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Better Call Saul's Patrick Fabian Breaks Down the Brutal 'Red Herring' in the Midseason Finale

'The consequences of their actions are literally laid at their feet'

Allison Picurro
Patrick Fabian, Better Call Saul

Patrick Fabian, Better Call Saul

Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

[Warning: The following contains major spoilers for Season 6, Episode 7 of Better Call Saul, "Plan and Execution." Read at your own risk!]

Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) has been in danger since Better Call Saul's Season 5 finale, when Kim (Rhea Seehorn) first floated the idea of ruining her former boss's reputation in the hope of earning a payout in the Sandpiper lawsuit. Still, the very last moments of the midseason finale, in which Howard dies by gunshot to the head courtesy of Lalo (Tony Dalton), land with a disturbingly heavy pang of shock. It's the kind of gruesome surprise that leaves you reeling long after the credits have rolled.

By the end of the hour, Howard has been drugged, psychologically tortured, and utterly discredited in the eyes of his colleagues, all because of the intricately crafted scheme Kim and Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) have spent the first half of the show's final season working on. Even Howard's private investigator (whom he hired to follow Jimmy after the boxing match heard 'round the world) turns out to be on the Wexler-McGill payroll, helping deliver the photos of an actor impersonating the Sandpiper mediator and switch them out at the last minute, unwittingly sealing Howard's fate. 

When an uncharacteristically disheveled Howard shows up to confront Jimmy and Kim at their apartment late at night, all it takes is an ominous flicker of a candle flame to know that something is very, very wrong. Howard hits them with a monologue not unlike the one Nacho (Michael Mando) delivered to the Salamancas before his own death, proving that he sees Jimmy and Kim for what they are: "You're perfect for each other," he tells them contemptuously. "I thought you did it for the money, but now it's so clear. Screw the money, you did it for fun." He vows to spend the rest of his life exposing them — and then the candle flickers again.

When Lalo surprises them all at Kim's apartment, Howard finds himself caught in the crosshairs of Jimmy and Kim's two worlds. His sudden death by Lalo's hand is chillingly full circle, coming after Mike (Jonathan Banks) told Kim earlier in the season that he didn't expect Lalo to make contact with her or Jimmy. Howard's murder is entirely senseless, an unfortunate consequence of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As Better Call Saul signs off for a few weeks before returning for its final stretch of episodes in July, Fabian spoke to TV Guide (for the second time this season) to discuss filming the death scene, the link between Howard's and Nacho's fates, and how Chuck McGill (Michael McKean) looms over Howard's final moments at HHM.

Patrick Fabian, Better Call Saul

Patrick Fabian, Better Call Saul

Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

When did you learn that Howard was going to die?
Patrick Fabian: [Executive producers] Melissa Bernstein, Peter [Gould], and Vince [Gilligan] called me before the season even began. They gave me a heads up on a very practical level. They were like, "So, you can make your vacation plans a little bit earlier this year!" But they were very excited, because they said, "We cracked a nut, we figured out something that's going to help swing the door and hinge us into the second half of the season." The collateral damage just happened to be me when it came to that. And I have to say, they didn't tell me how, who, what circumstances at all, they just knew that I was gonna go, which was great, because the series has worked for me as a script-by-script proposition. So I didn't know exactly what was going on until they handed me the script about two weeks before we started shooting. Honestly, as an actor, part of me was like, "Maybe they changed their mind. Maybe someone else enters and finds me or something." No! So it came upon me as it came upon me. Rhea and Bob texted me to be like, "607 dropped. Have you read it yet?" When I read it, even though I knew what was coming, I think the writers positioned Howard to have a little more sympathy as we roll into this, for maximum effect.

I want to talk about the death scene. It looks so claustrophobic with the four of you in the apartment. Can you tell me about what it was like filming that scene?
Fabian: You know, it was the final day of me working, walking and talking like that. The time for sentiment and nostalgia is afterwards, really. Bob was gracious before we started the day, he basically just said, "Hey, everybody gather around, our friend Patrick is leaving us today." There was a quick smattering of applause, and then we got to work, because in the end, we've been working together for six, seven years. Part of the reason it looks so good is because everybody does their job, you know? I'm supported by this great lighting crew, by Steve Litecky, and Marshall Adams is lighting me like a movie star, and I got these beautiful words from Tom Schnauz to write and direct me, and then they put me with scene partners like Rhea Seehorn and Bob Odenkirk. And then you start doing the stuff, and the nerves set in a little bit.

This is a big scene, Howard's talking more than he's talked in six years, really. I've been the recipient of lots of monologues from Jimmy McGill, and lots of monologues from Kim Wexler, by the way. Now the roles reverse. We started doing runs top to bottom of the whole thing, which was sort of clunky at first, finding my way, figuring out what's what, and you start figuring out what works along the way. A couple of takes in, there's just that moment I think every actor knows where all of a sudden, I finished, Bob and Rhea sort of cocked their heads to me. There's that sense of, "Oh, we're onto something, let's not let it trickle away."

To your point about the claustrophobia, we really fill the frame. You can really feel that. When they show Lalo enter, it's so menacing and awful. He's there, and he's got that smile, and the gun. There must be a moment of, "Is he coming to kill Kim? What's going on?" Because who am I to him? Nothing. Which is exactly why it's so sad. He's just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This was your first scene with Tony Dalton as well. How was it filming with him?
Fabian: Well, if you're going to get slaughtered by someone, it might as well be someone as handsome as him. The denial of an actor, I'm still thinking, like, "Well, maybe there's a way out." And he comes in with the plastic rubber gun, and then we're rehearsing, so he puts it up towards my head, and he goes, "Bang!" And I'm like, "Come on, man." And he goes, "What? It's in the script! I have to do it." 

Howard really goes off on Jimmy and Kim before his death. When he showed up at their apartment, what do you think he wanted from them?
Fabian: Oh, he was coming to put them on notice. He actually says it in the end. Howard may be many things, vainglorious, narcissistic, but he's not stupid. They won. They did win, absolutely, and there's nothing he can say from here on out that won't exacerbate their win. He says, "I've been down before, I'm gonna get back up." He is going to be fine. Don't know what it looks like, but he is going to be fine. He's letting them know that he's in it for the long haul, and that they may have won this battle, but he is going to make it his point to be alive and let everybody know exactly who they are. You want to talk about reputational damage? Howard's gonna get you… except he doesn't. But that's because the consequences of their actions are then literally laid at their feet. The second half of the season, we'll start to see how they deal with that.

The thing that immediately came to my mind when Lalo shot him was that Nacho died the same way, via this shot to the head. Under very different circumstances, and those two characters never crossed paths, but their fates are really intertwined in that way.
Fabian: Great examples of two people who are just literally being acted upon. Everybody else's actions have the ramifications in both of our lives, and both of which we don't want, ends we do not want at all, and really have not courted, and actually, technically, have gone out of our ways to avoid. The other similarity I noticed, also, [was] that awful, awful crunch of the head hitting the table is an exact echo of Chuck hitting the machine at the end of Season 3.

Was that intentional?
Fabian: That, I don't know. The writers always have crafted something that is so, so wonderful, and maybe it's a happy accident, but I don't think so. I mean, look, when I do the soda can thing earlier in the episode, there's Chuck looming over it all. It's sad. I have to ask you, were you surprised at the end? Did it shock you?

It really shocked me. I went into the season scared for Howard, scared for Nacho, scared for Kim, but the way it happened I did not expect. I did not expect him to come into Lalo's line of fire like that.
Fabian: Why would you? It doesn't make any sense until it makes sense.

Especially because it comes after he spends this day being psychologically tortured by Kim and Jimmy.
Fabian: It feels like it's over, right? It feels like that scene with Howard and Cliff in his office is the last stand. It's him, "I got it. I know it looks crazy, but look at all this!" And it's not crazy. It does look crazy, but it's not wrong. Cliff doesn't even care, because the bottom line is the bottom line, and the bottom line is this ship has sailed, we have lost. When Howard realizes that, I wonder if, as viewers, there's a sense of, "That's what they did. They undressed him in front of his peers, and his reputation is shot. They humiliated him." Therefore, when all of a sudden they see me in the apartment, it's like, "What's he doing?" You sort of get red herring-ed, in a way. He's going to go off on Jimmy, and that's why when Lalo enters, it's like, "Wait, I wasn't even looking for that."

Tony Dalton and Patrick Fabian, Better Call Saul

Tony Dalton and Patrick Fabian, Better Call Saul

Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

I'm also wondering how you approached him completely unraveling like that. You were drugged, you were sweating, your pupils were dilated. That was such a physical departure for Howard, too.
Fabian: Yeah, for someone who's definitely prided himself on his composure. It was a very fun scene to play. The suddenness of the drug is that it makes you agitated and sweaty and makes your pupils go, but it's not going to make you crazy. What's making you crazy is the situation. The drug is giving you the physical manifestation of that. You just start playing that sense of everything I'm saying is not landing. I even yell at Julie! I even yell at poor Julie, my secretary. She doesn't deserve that, I bark at her. That's not Howard, right? That's so not Howard.

In the actual practical playing of it, having my main anchors as Dennis Boutsikaris as Schweikart, and Ed Begley Jr. [as Cliff], they couldn't be two more diametrically opposed guys. Ed's there with this befuddled caring look, and I'm speaking words to him, but his eyes tell me that it's just a mishmash. Then I looked over to Dennis, and Dennis has this big heart on his sleeve going, "Oh, poor Howard. You're a mess." But there's a slight smile about it. "What's going on? I'm going to win." Tom wrote me great words, just enough words, and just enough stuff to let it disintegrate. We started off the series in that boardroom, me at the head of the table, and Jimmy comes in and does the whole "you shall atone" Network speech. That's the same boardroom where I gave Chuck the check, and we applauded his ass right out of HHM. And there's Chuck McGill overlooking the final disintegration of HHM.

I don't know if you know this, but there's a video of you doing an impression of Jonathan Banks that's become a meme, and you say in that video that you once told him you hoped you'd get to do a scene with him, and he was not very receptive. How do you feel about the fact that you never got a scene with him?
Fabian: Well, I should have said I don't want a scene with Lalo, but I didn't know he was around, right? Yeah, I didn't get to work with him, I didn't get to work with Mando, I didn't get to work with Giancarlo [Esposito]. The way I look at it is like this: I've been so fortunate to be a part of this, that my scene partners have been the mighty Michael McKean, Rhea Seehorn, Bob Odenkirk, and Ed Begley Jr. But on the sidelines, both by viewing and watching their work, and literally by having them come visit set, and have their words of encouragement, I've learned so much watching Jonathan Banks, Giancarlo, and Michael Mando. They approach their work differently, they have different work to do, and there's a lot to be learned, especially from Jonathan and Giancarlo about the beauty of stillness in their life, and drawing people in with the thoughts in your head. Howard's a little more on point, he's a little more on the nose. But I definitely used those lessons from watching them when it came time for Howard to be more reflective, to remind myself, "We've earned the moment to be reflective, and draw people in." So, you know, I didn't get scenes with them this time, but you never know. How do I find my meme? What do I do with that? Send it to me!

I'll send it to you, for sure. I'll tweet it at you.
Fabian: I would love that.

Better Call Saul returns with new episodes on Monday, July 11 at 9/8c on AMC.

Watch Better Call Saul Now Streaming on AMC+