Spoiler alert: The following interview includes plot details from “Better Call Saul” season two, episode ten, titled “Klick.”
The cat’s out of the bag on “Better Call Saul.” Or is it?
Last night’s second season finale appeared to tease something that fans of “Breaking Bad” have been anticipating ever since the prequel series was announced: the reintroduction of Emmy-nominated favorite Giancarlo Esposito as drug lord Gus Fring.
Of course, we didn’t actually see Esposito or Fring in the episode. There is simply an ominous note left for Mike (Jonathan Banks) warning him off of taking any extreme measures against Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) — who was also a crucial character on “Breaking Bad.”
Theories that the note was written by Fring, or at the very least one of his associates, were exacerbated by the discovery that the first letter of each of the ten-episode titles in “Saul’s” second season are an anagram for “FRING’S BACK.” That’s no coincidence.
Variety spoke with showrunners Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan about why they chose to tease Fring in this fashion, what kind of discussions they’ve had with Esposito and other pressing questions from the finale.
Gus Fring is back! Maybe? The return of Hector Salamanca and the Cousins came as surprises during season two. Was the heightened anticipation of Gus’ return something you wanted fans to marinate in between seasons two and three of “Better Call Saul”?
Peter Gould: If we knew for sure one way or the other I’d be more comfortable saying that we want them to marinate in that. I have to say, we did not think the clues in the titles would be decoded as quickly as they were. We’re still mulling over season three. Now that the cat is out of the bag, we’re certainly thinking Gus Fring had a hand in what happened with Mike at the end of season two. Having said that, Gus Fring works in mysterious ways, he casts a long shadow, he works indirectly.
Personally I think we’d feel a little worried about disappointing the fans if their hopes were raised they would see wall-to-wall Gus Fring next season. Whether he appears in episode one, two, three, four, five, or any of them, is still up in the air. He’s certainly, it’s safe to say, already a presence on the show. The one concern we have about the fact that people decoded this so quickly is we don’t want to do a bait and switch. We try very hard not to play head games with the audience. Not the wrong kind of head games …
Vince Gilligan: We love the fun kind.
PG: We love suspense, we love surprise. But the one thing we don’t want to do is raise folks’ expectations that they’re going to see something and then not ever deliver it. That certainly is something we’re thinking about here.
VG: It really is on us that we didn’t realize how smart the audience was. We thought that little clue — “FRING’S BACK” in the titles — would be something Peter could tweet about today, or sometime this week…
PG: Or over the summer!
VG: Exactly, it could’ve been any time. It could have been months from now. We thought Peter could throw it out there in the universe for people to discover, “Oh my God, that’s a clue about what happened in the last episode.” But because it came so early, we’ve been biting our nails all week thinking, “Oh man, people are going to absolutely assume they’re going to see Giancarlo Esposito in that final episode that aired last night and they’re gonna think we baited and switched them.” That’s a funny — I don’t know if funny is the right word — that’s an interesting example of the message getting out there before it should. But that’s on us.
PG: I think there’s a good reason George Lucas didn’t create a title for the second “Star Wars” movie that spelled out “Darth Vader is Luke’s father.”
How much time did you spend coming up with those titles? They’re all so specific to each episode.
VG: It was grueling. I want to say credit doesn’t go to us, at the end of the day it was Jenn Carroll, who is my assistant, and Ariel Levine, our writer’s assistant. These are two brilliant young women who oversaw this process of figuring this out. All the writers helped eventually but it was spearheaded by Jenn and Ariel. We basically said, “Hey, how do you figure out a way to get Fring’s name in there?” and then went off and had a sandwich.
PG: They would give us lists of words that were potential candidates for each episode and it was really right down to the wire.
VG: Because, as you said, each title had to relate to the episode. That was the hard part.
VG: The last title, “Klick,” the final episode, I think it was the last one to be titled and we were way deep into the editing process. It was probably only a couple of weeks ago.
PG: None of them were titled in production.
You mentioned Giancarlo Esposito, he does have some kind of commitment to Baz Luhrmann’s series “The Get Down” for Netflix. Have you had any discussions with him at this point about how committed he could be to “Better Call Saul” versus other projects he might be doing?
VG: We love Giancarlo, he’s family, he’s part of “Breaking Bad” and therefore part of the “Better Call Saul” family as well even if we never see him on the show. He’s a wonderful human being and a great actor. He’s a very much in demand actor and it stands to reason he’s much sought after because he’s so wonderful. I just saw his name, he’s in the giant hit movie “The Jungle Book.” He’s busy and always planning to be busier, so that was maybe one of the dumbest things we ever did. [laughs]
PG: We’re both wearing dunce caps right now.
Have you already settled on other “Breaking Bad” characters we might see in season 3 of “Saul”?
PG: We’ve talked about a couple. We have a board up in the writers office with the names of characters we’d like to bring back. At this point there are almost as many “Better Call Saul” characters, or almost, as there are “Breaking Bad” characters. There are a lot of folks we saw in season one of “Better Call Saul,” like the Kettlemans for instance, who we’d love to see again. Weirdly enough we have this embarrassment of riches, because we have all these wonderful characters played by brilliant fun actors to choose from to bring back.
There’s always a temptation to do an episode which is a just a giant class reunion — which we’d love to shoot and it would be so much fun in Albuquerque to have everybody there — but we’re really slaves to the story that we’re telling. We have to make sure that anything we do is justified by the story of Jimmy McGill and Mike Ehrmantraut.
You leave Chuck and Jimmy’s relationship at a very precarious point. What should we make of Chuck’s single-minded obsession with getting the world to see Jimmy as a fraud?
VG: The best answer I can give you is we talk a lot about the novel “Moby Dick” in the writers room and Captain Ahab in reference to Charles McGill. He does seem to have this Ahab-esque quality. It’s funny that so many viewers just hate his guts, that he’s such a villain and such a bad guy. I wouldn’t argue that, but I feel sorry for the guy. He’s so damaged on some fundamental level. He’s so jealous of his brother. His mother’s dying words were “Jimmy.” He did a hateful thing in not telling his brother that with her last words she was thinking of him, that’s a sin of omission that speaks to a paucity of spirit that’s hateful on one hand but makes me feel sorry for the guy on the other. I’m not saying I’d want him as my brother. I’m not saying I’d want to hang around him. He’s holier than thou and kinda smug and all these unlikeable things. On some level I feel more sorry for him than anything.
PG: I think it’s fascinating that people hate Chuck so much and we don’t hear about that for Hector Salamanca. Hector will threaten a man’s family. Watch while a man is shot in the head just because he didn’t tell Hector what he wanted to hear. We’re not hearing how much people hate Hector Salamanca, we’re hearing about Chuck. It’s an interesting thing to think about, because people will talk about what the stakes are in this story, but there’s something about the relationship between these two brothers that really gets you in the gut. It’s a really different kind of story. I’m fascinated by it, but I’m fascinated by all these characters.
VG: It’s interesting to contemplate. The way I see it is Hector is expected to be the villain. Chuck, as the brother, is expected to give love and support and respect and leadership even to his big brother. He’s expected to be good to him and in a weird way that makes him more villainous than Hector Salamanca. Even though in real life I’d cross the street to avoid Hector Salamanca, Chuck I could stand to be trapped in an elevator with I think.
PG: I’d definitely rather have Chuck for a neighbor.
Kim Wexler really came into her own this season but we didn’t see much of her in the finale. What can we expect from her next season?
VG: Rhea Seehorn is a star, that’s the easiest way to put it, even more than we expected. We knew we were hiring a wonderful actress two years ago, nonetheless she continues to surprise us. She has enough charisma to light up Burbank. She’s one of the best actors we’ve ever worked with.
PG: Her character has so much to lose. One of the great unresolved questions of the show is what — we certainly know that Kim is absolutely central to Jimmy and Jimmy’s life, he loves her — so what happened to her? Why is there no sign of her on “Breaking Bad,” or is there? Maybe there is some sign of her on “Breaking Bad” and we just haven’t figured it out yet.