Warning: Spoilers ahead for the “Off Brand” episode of Better Call Saul.
Christmas in July? How about Christmas in May, which is what this gem of an episode of Better Call Saul feels like: the first time we see Jimmy identify himself as Saul Goodman … Gus is checking out the industrial laundromat that will eventually become Walter White’s underground meth lab … Chuck McGill is open to getting mental health help … and Lydia, one of the masterminds of Gus’s international drug cartel, is introduced to the Saul universe in one of the biggest surprises of the season.
With Season 3 officially more than halfway to the finale — just four episodes remain — Yahoo TV talked to series co-creator Peter Gould about the joys of star wipes, how Jimmy will spend his next year of non-lawyering (after the bar hearing ended with a one-year suspension), what this means for Jimmy and Kim, the sincerity of Chuck’s attempts to get control of his health, and how the guy we might have initially seen as the least trustworthy has turned out to be the only person Chuck trusts right now.
We see Saul for the first time!
Yeah, definitely a version of Saul. At the beginning of the season, we talked about what we could say about the season and Bob [Odenkirk] said to someone, “You’re going to see Saul Goodman, but not how you expect necessarily.” Instead of Saul Goodman the sleazy lawyer, we see Saul Goodman the wannabe television director. Whatever he is there at the end of the episode, he is certainly a new guy.
And that guy says one of the funniest lines of the season. When Jimmy/”Saul” tells Kim the guy at the TV station said he’s never seen so many star wipes in a row… it sums up what Jimmy would be as a filmmaker, I think, so well.
He wants to say something is unique. That line, and I’m so glad you like it, that came out of a suggestion of Bob’s actually, because he mentioned to Ann Cherkis, the writer of the episode, after he read a draft, after any filmmaking project, the filmmaker will say, “Nobody has ever done a steady-cam shot that goes underwater like this”… [everyone] always has to try to say there is a first, so Ann dreamt up this line and decided it would be star wipes. Of course, when we posted the commercial, Kelley Dixon, our editor, had to go against her excellent good taste and add more star wipes… I think the largest number of star wipes I’ve ever seen in a row, that’s for sure.
It hurt her to do it, though, I’m sure.
I’m guessing she was holding her nose. She had a great sense of humor, and it’s one of the joys of doing the show is that we’re all building on each other’s work, so it’s really fun.
The more serious part of that, though, and it’s absolutely something you would assume that Jimmy would come up with, is that he finds this way to not only not lose out on his ad money, but he finds this new project for himself. There are so many times throughout the series when you think about Jimmy and just say, “He could do anything.” There are so many things he could be doing successfully with his skills, his personality, his intelligence. Sales and advertising absolutely seems like something that he would not only be great at, but that he would probably love doing, especially in this capacity. Obviously, we always have to keep in mind that we know where he ends up in the Breaking Bad universe, but is this year-long suspension from being a lawyer going to open up the possibility of him looking at other things that he would be happier doing, that he would be more successful doing even, if he were just free of Chuck and trying to live up to Chuck’s expectations?
What a great question. Certainly, I don’t want to give anything away, but I’ll speak for myself. We had two different reactions when we realized that Jimmy would be suspended for a year. One was joy, because it gives us so many possibilities, and like you say, Jimmy has so many abilities, and probably his greatest superpower is his ability to bounce back. When you knock him down, he pops back up, and there is something wonderful about that. He’s so creative, and he has so much energy, it opens up a whole world to us. But it also means that for a year he’s not going to be a lawyer, and that means that we have to do a lot of thinking.
Jimmy does, too, because even though he’s not going to be a lawyer for a year, he has this office with Kim, and that seems to be really central to him. We found out way back in Season 1 that having an office with Kim and being next to her, being with her, is one of the most important things in his life. If he’s not going to be a lawyer, as we find out in this episode, what is going to happen to that office? Jimmy is deeply determined and almost energized because he does not want to lose what he gained last season. He does not want to lose that relationship with Kim. He does not want to lose that feeling that he’s got. For whatever reason, being side by side with her… I don’t think I’m giving anything away when I say he loves her, and we’ve realized as we’ve gone forward that she may be the love of his life. He feels that this office is something that is very important, that they’ve built together. How far is he going to go to defend that is one of the questions we asked ourselves.
That brings up another charming thing about Jimmy: He’s not really thinking about money and never really has in terms of, as Jimmy anyway, accumulating it. It’s what it can do for him. Right now, as you said, his main concern really is being able to keep that office and stay with Kim. He doesn’t care that he doesn’t have the Davis & Main car and all those things anymore. He just, right now, needs to make enough money to keep that office going. I think he would live there as long as it meant he could stay with Kim.
I think you’re right. We have an interesting thing about our show… Jimmy and Mike both, we have two people who are on the edge of criminality, but neither one seems to care all that much about money by itself. Neither one of them is a classically greedy person. Jimmy may be greedy for attention, but that is a little bit different. I agree with you. I find that fascinating. It often causes us all kinds of… I don’t want to say it causes us problems, but it makes us think more deeply about the characters, to think about what motivates them and why they take the steps that they do.
And that’s one of the things I find fascinating about Mike as well as Jimmy. Mike, we meet on Breaking Bad and he’s living in that same little house, the same one that he is apparently able to rent or own with his income from retirement as a police officer and working in a parking booth. He hasn’t really changed his lifestyle when he [becomes] right-hand man to a drug lord. You know that something else is motivating him, and one of the fascinating things that we’re exploring on the show is, of course, how Mike Ehrmantraut becomes Gus Fring’s right-hand man.
There are a couple of other big things that happen. Gus… Lydia… we see him checking out the industrial laundry facility for the first time. This episode is packed with these monumental Saul/Breaking Bad universe events. Who expected to see Lydia at this point?
Yeah. And we get to see the chicken farm and Lydia in one long sequence, and the laundry, too. It was so much fun for us to bring back Laura Fraser. Vince [Gilligan] and I called her at home in Scotland to explain what we were hoping for, and of course, Laura is a wonderful actress, and she also has the most beautiful Scottish accent when she is speaking as Laura Fraser before she transforms herself into Lydia. She is a find, and I think there is so much more to say about Lydia Rodarte. I’m fascinated by seeing her also with Gus, and when we knew her on Breaking Bad… we never met her until after Gus was dead, and the whole operation was in terrible danger. Now we’re seeing her a little bit more optimistic about how this whole venture is going to go. She is obviously aiding and abetting Gus in buying this laundry facility. Of course, it is another wonderful moment if you caught it… Giancarlo [Esposito] was actually shining a flashlight underneath the washing machines, which later on Breaking Bad, of course, is moved to reveal the secret stairway that will take them down to the super lab. He is already scouting out where he’s going to put that lab, so he’s got a plan. That’s for sure.
We’re really seeing the very beginning of that whole huge, international operation at this point.
Yes, we are.
We were talking earlier about Jimmy and his affection for Kim. I love the scene where they’re celebrating their bar hearing victory. You and I have talked about this before… their romance is a very classic, old movie romance, and this is a small glimpse into the more physical romance. She has her feet crossed over his. She’s leaning her head on this shoulder. She cups his face with her hand. He makes that joke about rolling around on the floor on her notes. It’s fun to get that from them, right after she has given this summation that really does highlight all the wonderful parts of Jimmy, how caring he is, especially for people who are underserved or neglected. Was it intentional to give us that little moment when we know that things are probably going to go wrong again soon?
Absolutely. Kim really has thrown her lot in with Jimmy, and she does not lie in that hearing. But she knows that there are omissions, and she also knows, even though Chuck was angry and losing his temper and motivated by all kinds of terrible things… a lot of what Chuck said was true, and she knows it. She knows it damn well. Kim has thrown her lot in with Jimmy, and it really seems like the reason for that is that she cares for him deeply, but she cares for him enough that she has compromised herself in a way. Like you, I love seeing these two together. Bob and Rhea [Seehorn] have such chemistry together. There’s such a playfulness and a knowingness to how they treat each other that I find fascinating. I can’t take my eyes off them. I’m so glad you agree. Of course, the better the romance goes, the more concerned I get, because we all have a feeling that this may not end well. We didn’t see Kim Wexler on Breaking Bad. Even if she exists in Breaking Bad, it’s very hard to imagine Kim Wexler being Saul Goodman’s girlfriend.
Just as Jimmy is trying to make a move forward during his suspension, it appears Chuck also is. It looks like he’s going out to try to get help, like he really listened to what Howard was telling him. There’s still some humor, of course. When he goes out to use the pay phone, he is like a Mylar-covered Rocky Balboa heading off to battle. But he does seem to be sincere in seeking out help right now.
That’s right. I’m so glad you brought that up because, for us… and I love the way Michael McKean plays this character. It’s astounding. That scene is a particular favorite of mine, because it is Chuck’s hero’s journey. He is going out into the world of electricity, and he is also going out in public with a space blanket over his head, which can’t be easy for a man with so much pride. He is doing it to call the doctor. I love the way [director] Keith Gordon shot that scene. It’s also a scene that Marshall Adams, our [director of photography], shot in a different way. One of the things I’m so proud of is that we have a man who has an allergy to electricity, and each one of the directors on the show has found a different way to communicate what it feels like to be Chuck. Earlier in the season, Dan Sackheim, in episode 5, he actually used 35mm film hand cranked and superimposed to communicate this. Here, Keith Gordon used heightened colors and heightened sounds to communicate this. It’s a wonderful thing when you get to see these creative artists find different ways of communicating what it feels to be like Chuck McGill.
It’s so bright and colorful, and it really does give you a different feeling for Chuck, more empathy about just how intrusive and intense this condition must feel to him.
Yes. Of course, Michael McKean is wonderful. You’ll see more wonderful coming up from him, too.
Howard is another standout in this episode. Throughout the series, he is someone who… viewers’ instincts may have been to write him off as this jerky, snooty, corporate guy, but we’ve really gotten to see different pictures of him, different layers of him. When he goes to Chuck’s house to deliver the news of the results of the hearing, he goes there with that $3,000-$4,000 bottle of liquor. He has his own agendas, of course, and has to as the head of the law firm, but we really have come to see that he has some heart. He has some compassion for Chuck, for sure, some empathy for him. Again, he would do better if Chuck could get himself together and come back to the firm, but Howard seems to be sincere also in trying to get Chuck back on track with his whole life.
I am beside myself that you bring this up because we grew to like Howard, and Patrick Fabian is doing such a spectacular job this season. In the editing room, the editors frequently say, “Man, he is just great.” And we’ll sit there and watch so many things that he does to bring three dimensions to this character who, as you say, when we first met him at the beginning of Season 1, seemed like just a stuffed shirt in contrast to Jimmy. Now we see that he does care for Chuck, but he’s also depending on Chuck in some ways. They are law partners. He warned Chuck, really, in [“Chicanery”], more or less warned Chuck not to take the stand; it was unnecessary, and Chuck ignored him. Now he is giving Chuck some more good advice, and we’ll see if Chuck is able to take it.
I think it’s revealing that Chuck won’t allow Rebecca in the house, but Howard does get into the house. I think that Howard seems to be the one person who Chuck allows himself to show a tiny bit of vulnerability to. Just the littlest, tiny molecule of vulnerability. Watching these two together, [McKean and Fabian] really is a master class. They are wonderful. Also, Patrick is also just the nicest guy in the world, which, of course, really makes it a pleasure to work with him.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on AMC.
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