Spoiler alert: Do not read until you’ve watched episode 5 of Season 4 of “Better Call Saul,” titled “Quite a Ride.”
The episode title says it all: Quite a ride, indeed. Halfway through Season 4 of “Better Call Saul,” one thing is clear: Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) is plummeting even faster into his eventual, inevitable transformation into Saul Goodman.
That point couldn’t have been made clearer by the opener, which time-traveled ahead into Saul’s world, frantically searching his office for hidden stashes of cash, planning his post-Walter White getaway — and barking at Francesca (who rejects his attempted hug).
“I think it was the best episode so far this year,” Odenkirk tells Variety. “It was really rewarding. I don’t know why it was a bit above everything else, but I think maybe because you get these episodes where the story is just evolving and it doesn’t have a balance between initiating ideas and giving you some satisfaction, some closure along the way. And it’s when they can mix it and you get both, that you get an amazing episode.”
Here, Odenkirk talks about more crossover from the “Breaking Bad” universe, the “frightening” character we’re about to meet — and yes, that combover.
What was your reaction to finding out you were getting back into Saul?
I was thrilled. Like a lot of fans, there’s an anticipation of Saul that can become nerve-wracking and annoying in my own head of when are we going to get to see Saul? So just to get to see Saul and see his office and it just let me exhale and not worry about it for awhile. We got to see him and we know that he is Jimmy McGill and they’re one and the same person. Instead of just looking at this pie that’s sitting on the windowsill, watching the pie cool, we just get that one piece of it when it’s warm and then we’re like, OK, it’s really good pie. We’ll get there.
So to continue the analogy, are we going to get more pie this season?
There’s only five episodes left. You won’t get the exact same slice, I’ll tell you that. We don’t go back to Saul’s office. But if you’re counting “Breaking Bad” references as pie, maybe there’s more stuff to come that’s pretty great. We get to meet Lalo, a character from “Breaking Bad” that was referenced. You never met him, but just the fact that we really get entwined with the “Breaking Bad” story I think is the same thing, the satisfaction of like we’re actually getting there.
The teasers are always so intentional, and they have a theme that plays out across the episode. What was the theme for this one for you?
Boy, there’s so many things! There’s something he says in that moment that resonates: “I used to be the guy who I was sharp. I could see it coming.” To me, there’s so many things that connect up that are neat to see them planted in the “Breaking Bad” universe — his box of mementos and things that are connected up through the two shows. Obviously Francesca and where they’re at at the end. I wonder where the money in that bag, I wonder where that money is from, but something tells me that money is from his “Better Call Saul” days, not his “Breaking Bad” days, so it’s like the money he’s making in this series is what gives him an out. It’s about kind of losing your footing a little bit as you get older and needing to compensate for that.
We certainly see that during the burner phones caper, when he gets beat up by the kids.
Yeah. I mean, he’s not sharp, he’s acting all tough and they just take him down. There’s a lot going on there, but when he sees those three kids, he’s looking at himself from 15, 20 years before and he’s not making allowances for the steps that he’s lost, the speed that he’s lost in the last couple of years just trying to live like a good, good person. And just getting older.
And now we know how that burner phone habit started.
I didn’t know burner phones were such a thing, but I guess they really were. I guess a lot of people were using them. I think Trump uses them! They’re a pretty popular thing among the scurrilous in society.
Which costume is worse: The purple shirt or the track suit?
The purple shirt! The track suit is kind of cool. I would wear the tracksuit, not happily, but I would not turn red with embarrassment. But the clothes that Saul wears are ludicrous. I wouldn’t wear that purple in a pair of pajamas, much less in an actual shirt.
Are there other aspects of Saul that the writers haven’t touched on yet that you want to see play out?
I’d like to know where the office idea came to him. That office is such a show, almost a TV or movie set. I’m curious where he got the idea for that. The combover — I know he’s losing his hair, but just to commit to the combover is so wild. It feels like a very conscious choice. They’re answering more questions than I even have. They’re connecting these shows up in ways that I never even thought about. There’s so many little connections between the two, it’s amazing. The writers really have “Breaking Bad” in their head. They’ve really got every little curly q and choice obviously in their head and that has to be from a very conscious effort, not just from memory. There’s no way you could remember everything that happened. I know when I go into the offices they have these boards that have every character who appeared in “Breaking Bad,” and so they have that world of people to choose from. The richness of it, the number of connections they’re finding is just amazing. And I just can’t wait for people to meet Lalo. I can’t wait to meet him.
What can you tell us about Lalo?
I think he’s a tougher, crazier character than anyone we’ve seen in my show so far. And that’s a frightening prospect. The word crazy — that feeling of there’s a chaotic element in his brain that’s really frightening.
How is Jimmy going to cope with that?
My guess is Jimmy will think that he controls him, which is the same way he feels about Walter White and pretty much anybody he meets. He’s absolutely sure that he can control people with his words, with his manipulations. And he has to find out through the course of “Breaking Bad,” I think, that no, he can’t control every radical thing in his universe.
His relationship with Kim (Rhea Seehorn), though, does center him — but are they being truly honest with each other?
I loved that scene last night and there’s another one coming up this season where Jimmy says, what the hell is wrong with me? And she comforts him. And he says, I’m going to go see that therapist. And I really feel like it’s an incredibly honest moment between the two that is really about connecting and sharing and hearing each other and listening to each other. I think it’s an amazing, amazing moment that suggests that they could make it through this together. I, like most fans, don’t think that they make it through. There’s the possibility that Saul Goodman is going home somehow to Kim and that she’s living a very separate life that they share together when they get home. But otherwise they don’t interact. That James Carville, Mary Matalin thing. There’s that possibility, but I don’t think that’s going on. But that scene last night was two people being honest with each other, being understanding with each other and listening and not judging each other. And it made me feel like, wow, they could make it. There’s another scene like that in this season and I love playing those scenes because you kind of get to exhale all of the characters’ presuppositions about the world and you get to just be fully alive in the moment because the character is fully alive in the moment and listening and open-minded. It’s just a wonderful thing to get to play and to give to these two characters to do because if it’s going to mean that, if they come apart and I do believe they will, it’s going to be more tragic because there’s this possible dimension to each of them that they can listen and they can grow. Rhea is amazing this season. The strength of her character and the frailty mixed is astounding.
And then there’s poor Howard (Patrick Fabian), who’s falling apart.
Howard’s in therapy and anybody who’s been in therapy knows that before it puts you back together, it can take you apart. You go there to get yourself in better shape. But often times, first you have to go through a bit of a falling apart, a sequence, and that’s where he’s at. And Jimmy sees that. He just thinks, yeah, I don’t want what examining myself might do to me. I don’t want to shatter like that. And it’s a shame. The guy’s on a journey and he’s presented with various choices and he’s making understandable but unhealthy choices. He’s making the somewhat easier choice of trying to shore up who he thinks he is. He’s angry at those kids for getting the step ahead on him and the answer to that in his mind is not, maybe I shouldn’t be running with these young wolves. The answer to that is, I’m gonna fight back 10 times as hard. I’m going to become a bigger, badder wolf than I’ve ever been. That is not the healthiest answer. That’s not the way forward. Not for the long term, but Jimmy doesn’t want to hear that. And so there we go. We’re going to go down the road of Saul, that’s what’s going to happen.
Can anything change his path toward becoming Saul?
Obviously seeing Saul is great fun for everyone, but my biggest concern right now is I can see and I can hear it in people’s voices — it’s the same reaction I had when we got to this juncture in the season and I called Peter [Gould] and Vince [Gilligan] and said, “Does he have to become Saul?” But that’s where we’re going. Yes, he has to become Saul and yes, that means the better parts of himself, the better angels of his nature, are being vanquished or at least hidden away. And it’s a shame. But that’s the journey of this show, at least so far. You want to grab the character by the lapels and say, “No, make the other choice! Comfort Howard! It’ll be good for you too in the long run. You’ll get this guilt off your chest.” But he’s not doing that. He’s not headed that direction.