Major heartbreak for Jimmy McGill in “Pimento” — “the man” keeping him down isn’t Howard Hamlin, but rather Chuck McGill, the big brother he idolizes. With just one more episode left in Better Call Saul’s first season, Emmy-winning Breaking Bad alum Thomas Schnauz, who wrote and directed “Pimento,” talks with Yahoo TV about how the Saul writers feel about Jimmy, the truth behind Chuck’s illness, pimento sandwiches, the character inspired by The Big Lebowski, and the new “direction” Jimmy takes in the season finale.
Congratulations on the episode, which is yet another fantastic one, but heartbreaking for those of us who have fallen in love with Jimmy.
We knew people would hopefully like the character. I don’t think any of us were prepared in the writers’ room for how much people would actually love this character, given that they know who he is in the future as Saul Goodman, but we’re very pleased.
Do you find yourselves feeling that way about him?
Oh yeah, absolutely. He’s a real underdog, and you root for him. And it wasn’t even intentional. We didn’t decide in the beginning, “Let’s make this character an underdog.” He’s trying his best. He’s genuinely trying to be a good person and keep the promise that he makes to his brother. The flashback we saw in episode three where he says, “Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.” He does. He gets his crap together, and he becomes a very good lawyer.
That is what makes Chuck’s betrayal so heartbreaking, not just that Jimmy did get his act together, but that to him, emulating Chuck was the highest thing he could do. It was the biggest level of success he could reach for, and he did it, and now to be rejected is just crushing.
Being a good person is one thing, but being Chuck’s equal, Jimmy learns, is absolutely a whole other ball of wax. He discovers that there is a jealousy his brother has for him, that people like him. He makes people laugh. Where Chuck has dedicated his whole life to the law and studying and being the best that he can and being really, really good at it, here comes his brother who was a screw-up and almost in jail in Chicago. He comes along and puts together this amazing case. He’s going to have an office next to Chuck’s. Chuck thinks, “No, that’s not going to happen… You can’t do it that easily. You have to dedicate your whole life to this kind of thing and not just come waltzing in and make friends and then all of a sudden, ‘Here I am, I’m your equal.’”
It’s funny that’s how Chuck sees it. I think those of us who see Jimmy as an underdog and how determined he is, how he doesn’t let any of the many indignities he faces on a daily basis in his pursuit of his career keep him down, don’t necessarily. Chuck thinks all this comes coming easily to Jimmy, but from another perspective, nothing has come easily to Jimmy.
Oh no, no. He’s crawled through dumpsters. He was out in the desert and his life is threatened. He’s living in the tiniest office ever. Who knows if Chuck is even aware of his living conditions right now? What I like about the final scene that I had so much fun writing is that a lot of the stuff that Chuck says, the law is sacred, and you’re Slippin’ Jimmy, and you’re a chimp with a machine gun… we know what the future is, we know Jimmy becomes Saul Goodman. The question is, was he always going to become Saul Goodman, or did Chuck’s actions turn him into Saul Goodman? I think that’s open for debate. I would never want to answer that question one way or the other, but I think, hopefully, some people in the audience will hear Chuck and say, “You know what? We know who Saul Goodman is, and Chuck might be right about this. Maybe being a lawyer is not the best thing for this guy,” whereas another half of the audience are going to think, “You know, he’s really trying his best, and he is a good lawyer.”
Would he have stayed on that track, if not for Chuck’s actions? We’ll never really know.
“Pimento” also offers more evidence that Chuck’s illness is related to Jimmy’s actions. Chuck temporarily forgot about his illness when he went out to Jimmy’s car in “RICO.” At that point, it seemed like he was more in control of the case. Jimmy was sleeping on the couch. Now Jimmy has proven just how competent he can be, pulling this case together. He’s moving it along, and we start to see Chuck regressing. He needs an oven mitt and the pencil and the space blanket to make the call. Jimmy lines his suit with the space blanket. Is that a coincidence or is that evidence that Chuck’s illness is directly related to Jimmy’s pursuit of his career and especially any success he might have with it?
This is another one you want the audience to decide, but we’ve set up certain things, like in the hospital scene in episode five where the doctor turns on the bed and Chuck has no idea. There’s a pretty strong indication this is a mental break, and he doesn’t actually suffer from this, but he’s showing the physical effects… When we first came up with it, we saw it very strongly that there was a link to Jimmy’s actions. Again, we put definite clues in the episodes… when Chuck sees the [newspaper] headline about the hero lawyer [who] saves the guy from falling from the billboard, he wraps himself up in the blanket, and he gets worse. I’m saying two different things… I’m saying on one hand, I want the audience to decide, but I think in this case, we put up pretty strong markers that a lot of this is in Chuck’s head, and that it relates to Jimmy’s actions.
We get a big reveal about Howard in “Pimento”… Maybe he really is the jerk Jimmy thinks he is, but he also seems to have a lot more affection for Chuck than we might have guessed. Unless there’s some other reason why he’s carrying out this ruse for Chuck and taking the blame for why Jimmy isn’t going to be allowed to work at HHM.
I think more of it will be revealed in the episode after this, the one Peter Gould wrote and directed, episode 10, called “Marco,” but he’s not as bad as we think he is, because we now know that was Chuck’s decision to not have him join HHM. Hamlin is not the greatest guy either, because when Kim lost the Kettleman case, she got, as Jimmy says, banished to the cornfield. But he’s not completely evil. Honestly, in the whole series, that was the one bad thing he did. I think everybody hates Hamlin and thinks he’s a s—tty guy because Jimmy says so. It’s like Gretchen and Elliot in Breaking Bad. We never actually saw them do anything bad, but [it was] just because Walt had a grudge against them, had his own reasons for not liking him. They offered all this money to Walt and offered to help and pay for his health care, but just because Walt didn’t like them, the audience turned against them. It’s a very powerful thing when your protagonist dislikes somebody in a series.
Why does Howard tell Kim? That is what he tells her in his office, right?
I think there’s a number of things going on there. He’s probably sick of looking like the bad guy. The way he lashes out at her, he probably feels bad about that, that he thinks that was uncalled for, and he lost his cool. I think he’s been keeping the secret a very long time, and he finally needed to get it off his chest. “I know you hate my guts, and I just yelled at you in a horrible way, but you need to know the truth, what kind of pressure I’m under here from doing this for Chuck.”
Mike and his pimento sandwich… He calls it the “caviar of the South.” Is that a hint about his past or is it maybe just a practical sandwich to have in the heat in Albuquerque?
That was, I want to say it was [Gennifer] Hutchison’s Breaking Bad episode [Season 4’s “Cornered”], where Mike offers Jesse a pimento and something sandwich. I forgot what the other ingredient was, but that stuck with me, that he ate this pimento sandwich, so I just brought it back. It just felt like it was something unusual Mike would like. Then I looked it up on Wikipedia, and it was described as the “caviar of the South.” I was like, OK, that’s perfect. Have to use that. That was the only reason for bringing back pimento.
The character played by Steven Ogg, whose guns Mike takes, does the character have a name?
In the script, he is named Sobchak, which is the character from The Big Lebowski that John Goodman plays. We had this image in mind of that character. I used that name in the script just as a reference, although the name is never said out loud. That was a starting point for that character. A lot of us [in the writers’ room] are big Big Lebowski fans.
He’s fantastic. Is there any chance of seeing him again?
Anything is possible. We’re just starting to break Season 2, so we have a list of characters that we’d love to bring back, and he’s certainly one of them. Steven Ogg did a great job, very funny. The whole scene to me was very satisfying. I was telling somebody the other day that my office is a couple of doors down from the editing room. I had done my director’s cut, and I knew Vince [Gilligan] was going to go watch it. He was in there, and I was looking at the clock and timing in my head for that scene. Sure enough, I start hearing this Vince laughter come out, and he was laughing and clapping at that scene, and it was a big relief. I’m never sure how any of my writing or direction is going to be taken… it’s a relief when I get some positive feedback.
Is it fair to say “Sobchak” did himself in when he said “Duh” to Mike? Mike Ehrmantraut is not a man to be “Duh”-ed.
[Laughs.] He did himself in as soon as he started questioning Mike’s methods, his need for a gun. Then when he decided he was going to cut Mike out of the financial rewards, get him fired from the job, it was definitely all over right there.
Mike’s speech to Price after they do the deal with Nacho really felt like the backstory of what we know to be Mike’s code.
That came in the writers room, when we started thinking, “What is the point of this whole Mike storyline in this episode?” because he doesn’t cross paths with Jimmy at all. It felt like it needed to tie thematically into the episode… what it means to be a criminal and to have this code and to be a good criminal or a bad criminal. You say you’re going to do a job, you keep your word. It felt like it spoke to Mike’s code, and what the whole series’ code is in a way.
What can you tease about the season finale?
It’s Jimmy dealing with the emotional repercussions of what happens with his brother, and what that split means to him. He walks away at the end [of “Pimento”], and we see what he does to deal with it. That’s pretty much what the whole episode is about. That last scene in [“Pimento”] really sets him off on a path. He just drives away. He tries to deal with it one way. I’ll just say this: In the finale, he tries to deal with the events one way, and realizes that he can’t. He goes another direction.
The Better Call Saul Season 1 finale airs Monday, April 6 at 10 p.m. on AMC.