“Better Call Saul” isn’t the fastest-paced show on television, to say the least, but star Bob Odenkirk is worried. “Is it too slow, do you think?” he asks.
The new season, which premieres on August 6, finds Jimmy McGill reeling from the death of his brother, Chuck — and he’s in a bit of emotional stasis, as Odenkirk says. “That’s a lot of trust in the audience that Peter and Vince have,” he reveals.
But judging from the rapturous response from fans the episode received when it was screened at Comic-Con, he doesn’t need to work. And their trust will be rewarded, he says. “The funny stuff is funnier. The suspense is more suspenseful. And the danger is more scary and dangerous,” says Odenkirk.
As Jimmy continues on his path “hurtling towards Saul,” Odenkirk offers Variety a preview of what’s ahead for Jimmy and Kim, how the show intersects with “Breaking Bad,” and the one story he wants to see.
How would you describe this season as compared to previous seasons?
Yeah, it’s funnier. It’s more dynamic as far as flying between the different modes of the show. I think now there’s a confidence from the writers that they know how funny they can get and get away with it. They know how violent they can get and set that right next to the comedy. And they’re just really getting comfortable with the dynamics of this show which are pretty powerful and wild and fast. I love it. It’s gonna be a fun season to watch.
You’ve always talked about how Saul is starting to peek through. Without giving anything away, there’s a full-on Saul moment in the premiere.
Saul’s a guy who’s following the worst angels of his nature. And there they are, coming to life in front of us….Nobody takes into account how that moment felt when Chuck said to Jimmy, ‘You meant nothing to me. I didn’t care about you one way or the other.” That was really cold. Peter and Vince have said, well, he was just lashing out at Jimmy. He was just trying to hurt Jimmy, but I gotta tell you: He sounded like he meant it. He sounded like he was completely in control of his faculties. He had contemplated the question and this is the answer he had. I think that colors everything else. And so the notion that this thing that Jimmy did, that he almost forgot he’d done, he was just trying to cause a little bit of a ruckus in Chuck’s life.
He’s mad for having wasted all of his love and energy trying to please Chuck and finding out that Chuck was never going to ever, ever care about him one way or the other. Peter and Vince say, well Chuck was just trying to hurt him emotionally. You don’t know that when someone says that to you, all you know is, that’s what they said to you and they seemed to mean it. Jimmy believed him and I think [Michael] McKean did it in such a way that it was a wholly believable. So f–k Chuck!
How much does Chuck’s death cast a pall over the season?
For the world of Howard Hamlin and Kim Wexler and Jimmy McGill, it is the whole season. It is everything. I think that mostly season four is about Jimmy and Kim from my point of view. It’s about the last thing that’s tethering Jimmy to some degree of proper behavior and ethics is Kim Wexler and his love for her and his relationship with her, which is at times in season four shockingly good and healthy, like I’ve rarely seen portrayed on television or anywhere. There are moments in the fourth season where the characters are just plainly honest with each other and instead of the partner or the other person reacting in a pushback manner, they work together and they listen to each other and they forgive each other and those moments really make you feel like they are potentially a really good couple and that they could last a lifetime. But I just don’t see that happening. So it’s even more tragic that that goes away. But this season is about those two figuring out how and why they can or can’t be together.
That’s the big question; does their relationship have a future?
When I’m in these scenes with Rhea [Seehorn] as Kim, I keep wanting to say, “You didn’t hear what he said to me. He looked me in the eye and said I didn’t matter.” I keep wanting to tell her about that night, not that hearing about it would change anything about what she feels because they would only be secondhand and you had to be standing there listening to him to get the full impact and know how it felt. But there are many moments in season four where the two of them are diverging and then there are a few amazing moments where they’re really great together and you almost feel like they should survive this. It’s a tragedy that they don’t. I don’t know if they do or don’t, but I don’t think they stayed together because I just don’t picture Kim hanging with Saul Goodman in any capacity.
As Jimmy gets more and more despicable, how do you keep the audience on his side?
The audience seems to love his plotting and planning. When he has an inspiration for a con or some kind of swindle to win something for himself, he gets very gleeful, and he’s a fun person to watch. He’s having fun. He even gets carried away to the point where he can’t see the problems arising in his schemes, but his natural joyful energy that arises when he chases these efforts and plots is infectious, and I think the audience buys into it.
This season is set more in the world of “Breaking Bad.” How close does it get?
It’s coming around and it’s so close that it’s the next thing to happen. It’s so close that you can see it’s right there at the end of the season essentially, but it takes up more time. The plots with Mike and Gus and Hector, the “Breaking Bad” world is assembled very closely, almost at the end of the season four. There’s a little bit of time there to go.
Do your world intersect anymore this season with Mike Ehrmantraut [Jonathan Banks]?
They do. They intersect. Next year will be the weaving in and out. That’s how it’s going to go. The two tracks, they’re just touching at the end. The merge is just about to happen at the end. There’s still a ways to go because Gus is assembling his power and his status that he has when we meet him in “Breaking Bad,” but he doesn’t get there yet. He’s just got like one last leg to go, but then Saul has to have some interactions before Walter White would come in to the room. So there’s maybe two chapters before then.
How much more road do you see ahead?
I do leave it in Peter’s hands, but I personally would like to see Gene’s story go somewhere. I don’t know what that means to Peter and Vince, but I know they have expressed that interest as well. I don’t know whether that would be one episode or six episodes. Maybe with the story of Gene, if they could make more out of his story, which I’d like to see. I feel like they’ve told the story of a person of Walter white degrading into the worst part of himself. And I wonder if there’s a story they can tell of a person who does that and survives and maybe puts a better version of himself together with the remnants. It’s a lot to ask and maybe I’m the only one who wants it, who cares, who likes the guy enough to want him to do that. Maybe it would not be considered entertaining, but I believe people can often learn the wrong lessons from their experience, but occasionally can learn the right lessons. I would love to see Gene learn something that turns him into a better person from all that he’s been through.
As usual, we do get a little glimpse of Gene at the start of the season.
No one could last very long living that way. Your heart’s going to explode or your brain’s gonna be like an aneurysm or two, you’re going to give yourself a heart attack. I don’t think he can go on much longer that way we can already see, he collapsed out of nothing but stress, I would imagine. And he heads back out into the world in this first episode and his world is just filled with tension and fear and anxiety. And he’s a hunted man. Whether that’s true or not, he feels it at all times. So I don’t think you can last, that anyone could withstand that kind of pressure.
Which iteration of the character do you like playing more: Gene, Jimmy or Saul?
Jimmy, right now. But if Gene could reconstitute himself into a better person, maybe the wisdom and the self awareness that he gained from all this might make him the most fun to play. He would need to get some confidence back. But if that could be a part of that reconstitution remaking himself, he could be the best version to play. Just give them a little wisdom, a little hard-earned wisdom and a little self awareness and a degree of humility that somehow can exist beside all those braggadocio skills that he has naturally.
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