Warning: Storyline and character spoilers ahead for the “Mabel” episode of Better Call Saul.
And we’re off. Season 3 of Better Call Saul has officially launched, which means the entry of Gustavo Fring into the Saul universe is imminent, as is the debut of Saul Goodman himself. In fact, as series creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould told Yahoo TV, the season opener gave us a pretty clear look at the Saul we already came to know in Breaking Bad.
Gilligan and Gould also shared the story behind how and why Air Force Capt. Bauer — played by The Night Shift star Brendan Fehr — reprised the Season 2 character who was not initially meant to return; and they talked about how they, like many a Saul fan, think the post-Breaking Bad timeline Jimmy — Cinnabon manager Gene — is sequel-worthy.
And, in yet another example of what a great storyteller Gilligan is, he explains the sweet inspiration behind Gene’s lunchtime reading material.
Jimmy’s visit from Air Force Captain Bauer… that confrontation feels like the first definite peek we’ve gotten at the man who will eventually become Saul Goodman. Jimmy’s relationship with Chuck is very complicated. Chuck has done a lot of things to him, has been very hurtful to him, we get that. But this guy is someone who went along with Jimmy’s commercial video in Season 2 in good faith. He was doing it out of pride in his job, what it represents. When he says to Jimmy, “Is this all just a joke to you?” you really do, for just a moment, start to think, “Yeah, OK. There’s some Saul there,” and you don’t have quite as much sympathy or affection for Jimmy in that moment.
Vince Gilligan: I agree completely with you. What do you think, Peter?
Peter Gould: Yeah. That scene is one that I’ve grown to love.
Gilligan: Peter wrote that scene, and he did a great job writing that scene.
Gould: Thank you for that. I love how you see Jimmy kind of wake up to what he just did and to what he’s doing and to what he’s saying in that scene. We went to great lengths in the first two seasons not to have Jimmy take advantage of anyone who didn’t at least arguably deserve it. He’s not taking advantage when he’s doing wills for all his elderly clients, he’s not stealing from them. He is doing a really good job. The people who he rips off, for instance, when he’s in Cicero, are all kind of greedy guys who sort of deserve it in some way. But I love your observation. This Air Force captain is a generous, good, decent guy, and I love the performance. Vince, do you want to talk about how that actor got that role?
Gilligan: Oh, that was some story. By the way, we wound up liking this actor so much that Peter and the writers, we all figured out a way to bring him back, to have this big dramatic scene for him. But the actor’s name is Brendan Fehr, and he did us a real favor last season. We had an episode called “Fifi,” and, if you saw the episode, it’s where [Capt. Bauer] first appears. He’s the Air Force captain who shows Jimmy and his cohorts onto the Air Force base, and we had a young actor playing the Air Force captain who was doing an absolutely wonderful job, but then got food poisoning right in the middle of the day. This poor guy, he was a trooper, and he did his best to keep going, but you know, we’ve all had food poisoning. It’s like, “Oh, man, I just want to put a bullet in my head… I can’t do anything here.” You can’t act. You can’t do anything. You just need to rivet yourself to the toilet. Everybody felt sorry for this poor actor, this poor guy, but he could no longer work.
Gould: Of course, we had Fifi the B29 there, which had been brought in for that day.
Gilligan: And that day only.
Gould: We had to shoot the scene that day.
Gilligan: We were stuck, and of course, the sun is clocking across the sky, and time is passing, and everybody is standing around, looking at each other. “What are we going to do?” I was thinking, “Oh, my God, we’re dead.” Our amazing producers, Robin Sweet and Melissa Bernstein and Nina Jack, the three of them put their heads together, and they got on the phone and they started calling around. They called Brendan, who is one of the stars of the NBC series The Night Shift. He had a day off, thank God, and he was in town, in Albuquerque. He said, “Sure, I’ll come on out there.” Luckily, too, he already had the crew cut or close to it, or maybe he even agreed to get his head shaved high and tight, a little closer to the scalp to look more the part. He was such a trooper. He just came in literally on no notice at all, and we were out in the boonies, west of Albuquerque, at a little airport called Double Eagle. Brendan showed up and within about an hour, maybe hour and a half of him being called, he rushed out there and he was in makeup and in wardrobe. Luckily, thank God, the wardrobe fit him, and he was shooting the scene. It had a lot of dialogue to it, too, and he just knocked it out of the park. At that point, we weren’t assuming that this character would ever be back, but then we thought, my God, this guy is such a dream to work with and such a good guy and such a talented actor… we’ve got to figure out a way to get him back in the show. It dawned on us, what if the character sees this commercial of Jimmy’s?
This scene, Peter, you were saying earlier that you took great care to not have Jimmy take advantage of people. I remember watching the commercial scenes in “Fifi,” and I never thought anything negative. It was just another instance of Jimmy being clever, having fun. This is what Jimmy does, and he’s not hurting anyone really. That made his reunion with Capt. Bauer in “Mabel” so powerful, because that certainly wasn’t his intention, to mock this guy or to humiliate him, but you do really see Bauer’s point of view when he’s telling Jimmy, “You’ve made a fool of me. This is all a joke to you.” Then when he tells Jimmy, “The wheel is going to turn,” it’s not even a threat. He knows that Jimmy is going to get caught up in all this at some point.
Gould: It’s a prediction, not a threat. And, of course, we can guess that the captain is right.
Gilligan: That’s true. And, Peter, when [Jimmy)]really breaks bad on the guy, so to speak… when Jimmy really gets extra nasty and says, “Make me take my commercial off the air. Do you like being an Air Force captain?” When he gets really nasty and Saul Goodman-like, you had an interesting thought about it. Who is he really talking to?
Gould: I think he’s really talking to Chuck, to my mind. I think it’s all open to interpretation, but I think this Air Force captain has touched a nerve, because he is so righteous and clean cut, and Jimmy can’t help but think about how righteous his brother is, and how, like he says, “You’re always on your high horse …” That was the psychology we had in mind. Whether or not it’s clear to the viewer, I think that was something that was on our minds. Obviously, the way Vince directed it and the way Bob played it, is just wonderful and deep and also just damn funny.
That is what immediately came to mind for me. Jimmy is so angry and bitter when he first says, “Always on your high horse. Always trying to make me feel…” and then he just trails off. He catches himself. It looks like he’s realizing he’s really talking to Chuck.
Gilligan: Yeah. That’s exactly right.
Gould: It’s fascinating to me that this is an episode where Jimmy surprises himself a couple of times. Gene surprises himself in the opening that Vince wrote, where he stands up and says, “Get a lawyer!” [to the kid busted for stealing in the mall]. I don’t think Gene in his wildest dreams thought that he would do that, and then he’s upset by his own words. Likewise, I think Jimmy, who of course is the same man years earlier, also has two outbursts in this episode, both of which he could learn from if he chose to.
That is another wonderful Gene opening/flash forward. I love that he’s reading The Moon’s a Balloon, David Niven’s memoir in paperback. Is there a story behind that? Is that a favorite book of someone’s?
Gilligan: You know, we plot these scripts out, these stories out, in great detail before any particular writer sets pen to paper, so to speak, but even then, there’s a few little details that the writer of any individual episode gets to come up with. In the case of this one, I figured Gene’s probably going to read while he’s eating his sandwich, his lonely lunch, with his Bugles and his peanut butter sandwich. What would he read? I don’t even know where that came from except that, I hate to admit it, I hear it’s a wonderful book. In fact, Bob Odenkirk was reading it between takes and said, “Hey, this thing is great. This David Niven was quite the raconteur. This is a really good book. Quite a writer.”
But I think I was reaching back into my memory, and my dad had that book on his bookshelf right after he got divorced from my mom. He had a little bachelor apartment back in Farmville, Virginia, and I remember as a nine or 10-year-old kid, we’d spend the weekends with him, my brother Patrick and I, and I remember looking through his bookshelf and seeing this book. It said, “The Moon’s a Balloon,” and I was like, “What does that mean? What is this about, Dad?” He says, “This guy is an actor.” That was all I really knew about it. I guess it tickled me to think of — other than that relationship I had with the book, which was kind of a fond memory — a guy who could’ve been James Bond, David Niven, this wonderful, cultured man of the world, who was very much one of life’s winners, watching one of life’s rank losers, Gene from Omaha, Nebraska, read this winner’s book… it just seemed like a funny juxtaposition, I suppose.
The Gene season premiere openings are such little treasures, especially for those of us who already know both Saul and Jimmy. We’ve got the prequel for Breaking Bad with Better Call Saul. Could there be a sequel with Gene? Being Gene?
Gilligan: You know, I’ve got to say, we’ve seen now three black and white little mini-sodes, I guess, these teasers. We’ve seen now three times within the body of this larger show that speak to a whole other life and a whole other world going on. Speaking as one of the first fans of the series, I definitely want to see more of Gene. I definitely wouldn’t rule it out. I don’t know that it necessarily needs to be in a whole different TV series. Maybe it could be within this TV series, but wouldn’t you say, Peter, would it be safe to say that you want to know more about Gene?
Gould: I find Gene fascinating. I love the way Bob plays him, and it’s amazing to think the same man who is so lively and colorful as Jimmy is, and then as Saul is, could be so incredibly tamped down, so I am fascinated. I’ll just say I’m fascinated by Gene and, boy, I’d love to see more of him.
Gilligan: Yeah. I think it’s a real possibility, Kim.
That would be amazing, and I’m sure the people of Cinnabon would 100 percent support that, because you make those rolls look pretty good in the flash forward scenes.
Gilligan: They are tasty. They are addictive, they really are. Tell them about the people who run the Cinnabon. They’re so nice.
Gould: Cinnabon has been so generous and nice to us, and they’ve also taught… Bob actually knows how to make a Cinnabon now.
Gilligan: Which is not as easy as it looks. The folks who work there make it look easy, but it’s not.
Gould: They hold a very high standard of cooking there, so those are incredibly delicious, and they’ve been really wonderful partners. We had no idea back when we had the scene in Breaking Bad, which is actually a scene I wrote where Saul Goodman says, “Best case scenario, I’ll be managing a Cinnabon in Omaha.” We had no idea that we’d ever see that, that it would actually happen, so I think we were all just tickled at the idea of him working at Cinnabon. Boy, we were very, very lucky.
Better Call Saul airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on AMC.
Read more from Yahoo TV:
• Spring TV Preview: Get the Scoop on 24 New and Returning Shows
• ‘Dancing With the Stars’ Recap: The Most Memorable Time of Year
• The Abused United Airlines Passenger is Now a TV Star