In the final scene from last night’s “Better Call Saul,” Kim (Rhea Seehorn) gets confronted by the future — specifically, the future of her current paramour, real name Jimmy McGill… but known first by “Breaking Bad” fans as Saul Goodman.
Kim doesn’t really know what she’s seeing in Season 3, Episode 6, “Off Brand,” but the audience does, thanks to years of history with the many-named character played by Bob Odenkirk. Since his introduction in “Breaking Bad” Season 2, and the resulting prequel series, Jimmy or Saul or (eventually) Gene has been a fascinating figure. “It’s just a name,” Jimmy tells Kim when she questions the Saul Goodman persona. But in conversations with Odenkirk and series co-creator Peter Gould, it’s clear that it means so much more.
“I don’t think we had a clue that Jimmy would start using the name Saul Goodman professionally this season, when we started,” Gould recently told IndieWire during a recording of Mike Schneider’s Turn It On podcast. “We just followed the logic of the situation — in Episode 5 and 6 Jimmy’s legal license is suspended and we thought, okay, what are the implications of that?”
The answer, of course, is that Jimmy has to find buyers for the television advertising he’d pre-purchased, but he can’t do so using his real name. Hence, a new persona. “I hate to say everything happens organically, but I will say also that we’re just delighted when we see that option,” Gould said. “Sometimes it seems too good to be true.”
We first heard Jimmy refer to himself as Saul Goodman in “Saul” Season 1, but that was more a joke, couched in a con. By introducing, for real, the idea of Saul Goodman as an alternate identity for Jimmy, we now enter new territory for the show — one that invites the question: Are Jimmy and Saul the same man?
Odenkirk, when asked by IndieWire if he thinks of Jimmy and Saul as two different people, said yes. “Obviously they’re tied together at their core, but I think Saul is Jimmy with about three-quarters of his humanity constricted and sucked in,” he said during a phone interview.
Michele K.Short/AMC/Sony Picture
Gould (who wrote the “Breaking Bad” episode initially introducing Saul Goodman) doesn’t disagree, but has a slightly different take. “I think what we’ve learned is that Saul is a mask that Jimmy dons. Bob talks about this sometimes — that if you wear a mask long enough, sometimes your face kind of molds itself to the mask.
“And the question is, is Jimmy gone?” Gould added. “And I don’t think so. I think Jimmy’s still around.”
That said, the two do share some differences. “He’s a guy who’s really shut himself down in a lot of ways,” Odenkirk said. “And I feel sorry that Jimmy has to become a less dimensional character in Saul.”
Of course, when “Better Call Saul” first began, the distinction between Saul and Jimmy wasn’t so formalized, to the point where when Gould and the other writers, including co-creator Vince Gilligan, were developing Season 1 on index cards, “Vince would write the cards at that point, and for the first episode or so he was Saul.”
Now, that is no longer the case. “Now I’m going to think of him as Jimmy for a long long time,” Gould said.
That could change at some point, though. “I’ll get back to you in Season 4 and beyond, when we start talking about ‘Saul does this, Saul does that,’ in the writers’ room,” Gould added. “Because right now in the writers’ room, it’s all Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy.”
In discussing Jimmy’s many personas, we can’t leave out Gene, the Cinnabon manager in Omaha who represents Jimmy’s ultimate future. “Yeah, we don’t really know who he’s going to become,” Odenkirk said. “I’d like to see him come out of his cocoon there and see who he can be.”
When it comes to Gene, Gould noted that “This is a story about a survivor, and I am fascinated by all the compromises that the man who was Slippin’ Jimmy and James McGill, Esquire, and then eventually Saul Goodman and Gene — I’m fascinated by all the compromises this guy’s made. I love it any time we go to Omaha.”
Given the fluid nature of James McGill’s identity, in many ways the closing scene of “Off Brand” wasn’t a seismic game-changer. Instead, the casual reintroduction of Slippin’ Jimmy’s one-time alias — a name that will come to have far greater meaning down the line — is evocative of the show’s general ethos.
After all, “Better Call Saul” is not about cliffhangers. “Better Call Saul” is about the slippery slope. Thanks to this scene, we’re well aware that the descent is real.
“Better Call Saul” airs Mondays at 10 p.m. on AMC.