‘Better Call Saul’ Season 2 Premiere: Peter Gould On Jimmy McGill’s Slow Transformation

'Better Call Saul' Season 2 Premiere:
Courtesy of AMC

Spoiler Warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “Better Call Saul” season 2, episode 1, titled “Switch.”

Slippin’ Jimmy McGill is back on AMC’s “Better Call Saul” and there’s still some time to go before he becomes the wisecracking corrupt lawyer viewers came to love as Saul Goodman on “Breaking Bad.” The prequel series kicks off its second season by following up on Jimmy’s “Smoke On the Water” kiss off to the straight life from the Season 1 finale, but pulls back to reveal that Jimmy’s own version of breaking bad hasn’t happened just yet.

His brother Chuck (Michael McKean, still a regular even though he’s not on screen this week) may be out of his life, but Jimmy retains a powerful connection with Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn). In fact, she officially goes from friend to “friend with benefits” after Jimmy introduces her to the joy of the con by fleecing a d-bag stockbroker (Kyle Bornheimer) for a high-priced dinner and drinks. Meanwhile, Mike (Jonathan Banks) is still working with Pryce (Mark Proksch), or he was until the nerdy wannabe drug dealer decides he doesn’t need Mike’s protection (big mistake).

Variety spoke with the show’s co-creator and showrunner Peter Gould, currently in the midst of post-production on the season’s penultimate installment, about what’s in store for Jimmy and Kim, what we should be wondering about Chuck and how long it might be before Mike goes full Fring.

A lot of people read the ending of Season 1 as the moment Jimmy transformed into Saul Goodman, but the premiere suggests it’s going to be more of a gradual shift. Was that always the plan?

It was not our intention. When we got over the finish line of Season 1, we really felt that he was driving off — maybe not to call himself Saul Goodman, but at least to open that strip mall office or to do something where he would be breaking bad more or less in the tradition of the fun he had with his friend Marco. As we started approaching Season 2, we realized that was leaving out some very important things we learned about Jimmy in Season 1. The most important of which being that he really cares about Kim Wexler.

I think one of the things we were so excited about in Season 1 and frankly even more excited about in Season 2 is this relationship between Jimmy and Kim. In Season 1 there was an air of mystery about it. My interpretation was always that Jimmy was carrying a torch for Kim, she was somebody he really cared about and if he had a chance with her it would really change everything for him. When we came into Season 2 and started thinking about what happens next, we started asking some really fundamental questions like, “Is he really ready to separate himself from Kim’s world? Is he going to leave her high and dry after she’s gone out on a limb for him?” We got much deeper into Jimmy’s feelings about Kim and that became our guideline.

What makes Jimmy comfortable bringing Kim into that con at the bar?

I think he was taking a big risk. The one indication [that she might go along with it] that the audience got in Season 1 was in episode four: there’s that ridiculously wonderful scam with the billboard worker. You pull back from the television report about that rescue and Howard is steaming, but you see that Kim alone in the room has this little tiny bit of a smile. That was our clue that part of her attraction to Jimmy might be that he likes to walk on the wild side. But Jimmy has no idea. Once he starts that scam with Ken — played by Kyle Bornheimer, who is great — there’s the moment when he flings it over to Kim and you can see that he has the tiniest bit of hesitation there. Bob plays it beautifully. Is she gonna go along with this? I don’t think you really know, and I don’t think Jimmy does either.

But it turns out better than he probably even hoped for. Not only does Kim go along with it, but she enjoys it and they end up sleeping together. What does it say that it was that experience that launched their relationship?

One of the things we’re realizing about this show is that some of our characters are really trying to have it both ways. It’s very human. We want all the goodies but we also want to feel like good people. We want to behave well but we want all the rewards we could possibly reap. We were fascinated by the idea that Jimmy has been carrying a torch for Kim. In Season 1 we saw him show her the empty office and say, “Why not leave HHM and come work with me?” It’s tantamount to a marriage proposal and she turns him down flat, and he’s crushed. He’s offering her something very legitimate at that point, but is ultimately not a great decision for her. Now, here he basically invites her to participate in a crime and she goes along with it. It’s fascinating that the thing that brings these two together is Jimmy’s “Slippin’ Jimmy” side and not his more straight-laced side.

Will Kim’s reaction encourage that “Slippin’ Jimmy” side to come out more?

That’s a good question. Kim is not a straightforward character; she often wants contradictory things, so we’ll have to see how that plays out. The other thing I’d point out is that the next morning Jimmy invites her into the scamming lifestyle. He says, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that every night?” And she says, “It would be, but we can’t.” That’s her nice way of telling Jimmy that there are limits. It was fun to do once but not something she wants to do on a regular basis. And when she leaves to go to work, she very politely asks for him to leave her apartment. It’s a relationship that’s very important to both of them, but she’s putting some limits that are very smart on the relationship.

Jimmy ultimately takes the job at Davis and Main. Is that motivated purely by Kim or does he have other reasons?

It’s a fascinating question about what’s going on in Jimmy’s head when he’s sitting in the pool and he has the perfect mark in front of him. You can feel he’s ready to go. But one thing to point out is that he doesn’t seem to scam that often on his own. He often has a partner with him on all these things. You can wonder what he’s thinking about when he calls Kim and he looks at Marco’s pinky ring and he decides to call Davis and Main. I think there’s a lot that’s going on there that bears close scrutiny.

At the end of the episode we see him flipping the switch in his office that’s not supposed to be touched. Is that a sign he’s headed for trouble at Davis and Main?

This is a guy who’s got the girl, got the job, got the nice office, he’s living in Santa Fe and apparently gonna get a new apartment and new car — what’s not to love? This seems like a perfect situation. And yet the first thing he does when he’s alone in this new office is to flip the switch that’s not supposed to be flipped. You have to wonder — is it something inside of him that wants a little chaos and trouble? One of the moments that was the most fun when we got to watch that episode in a theater (at the premiere) was sitting in a crowd of a couple hundred and as soon as Jimmy looks at that light switch this little rumble of laughter went through the room. You can feel this guy has a mischievous side, if nothing else. That’s one of the things we love about him, but is that impulse going to control him?

It’s also a bookend with the teaser of the episode — of course this is all written and directed magnificently by Tom Schnauz, one of our writer-producers. In the teaser, poor Gene is trapped for a couple of hours in this trash room because he doesn’t quite have the nerve to push on the door of the emergency exit. And at the end of the episode there’s a guy who’s got it all and can’t resist flipping the switch that’s not supposed to be flipped. You’ve gotta wonder, what happened to this guy in-between? We know some of it, but we don’t know all of it. Is there still any of that spirit left in that husk of a man who is Gene, the Cinnabon manager?

We don’t see Chuck in the first episode. What do you hope the audience is wondering about him?

You have to wonder, what is Chuck and Jimmy’s relationship now? The last time these two had a scene together, Jimmy confronted Chuck and found out their relationship was not what he thought it was. He found out Chuck in some ways despises his brother and Jimmy is very hurt. I think if you asked Chuck he’d have very good reasons for everything that he’s done, but I think the bigger question is, is there going to be a relationship between these two guys? I’m very interested to see what’s going to happen when Jimmy and Chuck are in the same room again, which I think it’s safe to say will happen at some point.

Just like Jimmy, Mike seems to be taking more gradual steps toward “breaking bad” than we might have thought. Is that the case?

What we knew about Mike from “Breaking Bad” is that he had been a cop in Philadelphia. Just as we’re giving ourselves the challenge of, “How does the basically goodhearted Jimmy McGill become the hard-hearted slickster Saul Goodman?” we’re asking ourselves, “How Mike Ehrmantraut — who has a code — how does he end up working for the biggest drug kingpin in the Southwest? How does he go from working in a parking booth to being bodyguard and confidante and all around utility man for Gus Fring?” That’s a very interesting proposition. And Jonathan Banks brings such depth to this guy. We will go much further with Mike this season. I had questions in Season 1: “When is he gonna get out of the booth?” Mike is definitely in the booth in the beginning of the [second] season but you’re gonna see a lot more of Mike out of the booth, that’s for damn sure.

“Better Call Saul” airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on AMC.