THE ETHICS OF BETTER CALL SAUL: Talking to Bob Odenkirk & Vince Gilligan

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When I asked Bob Odenkirk if he could talk about Saul Goodman’s ethics on his new show, Better Call Saul, premiering this week on AMC, he effortlessly demonstrated why he is the heir apparent to Vince Gilligan’s Breaking Bad universe. He asked if I can restate the question as “Can you pontificate about Saul’s ethics?” He obviously has a lot to say.

“He’s got slippery ethics. He doesn’t know how to apply the ethics he has and the ethics keep changing. Vince (Gilligan) and Peter (Gould) had a great time creating highly conflicting ethical situations where Saul’s personal drive keeps juxtaposing with good behavior and then my character has to navigate a complex and ever changing prism of ethical choices. That’s fun to watch with this character because he has the ability to…oh shit…I’m stuck,” Bob says. Much like the wonderfully slick Saul, Bob occasionally gets tripped up amidst his own pontificating.

Bob calls on the creator of both Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan, to chime in and save him.

“He wants to be… It’s a real interesting character for us. And I’ll let Peter take a stab at this when I’m finished. He wants to be good. But as the episodes progress, why does he want to be good? Does he want to be good because of his pride? Does he want to be good for Kim? The question that we’re having fun with in the writer’s room is ‘What does it mean to be true to yourself?’ Because Jimmy in the first episode waxes rhapsodic about the days when he used to be that guy before he was an attorney. Is it better to be what’s left? Or is it better to be a good person? Or is it some mix of the two?” Gilligan says.

Co-creator of the show, Peter Gould, chimes in.

“Why be good? Usually in fiction goodness always leads to a happy ending. Behaving ethically always ends up having good results. We all know in life sometimes being ethical lands you in the shitter. The other thing about it that’s fascinating to me and I’m sure everyone else who is watching is remembering what a slippery two-faced unethical guy Saul Goodman was on Breaking Bad. Almost the first thing he does is suggest killing Badger. “Kill Badger instead of me!” And what we found when we started thinking about who this guy was and how he got to be the way he was, that wasn’t the guy were starting with. There’s a lot more nuance to his ethics. Also, Saul Goodman is not who he is. That’s a creation of his, as he tells Walter White the first time they meet. ‘That’s not my name. That’s a presentation.’ So in this show, we get to see who he is behind the scenes,” Gould concludes.

Vince jumps back in to grab the last word, stating, “And back to the ethics. The point is not should we be good or should we not. I guess the point is sometimes there are difficult things. It’s an interesting examination for us as writers. Why do we choose to be good? Why are we good? I think we should be good. But Saul likes to cut corners when he can…I guess like all of us.”

Better Call Saul launches on AMC in a two-part premiere February 8-9. I’ll be examining the show’s finer nuances each week on this blog. Also, catch me talking about the show on the podcast BetterTalkSaul.com.

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