Better Call Saul Creator on the 'Magic Ingredients' That Came Together for Shocking Cliffhanger
Better Call Saul has unleashed it’s most painful episode yet – leaving the fate of one of its key characters hanging in the balance.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for Monday’s episode of Better Call Saul
After Chuck (Michael McKean) figures out that his brother Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) sabotaged his Mesa Verde case, he goes to the scene of the crime – an all-night print shop. During an argument with the shop’s employee (whom Jimmy has bribed to tell Chuck that Jimmy was never there), the elder McGill brother passes out, hitting his head in a blow that looks like it could result in death or serious injury.
The shocking ending leaves fans to speculate about Chuck’s fate, and in a conversation with PEOPLE, Better Call Saul co-creator Peter Gould helps answer some of the episode’s most burning questions going into next week’s season 2 finale.
Breaking Bad fans like to debate about the moment when Walter White lost his soul. Is that something you talk about with Jimmy becoming into Saul Goodman – and could this be one of this moments?
That goes to a question that we are still struggling with. When we say, “Jimmy becomes Saul Goodman,” what do we mean by that? Does it mean wearing a suit? Does it mean having a particular office? Does it mean calling himself Saul Goodman? Some of the folks in the writers room are saying that it has to do with what he’s willing to do. And his personal morality and how far he’s willing to go. And also to a kind of detachment from the collateral damage from his decisions. Jimmy at this point doesn’t seem detached from the consequences of his actions. He seems fully engaged and especially in that last scene, he seems kind of worried about what’s going to happen to his brother. I don’t know if we’ve seen him lose his soul.
The last scene with Chuck is tense, and is reminiscent of the famous bingo scene you had last season where Jimmy has a breakdown. What was the key to getting this one right?
Michael McKean is such a spectacular actor and he is willing to go for it. And he has such a reserve of intelligence and passion that he brings to Chuck. Just watching him do the scene the first time in the rehearsal, you could see what it would be. Then of course the other magic ingredients – Arthur Albert our cinematographer and then there’s Kelley Dixon, who is an incredible editor. And both scenes took a really long time. It’s a very tricky thing because sometimes you’re in his head and it’s very clear you’re in his head, because we’re cutting to subjective imagery. And sometimes we’re objective and we’re watching him. But we’re still feeling what he’s feeling. The thing that accomplishes that is this very complex, layered sound work that was lead by Nick Forshager, who is our sound supervisor. That adds a layer that sort of knits it all together. If you were to watch the scene and you just turned off the sound, I think you should see how much it adds, not just in terms of intensity but in terms of clarity about what’s happening to Chuck.
The audience has sort of been led to turn on Chuck in some ways this season, and now we instantly sympathize with him in this episode. How did you manage to get Chuck back in the audience’s good graces so fast?
If you were to ask Michael about Chuck, he wouldn’t say he was a bad guy. He has his own point of view on life and in some ways each person is the lead in their own show. One of the great things about doing serialized television is as the story unspools you get a little more deeply into each one of these characters.
One of the key scenes of the episode involved a hearing about opening a bank, which on the surface sounds pretty boring. Were you worried about that going in?
I’m very happy with that banking sequence. To me it’s a little bit daring to have a scene that’s about something that’s as dry as opening a bank branch and have any dramatic impact. The reason we were willing to do it is is we have a theory that is if it’s important to the characters in the scene, it will be important to the audience. This was really testing it to the limit.
We don’t know if Chuck is dead or alive but severely injured. Either way Jimmy’s actions have had huge consequences. Did you always know something so terrible needed to happen to Chuck because of something Jimmy did?
This is one of the things we think about and talk about a lot is the consequences of the actions the characters take. A lot of this episode is really about consequences or blowback for Mike (Jonathan Banks) and Jimmy. We find in the course of the episode that the schemes, which in some ways were so perfect and did in fact achieve their ends, also have consequences for other people. There is collateral damage and Chuck falling is collateral damage for Jimmy’s scheme.
Mike is actually happy after pulling off his heist against the Salamancas. How fun was it to see Jonathan Banks play that?
It was wonderful. I don’t know if we’ve ever seen Mike in a good mood. I’m joking of course, but there’s a good reason for him to be down. He carries a tremendous burden. In this episode, for a moment it seems like the karmic balance has been reached. For awhile it seemed that Tio (Mark Margolis) had gotten the better of Mike for threatening his family. And now Mike has sort of squared the accounts. And he feels pretty good about it. I love the way Jonathan plays it. One of my favorite moments is right after his little flirtatious moment with Fran, he looks out the window and he has this little smile. This tiny laugh. And it’s almost like, “Maybe I’m still around. Maybe Mike Ehrmantraut’s not finished yet.” And of course because this is our universe, the good feeling doesn’t last too long.
The are so many big scenes in this episode. Is there one that stands out to you that was the toughest to get right?
Not in terms of writing, but in terms of directing, I think the biggest challenge was probably the scene where Jimmy and Kim (Rhea Seehorn) go to Chuck’s house and they have it out. Michael, Bob and Rhea prepared the scene over the weekend and I said, “Let’s see what you guys have,” and they went through it and my jaw drop. But getting it right was a challenge. The challenges aren’t always where you expect them to be.
Better Call Saul‘s season 2 finale airs Monday at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.