We all process grief differently. Some seek comfort in the company of others, some need some personal time and withdraw to heal. Me, I love to eat horrible things for my body (I always seem to be grieving). No one does the same thing, and there's no telling how anyone will react to bad news.
The Season 4 premiere of Better Call Saul focused on how Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) is coping with the death of his brother Chuck (Michael McKean) and as is usually the case with Jimmy, his reaction was complicated. Jimmy spent most of the episode mired in troubled introspection as he no longer had Chuck to take care of, to be tormented by, to argue with, to lean on, or anything else that was representative of their incredibly complex relationship. As much anger and contempt as they had for each other, they were blood, and without Chuck, Jimmy was devastated.
Until he wasn't. The episode ended with Howard (Patrick Fabian) unloading his own guilt on to Jimmy and telling him that he thought Chuck's death wasn't accidental, but a suicide. Almost immediately, Jimmy perked up, offered to make everyone coffee, and became chipper... disturbingly chipper, much to the shock of Howard and Kim (Rhea Seehorn).
Better Call Saul loves to let the audience interpret its characters rather than have the characters tell the audience how they feel, so Jimmy's reaction to Howard's "confession" was a bit of a humdinger. I think Jimmy felt unburdened by any guilt he harbored over Chuck's death, but other people I've talked to had different theories. But what do we know, we're just common folk, so we asked the cast and producers of Better Call Saul to tell us what they thought of Jimmy's reaction and how it affects things going forward.
"I'll tell you what I think, I think he decides in that moment that he's not going to feel guilty about Chuck," Odenkirk told TV Guide. "In that moment, he compartmentalizes very completely, wholly and successfully — which doesn't make it healthy or even true — but he just says, I am not going to let that dictate the rest of my life, feeing bad about that guy. Whether that's true or not, or he just tells himself that, remains to be seen."
"I think it's devastating to Howard. He unzips himself in front of Jimmy because he really feels responsible for it. And there's a great argument to be made, FYI, that it's Jimmy's fault," Fabian told us. "And yet Howard takes it on and goes to Jimmy to relieve the burden. He actually wants to relieve Jimmy's burden. He's actually still trying to do right by Jimmy even though it's interpreted all the last couple of seasons that [he's] not. And to have him just be dead inside and throw it back on [Howard], and not give [him] any absolution is not only cold and inhuman, it goes counterintuitive to everything that Howard Hamlin stands for. So I think the spiral that it sends Howard into is the most interesting stuff I get to do this season."
What I love about this cast and the writing of Better Call Saul is that the actors are really looking at things from their characters' perspectives, and Fabian's response is fantastic and pure Howard. (By the way, Howard doesn't get enough credit for being one of the show's outstanding guys, and I'm very much #TeamHoward in many cases.)
Co-creator and all-around great guy Vince Gilligan warned us that Jimmy's upbeat mood may not be what we think it is.
"I think it's going to be one of the central awful moments of this man's life," Gilligan said of Chuck's death and its effect on Jimmy, even if he does seem happy at the end of the premiere. "I mean think about it: As far as we know, [Chuck's] his only living kin. [He] was hugely important to him, if not in a loving, supporting way, nonetheless a shadow who loomed over his life in a very undeniable fashion, and suddenly he's gone in a awful, tragic way."
According to showrunner and co-creator Peter Gould, Jimmy's reaction and what it means is the question that is going to play out through much of this season. "Jimmy is a little bit of an enigma. He's an enigma to Kim, and sometimes he's an enigma to us and the audience. So you're going to have to think about why the news that should be really the worst that Jimmy could get seems to lighten the load," he said.
"Is he really happy? I guess we could give you answers, but I think the fun is puzzling out, combing out the mystery for the audience," Gilligan added.
"He's devastated and his world is completely rocked, and what he does with that and how he responds and reacts to that, that's the whole fourth season," said Odenkirk. "And really, it's the whole rest of that character's life is seen in light of Chuck, who he was, and how his relationship fell short."
So there you have it. We can all blame Chuck for turning Jimmy into Saul. I think?
Better Call Saul airs Monday nights at 9/8c on AMC.
Additional reporting by Megan Vick