The moment that fans of the AMC drama “Better Call Saul” — the quirky prequel to the landmark drama “Breaking Bad” — have been waiting 2½ seasons for, finally arrived Monday night: the introduction of the title character.
“Better Call Saul” has focused on con-man-turned-attorney Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), a likable lawyer who often resorts to bending the rules of law. In the current season, the drama has moved closer to McGill’s evolution into Saul Goodman, his shadier alter ego who became the legal protector of drug kingpin Walter White in “Breaking Bad.”
Goodman arrived with a flashy flourish in Monday’s episode, “Off Brand.”
In the installment, a ruling in a disciplinary hearing pitting Jimmy against his most bitter opponent — his brother Chuck McGill (Michael McKean) — results in Jimmy being suspended from practicing law for one year. The penalty presents Jimmy with a dilemma: He’s purchased $4,000 of local air time advertising his services, money he is in danger of losing.
Jimmy comes up with a scheme to advertise to sell the time. In a disguise accented by a black cap, sunglasses and facial hair, Jimmy goes into hyper-huckster mode in a commercial where he appears as ad salesman “Saul Goodman.”
In an interview with The Times last January, Odenkirk said he was regretting Jimmy’s evolution into Goodman.
“Jimmy is mutating and changing,” the actor said on the set of the series, shot in Albuquerque, N.M. “There are parts of this guy that are shutting down. The lesser angels of his nature are coming to the surface. It’s a shame to have to say goodbye to him.”
Executive producer Peter Gould, who developed the Goodman character on “Breaking Bad,” spoke to The Times in a phone interview last week about his long-awaited arrival and what may be in store for viewers as “Better Call Saul” moves closer to merging with “Breaking Bad.”
This is a big moment for “Better Call Saul.” What’s it like to finally get to this point with Jimmy?
It was not something we planned in detail. It rose organically. It was so much fun to see Bob do this commercial. He brought that wonderful energy that is in between Jimmy McGill and a touch of “Mr. Show” [the HBO sketch comedy series featuring Odenkirk and David Cross]. Mostly the feeling was delight. But then, this is also when we say, “How does Jimmy McGill become Saul Goodman?” It raises a lot of questions for us.
He explains that the name boils down to “S’all good, man.”
At the inception of the character in season two of “Breaking Bad,” I remember someone — it might have been [“Breaking Bad” creator] Vince [Gilligan] — coming up with the idea of calling the crazy lawyer “Saul Good.” The idea was that this would be an mnemonic device for all his low-life clients, an easy name for them to remember. When they’re arrested and have their one phone call, even the most confused of his prospective clients could remember that. And then someone else in the writer’s room said, “Saul Goodman.” As soon as we heard that, it was the name of the character.
Bob Odenkirk said the show will start losing Jimmy and getting more of Saul, which was very bittersweet for him.
That’s very true. Jimmy McGill has a very big heart. There’s a sweetness to him that you only see flickering way, way back in Saul Goodman’s eyes, if at all. You can see it in this episode and in the episode before. It’s about his anger with Chuck. It’s one thing to be a sore loser. It’s another thing to be a sore winner. To the extent that Jimmy won the battle with Chuck — in a lot of ways he has — but still holds this tremendous grudge against Chuck, arguably for good reasons, is one of the things that takes him down a dark path. In this episode, he has an opportunity to have some reconciliation with his brother, but Jimmy is not ready to go there. That has as much to do with the freeze in his heart as calling himself Saul Goodman.
But Chuck has done some really horrific things to Jimmy. Isn’t it right for Jimmy not to forgive him?
That’s a good question. I don’t think he’s wrong to be angry, although Jimmy certainly has his share of responsibility. It’s often not easy for us to take responsibility for what we’ve done, and it might be asking too much to hold Jimmy to that standard. But I have to say that when Bob talks about Jimmy becoming Saul, he’s talking about more than just using the name. He’s talking about a coldness and a willingness to let the welfare of others take a back seat to his own self interests. Jimmy can’t help doing the right thing because he has an inherent morality, We’ll see how long that lasts.
I know you’re not going to give specifics, but what kind of tone can we expect for the remainder of the season?
I can tell you this season goes to emotional extremes. Some of the darkest material we’ve ever seen, but also some very funny moments. This show can zip back and forth between extremes. That’s due to our brilliant cast led by Bob. He’s such a soulful actor.