Spoilers below for Better Call Saul’s season-four finale.
It’s tempting to say we hardly knew Werner, but actually, we got fairly acquainted with the German engineer over the course of Better Call Saul’s fourth season. Or more accurately, we witnessed Mike become a big softie as he and Mr. Ziegler spent nearly a year in the trenches together overseeing construction of Gus Fring’s underground meth lab. But thanks to a combination of Werner’s heartache and Gus’s heartlessness, Mike’s newfound BFF is no more. In a sense, neither is Jimmy McGill, who by episode’s end declares to Kim that he’ll officially be practicing law this time around as his titular alter ego, Saul Goodman.
Ahead of the finale’s airing, Vulture spoke with Better Call Saul showrunner Peter Gould about the unbearable suspense of watching Werner seal his own fate, ripping the Band-Aid off Jimmy’s legal rechristening as Saul, and where Kim — one of the few main characters who doesn’t exist and/or get killed in Breaking Bad — goes from here.
What was the finale’s most dramatic moment: Mike executing Werner or Jimmy announcing his intent to practice as Saul?
This is a show with two sides: There’s the Mike Ehrmantraut side and the Jimmy McGill side. They’re two very different kinds of drama. On the one hand, you’re seeing the death of Werner Ziegler, and on the other, you might be seeing, possibly, the death of Jimmy McGill as we’ve known him. One is irrevocable, and one perhaps might still have a shot at redemption. I don’t know whether I can say one was more dramatic than the other.
Was keeping Mike and Jimmy’s worlds separate the big challenge this season, and are those worlds bound to collide more next season?
Absolutely. I think that’s one of the big differences between this show and Breaking Bad. One of the strengths of Breaking Bad was it was very linear. It was very much about cause and effect — cause was almost always Walter White, and we followed that single line of action and all the repercussions it had. This show, there are at least two lines of action. We’re talking about the evolution of Jimmy McGill and Mike Ehrmantraut, and it is challenging to find the right balance between those stories. But I have to say, when we started down this road, it seemed like a tremendous risk. It scared the hell out of me because it felt different and dangerous, and I’m just so happy people have watched and enjoyed it, and we’re here talking about four seasons. Having said all that, I think we’d be doing the story a disservice if things didn’t start tangling up. It feels very much at the end of this season that Jimmy’s world and Mike’s world are about to converge.
You decided to jump ahead a full year this season. Was it an effort to help move things along to that point?
The storytelling we’re doing, a lot of it is about the immediate effect of decisions our characters just took. Having said that, we knew we had to jump ahead for very mechanical reasons: Jimmy was suspended for a full year, and if we ever wanted him to practice law again, we had to find some way to move ahead in time. It was a real challenge, but I think it yielded a lot of benefits in the second half of the season. It was fascinating to us to see the progress of Mike and Gus’s relationship and building the superlab, and also, most heartbreakingly, to see how Jimmy and Kim started growing apart in a way that felt very real when [people] live two parallel lives.
Has Kim been trying to meet Jimmy halfway as he drifts further down his path, or is she still a mystery herself?
Yeah, Kim does try to meet Jimmy halfway. These two people have a lot in common. The first season, we saw Kim smile when he was doing that whole billboard scam. She enjoys the roguish side of Jimmy, but she believes that has to be put in its place. She seems to draw a very definite line between scamming and her legal work — until this season. If you squint at it one way, Jimmy’s dragging Kim down. If you turn your head and squint at it the other way, she’s facilitating his slide.
Kim is a relative blank slate compared to so many regular characters on Saul. Is that equally daunting and exciting?
One of the things that gratifies me the most is how much passion our audience has for thinking about Kim’s future, and how worried folks are when I talk to them about Kim. It’s really a tribute to Rhea Seehorn. Her character’s not quite like any character I’ve seen before. She has the best poker face of anybody I’ve seen, but she puts great intellect into the decisions she makes. But she also has an emotional, impulsive side, and someone who, like Jimmy has, pulled herself up by the bootstraps. I’m worried that she’s going to lose that, or lose her life, because we know Jimmy’s about to enter the same world of violence Mike has been living in. It gives us a world of possibilities in a show where a lot of the character’s fates are known already. All I can say is, I’d be very sorry if something terrible happened to Kim, but there’s a lot of things that can happen to people that don’t involve violent deaths.
The show isn’t moralistic, but it does put forward a point of view that you can’t just dip your toe into criminal life. Is that by design?
Hopefully it’s not a moralistic show, but we’re exploring a lot of questions about what’s okay to do. How do people get the things they want? How do they decide what they want? We talk a lot in the writers room about what the characters should be doing, and why doesn’t the character make the choice that in our eyes would be the most moral? There is a moral dimension, otherwise you just have chaos. One of the things I love in drama is it gives us all a chance to work out different possible lives. We’re all really law-abiding people in the writers room, so maybe it’s fun for us to race our minds over other ways to be in the world.
Gus theoretically had a choice of whether to let Werner live. Did Lalo’s interference force his hand? Or was Werner always doomed?
I don’t think anyone’s fate is predetermined on the show. We’ll always start with the fundamentals. If they’re building the superlab and it’s years before we know the superlab is finished, we know there’s gonna be some twists and turns along the way. But we didn’t know for sure what Werner’s fate was gonna be when we introduced him. We’d been asking ourselves from the beginning: Why does Mike do what he does? How does he become the person he does on Breaking Bad? These things emerge very organically. Werner is a brilliant engineer and a decent person, but in other ways he turns a blind eye to the kind of people he’s working with. It’s tragic because he’s not out to sabotage the operation, and you might think if Lalo wasn’t in town and so hot in pursuit, maybe Mike could have persuaded Gus. But Gus isn’t willing to take that chance, and Mike decides to do what he does because he’s taking responsibility. We have so many characters on this show who make excuses for themselves, and Mike, alone among them, maybe takes more responsibility than he should.
Was having Werner wander off under the stars before we shift to Gale giddy at the lab a nod to Breaking Bad and “The Learn’d Astronomer”?
[Laughs.] That sounds really deep. Anything that makes us sound like we thought things through and got it all figured out, I’ll accept. Having said that, I think Werner does have a lot in common with Gale. He’s someone who’s expediting these terrible crimes and feels he’s keeping his hands clean. But if you’re participating in Gus Fring’s empire and benefiting from it, the blowback could be coming.