Published on theMusic.com.au, Sept 2018
The Real Tragedy Of ‘Better Call Saul’, According To Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould
Better Call Saul is a quiet achiever, at least when compared to its blockbuster predecessor Breaking Bad.
The journey of Jimmy McGill, delivered through Bob Odenkirk, doesn’t demand your attention, nor is it in your face, instead, those who give it time are taken on a carefully-paced, captivating ride that places more emphasis on ebbs and flows and character development. As it enters its fourth season and McGill becomes more like the Saul Goodman we know and love, the prequel is quickly approaching the same number of episodes as Breaking Bad.
“I used to have some brown hair, but now it’s all grey,” co-creator Peter Gould begins down the line, eliciting laughter from his partner in crime, Vince Gilligan.
“Peter’s doing a great job running this show and I’m walking down to the mailbox in my bathrobe, looking for cheques from Sony,” Gilligan adds.
Speaking of hard work, it didn’t take long for fans to crack a six-part puzzle the duo put out on social media recently, with those involved quickly figuring out it pointed to the superlab from Breaking Bad. “I can’t believe how fast the fans got the puzzle!” Gould tells.
Although they didn’t write the puzzle, Gilligan wanted it to be “as difficult as humanly possible”.
“The theories are all wonderful,” Gilligan says of fan speculation over the years. “At the end of Breaking Bad, Peter and I heard a lot of people saying Walter White wasn’t really dead or the whole thing was a dream.”
One of the key elements of Better Call Saul is its aforementioned calculated pace, with each episode delivering numerous surprises that even the most switched on fans would struggle to predict. Fan favourite Mike Ehrmantraut, played brilliantly by Jonathan Banks, quite often spends an entire episode doing things that have viewers on the edge of their seats, scratching their heads.
“They really are totally different shows,” Gilligan says. “Peter and I were both worried in the beginning, a) should we even be doing a spin-off from Breaking Bad? And, b) how can we differentiate it from Breaking Bad? Will it be different enough, or will it be kind of an extension of the first show? Which, maybe in itself, wouldn’t have been a terrible thing, but I really wanted to do something different.
“I remember worrying a lot in the early days about differentiating the two shows, and turns out a lot of my fears were unfounded because [the cast and crew] really have created an entire universe of their own and a show that stands on its own two feet and is its own entity, it’s its own thing.
“I’m delighted by the number of times every week that I hear someone say, ‘I never really watched Breaking Bad that much, it was too violent for me, but I’ve been watching Better Call Saul and I love that show.’”
The show’s fourth season is now airing, continuing the “tragic devolution” of Jimmy McGill. Given it’s a prequel, he’s inexorably becoming the lovable character we know from Breaking Bad. “If you watched Breaking Bad you think, ‘Oh, it’s not so bad – Saul Goodman was fun,’” Gilligan tells. “He was always getting some kind of massage to completion in his office or had a bottle of vodka; he loves his life, he’s having a good time and doesn’t have any quails, he sleeps well at night even though he’s breaking the law every chance he gets.
“Season four is another inexorable step toward being this guy that nobody wants him to be, least of all he himself, and that’s the real tragedy of this show.”
The continual devolution to-date has been heartbreaking and sheds a lot of light on the character, with the season three finale marking a tragic death for his brother, Chuck. And although his relationship with loving girlfriend Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) is seemingly going well, she’s not around in Breaking Bad, signalling another major turning point for the lead is just around the corner.
“The Jimmy McGill of season four does things that I think would have repelled the Jimmy McGill we met at the beginning of season one,” Gould tells. “That’s sad, but, as Vince said, I always feel that this guy has a soul and maybe there’s a shot at redemption.
“I love what you say about Jimmy and Kim, and this season, boy, these two characters… They have such a wonderful, adult, real love story. I go back and forth between being happy that they’re together and feeling so good when things are going well for them, but also knowing in the pit of my stomach maybe this isn’t going to last.”
Outside of cryptic social media posts, the two aren’t really able to reveal too much as far as season four specifics go, especially when it comes to the superlab, which they certainly don’t want to spoil. “It’s ingrained in both of us to try not to ruin anything,” Gilligan mentions, before Gould quickly interjects: “I’ll say this, I’ve always been a big fan of the early James Bond films and you would see things like the secret base inside the volcano in You Only Live Twice by brilliant production designer Ken Adam.
“I’m always fascinated by these secret locations and hidden places. I also wondered, ‘How did that come to be?’ And so, we’ll see, we might learn some more about that this season.”
With more and more Breaking Bad references popping up each episode, an increasing amount of the show’s cast making an appearance – including Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito), Lydia Rodarte-Quayle (Laura Fraser) and more, and Jimmy’s rapid devolution, it seems we’re fast approaching the end of Better Call Saul.
“That’s kind of tough,” Gilligan says on an end date. “It was the same with Breaking Bad – how many episodes do you have? How many hours left in this story? Sometimes when you’re in the writers’ room, you can’t really see the forest from the trees, is that safe to say, Peter?”
“Absolutely,” Gould responds. “We haven’t really figured out how much more story there is; I think we’re getting closer to the end than the beginning, I’d say that much.
“It’s an interesting thing because this show doesn’t have the same kind of endpoint that Breaking Bad did. From the very first episode, we felt that Breaking Bad was going to be a story about not just the life of Walter White, but also the death of Walter White.
“This show does something a little different in that we keep seeing glimpses of life after Saul Goodman, so maybe there’s a chance for this story to end in a different way from the others, but we really don’t know all the answers just yet.”
Better Call Saul season four is now streaming via Stan.