Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched the final episode of season four of “Better Call Saul,” titled “Winner.”
“It’s all good, man.”
With those four words, the transformation of Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) into Saul Goodman was finally complete. Jubilant over getting his law license back, Jimmy celebrated by asking the clerk for a name change form. His new law practice, it seems, is going to be under a new name — one we all know well.
“We’ve been waiting a while for that guy to show up,” says showrunner Peter Gould. “Every season it always feels like we’re taking a risk and walking the plank. But I was really happy with the way it came out.”
But caught up in his own triumph, Jimmy was oblivious to Kim’s (Rhea Seehorn) reaction — shock, dismay and perhaps even regret at her own role as his accomplice. The future of their relationship — already a bit fragile after their fierce argument in last week’s episode — seems even more fraught.
Meanwhile, Mike (Jonathan Banks) faced a crossroads of his own: Once he realized what Gus Fring intended for Werner, his engineer who went on the lam, Mike decided to take care of the problem himself. And he still has yet to come face-to-face with Lalo (Tony Dalton), whose relentless pursuit of him seems ominous indeed.
Odenkirk and Gould talked to Variety about the game-changing finale, what’s ahead for next season (don’t mess with Lalo!) — and yes, that unforgettable karaoke scene with Chuck (Michael McKean).
Was it always the plan that the season was going to end with the arrival of Saul Goodman?
Gould: Saying that there was any plan is kind of a stretch. We thought this moment would have come maybe 30 episodes earlier! The plan kind of shaped up as the season continued. It became very clear to us that when Jimmy got his law license back, he wasn’t going to go back to doing the things that he was doing before. He’s been on such an emotional whipsaw in those last few episodes. You can only bend so many times before something breaks. And so possibly at the end of the season it’s either a break or a breakthrough depending on how you look at it. He certainly feels good about where he is, let’s put it that way.
We certainly felt him cracking this episode, especially when he gave that speech to the scholarship student.
Gould: His speech to her is powerful, but it’s also terrible. We used to call it the devil’s home locker room speech. He’s so cheerful and upbeat while he’s telling her all these awful things and then he goes and has this breakdown in the Esteem in the parking lot at HHM. I think all those pieces are really important to keep in mind when you try to understand exactly where Jimmy is at the end of the episode.
Bob, what was your reaction when you saw that last line in the script?
Odenkirk: Really happy! My soul is set free. My dark marred soul is set free to rampage as Saul. I really feel like it’s what everyone’s been waiting for and talking about. And while there’s still a long way to go and the specifics of who he is and what his life is and what’s going on in his world because he becomes exactly who we saw him being in “Breaking Bad,” he’s there as far as his internal compass. It’s definitely locked in and it’s a great thing to say it and know it and feel it.
What does this mean for Jimmy’s relationship with Kim? She’s horrified and he has no sense of how horrified she is.
Odenkirk: I guess it’s doomed. I think he’ll still try to save it, but in my mind it’s doomed. Obviously Jimmy is delighted by his new clientele, the customers he sold those cell phones to. He’s thinking about serving them and once you get to interacting with some of these guys, I wonder if Kim is in trouble in some ways.
Gould: They’ve been through the wringer this season. The relationship between these two in some ways has gone to terrible places, but in other ways maybe it’s more honest towards the end of the season. Maybe as things shaped up in this season they weren’t really being honest with each other. There was a lot of sins of omission when Jimmy and Kim got together, but now here towards the end of the season, you could say maybe it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but at least he’s letting her in on what he’s thinking and feeling. The question is what is she thinking and feeling — and what she is going to do about it.
They’re in two different places, for sure.
Gould: It’s wonderful how upbeat he is there. He’s really had at least he thinks an insight into how he can move in the world and what his place in the world is going to be. This is a guy who has been trying on different hats, ever since we met him, he’s been trying out different identities. He’s never been sure really where he fits into the world or what his role should be. He certainly tried playing it Chuck’s way and that really didn’t seem to work out for him. Now he has this flash in the middle of this meeting where he has an insight into how to use feelings either that he thinks he should have or feelings that he does have buried deep down. It’s very hard to say, and to really go to a new level of emotional manipulation. It seems like it gives him a feeling of power. It gives him a feeling of effectiveness. He’s intoxicated at the end of the episode, it’s a champagne moment for him. When you see Kim’s reaction, there’s so much to it. There’s concern, there’s confusion, but I get the feeling when I watched the scene that Kim maybe having a premonition, it almost feels like in her gut, she feels where this is going and maybe that’s not so good.
Chuck’s death cast a specter over the whole season. Do you think Jimmy would have become Saul had Chuck not died?
Odenkirk: No. I think if there was a glimmer of getting the things that he’s shooting for, getting that respect and that stature within the above-ground community, the good people of the Albuquerque legal community, that would let him be him. He certainly tried like hell to achieve that, but he was not getting in. At least that’s what he told himself eventually, there’s no way I’m getting in. As you can see in that one speech he gives to that young girl. He’s really talking to himself from 10 years before and he’s telling himself give up. Don’t even try. And it’s really sad because it’s heartbreaking. I feel like he’s just talking to a younger version of himself and every vestige of goodness that is remaining inside him, he’s shouting it down in that speech and it kills him to do it. And it’s heartbreaking to him. It breaks his own heart, too.
Gould: That’s the key question of the show: Is Saul Goodman a result of the things that have happened to Jimmy and the people who have been in Jimmy’s life? Or it something that comes out of Jimmy that was always there? This is what makes drama. You can look at it either way. I think for us in the writers’ room, Jimmy isn’t a victim. He’s someone who makes decisions and sometimes they’re terrible decisions, but he’s ultimately responsible for everything that he becomes himself. That’s how we look at it. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only way to look at it. I think Jimmy’s life would have gone very differently had Chuck lived. But having said that, Chuck and Jimmy had sort of reached an ending point. Chuck said, I never really cared that much for you. So you wonder, had Chuck lived, what role would Chuck have played in Jimmy’s life? There’s the old saying where there’s life, there’s hope and Chuck took hope off the table by killing himself.
With this final twist, we’re bumping right up against the “Breaking Bad” timeline. How much story is there left to tell?
Odenkirk: We have to deal with Kim. I don’t see how Kim could have been a part of Saul’s life at all. So we have to deal with that. I don’t think he’s going to backslide at all. And I think we have to see him set up the Saul persona and see it work and I do think it works. I mean, my gut feeling is when Walter White walks in, Saul definitely feels like he’s on the right path and he’s going to get somewhere with this approach to being a lawyer and being in the world. I imagine he’s had a few successes and I’d like to see that, but I also think we need to know what’s going on with Lalo and Nacho because that becomes a part of Jimmy’s story. We have to find out what that story is and get into it. And I do think that at some point the [writers] want to tell the story of Gene. I don’t know whether that’s one episode or three or six, of this guy who is maybe a fourth iteration of the character after “Breaking Bad” when he has to resurface in some capacity. How he does that, what that looks like, who he is then.
Gould: Some of it is a business question for our partners at AMC and Sony. I think we have a bit more story. It’s something we talk about a lot. I think there’s more story to tell. One of the things that we haven’t explored as much is the fact that we have a show that is not just a prequel to “Breaking Bad,” but in some ways a sequel. We have the scenes that all take place before Walter White gets his diagnosis, but then we have this world of Omaha which all takes place after the events of “Breaking Bad,” or could very well take place after the events of “Breaking Bad.” And I think there’s more to say about it. I think Jimmy’s story is a very different one from Walt’s because Walt was marked for death the first time we met him and as I said before where there’s life, there’s hope. Maybe the man who started off as Slippin’ Jimmy and James McGill and Saul Goodman and Gene, maybe he still has a shot at redemption. If we can find a way to tell that story, I think it’s a worthwhile story to tell.
Last time we saw Gene, we left him in a precarious place.
Odenkirk: Yeah, I don’t think Gene’s world can sustain the way he’s got it, underground, sucking it all up, swallowing everything. It can’t sustain. He’s literally imploding. It has to change, so that’ll be a curious thing to discover. I don’t know if it can fit with Vince and Peter’s world view, the idea of a person learning the right lessons from bad experiences. I think it’d be interesting if somehow at least to some degree that could happen to a character and have it be intriguing. Obviously Walter White and to a great extent Jimmy McGill so far in “Better Call Saul” just keep learning the wrong lessons that have everything to do with their ego and their pride and their anger and nothing to do with growing inside and becoming a bigger person than you were. And maybe it’s not fun to watch or it just doesn’t fit in the world view of the writers, but I think occasionally people do in life become bigger, better versions of themselves.
Bob, I’ve got to ask you about the karaoke scene. Are you really that bad of a singer?
Odenkirk: I’m not in the studio trying to entice you with my singing. But I sang the best I could. It’s terrible. The Odenkirks have been cursed with untunable vocal cords.
That song was such a perfect choice.
Odenkirk: “Winner Takes It All” — that’s the crude, clumsy philosophy behind Jimmy’s choice to become Saul, which is forget all this incremental battling and winning the small little battles. Whoever wins, whoever gets the most money in this case is the winner. He won’t have stature and he won’t have respect. So I’m just going to go get as much money from any place I can and that’s how I’m going to win this competition against my brother’s stature and I’m going to come out on top because I’m going to be wealthy and important because of that. I think it’s just a very grabby, small-minded philosophy, but it’s the one that Jimmy’s going to embrace as Saul.
Gould: That was really the only song him for that and we were so lucky that Abba would let us use their song. And of course having Michael McKean in your show and not having him sing would really be a missed opportunity. The first time Michael came to the writers’ room, one of our writers had a guitar in her office and he picked it up and he sang for us. He gave us a little concert for an hour or so. And so we’ve always wanted to have him sing. And of course the other thing is that Bob Odenkirk singing is money in the bank because I think he will admit he does not sing well, but he’s uninhibited in a way that I think very few people are about their less than beautiful singing and the contrast between those two brothers, it just felt like we had to do that before we’re through.
Why does Mike make that decision to take care of Werner himself?
Gould: I think in some ways it’s a mercy killing. In Mike’s mind, he’s created this situation with Werner and the question is, is he going to wait and let some of Gus’s goons come and execute Werner and God knows what that’s going to mean, or is he going to look Werner in the eye and tell him the truth? Because Mike doesn’t have to do that. There are ways that Mike could have played it if he were a mobster in a mob movie, you go out for a drive or a dinner or you just get into a car and then you’d get popped in the back of the head. Mike’s not doing that. Mike is doing the most difficult thing he can do, which is to tell this man the true story.
And of course the other thing that’s hanging in balance is the life of Werner’s wife. If Werner runs or if this doesn’t go right, something terrible might that just happened to Werner, but also to his wife. So I think Mike has put himself in this position and he’s going to take care of it myself. But it costs him greatly. I was there the night that we shot that scene and you could hear a pin drop on that mountain. It was so quiet. Everyone on the set felt that they were seeing something very special.
Bob, is there one thing that you want to see for next season for Jimmy now that he’s become Saul?
Odenkirk: I would like to see him win as Saul, even though I don’t think being Saul is the best choice any person could make. I think it’s a terrible choice, but people do win. Hell, they win presidential elections acting like that! And yet at the same time I think there’s no question that becoming Saul and interacting with the bad people that he chooses to surround himself with is a danger and will almost very quickly become life-threatening. Lalo is a very scary guy. He seems to be a pretty unhinged person with a lot of energy, a demon running free. And so I think if Jimmy gets close to him that could spell a lot of danger for Jimmy. So I’d like to see him win, and I’d like to see him face the dark side of his choice.