I think she is magnetic, and we're so proud of Rhea and the character. I'm glad folks are liking her.
Vince Gilligan: She's got a face like a sheet of glass.
Peter Gould: Way prettier.
Vince Gilligan: Way prettier. More and more, we realized that she could do anything. She was just wonderful. I hope Emmy voters will take notice.
Peter, you've said you originally expected Jimmy to become Saul by the end of season 1, and then you realized you were all enjoying Jimmy too much to get him there so quickly. Having done two seasons, do you have a better sense of when the transformation might have to happen, or do you still like Jimmy too much to do that to him?
Peter Gould: I think it's still a process of discovery for us.
Vince Gilligan: It's a little bit of both, almost.
Peter Gould: Every move he makes that takes him closer to Saul is a little tug on our guts, and makes us sad. I was very happy, personally, when he chose, in Vince's episode, to run in and help his brother rather than watching from across the street. I think the good-heartedness of the character is something we like a lot. But we're still exploring it, and the more pressure we put on this guy, the more he seems inclined to break and become Saul Goodman. There's no doubt that season 3 is going to put a lot of pressure on him.
Vince Gilligan: I loved it, too, that he ran in to help his brother. No matter how bad Chuck is to him, he still loves his brother. I love that humanity, and I miss that in Saul Goodman. It's going to be a tragedy, ultimately, that this man will inevitably calcify into Saul Goodman. But I keep being reminded I'm not seeing it the way everyone else is. I got an email the other day from my Uncle Gary, who's a big fan of the show, and he said, “Please tell me Jimmy's not gonna do something stupid like run in to save his brother!” I thought, “Oh, crap.”
People hate Chuck. It's very impressive how much they do.
Vince Gilligan: God bless Michael McKean, whom I also hope Emmy voters pay attention to. Michael McKean is nothing like Chuck. I hope people realize that. He is a great guy, full of warmth and humanity.
Peter Gould: Funny as hell.
Vince Gilligan: And not a brittle absolutist, and he is playing this character who is completely unlike his true self, and playing it to perfection. It's his amazing acting that's making people hate this character so much.
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com