Warning: Spoilers ahead for the “Sunk Costs” episode of Better Call Saul.
Mike and Gus met for the first time, Chuck played his hand and revealed his plot to get Jimmy disbarred, Jimmy lashed out at Chuck in a new, brutal way, and Kim is not only so busy at work she’s sleeping at the office, she also continues to support Jimmy, even as his personal and professional life are on a downward spiral.
Emmy-nominated Better Call Saul writer Gennifer Hutchison broke down Season 3’s third episode for Yahoo TV, including the importance of the pivotal moment When Mike Met Gus, whether or not Jimmy is really as done with big brother Chuck as he said he is, how hypocritical Chuck would defend his instances of doing exactly what he accuses Jimmy of, and what inspires Hutchison and her fellow Saul writers to come up with those elaborate, impressively low-tech schemes for Mike.
And, she teases the one word we need to keep in mind for the rest of the season: consequences.
This is a game-changing episode.
It definitely puts a couple stories on new tracks, so yeah, I guess that’s a fair assessment.
First, the new opening. Is there any significance to the manicured female hand flicking ashes into the scales?
You know, we tend to switch up the opening fairly often on the show. I think they always just work to totally set up the origins of the show. They’re all very Saul-feeling and not necessarily Jimmy-feeling. I think they act nicely to remind people that the Jimmy you know now is not necessarily the Jimmy that will always exist. As much as you get into the show, having that right up top, the garish colors and a little bit of a tacky display, is a constant reminder that life is going to change.
As much as we love Jimmy, we’re going to have to let him go at some point.
The first major event in this episode is the first face-to-face meeting between Gus and Mike. I think it’s as powerful and eventful as you would expect that meeting has to be. There seems to be an immediate respect between them. What was important for you to achieve with that first meeting?
It was a challenge, because these are characters we’re so familiar with if we watched Breaking Bad, obviously. We’re so familiar with their relationship. The important things for me were making sure that even though this is the first time they’ve ever met, they obviously don’t have the kind of rapport that they had on Breaking Bad, [but] there needed to be a seed of that rapport in the scene. There needs to be something that makes you go, “Oh, I can see these guys working together in the future and having tremendous loyalty to each other ultimately” [and] at the same time, preserving the fact that they’re at odds. They’re both scary, capable guys, and they don’t really know anything about each other. It was a balance of, how do you keep that tension of, “We have different needs right now and either of us could try to kill the other at any moment,” but also, “There’s something about you… I see potential here.” Just making sure that really played, and we didn’t fall into the old way that they related. This felt like a new meeting.
The doctor who Mike goes to for the drugs, his nurse refers to Mike’s reason for being in the office as “the revenge,” which we understand, of course, what that all means. Is that really what’s driving Mike at this point, revenge against Hector Salamanca? Or given everything, given how we know Mike will never forgive himself for his son’s death and that what he really cares about most now is Kaylee, does Mike suspect that Gus is his way into a bigger-stakes business that he could use to build a financial future for Kaylee?
I’m not sure if he’s necessarily thought of that yet. I think Mike is still in a place of threat assessment. I think the fact that Gus managed to get the drop on him in such a big way at the end of last season and the follow through in the [Season 3 premiere] has really rattled him in a way that is pretty unusual for him. Usually Mike is on top of everything. I think at this point, he’s mostly curious and also scared. If [Gus] is a guy who can follow him without him knowing, how much of his life does he know about? Is his family safe? At this point, I think it’s more about who are you, why are you so good at what you do, and are you a continuing danger to me? At the same time, he still has his issues with Hector and isn’t necessarily ready to give that up. He also has to figure out if this is a person he can work around or not. I’m not sure if it’s quite yet, “There’s a lucrative business to be had here.” I think that’s something that is still a little bit subconscious, that hasn’t quite started to move forward in Mike’s mind.
I love that we see another elaborate Mike plot unfold, this time with the sneakers over the power lines and the drugs inside. You also wrote Season 2’s “Bali Ha’i,” which featured another great Mike trick, using carbon paper under the welcome mat to detect footprints. Where do all these great schemes come from, and should you maybe be working with the CIA?
I think the whole writers’ room would have to come in on that. We work so hard together on these schemes. They really are a team effort, because essentially, whenever we want to have Mike have some sort of heist-y scheme that he does, our starting thought is always, “What’s the lowest tech way to do this?” Though Mike uses technology, obviously, if there is a really practical way to do it, then he’s going to do it that way. It’s always like, “What’s the most basic version of this that we could possibly do that still makes sense, that’s still worthwhile, and will do the trick?” Going from there, I think someone came up with the idea of, “You know how there’s always the shoes [hanging from wires]? Maybe we can use the shoe.” Because we had talked for a very long time about, how do you get the meth on the truck? That ended up being a thing. It just was one of the things where we’re like, “Oh, that’s super obvious.” It’s something that no one would really notice, especially in America. It’s just so ubiquitous. In most areas around the country, there’s shoes hanging from power lines.
Were those retail sneakers, or did you have them designed just for this episode?
Jennifer Bryan, our costume designer, had those specifically designed. She worked on the design and then a company actually manufactured them for us. Originally, we were just going to do regular sneakers. Then it seemed like an opportunity to do a unique design, so yeah, those are specially made for us.
They’re cool, kinda superhero-ish. They look like sneakers The Flash should wear.
I know. We had said red very early on, just because they would be much easier for Mike to see at such a distance. Then from there, Jennifer had all these great ideas. She had multiple versions. They’re a large men’s size. I wear a small women’s size. I was like, “Please.” It was just prohibitively expensive for me to get my own special pair, unfortunately.
Oh, there should be Better Call Saul writers’ room sneakers.
I know, right? That would not be obnoxious in any way.
You know what is funny about this whole Mike/Gus/Hector situation… Even though, as you said, Mike is still shaken a bit that he’s met someone as formidable as himself in Gus, you almost begin to feel ever so slightly sorry for Tio Salamanca, because he really has made enemies of the two most capable, and more importantly, patient, men he could have made enemies of with Mike and Gus.
Yeah, he’s definitely in trouble. I think that’s the thing that Gus really recognizes in Mike, is how measured he really is. It’s very much how Gus is. Definitely that moment of, “There’s something about this guy that I could use that would be helpful for me in my endless quest for revenge.”
Another person we’re definitely feeling sorry for in this episode: Jimmy. I think most people would acknowledge that Chuck has made a lot of fair points about Jimmy. He has a lot of things to be legitimately upset with Jimmy about, and has made criticisms that are true, no matter how much we love Jimmy. But when Chuck comes out of his house to lecture Jimmy when Jimmy is waiting for the cops to arrive, he’s just being so smug and so condescending to his brother. It’s still a little shocking though when Jimmy says, “What’s going to happen? You’re going to die alone,” essentially. Is Jimmy saying that because he’s so angry and frustrated at that moment, or has he, in that angry, hurt moment, really made the decision that no matter what Chuck does, he’s done with him?
You know, I think it’s probably a mix of both. When I was writing that scene, I was definitely like, “This is it. Jimmy is done with Chuck,” but the harshness of the language… If you’re really done with someone, in the purest form of that, you’re probably just going to be like, “I’m done. Goodbye.” To be so cruel in how he says that, to me that’s coming from a place that’s just extreme hurt and anger. I think the fact that Chuck lied to him… This is the one person that, as much as they disagreed, as much as they hurt each other, they’re really the only family that they have left on an active, connected basis. For Chuck to do that, I think, was just the ultimate betrayal for Jimmy.
In the final scene, with Jimmy and Kim, when he has put together what Chuck’s true intentions were and just how cruel that is, it crushes him. It’s one thing to want your brother in jail; it’s another level to take away this thing that he partly did in the beginning to impress you, becoming an attorney like Chuck. Then when Jimmy asks why Kim is sticking by him, she tells him it’s like the fallacy of sunk costs, essentially saying, “I’m sticking with you because I’ve already invested so much in you.” None of these things are positive statements about Jimmy’s future.
Oh, yeah. That’s funny, because it’s meant to be more of a gentle ribbing, because I think there’s something about Jimmy. He essentially says, “Why would you be with me?” The idea that a woman like Kim would even give him the time of day… I think he still doesn’t quite believe that, because I think there is an element of what Chuck believes about Jimmy that Jimmy has internalized. That’s the thing he’s really pushing up against.
For me, Kim’s whole thing is, “I love you. Of course I’m here.” There isn’t even a moment of, “I’m not going to help you.” He’s the one that pushes her away earlier in the episode. I think these two have a hard time speaking to that level of intimacy, though. There’s always that distance of joking that comes out. I think the emotions between them are sincere. I really do, but I think they’re both very cautious in how they express that. Jimmy is a person who has emotionally been kicked by everyone who’s important in his life, and [there’s] his guilt. He brought that on himself. I think it’s hard for him to be really sincere, and I think Kim is so controlled that it’s a little bit difficult for her, as well.
It is Kim saying, “I love you, you idiot. Of course I’m going to help you.” Do you think he understands that, or is he internalizing it as, “Oh, yeah, she feels obligated to stick with me”?
I think probably there’s always that element of the believing the worst version of something with Jimmy. I think when you have those deep wounds and insecurities, it’s that thing of, you can hear 100 amazing things, and then you hear one slightly negative thing, and you only believe the bad. I can see Jimmy like, “Oh, it’s because she feels like she has to,” being scared of being a burden on her.
I think it ends on a hopeful note, in that they both certainly intend to go forward and fight Chuck on his plot to get Jimmy disbarred. He really has, as Jimmy said, boxed him in. Do they feel like there’s hope of getting Jimmy out of this, though?
I would like to think so. I think Jimmy is a little more invigorated coming out of the end of that scene, because even if he goes down, ultimately he’s not alone. Having Kim there means that. She’s a great lawyer and one of the few people he cares about and who cares about him. I think there is hope. It’s going to be a hard fight, but at least he’s not completely isolated.
As for Kim, we find out she’s working so tirelessly for Mesa Verde that she’s sleeping at the office and showering at the gym across the street. Is that the whole story, or is she maybe having some money issues? Is she living at the office, trying to save money with her business startup costs?
That’s interesting. I think the intent is mostly to show that she’s just burning the candle at both ends and running herself ragged. That’s maybe not a sustainable model ultimately.
The way that that scene is shot, it’s so great, it almost feels like it’s showing Kim as a superhero, too.
That was a scene that grew really organically. We knew we wanted to do a montage, and then figuring out exactly how to do it was really tricky. We talked a lot about the rhythmic transitions that Edgar Wright uses in his comedy, his movies. We didn’t necessarily do that, but the idea of that faster paced, percussive feeling. Then just working with Rhea [Seehorn] and John [Shiban], the director, just coming up with ideas of how to sell that. That is interesting. It is sort of her putting on her superhero costume. I hadn’t thought about that.
And then there’s poor Ernie. Again, I think it’s not tough to sympathize with a lot of Chuck’s positions, but when it comes to Ernie in this situation, he’s doing exactly what he’s accusing Jimmy of doing, getting what he wants no matter who it hurts. Ernie has become collateral damage in Chuck’s plot against Jimmy. How would Chuck defend that?
You know, it’s interesting, because you’re right. Chuck is one of those people who I think always believes that what he’s doing is righteous and along the letter of the law. I do think he has this sense that, “Well, I’ve been wronged. Ernie clearly was giving information to Jimmy in other ways. Ernie is duplicitous.” I think he just creates this world where this injury has already been done. I also think that he just doesn’t really care about Ernie, or see him as an equal person in a lot of ways. Chuck’s always treated him with extreme condescension, and I don’t think he thinks about it that way. I think it’s more like, “Well, he’s my employee, and he’s not doing his job to the high standards that I set.” You’re right. That’s the ultimate failing of Chuck, that he does these terrible things as well. He’s just very self-deluded in that he thinks he’s doing them for the right reasons. Sometimes he is right. That’s what’s really interesting: he and Jimmy are both right and wrong at different times. That’s, I think, what makes it feel real and compelling.
I love that we get to see DDA Oakley (Peter Diseth) again in this episode. For all the fun he’s having with Jimmy getting booked and teasing him about that, he does actually like Jimmy, doesn’t he? I think he’s one of the many who is amused and charmed by Jimmy.
Yeah, which is what I love, too, that they have this fun relationship. I think that the character so easily could just be a sleazy, sad sack-y guy who just doesn’t really care. Peter, who plays Oakley, really imbues him with this sense of humanity, just his mannerisms and the way he delivers specific lines. I think he just made him feel like a much realer person than he might have seemed on the page initially. But yeah, I think Oakley does like Jimmy and finds him charming. I think he understands that this is the game and recognizes that Jimmy is a good player.
I feel like he’s one of those trademark Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul universe characters who could be a minor character elsewhere, but here, you want to see him more, know more about him.
I know, right? We love him. We have a number of characters that we love and are always looking for organic opportunities to bring back. It was really nice to have two really meaty scenes with him in this episode, getting to know him a little more. We’ll have to do the DDA Oakley show at some point.
We end with Jimmy and Kim making a plan to combat Chuck’s plan. What can you say about the next episode?
You know, I think the next episode just really shows the consequences of the actions our characters are taking in [“Sunk Costs”] and how these schemes and plans and actions that have been set in motion even last season, they’re really starting to play out for our characters. That “chickens coming home to roost” aspect is really starting to play out more and more in the next episode and beyond.
“Consequences” really could be the one-word theme of this season so far.
Yeah, in my head, and in the room, consequences was something we talked about a lot. Eventually that’s what’s going to happen.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on AMC.
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