Spoiler alert: Do not read unless you’ve watched the season-one finale of “Better Call Saul.”
Season one of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” prequel “Better Call Saul” came to a close last night with Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill seemingly leaving behind any notions of trying to be a decent and honorable member of the legal profession. Variety spoke with “Saul” co-creator Peter Gould, who also wrote and directed the finale, about several key moments from the episode and what’s in store for season two.
The opening-title image for the finale was Saul’s famous World’s Greatest Lawyer coffee cup falling to the ground and smashing. Any special significance to that choice?
We had this idea during production of a different image behind the titles every week. We had quite a few, but this one was actually shot on one of the last days of production. We happened to have a high-speed camera for that montage sequence, so we were trying to think of all the things we could shoot that would work — things that would be suggestive of Saul Goodman as he is later on. One of the things we thought of was this mug. All hail to the camera crew for actually holding focus on the mug as it fell at that speed.
As we shot them we didn’t necessarily know which episode they would go with, but for me there was something sort of apocalyptic about that one. (Jimmy) has been shattered, in a weird way, by his brother, and so it seemed to go along with the story.
During the episode we hear a mention of Jimmy’s ex-wife and we see the origin of Saul’s story about imitating Kevin Costner — both of which were referenced in “Breaking Bad.” How do you decide when to tie those “Breaking Bad” callbacks into the world of “Better Call Saul”?
As much as possible we try to take the characters at their word. When a character says something like, “I once convinced a woman I was Kevin Costner and she believed it because I believed it” — which was Tom Schnauz’s line from one of his episodes, I believe — you can always say, “Well, that character might be lying.” But it’s more fun sometimes to see these things a little bit literal. In terms of the ex-wife, a lot of that came out of the backstory we had evolved over the course of the show for how Jimmy McGill, Slippin’ Jimmy, became a lawyer in Albuquerque. And then we wanted to answer the question we had raised earlier in the season: What is a Chicago sunroof?
Exactly. How did you come up with the answer to that?
[laughs] Oh, gee, that’s a very good question. That was one of the things we came up with very early on, before we even had a clear grasp of where the series would start. We started talking about this character as we pictured him in Cicero, Illinois, and how he would get into trouble. I don’t know who suggested that he could possibly defecate through a sunroof, but pretty soon after that we started calling it a Chicago sunroof. In fact, there’s no sign on the office in our building and one of the things we thought about when we moved in was actually calling ourselves Chicago Sunroof. But then cooler heads prevailed and we realized as soon as the episode aired the cat would be out of the bag.
Another thing I loved about that scene was that Bob had to deliver the speech in front of all those extras. Did they have any idea what was coming?
They did not. When we started the day I spoke to the extras. Then almost after I spoke to them Bob got up and he was so funny and so self-deprecating, and he said, “This is a character. The things that I’m saying I did, I didn’t really do.” He was so funny. In a sequence like that, the reactions or non-reactions are almost as important as what the main character is doing. The great thing about that room and those actors, many of whom had appeared in a couple of earlier episodes also, was they were really into it. It helped tremendously. It’s something I learned on “Breaking Bad.” I had a scene where Jesse Pinkman poured his heart out at a narcotics meeting. I learned from that how important and how much of a contribution people who aren’t speaking can make to a scene. I have to give credit to those wonderful Albuquerque folks. They gave Bob their focus, and it’s such a wonderful group of real faces and honest reactions. To me that helps make the scene funnier.
It’s one of the things Kelley Dixon, who cut the episode, and I struggled with. We didn’t want to cut away from Bob. Bob’s performance is so magnetic that we wanted to stay on him. Every time we cut away from him it was a little bit of a concession but I think a necessary one. You wonder, how are these folks reacting to the tale this guy is spinning?
Where did the idea of a Bingo breakdown come from?
After the last episode we were really banging our heads against the wall trying to figure out what this guy would do next. What was Jimmy McGill’s reaction to having his world turned upside down? We went through a lot of permutations with a lot of fun material that maybe we’ll do someday so I won’t tell you everything we thought about, but the idea of him going home to Cicero — it took us a long time to come around to that. The other thing we realized, often when something big happens in my life, my reaction to it is a little bit delayed. We started thinking about the way he leaves in episode nine — he’s strong with Chuck and says, “I’m done.” But what is his real reaction to it after he goes back to his little office and his little life? We were very interested in the idea of Jimmy the adult being able to rule his emotions and being able to see things as an adult would. “My brother thinks I’m a scumbag and there’s nothing I can do about it,” but what does that mean emotionally? We came to the idea of delaying the big volcanic reaction and thought about, where is there an audience for him? And of course the worst possible place for this guy to lose it is in front of all of these prospective clients.
Even after what happened in last week’s episode, it’s obvious that Jimmy still cares about Chuck. He gives the list to Hamlin and explains how to take care of him. Was that important to show as well?
Yes. You know, there’s a version of this story where after Jimmy finds out that Chuck stabbed him in the back that he is truly done with the guy. Or they’re archenemies. But the truth is his brother is his family and somebody he really does care about. He’s just betrayed him, (Chuck) has ruined the trust. It touched me that so much of this episode — even though Chuck only appears in one scene — is still about the relationship between Jimmy and Chuck. And what an emptiness there is in Jimmy’s life now that he realizes he’s never going to have Chuck’s respect, as he had worked and hoped for for many years.
Mike (Jonathan Banks) was used very sparingly but effectively this season. Now that he’s more integrated into the show do you anticipate even we’ll see even more of him next season?
I would say that Mike is now in the business. He’s now somebody who is taking jobs — perhaps working again with the same guy, Pryce, who we met in episode nine or even working with other people who he meets through this veterinarian. Mike is now in the game, and I think there are going to be some very interesting ramifications from that.
Do you expect to keep the entire cast intact for season two, and will we be seeing more of Michael Mando as Nacho and Patrick Fabian as Hamlin?
We love our cast and we’re so proud of the people who we’ve gotten to work on the show. Season two is still in flux but I will say we all really love and respect working with Patrick Fabian and Michael Mando. Those are people who are important to us, and we’ll find out exactly what roles they’re going to play as the season goes. We’re still early into season two at this point … we’re still working on the very first few stories. But it’s safe to say these are all characters we’re very interested in and we love working with these actors.
What did you think of the “Better Call Saul” season finale?