Warning: This interview for the “Lantern,” Season 3 finale, episode of Better Call Saul contains spoilers.
Nobody’s saying the exact words, but after Yahoo TV’s post-Better Call Saul Season 3 finale chat with series creators Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan, it’s clear: Chuck McGill is not surviving that lantern-sparked fire in his home.
Despite the tragic finale — and understandably after such an incredibly intense, eventful season — Gould and Gilligan were in a playful mood as they chatted about Chuck and the Emmy-deserving actor who plays him, Michael McKean; about Kim and Jimmy and the hope that he won’t “leech” all the goodness out of her; why Gus used his own breath to save enemy Hector; where Mike Ehrmantraut was during the finale; and how Chuck’s presence will continue to be felt on Saul in Season 4, especially when Jimmy finds out the devastating details of what happened to his brother.
We seem to have ended with a cliffhanger… or did we? Are we all just in denial and holding out hope that Chuck survives?
Peter Gould: I think it’s wonderful that we have a world where people despise Chuck McGill — I don’t even go talk to fans that much, but the few things I’ve heard, people have been more or less begging for something terrible to happen to Chuck — and now that we’ve seen flames in his living room, you’re hoping against hope that he’s still going to be around. I think that’s fascinating… When we were working on Breaking Bad, George Mastras, who was a key writer, producer, director on Breaking Bad, introduced us to a term: “Schmuck bait.” And schmuck bait, as best as I can define it, is fooling the audience into thinking something enormous has happened in order to get them to watch past the commercial or to watch the next episode or the next season. In other words, you make it look like a character has died, or a character faces certain death, and then as soon as the commercial is over, “Oh, everything’s A-OK.”
Gilligan: The biggest example of schmuck bait in television history was when Patrick Duffy actually wasn’t dead on Dallas, it was all a dream.
Gould: That is the original schmuck bait. And it was one of the biggest, because they had a whole season, Dallas had a whole season, that turned out to be a dream… I’m sure they had more viewers for one act than we’ve had in all our seasons put together. But having said all that, we try very hard to play fair with the audience. Also, I think there’s the fact that our show tends to be about consequences. So, again, having said all that, it’s hard for me to nail anything down, just because the Season 4 writers’ room hasn’t opened yet. We may find out that… Vince was pitching earlier that Abraham Lincoln shows up in a time machine and rescues Chuck from the burning home. So you never know. Maybe Vince’s Abraham Lincoln …
Gilligan: Maybe it’s Clarence Darrow. Make it both of them.
Gould: Clarence Darrow and Abraham Lincoln team up with Chuck, and they travel through time.
Gilligan: I think, all goofing around aside, historically we usually don’t pull the rug out from the audience in terms of telling them one thing and then revealing it to be untrue. So, it really doesn’t look that good for Chuck, that’s for sure.
Chuck’s meltdown, that whole scene, was even more powerful and emotional because of the score. Dave Porter’s music really pulled it all together.
Gould: Dave is remarkable, and I knew as soon as we conceived of that sequence that it was going to be a showcase for Dave. I think he outdid himself.
Gilligan: It’s beautifully done. He outdid himself. Before this, that amazing sequence he did for the train robbery in Breaking Bad.
In addition to all the big moments in the finale, one of the most surprising things came about in a more subtle moment. We realize that Jimmy told Kim what he had done to Mrs. Landry, and we only find this out because he’s discussing with Kim his efforts to repair the damage he did to Irene and her friends. When did he tell her? Did he tell her after her accident to try to maybe make her feel a little better about her guilt over having risked others’ lives by driving on such little sleep?
Gould: I think it has to have happened after the accident, because if you remember in Episode 9, he comes in and has just done this terrible, dirty deed to Mrs. Landry, and he’s celebrating it, and Kim immediately goes off driving towards Texas and has her accident. These two have become co-conspirators in so many ways. Earlier in the season, something that we actually labored over quite a bit, was the question of whether Kim was aware of Jimmy sending Mike into Chuck’s house to take the pictures that he ends up using in the disbarment hearing. And we decided yes, she knew about that. Obviously she hadn’t met Mike, she doesn’t know who Mike is, but she knows Jimmy’s plan at that point. The two of them really are pretty comfortable with each other and, you know, sometimes we talk about this in contrast to Breaking Bad, when there was so much time and energy spent with Walt having his separate lives and deceiving Skylar. [Kim and Jimmy] really do have a different relationship. Kim knows. She doesn’t know everything, but she seems to know a lot more about what Jimmy’s up to.
I love the way Rhea [Seehorn] plays that scene that you’re talking about, and I love the way Genny [Hutchison] wrote it, because Kim isn’t telling Jimmy what to do. But when he says, “I’ve done everything I can think of,” she’s also not accepting that.
Gilligan: Which is interesting, and then she says, “Just play to your strengths.” So that begs a really interesting question there: she’s saying basically, use a con to get out of a con.
Gould: That’s right. One of my favorite things about the way this show has developed is the relationship between Jimmy and Kim. I gotta say, I am rooting for them to stay together. I don’t know how that’s going to happen, but I am rooting for it.
That he had confessed at least part of the story with Mrs. Landry gave me more hope for them, though. On the other hand, their different reactions to the accident… hers is to take immediate responsibility for it. Her focus is on the fact that she could have killed someone else by getting behind the wheel. Jimmy’s first instinct is to tell her it wasn’t her fault, that it only happened because she was working so hard to keep them afloat.
Gilligan: Yeah, that’s well put. Another way they differ is, one of my favorite lines in the entire season, a very moving moment, is when Kim is talking to Paige, and she’s having a really bad day, and she stops the proceedings and she tells Paige, “As far as I’m concerned, the only thing we did was tear down a sick man.” She’s obviously feeling guilt about Chuck and about this amazing victory they had in the bar hearing, this David versus Goliath victory they had. She is in a bit of a moral quandary about it. She does not feel good about it, and I bless her for that. I love that she still feels that way. She has that goodness in her. But I just worry that Jimmy’s gonna leech it all out of her eventually.
Gould: What a great observation. I have to think that Kim was disappointed in Jimmy. After their victory over Chuck, Jimmy didn’t reach out to his brother or try to reconcile with him, even after he’s won. Jimmy’s a sore winner, and that’s a very unattractive aspect to him.
Gilligan: Yeah, then you think he’s getting more unattractive so to speak. He’s becoming more like Saul Goodman and less like lovable Jimmy McGill as the episodes progress.
Why, in the big Gus showdown, does Gus end up saving Tio’s life, with his own breath? Was it a matter of control for him?
Gould: Gus has been saving Hector’s life since the beginning of this season and the end of last one. Remember at the end of Season 2 in that great episode that Vince directed, Mike has Hector in his sights, in the sights of his sniper rifle, and he’s interrupted. We find out he’s interrupted by Gus. So that was the only thing that could force Gus’s hand, Mike threatening Hector’s life. And as Gus said, a bullet to the head would have been far too humane. Gus is reserving the right to take his own revenge on Hector Salamanca. He is not going to let anyone else take Hector down. He doesn’t want Hector to die of natural causes. He wants Hector to witness the destruction of the cartel. And of course, that’s exactly what happens in Breaking Bad. We know that Gus succeeds on some levels, because he manages to — spoiler alert for those of our audience who haven’t seen Breaking Bad — he does wipe out Don Eladio’s cartel, and he saves Hector for last.
Gilligan: I think it’s Gus’s reason for living, almost. He’s gonna have his revenge, and it’s gonna be on his timetable. He’s gonna dictate the terms of it, and this guy dying of a heart attack, it’s just not gonna happen, not on his watch.
You mentioned Mike. Where was Mike? What was Mike doing during this very eventful time in Albuquerque?
Gould: That’s a very good question. The last time we saw Mike, he was signing on the dotted line to become part of Gus’s machine. He is actually giving his own identity over to Lydia Rodarte-Quayle over there at Madrigal. He seems to have a lot of hesitations, but in the end, he does. I think Mike, wherever he is in Albuquerque, Mike is probably waiting for the other shoe to drop. He seems to know that he’s signing a little bit of a deal with the devil there.
Gilligan: But I do think he spent the entirety of the finale episode eating meatloaf at Loyola’s restaurant.
Hector is such a gruff guy, and we see him doing mean things a lot of the time, but I love that part of the showdown scene where he starts talking about how he’s been pushed aside. We understand that there are all these things behind his anger and rivalry with Gus, but we also know that he’s a man of great pride and he puts a lot of emphasis on family, and we’ve seen him being marginalized and humiliated by Don Eladio.
Gould: Mark Margolis is just incredible. He’s one of those actors, he couldn’t be more different than Hector Salamanca. Mark Margolis is one of the most fun people around to talk to, he is a great raconteur, he’s full of zing and zip and very funny, very self-deprecating. To see him become this dark, threatening, volatile guy is fascinating… This is a guy who, he feels that he is a man of his word, he goes around doing his best for the cartel and for his family, and everybody is spitting on him. And he just cannot tolerate that.
Okay, so you said you haven’t started on Season 4 yet, the writers’ room isn’t open. What can you hint at about Season 4? What can you tease about maybe the direction? Obviously, even if Chuck is gone, his influence is going to continue on in a big way.
Gould: I think that’s really safe to say. Jimmy has two people who are at his foundation, the two people in the world he cares about the most, Kim and Chuck. You just have to wonder what Jimmy’s reaction is going to be when he finds out what happened to Chuck. You saw, Kim had a car accident and that rocked Jimmy’s world. What’s going to happen when he finds out what’s happened to Chuck? It seems like that’s going to be a life-changing event. That’s something, I have to say, in a way I’m looking forward to, but I’m looking forward to with a lot of trepidation, because I think it’s going to take Jimmy to a place that we’ve never seen him before.
Gilligan: And, you know, we’ve talked a lot about Chuck, just to say a word or two about the man who played him, Michael McKean. Just what a tremendous job for three seasons, what a tremendous character, Michael McKean created. He’s one of the old-time comedy greats, but he’s obviously just as great as a dramatic actor. I really believe, and you know I’m biased here, obviously, but I really believe that Michael McKean has created one of the all-time great TV characters. Chuck McGill is just maddeningly complicated and confounding, and he’s such a prideful man, and yet, to my eyes at least, there’s such a core of vulnerability and hurt underneath it that he can’t show anyone, he can never let the world see, and I just feel so sorry for him. I kind of always did. There were times when his behavior was so reprehensible that I found my sympathy for him waning, but now that it’s all said and done, he’s a fascinating character and a really complete and yet very damaged individual. And Michael McKean made that happen, he created that, and I really hope when Emmy time rolls around, I guess we’re …
Gould: We’re in the thick of it right now. I really hope he’s remembered. And that’s not why he does it, that’s not why any of us do it, but selfishly, I’d love to see him get remembered for this amazing character he’s created.
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