Warning: This interview contains spoilers for the “Sabrosito” episode of Better Call Saul.
The first Mike/Chuck meeting, the first appearance of Don Eladio in the Better Call Saul universe, Hector visits Los Pollos Hermanos, Mike and Gus bond further, Nacho makes an important discovery, and the McGill vs. McGill legal battle sets up what promises to be a big showdown regarding Jimmy’s ability to continue practicing law.
That all happened in the intensely busy “Sabrosito” installment of Better Call Saul, and episode director Thomas Schnauz, who’s also a writer and executive producer on the series, specifically promises that the McGill brothers’ showdown happens in next week’s “Chicanery” hour, as Chuck takes his mission to get Jimmy out of the law biz to a bar association hearing.
Schnauz, an Emmy winner as a writer, director, and EP on Breaking Bad, talked to Yahoo TV about the wonderful Gus-ness of the episode, why Mike had been steering clear of his beloved granddaughter, how Nacho may be about to make a big move in his criminal career, and why Chuck’s $3.98 cassette tape is going to be more key than we might have imagined to Jimmy’s future.
My first takeaway from this episode is that I think Giancarlo Esposito is winning the Emmy this year, and if he doesn’t, it’s only because Jonathan Banks is.
You know, either one of those guys. They’re both fantastic. We have such a great, great supporting cast. I even hesitate to call them “supporting” cast, because this may be the most Gus-heavy episode we’ve ever had in the history of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. I’m sure “Salud” probably had more Gus in it, but… when we first knew [Gus] was coming back, I didn’t imagine we’d have a Gus episode this heavy. I thought we’d sort of sprinkle him a little bit here and there, and then get into it. But as we were writing the season, we sort of realized that this is the time to do an episode like this.
This does feel like the most we’ve seen Gus, because we see a lot of different sides to him in “Sabrosito.” The scene with his employees after Hector and his men visit — we’d never seen Gus like that. There was a lot going on, but he was genuinely concerned about them.
That’s a water cooler moment, I think, because I also believe that Gus doesn’t want the truth to get out, and the story he told about Hector and the other guys was a complete lie. And we know the history, that they didn’t come to him demanding money. This might be a point where people who didn’t watch Breaking Bad might not know as much, might be a little confused by the scene, because we know the history of Gus approaching Don Eladio to get into the meth business with him, which ended in the death of [Max].
Personally, when I see that speech to his employees, I laugh a little bit. It’s a little bit taken from The Godfather, about how great America is. And he’s telling this story to sort of rally their spirits. He doesn’t want them to know what he’s involved in, so he comes up with this line that sort of is inspiring to them, and he gets his round of applause. Yeah, you can feel for Gus in the sense that he does care about you, believe he cares a lot about his employees and he cares about his restaurant, and he’s very tidy, and everything has to be done a certain way. He likes things perfect, but he also has this very dark side of him as well.
As you said, he made up that story, but is he sort of telling the truth when he says that he considered for a moment giving in to Hector and his men? Hector was trying to be very intimidating in the Los Pollos Hermanos office. Did Gus, for a minute, think he was going to have to give in to Hector’s demands? It quickly becomes clear he’s not going to, especially when he throws that ball of trash, basketball-style, into the garbage can. Is that him deciding he’s not giving in to Hector?
To me, he’s got a very long game going here, and there’s nothing for him to give in to. He had Mike go down and screw with Hector’s trucks so that Hector would eventually come to him and say, “You’re taking my product.” He’s setting this whole thing up so Hector is doing exactly what Gus wants him to do. Gus is pretending to be a victim: “I don’t want to do this for you.” But I think what that basketball shot signifies is that he got exactly what he wanted.
I love what you said about Gus’s neatness in the restaurant. They’re using real silverware in a fast food restaurant. This may be the one fast food restaurant in America where we would all be eating, because you know that his standards mean it would be the cleanest fast food restaurant in America.
It really is. And when we were shooting all those close-ups of the tomatoes and stuff being [prepped], a fly had landed on one of the tomatoes. And we had this amazing shot, perfect photography, this fly landed, and our editor, Kelly Dixon, cut it in, thinking it was an homage to our “Fly” episode from Breaking Bad. But I was like, “No, Gus would never…” [EP Peter Gould] and I agreed, Gus would never have allowed a fly to come in his restaurant, so we had to lose that.
When Hector makes his big entrance into Los Pollos Hermanos, he pours himself a big soda. Hector does not seem like a man who drinks soda at all, but if he does drink soda, would he really drink Diet Coke, and is that maybe a hint to Hector’s health situation?
No. I forget, is it clear it’s a diet soda? For some reason, I thought it was Dr. Pepper, but I can’t remember which one we picked on the day. That particular scene goes on much longer; it’s actually probably twice as long [as what you see in the final cut]. He actually went out and started screwing with individual customers and really intimidating them. And he also immediately throws the full cup of soda in the garbage — he didn’t even drink it. But, because of time reasons, we cut all that out. It was a great fun scene. Maybe it will live on in Blu-ray or some other format.
When you think about how much happens, all the different characters that have these major scenes with each other, and then the flashback — it is a very packed episode.
It’s pretty full. We didn’t do a very good job this year about timing out our episodes, so what we faced in this episode, and faced in a lot of episodes, is we realized we have too much story that we want to fit in, and we end up cutting some stuff. I don’t think any of the episodes suffered because of it. In fact, it might even slightly benefit that we were sort of cutting these down to the essence of what we need to tell the story.
I think it’s a payoff. Who’s going to complain about too much great story?
And it was a great script by Jonathan Glatzer, and I got very lucky to direct a scene with Michael McKean and Jonathan Banks together for the first time — a lot of worlds colliding. As we go through Season 3, we get a lot of worlds colliding with Gus and Jimmy, Mike and Chuck, and some other stuff coming up at us.
That scene is wonderful, and we don’t always get to see Mike be overtly funny. He not only had some funny lines — the Fred Flintsone line, the Ben Gay line — but continuously revving the drill motor. He won’t admit to Jimmy later anything about what he really thought of Chuck, but does he size Chuck up right away as sort of being a jerk? And is he revving that motor on the drill a little more than he has to to irritate Chuck a little?
You know, that’s a good question, and I’m not sure. Jimmy filled him in on what Chuck’s condition is and what was needed to get Chuck out of the room so he could take those photographs. So in one world, I can believe Mike did it just enough to get the job done. And in another world, I can believe this guy, Chuck, this snotty a**hole, Mike’s a [former] cop, and he’s going to give a little extra gift here and there. Personally, in my mind, I think Mike did just enough to get the job done.
Going back to the beginning, the flashback: When we first meet Don Eladio in Breaking Bad, in “Hermanos,” when Gus meets him and Hector murders Max, Hector is an enforcer for Don Eladio. In “Sabrosito,” Gus calls him Don Hector. Has Hector moved up, or were he and Juan Bolsa always capos in Don Eladio’s organization?
I think they were even back in the day. Even though, yes, Hector put the bullet in Max’s head back in “Hermanos,” I think the Salamanca family’s power gave a lot to Don Eladio. Now that I think about it, in my first Breaking Bad episode, [Season 3’s] “One Minute,” it started with a flashback, and you see Hector’s on the phone talking, which is right around the same time period. [The cartel] is calling him to ask his opinion about, “Should we work with the Chicken Man?” And he says no. So he is a higher up that they’re consulting, even though he gets ultimately outvoted and they do work with the Chicken Man. So I think he’s higher up than you think back in “Hermanos.” But I could be absolutely wrong about that. It’s hard for me keeping track of some of the timelines — that’s the late ’80s — this story spans. We’ve seen them back in the late ’80s up through the Breaking Bad period, which is 2007 or 2008, I think. This [flashback in “Sabrosito”], we figured, takes place right around 1999-ish, somewhere in there. So it’s sort of in between the two time periods.
Juan Bolsa tells Don Eladio that Gus wants to visit. Does that mean Gus hasn’t been back to Don Eladio’s estate since Max was killed?
It’s possible. Nothing’s set in stone, but as far as we know, he has not been back to the pool since the death of his partner. And he hasn’t returned up until the point he goes back in the Breaking Bad episode “Salud,” where he brings the bottle of Zafiro Anejo. Because Don Eladio tells Gus, “Every 20 years I have to smack you down.” A lot of this is … we writers don’t have a master plan. We like to make these things fit as much we can and make them look like, “Yeah, this was all thought out way back in 2010, when we first wrote it.” So, it’s a lot of taking these puzzle pieces and trying to [say], “Yeah, this seems to make sense like this.” But we always reserve the right to go back on that, and who knows, we may see Gus down at the hacienda in the Better Call Saul universe. I never want to say never, but as far as I know, Gus has not been back to the hacienda since Max was killed.
Stacey indicates Mike has been MIA lately. Is he staying away from her and Kaylee because he’s worried about their safety as he pursues revenge against Hector?
That might be part of it, but I think he got so wrapped up in the revenge and wanting to take the rifle out and shoot Hector back at the end of Season 2, and just everything with the tracking devices, and not knowing who was following him… he didn’t want to cross back into Kaylee and Stacey’s world without knowing what was going on. Part of it was, yes, their safety, but I think he feels a little guilty that he has been absent from their lives after working so hard to get back into their lives. And now all of a sudden, this stuff has come up. I think if you asked Mike if he’s staying away for their safety, I don’t even know if he would know. He’s just gotten on a set of railroad tracks and he was going for his destination, and there wasn’t really time for sailing right now.
Even when he’s at dinner, he’s very preoccupied. We know how Mike feels, from Breaking Bad, about the importance of taking a full measure, not a half measure, when you need to. Is there maybe something gnawing at him, telling him he needs to be taking a fuller measure than he’s taking with Hector?
It’s very possible it’s that. He’s had other things sort of gnawing at him that I think will become clearer later this season, so I really don’t want to say anything. It’s certainly no surprise, but I think there are things that bother him. And I think even Gus, in this episode, mentions, “You’re trying to correct something that can’t be corrected.” His actions resulted in the death of a guy — the good samaritan — who wasn’t in the game, so I think that’s been bothering him.
That Mike/Gus meeting… any time those two are together is amazing, but this felt particularly pivotal, because Gus knew Mike’s pursuit of Hector was personal; he told him that. And Gus admits to Mike that his beef with Hector is personal, too, when he tells him shooting Hector would be too humane. Their cards are on the table on that issue now. Did that seal the deal on what we know is their future business relationship?
Yeah, I’d say. Then again, Gus is a very long chess player. He sees the far game, and I think revealing this emotion was not an accident. I think he knows Mike is a valuable tool, he’s a skilled, incredibly skilled guy. It’s far better to have Mike on your side, so Gus revealed a truth. He didn’t let that slip; he stops and turns around, and says, “Do you want to know why I stopped you from killing Hector?” The thing that Mike says about, “It wasn’t in your interests” — he knows that’s what Mike is thinking. So Gus thinks, “We share a common intense hatred of this despicable, despicable man. So better to reveal this secret I have.” Even if he’s not giving him the details about why he wants this man dead, but just the pure, raw hatred and emotion in Gus’s eyes, and saying a bullet to the head would be far too humane — that says a lot, and Mike picks up on that. They have a common emotional hatred of this man. It’s just another way of Gus bringing Mike into his inner circle.
Back to the restaurant for a minute… when, after Gus talks to Hector in his office and they’re leaving, Nacho gives Gus a lingering look, like he’s trying to figure something out. Nacho also, I would argue, is smart and patient and big picture-focused in a way that both Gus and Mike are, and Hector has proven himself again and again not to be. Is there anything to that look? Is Nacho maybe seeing some opportunity, or wondering if he’s hitched his wagon to the wrong star in this scenario?
Nacho is incredibly smart. As we saw right from the start of the series, he’s working outside of his own gang trying to get other things going, for what reasons we don’t know yet. In my mind, it was like sort of his first time seeing Gus. “Who is this manager of a chicken restaurant? What is his involvement?” And I think a little bit of that look is wondering what the hell is going on here. “How powerful is he? It’s pretty incredible that I’ve been a man working in this truck business, working with the Salamancas, for so long, and this guy is hiding in plain sight.” There’s a lot going on with that look.
And then there’s the Jimmy and Kim meeting with Chuck and Howard and Ms. Hay. Kim got Chuck to admit there’s another tape, and she did that after laying out that he had set Jimmy up. How does Chuck know that she wasn’t taping the conversation, just as he was secretly taping Jimmy?
I don’t know what the taping would do. We pretty much established that the secret taping can’t outright be used. There’s some maneuvering that needs to be done with the evidence, as we’ve seen Chuck do with setting up Jimmy and getting him to break into his house. I don’t know if outright taping Chuck would do anything, but I didn’t even personally consider that could be a thing. There’s some other stuff going on; some other leads. Everything kind of unfolds in the next great, great episode, written by Gordon Smith, involving this tape, so I sort of hesitate to say anything without giving it away. There are reasons that these guys wanted to know about the tape and having it be on the record.
Okay. Chuck and his $3.98 cassette tape: We have had sympathy for Chuck. We do understand his position, how he feels about Jimmy, and he’s right about some of the things, but quibbling, so smugly, about $3.98…
[Laughs] Yeah, I know. It’s not even just the [jabbing] at Jimmy, it’s all part of each side maneuvering to get this tape on the record. So him doing it, it all plays into a longer game, and each side is trying to maneuver for their own personal reasons. When they appear at the bar [in May 8’s “Chicanery” episode], things start happening there. I’ll just say that.
It’s hard to imagine after the $3.98 cassette tape fuss, but is there any part of Chuck — aside from this very specific thing that he wants to get out of this scenario — that still has some legitimate affection for Jimmy? That still wants Jimmy to have a decent life?
I absolutely believe he believes the things he says. In [“Sunk Costs”], when Chuck is talking to Jimmy outside of the house, he tells him he thinks this is really going to be for the better. And there’s an argument to be made, if you watched Breaking Bad, that the lawyer that Jimmy becomes is a bad, bad person, and Chuck was right about this. Chuck could have gone at Jimmy harder and sent him to jail and attacked him in a court of law, but he comes up with this other scenario, this PPD, which just simply states that Jimmy, you’re not going to jail. You’re going to sign this confession. But unless you commit another crime in the next year, you’re not going to jail. Again, I think that shows some affection right there, that Chuck’s sole goal right now is to get Jimmy disbarred and to stop him from being a lawyer, and not see him sent to prison. So in Chuck’s own messed up way, that is a form of affection in his crazy mind.
Is it the smugness? Is that why we can’t always see that Chuck is potentially right even more often than we’re willing to acknowledge?
Yeah, and again, he’s got other legal reasons to bring up the destroyed tape, and the amount it costs. But yeah, it just seems so petty, it just drives you crazy. Chuck just can drive you crazy.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on AMC.
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