Suffice it to say that much more than just Chuck McGill and his home went up in flames when Better Call Saul sent its third season out in a literal blaze of, well, horror. So did any chance that, just maybe, one more season could pass before Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill went full-blown Saul Goodman, morphing from the waggish and easily wounded Jimmy into the shameless shyster first introduced to audiences in Breaking Bad.
Humiliated and jobless, Chuck (Michael McKean) spent his final words on Jimmy, offering a cruel assessment of his baby brother’s inability to do anything but hurt, capped by the suggestion that Jimmy succumb fully to his larger, lesser angels and a zinger near-fatal to Jimmy’s soul: “You’ve never mattered all that much to me.” Then the elder McGill burned himself alive, a brutal and ironic homage to the electromagnetic hypersensitivity he swore was burning him up from the inside, until Jimmy irrefutably proved otherwise.
— Better Call Saul (@BetterCallSaul) August 4, 2018
With Chuck’s words ringing in his ears, and only his beloved Kim (Rhea Seehorn) left to tether him to his better nature, Jimmy — who, for decades, has been functioning as the object of his brother’s wrath — faces a cold new reality. No hope for brotherly love, no firm, no doting Sandpiper residents and no idea how or where he should center his world.
“We begin immediately,” Odenkirk reveals of the Season 4 premiere (AMC, Aug. 6 at 9pm ET). “I mean, we literally begin the next morning after Chuck’s burned his house down, so we’re going to see the aftermath and we’re going to get right to it and we’re going to stay with Jimmy as he figures this out.” And how Howard (Patrick Fabian) and Kim figure it out, too, given their own stinging final interactions with the elder McGill (who may reappear in flashbacks).
We asked Odenkirk, Seehorn and Fabian for insight into how their characters, relationships and futures might rise from, or fall among, the ashes of Chuck’s fiery farewell.
On their characters’ first reactions to the news
Bob Odenkirk: The last moments that Chuck is alive, the last things that he says to Jimmy — and he says them with complete commitment and certainty and is almost at peace with himself in telling Jimmy that he meant less than nothing to him — are what color the rest of Jimmy’s life and how he feels about Chuck. Which is, he feels like he was swindled. The world held up this paragon of virtue called Chuck McGill to him, and he tried to live up to this person, and in the end, that person said, “You never mattered anyways.” [Jimmy’s] done with trying to live up to virtuous exemplars. He’s done with trying to please anyone.
Rhea Seehorn: Because of who Kim is, she needs to put on hold her own feelings about this to support Jimmy, the person who just lost their brother. … I would definitely argue that Chuck should not be practicing law. I would argue that his personal vendetta mixed of emotional and psychological issues has taken priority in the way he practiced law and approached law. He’s been a tormentor of Jimmy for a very long time. At the same time, the idea that Kim was part of taking him down in such a public way and embarrassing him — yes, there’s a ton of guilt. And there’s a ton of reckoning to do.
Patrick Fabian: First I want to give a little wink to the fact that my working with Michael McKean ended on our very last scene [of Howard assembling all of HHM to watch a fired Chuck leave]. It didn’t dawn on me until as we were doing it. I felt like I had gotten into the first round of Wimbledon and I’m playing against the No. 1-ranked person. It was an honor to work next to him. … But then, do Kim and Jimmy and Howard bond over this? Does it push them farther apart? When he is giving Chuck the check and kicks him out the door, is there a part of Howard that’s like, “All right, this is dramatic and awful, but you pushed me too far. I give you a year. We convene, but we reconvene on my terms, mister”? Or does Howard do this and say, “Holy @#$%. I’m out there without a net. Is this going to be a car wreck? Am I going to be calling Chuck back in six months saying, ‘I’m sorry. I’m wrong. Come back’?” Then, Chuck robs me of any of those possibilities by his action. … Maybe there’s a moment in time where people go, “Let’s put our hands together and say, ‘Let’s start again. Look what all this behavior has led us to.’”
On potential finger-pointing between Howard and Jimmy
Odenkirk: Howard is a huge character in Season 4, and the way that Chuck’s death impacts him powerfully is a big part of our season. Patrick does an amazing job of building this guy out and playing a side of him we haven’t seen yet. Howard cracks pretty hard in light of Chuck killing himself, so then the relationship between Jimmy and Howard is very complex. … They have a lot going on, but I can’t say specifically.
Fabian: I think we’ve seen both men, frankly — and I know Howard would be loath to say this — have shirked their responsibilities in ownership of making Chuck who Chuck is. Howard has, too, prompted by his inaction. It’s like children. Something got broke. Mommy and Daddy come home, and two kids are looking at each other: Who did it? Who’s taking the fall? All of those issues are definitely visited the first time, post Chuck’s demise, that the characters meet up.
On an already introspective Kim’s current state of mind
Seehorn: She begins to have to deal with things herself, in her own head. Kim does try to do everything on her own and does try to be so self-sufficient, and it begins to rattle around in her brain, in her chest, and there are consequences to that. … We’ve seen it before that she deals with uncomfortable emotions by trying to work her way out of them. And then we’ve seen some other threads of her life keep coming up. Now, it’s all there. I feel like this immense amount of guilt and grief that’s in the room can pull to the surface everything else that you haven’t dealt with. That’s how grief and Chuck’s death reverberates in Kim.
On Jimmy and Kim’s relationship
Odenkirk: Jimmy’s going to reject 10 times as hard all those things that Chuck was, and that Jimmy had strived for when Chuck was there to watch. How Kim deals with that becomes a big part of this season. Kim is sharing this season equally with Jimmy, if not somewhat eclipsing him a bit, because she matters in the choices he makes and how he becomes Saul. She’s the last person on earth that he has to live right for and to do right for and to not be Saul, so that he can be with her. So, in order for him to become Saul, there has to be some circumstance that makes him think that he can do that either beside her or without her.
Seehorn: You get a pretty wide berth to be strange in your grieving, so there’s all these strange occurrences that she has to take in. But then she also is soul-searching stuff for herself. That made for quite a pinball game. Their relationship has gone through the most tragic moments, where two people are so missing each other. Missing the point, I mean. And then, at other points, they have a maturity level that we’ve never seen from them. Where there are very mature attempts to reach out to somebody and to be honest with yourself in what you’re reaching out for. These tiny, quiet scenes were like bombs dropping when we got to play them, because I don’t think we’ve seen that from these characters before.
On Jimmy’s future, distant and otherwise
Odenkirk: Chuck’s death, Chuck’s life, who Chuck was, is going to resonate through the rest of Jimmy’s life. But you have to carry on living. Jimmy does that — and he does it in a way that I consider fairly healthy. I feel terrible about the fact that he has to become Saul Goodman. But he has to. There is still a bit to navigate here. He still has something he wants, which is Kim and her affection and her attention. So, that’s keeping him asking the question of “Who do I be next?” I think he’s just doing the math on that and, sadly, becoming Saul is his choice. … But, listen, we do stay connected to Gene, the character that Saul becomes after the events of Breaking Bad. His story expands in Season 4. Usually, we just check in on him for a few minutes, but there’s more than that here. His story starts to pick up.
On the ever-increasing connections to the Breaking Bad underworld
Odenkirk: The bad guys have a lot going on in Season 4, let me tell you that! Giancarlo Esposito [drug lord Gus Fring], Jonathan Banks [Saul’s eventual “fixer” Mike Ehrmantraut], Michael Mando [drug runner Nacho Varga] and we have a new guy coming in [confirmed by executive producers to be the mysterious Lalo], who is referenced in Breaking Bad, but you’ve never met. He’s such a great presence in our show. Jesus, so much great stuff happening! We’re getting closer to the Breaking Bad world. Maybe even touching it like a hot wire!