Better Call Saul‘s third season came to a harrowing end last night. I reviewed the finale here, and I just spoke with the episode’s writer, Saul and Breaking Bad veteran Gennifer Hutchison, about everything that happened between the McGill brothers, between Jimmy and Kim and Nacho and Hector, why Mike was absent from the finale, how close she believes Jimmy is to becoming Saul Goodman, and whether there’s any real cause for concern over the lack of a renewal. That’s all coming up just as soon as we watch To Kill a Mockingbird again…
When you all came together to launch this show, was there a lot of talk about what would happen to Chuck, whether he would still be around during the Heisenberg years?
That was always an open dialogue. It’s something that grew really organically over the course of the seasons. It came up a lot: Where is Chuck? And we’ve had different ideas along the way. That’s something that was constantly evolving.
What were some of those ideas that weren’t this one?
I don’t know if I can get into those, because who knows? We may use them in other ways. We always use everything.
So when and how did this one come up?
This came up very early in the season, just because of the course of Jimmy and Chuck’s relationship trajectory, and how much more there was within that to mine, and how much we wanted to escalate it. So it was a constant conversation from very early on in the season, and deciding if this was a route we wanted to go down or not. It became clearer and clearer as the season went on.
What impact is this going to have on Jimmy?
With that conversation that Chuck and Jimmy had, and then what happens at the end, we very much talked about what are the next steps towards Jimmy becoming Saul? And a lot of what makes Jimmy Jimmy is his relationship with Chuck. So if you start to close that off, what does that do to someone? I think this is definitely going to push further down that path.
He no longer has Chuck. He no longer has his beloved eldercare clients. How close do you feel he is to Saul Goodman at this point?
It constantly changes for me. I think he’s closer than he’s ever been. But we talked about, does he become Saul overnight, or is this something that happens gradually? And it feels more and more like this is something that’s a slow progression: a step forward, a step back. I do think he’s getting much closer, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily a straight line at this point.
Peter has talked over the years about how much everyone in the writers’ room really likes Jimmy. How much of this is just you guys dragging your feet because you don’t want this to happen?
[Laughs.] I hope it’s a minimal amount. We do try really hard to tell the story organically, and every time we’ve gotten closer to, “Okay, this is it, now he’s Saul,” it hasn’t felt right. Yes, part of it is that we do love Jimmy, but I just like the idea of telling a transformation story, and having it be really complex, and in fits and starts. For me, it’s more about that, enjoying the journey itself.
You killed a lot of notable characters in your Breaking Bad scripts, starting with the death of one of the Cousins in your first. Does this feel any different to you, in terms of the context of how Chuck is going?
Obviously, the ending’s a little ambiguous, but whatever happens, it’s obviously hugely impactful for Chuck. He’s a main character, he’s an actor I love, and it’s also a fairly intense emotional breakdown and scene. So this felt really significant. You want to do it right.
The line that Chuck says to Jimmy — “You’ve never mattered all that much to me” — is about the worst thing Jimmy can possibly hear from his brother. How long did it take you to land on that as the line?
That took a while. That scene was evolving quite a bit as we were revising, just getting down to what the nitty gritty was. It took a while to get to that encapsulation of it. It wasn’t just, “Oh, you’re a bad person,” because he’s been saying that for a while. It was an, “I don’t care about you.” That was definitely a late addition, but it ended up being the thing that made the scene the scene.
As soon as he said it, my jaw dropped, and I said, “Jesus, Chuck. Why? Why would you do this?!?!?!”
I know! It’s so cruel!
And now it’s likely the last thing he ever said to him.
Were you intending for Chuck’s breakdown to in any way echo all the sequences earlier in the season where we would watch Mike or someone else taking something apart to figure out how it worked? And was it difficult for you to write something as intense and sad as that?
I don’t know if there was an intentional echo to the Mike scenes, although I do see those connections. This was really about finding a way to encapsulate Chuck’s mental state, and that breakdown in a way that really progressed that story, and took it to a new level. It was hard to write. It was harder to watch. When I’m writing these scenes, I have enough of a distance that it doesn’t quite affect me, but when I watched the cuts, I got really upset. Some of it brought me to tears, just because of Michael’s performance and seeing it all together. When it all comes together, that’s when it got more devastating for me. That’s when I went, “Oh, gosh. What have we done?”
To me, the look on Chuck’s face says he knows what he’s doing and he just wants this all to end. Some other people have argued that he’s no longer in control of anything that’s happening. When you were writing it, what was your thought: is this an intentional act?
I think that he knows what he’s doing. I think there’s a feeling of inevitability for him, maybe. It’s not a decisive action. It’s a depressed action of, “Okay, I guess I’m just going to do this. This is it. This is the inevitable.”
Someone recently emailed me to point out how rarely we see Jimmy and Kim being physically affectionate, and suggested that if a newcomer were to tune into the show, they might be surprised to learn that they’re a couple. Where do you see their relationship standing at this moment at the end of the season, and how do you think the news about Chuck will affect them as a couple?
I think they’re pretty united at this point. We do not show them being very physically affectionate, which to me reads more as an established couple. They’ve known each other for so long, it’s a relationship they almost fell into. But I do think there’s always a bit of a distance between them, in the sense that Kim is such a controlled person. And though he should understand that Kim does know who he is and accepts that, there’s that thing of, “I don’t want her to see this dark, bad part of me that I know is inside.” He’s really internalized what Chuck told him. So that’s always affected the relationship. But I do think they are united at the end. The accident did bring them closer together. But where that goes from here, especially with what happened to Chuck, and the pressure that that’s going to put on their relationship, I think that could be problematic for them, for sure.
How did you decide that now was the time for Hector to have the attack we all knew was coming, and for Nacho to be the instrument of it?
We just really loved the idea of there being something intentional in what happens with Hector’s declining health — that it’s not just a random occurrence that happens at some point. So Nacho just became this great instrument to tie those storylines together. I love that Nacho makes these decisions that end up screwing him up more, and having this play out over the course of the season, timing-wise, just felt right. It could have happened earlier, but it felt like we might be rushing it.
One of the side effects of spending so much time chronicling Chuck’s breakdown is that there’s no room for Mike in the finale. Was there any talk of finding a Mike subplot here?
We obviously want Mike in every episode, and did talk about trying to find a way to get him in. But the more we talked about it, and the amount of time we have is limited, the more it felt like anything we did with him would be repetitive of what we had done in (episode) nine. Nine felt like the end of that arc for the season while propelling us into the next step. He’s now very much more entwined with Gus and Madrigal, and because Gus had so much going on with Hector, doing a whole new step in their relationship felt like, “Why don’t we save that?”
One of the things I recently discussed with Peter [Gould] was whether you wanted to live out the entire year of Jimmy’s suspension, or jump forward. It seems like that might be a good idea for the Jimmy half of the show, but you’d be missing so many building blocks in Mike’s relationship with Gus, with Victor, etc.
It’s so hard getting those timelines to match up, because they’re on different tracks. Time jumps are especially difficult. We’ve talked about doing them in the past and haven’t been able to, because it would hurt one of our other stories. I think that where we are with both stories, I think there is a potential to be able to do a time jump on either end. It really is, you have to reach a point where a story feels closed, but there’s enough potential to push it forward. We talk about time jumps way more than we actually do them. Same with Breaking Bad. We talked about them all the time.
When you finally did the big one in the mid-season finale of season five, was there any sense of relief in the writers’ room?
Yes. “We did it! Yay! Finally!”
There’s no official renewal yet, but Peter has talked several times recently about getting the room back together very shortly. Should fans be concerned that nothing has been announced?
I hope not. I’m really proud of this season. I think there’s more story to tell, and AMC has really been our partner for many many years with Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, so I think there’s that hope from everyone to be able to tell this story and finish it the way we want to. So I’m not super-worried. An official pick-up would be nice, but I have faith, and hope.
This would be a very strange place to end the story.
I think it would be disappointing. For me, it would be.