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Better Call Saul's creators on a great season 2: "So much of television now is rushed storytelling"

Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould break down that finale — and what's to come.

Better Call Saul
Bob Odenkirk stars in Better Call Saul.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

The second season of Better Call Saul was terrific, a big step up from season one that brought the show out of the shadow of its parent series, Breaking Bad.

When I called up creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould to talk about everything that happened in season two, the pair had already gone on the record elsewhere about the finale's biggest question — who left that mysterious note on Mike's windshield — and the puzzle hidden in the first letter of every season two episode title (which, when rearranged, spell out "FRING'S BACK," a reference to Gus Fring, perhaps Breaking Bad's biggest villain).

As Gilligan said to Alan Sepinwall at Hitfix:

It was never the intention for Gus to be in that episode. And to take it a step further, people should not assume in any way, shape, or form that they'll see Gus in the first episode of next season. It's possible they will. It's also possible, if not more possible, they won't. Gus is a character, as we know from Breaking Bad, who casts a very long shadow, and has a great many agents doing his bidding. He's a guy who's very hard for Walter White to pin down when Walt met him, and I think that will continue to be the case. That is his character, as I understand it. He is not a guy who reveals himself very quickly.

So instead, I asked Gilligan and Gould about all the other things I liked about the season — namely the increased prominence of Kim, the relationship between Jimmy and Chuck, and just why Mike and Jimmy seem to never share scenes together.

Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Better Call Saul
Odenkirk consults with Gould (center) and Gilligan on set.

Todd VanDerWerff: This season, it felt like many scenes were stretched out to run longer than is typical on other dramas. What was behind that choice? I found it refreshing.

Vince Gilligan: That's become, if it wasn't always, our natural rhythm.

Peter Gould: To some extent, maybe we've become more confident. We have confidence in our characters, in our actors, and in the moments. There's something very satisfying to us, anyway, about letting those things play out fully.

Having said that, I think we're always trying to obey the basic dramatic principles from show business immemorial about getting into scenes at the last possible moment and getting out at the earliest possible moment. But having said that, sometimes if you're in a big rush, you miss nuances that I think are very pleasing to us and things that are really interesting to watch.

VG: We always keep an eye on what's going on around us, and that's what we did right from the beginning of Breaking Bad. A thing that always holds us in good stead is seeing what everybody else is doing and trying to be as different from everybody else as possible.

So much of television now is rushed storytelling, and for me personally as a viewer, it's a shame, but it makes perfect sense that it's turned out that way. There's 400 scripted shows on television now. There's so much great stuff, and even some of the rushed storytelling is still great storytelling.

But there's so much product out there, for lack of a better word, that you really have to cut through the noise. Sometimes people figure the best way to do that is to keep things moving, moving, moving [snaps fingers] at a breakneck speed.

To me as a viewer, that more often than not turns me off. So we slow things down. Our editing rhythm is such that we figure, philosophically, why cut to the next shot until this shot is no longer interesting? Let's try not to artificially amp up excitement or drama through rampant cutting.

Why not just hold on something while it's working? With the great acting we have, more often than not you can hold on a oner [a long, unbroken shot] forever, because the actors are doing great, they're not screwing up their lines, they're giving it to you in the wide shot, so why not save the close shot for when it counts?

Better Call Saul
It's rare for Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk, driving) and Mike (Jonathan Banks) to be in the same scene.

TV: This season, Mike and Jimmy shared maybe two scenes together. What was behind the decision to send them on their separate ways?

PG: These two guys are not in a relationship because they're on the same TV show. When they're in a scene together, it's because there's a good reason for them to be in a scene together.

VG: Hopefully.

PG: Our choice was not to try to force it. We're the first fans of the show, and there's nothing that's more pleasing to us than to see Bob [Odenkirk, who plays Jimmy] and Jonathan [Banks, who plays Mike] in a scene together. They're like peanut butter and chocolate. It's certainly not something we avoid, but just as these characters have started taking their own paths, we decided not to force it.

VG: It's tricky. You will know as a viewer when it's being forced, because you know innately that Mike has respect for Jimmy's abilities on some deep level, but in general it's pretty clear that Mike finds Jimmy pretty grating and kind of obnoxious. So Mike seeking out Jimmy — there has to be a real good reason for it.

PG: He's not going to buy him dinner!

VG: He's not going to say, "Hey, let's go have a beer and hang out. Even though you annoy me, somehow I love hanging out with you." You don't want it to turn into one of those buddy cop movies from the '80s, where they hate each other and yet somehow they're still hugging it out by the end. You want to keep it as real as possible. These guys really are at the moment on separate paths, story-wise.

PG: We're always picturing scenarios where they get chained together at the ankle or something.

VG: Like in The Defiant Ones!

Kim Wexler on Better Call Saul
Kim (Rhea Seehorn) charts her own journey in Better Call Saul season two.

TV: Season two was so rooted in the relationship between Jimmy and Kim, who was a little underserved as a character in season one. What made this the right time to evolve her into one of the most important characters on the show?

VG: We wanted to get more of her in last season as well, but the primary demands of the story last season were getting us to understand who Jimmy McGill is, getting us to understand that Jimmy McGill is not Saul Goodman, getting us to see what his life is like and what his struggle is.

A lot of these "decisions" aren't decisions at all. The story just takes us where it takes us, and we're lucky that it took us to more Kim, because Rhea Seehorn, who plays Kim, is just wonderful. She's a star. She's got so much charisma. She's so interesting. She's so capable of shadings and nuances and complexities in the representation of her character. I've never worked with anyone quite like her. She's amazing. We are blessed with some of the best actors in television history on both shows, and she's right there with the cream of the crop on either show.

PG: And she has tremendous chemistry with Bob. That's one of the things that we hoped for. We knew she was a good actress when we cast her, but we also cast her because she and Bob set off sparks, and observing that really helped us to understand what this season was about.

As we ended season one, Jimmy was driving off, and there is a version where he drives off and he never sees Kim or [Howard] Hamlin [played by Patrick Fabian] or his brother ever again. That's not a version that I think we wanted to do, but I think we were open to it. But when we understood where Jimmy was and we understood what was important to him, we realized that Kim is central.

Kim is absolutely front and center in Jimmy's world, and that guided us through the season, and it certainly guided us to having a hell of a lot more Rhea Seehorn, which made us all very happy.

Better Call Saul
Chuck languishes alone.

TV: Both seasons of Better Call Saul have been built around the relationship between Chuck and Jimmy. What have you been surprised to learn about them as you wrote this season?

VG: What's interesting to me — and it's interesting that it's interesting to me; I don't know why I'm so surprised — is the level of hatred on the part of the fans for Chuck. It almost surprises me.

And yet I don't know why it does, because Chuck does some absolutely villainous, terrible things. He's jealous, and he's nasty. He's bad to his brother. He betrays his brother.

I don't know why I'm surprised that people hate him so much. I shouldn't be, but I guess it's because I'm surprised I still have empathy or sympathy for him. I feel sorry for him.

He makes me sad, Chuck does. He should be doing more with his life. And I don't mean going out and making money or leaving the house or whatever. I mean he should have more generosity of spirit.

He's an amazing guy. He's smart as a whip. He's achieved so much in his life, and yet he's locked in this crazy mental battle with himself over his jealousy about his younger brother. When his younger brother decided to be a lawyer and pass the bar, Chuck's life just went off the freaking rails.

PG: I was surprised and interested because I felt a lot of the season or a good chunk of it was about how tough it is to be Chuck McGill. As tough as Chuck is on Jimmy, he's really worse on himself. You saw that right at the beginning of the season, when he's practicing music, and when he slips up, he gives himself a little slap on the head.

He had this marriage that seemed to please him and certainly was very comfortable. He was married to a wonderful, talented woman, and he's lost all that. He's plunged himself — really not because of anything external to him — into darkness.

VG: Quite literally.

PG: I don't think that Jimmy fully comprehends that. I don't think Jimmy fully comprehends how full of life and pleasure and energy his life is and how dark and devoid of life Chuck's is. That to me feels kind of tragic, but of course it drives Chuck to do things that are truly despicable.

At the same time, as Vince said, the fans hate Chuck so much. It's interesting to contrast him with Hector Salamanca, who is a drug lord, who watches calmly while a guy is shot in the head. People don't hate him quite the same way, even though he's threatened Mike and his family.

VG: That cute little girl Kaylee, he's threatened to murder her!

PG: And yet I don't really hear from the fans, "Oh, I want to see Hector get his."

VG: It's human nature. We're not saying the fans are wrong. It's just interesting the people we choose to hate.

We know Hector's a bad guy. We know he's a scumbag. But we believe because we have brothers and sisters and family in our lives, we know family should be good to one another. They should support one another. That's the way it should be and very often isn't. But we feel like that's the way it should be, and Chuck should be supportive of Jimmy, but he's just not.

Better Call Saul season one is available on Netflix. Season two is available for digital download.

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