Better Call Saul showrunner Peter Gould has been a part of Vince Gilligan’s Albuquerque for more than ten years now, starting as a writer on Breaking Bad back in 2008.
If his enthusiasm for the world of meth manufacturers, laconic assassins, and crooked lawyers is waning, he’s doing a hell of a job of disguising it.
We caught up with Gould to discuss Better Call Saul Season 4 and he sounded positively jazzed about the developments therein, using terminology like “excited,” “thunderstruck,” “action,” and “earthquake.”
The following contains spoilers for Better Call Saul Season 3
Den of Geek: Thanks for talking to us today!
Peter Gould: How are things at the Den?
Good! How are things at the….Saul?
Good! We’re actually cutting episode five right now. We’re very, very excited about this season.
How are you feeling broadly about the season at this point? What has surprised you?
This season really knocked me on my ass. There are some moments of drama and suspense that were great in the writers and on the page and then our cast and amazing crew have really have elevated. I think that there is action and suspense and some deep character work like nothing else we’ve done on this show. When it comes to action, there is some action that rivals anything that we did on Breaking Bad.
Typically the Mike and Gus side of the show tends to be more action-oriented. Is that the case this time around? Is there more of an investment in that storyline or is there just more action all around?
You know this is a season where things get into a high gear for everybody. Obviously Jimmy has a very different kind of story from Mike but we’re finding out that they have a lot more in common than we thought. In surprising ways there are parallels between these guys that we weren’t really expecting. I don’t want to get too into detail. It’ll ruin the fun. But for all of our characters there are some shattering scenes.
What are some of the parallels between Mike and Jimmy?
I can talk about that a little bit. So much of who Mike is and who he’s become is driven by his guilt for what happened to his son. Now Jimmy has lost his brother in physically and emotionally complicated ways. In an interesting way both of these guys are reacting to terrible, catastrophic losses. The question of what their responsibility is and what does that make them. It’s an interesting echo. They are different guys but there are parallels in their circumstances.
Oh interesting. I think I had mentally examined every angle of what a Chuck-less version of the show could look like but I never made the connection that it would give Jimmy and Mike something in common.
Me neither! These are the things that we find out as we labor in the writer’s room. It’s a fascinating thing how the story emerges from these characters in ways we don’t except or necessarily plan or foresee.
It seems like there’s always been a bit more of an improvisational spirit to both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.You’ve been on this for around 10 years now. Has that improvisational spirit stayed true?
Absolutely. I like saying that it’s an improvisational spirit but I think it’s mostly just staying true to the characters from moment to moment. What we found was we had all these big ideas about what we wanted people to do but if we’re true to the character sometimes those plans come for naught. The trick that I learned on Breaking Bad is to always be willing to jettison every big idea you have if the character doesn’t want to go there, isn’t ready to go there, or in the best case scenario: surprises you. You say to yourself “what would this person do?” Not “what do I want them to do?” As long as we keep asking ourselves those questions I don’t think we’ll go far wrong. It’s funny because this season I think we have some of the most interesting, cinematic teaser sequences that we’ve ever had. Some of them are so shocking to me. What makes them work for me is that they’re all about some aspect of the character or understanding on another level what they’re going through.
What characters have surprised you most in season four then?
It’s always going to be Jimmy. More this season than ever before there are moments where he is an enigma. You are really trying to understand why he does the things he does. Not everything is a straight line with this guy. He is a complicated character. He’s a character who I find fascinating. He’s on this journey, which goes through Saul Goodman. It doesn’t end with Saul Goodman. The way he gets from point A to point B shocks me. I think you’ll see pretty quickly that Jimmy doesn’t behave like you’d think. The decisions he makes are not the ones I would have expected.
That’s really divergent for you guys then because in Breaking Bad, Walter White was famously on somewhat of a set path with Vince’s “Mr. Chips to Scarface.”
That’s true. It’s interesting when we talk about the difference between improvisation and planning. On Breaking Bad the first time I met Vince I had just seen the pilot and one of my questions was “well, what happens next to Walter White?” And Vince said. “I don’t know. We’re gonna find out.” He may not have known what was going to happen next but he knew who the character was. He knew what the arc of the series was going to be even if he didn’t know the specifics. In an odd way we have that and we don’t have that on this show. We know Jimmy McGill will become Saul Goodman. That’s canon. We won’t change that. But we also know he becomes Gene and we have no idea what will happen to Gene. It’s a combination of two very different approaches. I can tell you the truth: sometimes it makes my head feel like it’s going to explode keeping it all straight.
What’s it been like adjusting to a post-Michael McKean universe on Better Call Saul?
You know, what happened with Chuck last season was probably the most difficult decision that I’ve ever been a part of in the writer’s room. We kept fighting ourselves and saying “there’s gotta be another way” because we love Chuck, we love writing that character and we love working with Michael McKean who is a wonderful performer and a wonderful guy to work with. It’s a huge adjustment. It’s an earthquake for us. It changes the show but we knew it was inevitable. By the time we got to the end of the last season we knew this was the way we had to go. It was the only path forward. What it means is that season three is a major turning point for the show and for Jimmy. It’s not necessarily immediately clear in the first episode or first couple of episodes where it will take us. It was rough but I think we made the right decision. The one other thing I will say is that the beauty of our universe is that we don’t necessarily have to say a permanent goodbye to any actor or character. We move back and forth in time and it gives us a back door when we have those tearful goodbyes.
Good point. No fewer than two dead men are main characters on the show.
That’s absolutely true!
Will there be the same amount of black and white Gene sequences, fewer, or more?
You will definitely see Gene. You’re going to see a different kind of Gene sequence. I don’t want to ruin anything but we definitely get deeper into the Gene storyline. There’s a lot more to Gene including learning his last name.
How would you describe season four in one word?