Dealing with grief and finding the right path for personal growth are among the major themes explored in the upcoming fourth season of AMC’s “Better Call Saul.”
Producers and cast members gathered on Wednesday for a gabfest about the show held as part of the AMC Summit press day in New York. Fans of the “Breaking Bad” prequel have had a long wait for the new season, as Season 3 wrapped up this time last year and Season 4 is set to bow Aug. 6.
SPOILER ALERT: This story discusses key plot points from “Better Call Saul” Season 3.
Here are 10 things we learned about the show from the lively panel, moderated by Rolling Stone chief TV critic Alan Sepinwall:
There’s no “Flash Gordon” maneuver coming for Chuck McGill. The older brother of Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman character is definitely dead. Viewers last saw him sitting inside his burning house, wrapped up in an aluminium-coated blanket. How Odenkirk’s Jimmy processes his grief at the loss of his brother is a key focus of the storytelling in Season 4. “It has a huge impact,” says Rhea Seehorn, who plays Kim Wexler, a fellow lawyer and love interest of Jimmy McGill.
Seehorn and Odenkirk bonded during the filming of Season 1 by taking a long car ride together from Albuquerque, where “Better Call Saul” is shot, to Santa Fe for lunch. Odenkirk was battling a sore throat at the time so the two were mostly silent during the trek. Seehorn thought it was odd at first but she realized as they sat together it was a perfect way to become comfortable just being together. “All the tools you normally use trying to get to know somebody were gone,” she said. By the time they filmed their first scene together in a parking garage, “it was perfect.”
The turning point for “Saul” as a series came late in the first season as producers decided to expand the scope of Chuck and Jimmy’s adversarial relationship. At that point, it became clear that “Saul” had to establish a true foundation for how Jimmy became a sleazy defense attorney for “Breaking Bad” protagonist Walter White. “Around the point we were discovering that Chuck might be moving against Jimmy … we saw that this wasn’t just (the story of) Saul Goodman in a different suit,” said “Saul” supervising producer Gordon Smith. “He’s a different guy. There’s a whole process we’re going to have to unpack.”
Jimmy McGill and Wexler’s relationship has become increasingly complex as the series has evolved. “Kim started off as the better angel of Jimmy McGill’s nature. Now we’re questioning whether she is making him better or is he corrupting her or does their morality meet in the middle? It’s just wonderful stuff,” said Vince Gilligan, co-creator of “Better Call Saul” and creator of “Breaking Bad.” Gilligan emphasized that he is not as directly involved in “Saul” for the fourth season and was eager to gush about the strong work done by “Saul” co-creator Peter Gould and the rest of the team for Season 4.
Even though Wexler had only a line or two of dialogue in the “Saul” pilot, Seehorn was attracted to the role because it was clear that the character would have her own significant story. “Kim is having her own journey,” Seehorn said. “She’s not just ancillary” to McGill.
The cowboy boots that Saul Goodman wore in “Breaking Bad” will be making their first appearance in “Saul” this season. “Cowboy boots are something you have for a long time,” said costume designer Jennifer Bryan. Introducing the boots is an example of how Bryan often has to “reverse engineer” items for the characters that fans know from “Breaking Bad.” For “Saul,” the boots need to be much newer-looking than they were on “Breaking Bad,” she noted. It helps that “I know how things are going to end up looking,” Bryan said.
Seehorn couldn’t believe her good fortune when she first sat down for fittings with Bryan. They talked about the character of Kim and what kind of wardrobe this scrappy, up-from-the-mailroom woman would wear. “Conversations at fittings can often be about things that are body conscious — how can we make this woman attractive,” Seehorn said. “Jennifer came in and said ‘I don’t know how you’re thinking about it but to me, there’s something about Kim that makes her a little bit of an outsider, like Jimmy.’ Tears were streaming down my face. ‘Oh, we’re going to talk about a character.’ ” The two decided at that meeting that Wexler most likely bought mix and match outfits from Ross and Marshalls. And she wasn’t the type to change out her purse and jewelry every day.
A similar process with the show’s hairstylist led to Wexler’s ever-present ponytail. “I wanted her to be no-nonsense,” Seehorn said. “It had nothing to do with denying femininity. It just had to do with being pragmatic.” For so many women, “you find the hairdo that works and then it’s ‘Great, we’re done for like a decade,’ ” Seehorn said. The ponytail has since become a barometer of Wexler’s mood. “It started to get more tightly coiled when she started to get more tightly coiled,” Seehorn said. “It became it’s own entity.”
Season 4 is “darker and richer” than the prior three seasons, Gilligan said, which also indicates that “Saul” is definitely standing on its own outside of the shadow of its beloved predecessor despite the converging storylines. “In the Venn diagram of ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Better Call Saul,’ the overlap in the center is getting bigger and bigger,” Gilligan said.
A new season of “Saul” always begs the question of whether any familiar faces from “Breaking Bad” will be entering the picture. Gilligan confirmed that Lalo, a heavy from “Breaking Bad” who was referenced among the drug cartel characters but never seen on screen, is finally ready for his close-up. “F— yeah, Lalo,” Gilligan said.