The following contains spoilers for the Better Call Saul season 3 finale.
Better Call Saul, while a great show, isn’t always know for its Earth-shattering finales. The moral decay of Jimmy McGill’s into Saul Goodman happens incrementally and logically. The season one finale essentially saw Jimmy donning a pinky ring as a symbol of his eventual identify change (ok, more happened than that but the pinky-ring was kind of an unexpectedly important totem), while the season two finale showed the lengths he would go to salvage one important relationship by effectively ruining another.
That slow creep takes a big jump in the season 3 finale, “Lantern,” with undoubtedly the most important and monumental moment of the show thus far – the apparent self-immolation of Charles McGill, esq.
It’s a wonderful hour of television and an unusually dark chapter for the show so we decided to venture further into the Saul Goodman heart of darkness with “Lantern’s” writer, Gennifer Hutchison. Hutchison comes from the increasingly-impressive Chris Carter/Vince Gilligan talent-tree having written previously for Breaking Bad and working on the production staff of The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen.
We spoke with her about what is was like to write such an important episode of an important show, what Chuck’s decision means for Jimmy and how close we are to a fully-realized Saul Goodman.
Den of Geek: From what I’ve read about previous seasons of Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad it seems as though the writing process is usually if not improvisational at least exploratory in the sense that you guys just write with a limited outline and let the story kind of do what it wants. Was that the case for this season as well?
Gennifer Hutchison: Yeah. That’s how we usually do it. Usually we’ll have sort of a general idea where we’re going along with some big moments throughout the season so we have a bit of direction. As we go that can organically shift. Sometimes things aren’t necessarily going to work or they’re going to work sooner than we thought or later than we thought. This season definitely operated along those lines.
What were some of the big story beats you planned to hit this season and ended up following through on?
The big hearing with Jimmy and Chuck – that’s something that we were definitely aiming for midseason. We wanted to have that confrontation between them. Also have Kim working more and more and overextending herself and that leading to some sort of catastrophic event for her. We talked about that from very early on. There was a lot of stuff with Gus and Mike and Nacho and Hector. Hector having some sort of attack by the end of the season is something that we talked about.
Do you recall where the origin of the “lantern” as a sort-of motif originated? The lantern that Chuck uses in the finale was introduced earlier on in the season when Mike was cataloguing things around Chuck’s house.
It’s all very natural for Chuck. He’s been using these lanterns for so long. We’ve talked about how dangerous that really is. It just felt right that if he was going to do something like this that would be the mechanism. Having the photograph of the lantern does kind of function as a Chekov’s gun. I don’t really know if that was intentional though. It might have just been one of those happy thematic things that ended up happening. Fire always felt right with him.
How does the collaboration process work in the Better Call Saul writer’s room? I’m sure each show is different.
We break all the episodes together. We do some outlining and coming up with the story beats together and then a writer is assigned to do the actual writing. It’s up to our showrunners, Vince and Peter. It’s basically a sequence or a schedule of who writes what. It’s fairly random. It really is the luck of the draw. The nice thing is that every episode has so many fun things for the writer that no one feels cheated.
What was it like to be assigned the finale?
It’s exciting. Just because premieres and finales are always extra special. You’re trying to start something or end something so you get a few more interesting moments. There’s always some added pressure too though. You want to make sure that you deliver. I felt really lucky and honored that (showrunner) Peter (Gould) trusted that I could deliver the finale.
Do you have a favorite moment from the finale?
I love so many scenes. I really loved Kim and Jimmy hanging out and watching movies, eating chips and trying to problem solve the Irene issue. They have such nice chemistry and such a rapport that those are always fun, gratifying scenes to write. And then to see how they end up performing them. They always end up making it even better than you imagine it in your head.
It’s not entirely like there are two shows within Better Call Saul but the Mike stuff and the Jimmy stuff bring some different genres to the table – with one being more true crime and the other a legal drama. What’s it like to write within those two genres on one show?
It’s interesting. It can be a little tricky to make sure they’re not too jarring between each other. We think a lot about that. We try to link things thematically. It’s really nice though to have that freedom – to be able to write across genre within the same show. You get to exercise some more of your writing muscles and still have a fun show. The thing that really drives it is that it’s such a character-driven show. So even when you’re doing the noir-y stuff with Mike and the family drama with Jimmy and Chuck, it’s still about those characters.
Speaking of character-driven, what was it like to write and then see come to life that extended, fairly riveting montages of Chuck tearing through the walls of his home looking for an electric current?
We really wanted to show Chuck’s decline in a definitive, measurable way. This felt like the best way to do it. We try to write it fairly detailed. Then you film it and it’s in little pieces. So it really hit me the most watching it after it had been edited together, especially with Dave Porter’s wonderful score over it. I got pretty emotional watching it actually. Michael McKean did such a great job with the performance. It was definitely a thing that evolved in my head and became something that was almost difficult to watch. It’s really horrible.
At the end of this season, where do you think Jimmy falls on the Jimmy-to-Saul spectrum – if 1 is a Jimmy and 10 is a Saul?
He’s probably teetering around a 6 or 7. I think this is a very dangerous time for him. After everything that happened with Chuck, he’s in a very precarious place emotionally. I’d say he’s closer to being Saul than he’s probably ever been. Even though he did an altruistic act in this episode – trying to undone the damage he had done to Irene.
Do you have a favorite episode or moment from working on Better Call Saul?
I have moments from all the episodes. And I’m proud of all of them. I’m really particularly proud of this one. It was such a big episode that closed off so many arcs and opened up some new ones. This one felt really particularly significant. Every scene felt so great. It’s rare to just be really happy in an episode. I’m happy it all came together.
We don’t know how long the series is going to continue at this point or how many episodes we have left so it’s probably hard to answer but do you see this season as a kind of a climax for the story of Saul Goodman? And is it closer to the middle or the end?
It does feel monumental. The thing that makes Jimmy Jimmy is his relationships. And in particular his relationship with Chuck and then his relationship with Kim. When he starts to destroy those relationships, we’re definitely moving closer to the end or the beginning of the end for Jimmy. I think it’s intentionally a monumental step towards becoming Saul.
If it is all about relationships, it seems like there’s just Kim left at this point for Jimmy.
I know. Lot of pressure on Kim there!