'Better Call Saul' finale: Message of that smoke on the water

'Better Call Saul' ends its first season Monday, and producers are plotting Season 2

There was no carnage or cliffhanger in the first season finale of "Better Call Saul," the spinoff of "Breaking Bad" tracing the ups and downs of shady attorney Jimmy McGill, who will eventually transform into strip mall lawyer Saul Goodman.

As the episode "Marco" closed, McGill was humming the "Deep Purple" classic "Smoke on the Water" with a mysterious smile on his face — a smile that spoke volumes about how he learned during the course of the season that doing the right thing may not always be the right thing.

Peter Gould, who created the series along with "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan, spoke this week about the meaning of the finale and about where Jimmy mght be headed when "Better Call Saul" returns on AMC for its second season.

Q: So the season doesn't exactly end on a cliffhanger but at an interesting point with Jimmy behind the wheel, headed for a crossroads.

Gould: The big question for us with this series is how does Jimmy McGill become Saul Goodman? As we started, we found that the journey was more complicated and filled with more twists and turns than we expected. It felt right to end the season at this moment of decision where he's putting aside this dream he had of being a legitimate respected member of an established firm and going off to do ... something. Something that tickles him.

You and Vince spoke at the begining of the season about the question of moralily — a  character's struggle with morality and whether being good really pays off. Is Jimmy still struggling with his morality?

I think so. After he finds out that his brother never really believed in him and stabbed him in the back, in his own way, and did something that, in Jimmy's eyes and in our eyes, was despicable, he's not going to live trying to impress his brother. So what's he going to be doing? Through the course of the season, he has a core of sometimes ignored decency. He has an earnestness about him. He has his heart in the right place even though he doesn't always do the right thing. Now at least he thinks he's going to do things his own way from here on out.

Bob Odenkirk, who plays Jimmy, and Michael McKean, who plays his brother Chuck, are mainly known for their comedic work. But they both showed real dramatic chops in "Better Call Saul."

They both are remarkable performers. Bob and Michael — the way they played their scenes together changed our view of the show to some extent. Charles McGill at the start of the show was very different from where we ended up. Chuck in the beginning was a troubled man that was a burden for Jimmy, that Jimmy had to take care of. As Michael performed the scenes, we saw he brought a gravitas to the character and also a wounded pride. We thought maybe there are other dimensions to him. It was pretty late in the series when we realized that he wasn't as supportive of Jimmy as he might have seemed. That changed the course of the whole season.

How about the story arc for Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and his journey this season? Mike, of course, was in "Breaking Bad."

Mike is a guy who carries a scar on his soul. This is a guy who sees himself as damned. We wanted to know, what is the story there? How does a guy who was a cop for so many years become the right-hand man to a drug lord? Starting him off just after arriving in Albuquerque, he takes a job in a parking booth, which on its face is incongruous to a guy like Mike. But actually he's punishing himself. He really feels responsible for the death of his son. There's nothing he can do to erase that wound.

You and Vince expressed some concern before the season began over whether "Better Call Saul" would resonate with "Breaking Bad" fans. Obviously the ratings indicate that it has.

I'm thrilled. I took none of it for granted. This is a different show, and it's built around a different central character and the stakes are very different. It's so gratifying to see that people are watching and seem to be liking it. It's a relief and very rewarding that people are along for the ride.

Have you and Vince completed mapping out Season 2?

The characters surprise me and Jimmy has surprised me at the beginning of Season 2. We've only just started getting into Season 2. I'm excited about it but nervous as hell — just like Season 1, it's a different animal. Jimmy has gone through a gauntlet, he's gone through a change, he has taken a step toward being Saul Goodman. It's a struggle to figure out how far he's gone and what the implications of that are going to be. There's some really fun, fun stuff that we've got coming up. I'm excited about it.

Can you say anything about characters from "Breaking Bad" that might show up in Season 2?

It's safe to say we love keeping our world consistent. We love all those characters from "Breaking Bad," so if we can find a way to bring them into this show and have it work for this story, we will absolutely go for it. As far as "easter eggs" or overlaps, I would say you can definitely look forward to those.

 

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