[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Monday’s Better Call Saul finale, “Marco.”]
Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) is in the fast lane to the criminal under world.
The struggling attorney closed out season one of AMC’s Better Call Saul with a promise to himself — that he’d never let trying to do the right thing stand in his way again. The personal revelation came after he returned to his hometown of Cicero, Illinois and reconnected with his Slippin’ Jimmy days (and treated Breaking Bad fans to the time he convinced a woman he was Kevin Costner).
Co-showrunner Peter Gould, who wrote and directed the episode, ended the season with a tease to the already ordered season two. As Jimmy sped away in his beat-up car, the camera panned up until the lines on the road looked like a Roman numeral II.
In a chat with The Hollywood Reporter, Gould shares his thoughts on the finale’s toughest scene, season two worries when the AMC prequel will catch up to the Breaking Bad timeline.
You guys love to write yourselves into a corner. This ending seems a lot more open — and even optimistic — than you typically do.
It felt right, because Jimmy has suffered so much this season. He’s taken so many kicks to the slats, especially in the last few episodes, that we felt it would be rewarding to give him a little bit more room to maneuver at the end. Hopefully the audience will stick with us through that.
How close are you to catching up with the Breaking Bad timeline as season one ends?
Like everyone else, I would love to see Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) again. But it delights me that I hear just as many questions about what is going to happen to Chuck (Michael McKean) and are we going to see the Kettlemans again, and what is Jimmy going to do next? I hear that as much as I hear about the Breaking Bad characters. That makes me feel like we’ve accomplished something, and that the show for better or for worse is standing on its own two feet. As for when it’s going to intersect with Breaking Bad, you have to wonder. The thing to look at is how close is Jimmy McGill to being the guy we met on Breaking Bad? The Saul Goodman we met on Breaking Bad recommends murder as a business strategy. Do you think Jimmy McGill would do that? The Mike (Jonathan Banks) we knew on Breaking Bad was ready to shoot someone in the head for money. Is that where Mike is now? I think the answer is — at least to my eye — is we have a ways to go.
Did you always know what a Chicago sunroof was?
Back in episode three, we knew what the Chicago sunroof was. We knew what Jimmy had done to land himself in jail in the flashback that begins episode three. But we did not know how we were going to reveal it. At some points we thought maybe we were actually going to show this incident. It kept getting pushed forward and forward and forward. And then he started having this breakdown in episode ten. That is when we knew, “this is the moment.” What’s the worst thing he could say in front of this audience of prospective clients? I think the Chicago sunroof ranks right up there.
The bingo scene not only had ambitious writing, but I was shot quite stylishly, especially with how the bingo balls shoot out. What’s the story behind that?
I have to give mad props to Arthur Albert and the camera team, and [editor] Kelley Dixon. Most episodes have one or two really challenging scenes, and this one had four. The two that come to mind first are that bingo scene, which was very challenging. It was almost a full day of shooting. The other one was that montage, which begins Act III. Those were both very challenging sequences that Kelley and the other editor — her sometime assistant who was also cutting a lot of this episode — Chris McCaleb. It was very complex work that they pulled off beautifully. The bingo scene, it was scripted that everything that he was doing when he was calling bingo in episode seven — and he was doing it with such aplomb and with such ease — suddenly all the little details of that job start getting to him and start grating on his nerves.
I love scams. I will be honest. I’m fascinated by scams and The Sting is one of my favorite movies. All the David Mamet work with scams. I found as many scams as I could think of. The challenge, especially with the montage, is scams tend to take a lot of conversation. There’s a lot of talk, and so to synopsize them, I had to find scams that had a visual component that could be expressed in a montage format. That was challenging and I know that hopefully somebody out there will annotate the sequence so everyone will understand what each of those scams were.
So if we look closely, we can identify scams that have been onscreen previously?
Actually in real life. That tar money scam you see, where the mark is using a “special” liquid to rub what looks like a black piece of paper and reveal a hundred dollar bill, that is a real scam that is going on right now somewhere in America. Somewhere in America someone is paying $100,000 for a box of black, oblong pieces of paper.
When you think about Saul in Breaking Bad, a lot of the stuff he says seems to be B.S. But we are learning the Kevin Costner and other stuff is real. How do you decide what Saul stuff becomes the truth?
It pleases us when this stuff turns out to be true. I can’t swear that everything he says will be realized by the show, but we’re going to do our damndest. One of the examples I love is at the end of Breaking Bad, we introduce this disappearer — the vacuum cleaner guy. We talked a lot about, “Would he really have a vacuum cleaner store?” or was it a term of art? It was so rewarding to see the disappearer had an actual vacuum cleaner store. It was so rewarding to have Saul tell the story of talking a woman into thinking he was Kevin Costner, and “she believed it because I believed it.” It was a line I wish I had written. [Saul and Bad Producer] Tom Schnauz wrote that line. It was so fun to see Jimmy McGill pull that off. We try to keep our world consistent. We try to play by the rules that we set down. We try as much as possible to abide by what the characters have said.
How did you decide to dangle a great job in front of Jimmy and have him reject it?
We asked ourselves, what’s changed for Jimmy since he found out about Chuck? What’s changed for Jimmy after Marco has died? What occurred to us was what if he had an opportunity that he would have jumped at just a few weeks ago? Something that would have been the answer to his prayers a few weeks ago, but now the joy of it is gone. So much of what Jimmy does in season one is to please his brother. To try to win his brother’s approval. So who is Jimmy without that goal? Who is Jimmy if he’s not thinking about “Is this going to prove to Chuck that I’m a good person?” What is he without those ideas? I think all of us have these moments in our lives where we’ve lived by an idea and that idea suddenly changes. That was really the idea of dramatizing that change by giving him an opportunity that he would have loved to have really recently. As for what he’s going to do next, we’re leaving it a little bit open, but you can safely say whatever he’s gong to do next truly pleases him.
What’s something you learned this season that you are taking with you to season two?
I learned that I love Jimmy McGill and I’m rooting for him. And that gives me a queasy feeling, because I know he’s going to become Saul Goodman. I’ve always liked Saul Goodman. I don’t always root for him because he’s doing things that are objectively despicable, that make the world worse. But I like him. Jimmy McGill is somebody I love and root for, and it makes me a little sad and worried to see how he’s going to evolve into this other person. It makes me wonder if I know everything about Saul Goodman, as he appeared on Breaking Bad.
For more from the finale, read THR‘s Q&A with Odenkirk.