Writer/director Tom Schnauz tells IndieWire how a more straightforward approach and respect for everyone’s intelligence led to two memorable end-of-episode showdowns.
[Editor’s note: The following review contains spoilers for “Better Call Saul” Season 6, Episode 7, “Plan and Execution.”]
Of all the things on “Better Call Saul” that happen by accident, “someone directing two episodes in back-to-back seasons that strongly features a dangerous showdown in the living room of an apartment” doesn’t seem to be one of them. they. Yet two years after “Bad Choice Road” found Kim (Rhea Seehorn), Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk), and Lalo (Tony Dalton) converging on the same Albuquerque unit acreage, the trio had an unexpected reunion in the mid-season of season 6 of the show. final.
This time, this confluence of fates had a much bloodier ending, with Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) meeting an untimely end via Lalo’s patiently assembled muffler. Still, with those similarities, it was far from expected that Tom Schnauz — who wrote and directed “Bad Choice Road” — would play both roles again for “Plan and Execution.”
“It was absolutely a total coincidence. Because I do most of the writing on the record in the play, as opposed to leaving and being on set at the start of the season, which was going to happen before COVID and shutdown Normally we just start spinning around episode 7, 8, 9 But things just didn’t overlap We ended up shutting down the whole season and then we just fired because of all the delays we’ve had,” Schnauz said.
This little bit of fate brought Schnauz back to yet another chilling ending sequence, but the episode itself is much more than death in the closing seconds that gives the title its double meaning. Schnauz spoke with IndieWire about fulfilling the “D-Day” promise, the smarts of the characters, and what it took to get the grand signifier of the final showdown right.
IndieWire: This episode is a real balancing act between success and failure. How did you make sure you didn’t tip too far back and forth on one of the different sides here?
Tom Schnauz: We knew Jimmy and Kim’s plan was going to work. But it wouldn’t be a satisfying storyline for them to win and walk away from it. And kind of like in “Breaking Bad” when we did the train robbery episode, we knew that Walt and Jesse were going to succeed in stealing that methylamine. I remember in the writers room, Sam Catlin, a writer on that show, said, “Well, what if a kid gets shot?” He just threw it somewhere in his brain, talking with George Mastras on one side of the table. I heard I was like, wow, this is really crazy.
So that was just stealing from our past successful scams. It just so happened to be like it was time for the two different worlds to come together, the cartel world and the scam world, to come together and something really, really awful happened. It could have spread and Lalo could have tortured Howard. But he doesn’t know this guy, and just for the sake of simplicity and to scare Jimmy and Kim, he shoots him in the head.
Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
Aside from the reveal of Jimmy’s man inside HHM, most of this episode isn’t really built on surprises. It’s more about following what previous episodes have meticulously set in motion.
We don’t tend to do too many twists. One of the things we’ve talked about a lot is, “When do we reveal the fact that Jimmy put this private investigator in Howard’s circle?” We saw it in season 3, Chuck had a private investigator ready for him when Jimmy burst into his door. Jimmy knew this was going to be in the cards, so they came up with the idea of changing the phone number in the system. It felt like a fun surprise to have in this episode.
Obviously, Season 6 has been split into two parts. Did you know this was going to be the mid-season finale?
We didn’t know that. We just wrote and broke the whole season and started writing and filming not knowing there was going to be a split.
It must be nice to know that it really has always worked that way.
We really tend to write everything as a “cliffhanger”. Last week’s episode with Kim turning around on the road. Certainly, if we stopped there, people would be like, “What’s Kim going to do?” And the next episode hopefully ends up in a way that people want to come back and see the next one. This one just ended on a very brutal cliffhanger, which we don’t do a lot. It’s just not a high body count show. So when someone dies, especially a major character like this, it has more impact.
Especially considering this is his final episode, there’s something about Howard having the clarity of knowing exactly what’s going on every step of the way. Except for the exchange of photos, it is not at all in the dark here.
We always come from a place where “these characters aren’t stupid”. They are very, very smart. And Howard is difficult to overcome. They did it perfectly. But they knew he was going to find out. So they had to build this plan which, even if he finds out and tells Cliff the whole truth that by the time he understands it, it ruined the negotiation process. That’s how they built their whole plan. One of my favorite lines I’ve ever written for this is where Howard says to Schweikart, “I know this all sounds a bit baroque.” And it’s! It’s so weird and complex.
It’s a show that tends to reflect itself. I wonder if, subconsciously, people might recognize that this is another apartment dead end. And if the last one ended with Lalo leaving and everyone was spared, then maybe they’ll assume Howard will be the same.
It was certainly part of the idea of making Howard’s death so sudden and shocking. When Lalo walks in, we’re probably thinking it’s going to be another epic psychological torture session, the 18-minute long scene of [Episode] 509. Instead, he just doesn’t have time for it. He just uses brute force. He doesn’t know who he is, he just needs to get this guy.
Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television
There’s a moment in Howard’s monologue as he retrieves the glasses from the cabinet when he casually comes across the nickname “Howie.” It’s such sweet writing and performance that speaks volumes about Howard’s motivations and what drives him other than his crumbling life.
I can’t say enough about the work Patrick Fabian did in this episode. What a range of actors we have between Bob and Rhea and Michael Mando and Tony and Jon[athan] Banks. Everyone is so good. It’s a show about Jimmy McGill and Mike Ehrmantraut. They are the two main characters. And there have certainly been plenty of times where we wish we had used Patrick more. We were very happy to give Patrick a lot of really good scenes this season and in this episode. It’s one of the first times he’s had a full act, in that boardroom scene, of getting ready for the meeting and then realizing the truth. So it was good to have been able to work with Patrick on this scene and let him show his stuff.
This boardroom scene really makes Howard feel like this interesting synthesis of Jimmy and Gus. So many of the major players in this story are so detail-oriented and focused that you can see how drawn to each other they all are.
It’s a credit to our actors. When we started this series, Howard Hamlin was going to be the bad guy. We didn’t know about Chuck’s double cross. We didn’t have anything planned when we started Season 1. And just like with Rhea Seehorn and what she brought to the character, all of those characters grew through the actors we had and what they brought to them. Have brought. So if it wasn’t for Patrick, I don’t think Howard would be the character he is.
Jimmy and Kim in those final seconds is what really sells the true horror of what’s happening, especially when they’re processing everything out loud. How did you talk about the kind of reactions you expected from them and was there a range you played with?
Lalo’s entrance was the most difficult moment because they have different information. Kim knows that Lalo Salamanca is alive and there. Jimmy sees a ghost walk through the door. He’s completely in shock, which is why I played more on Jimmy’s face. We made a whole range of plans for this entry. I tried to be very whimsical and did all these close-ups of Bob’s eye and his pupil dilating. If you remember in 509, the juicer scene, I made those cuts. I did the same thing. I set up two cameras on Bob’s face, thinking I was going to cut in between and do this whole shocking visual explosion for the moment Lalo walks through the door. My editor Skip Macdonald and I edited it six times until Sunday and none of them were right.
In the end, we actually sent AMC and Sony the version with the flashiest eyeball. They give very few grades but they were like, “Do we really need Hitchcock’s pupil? I looked at it again and thought simpler was better for now, just that black shadow coming in behind Patrick. Having Bob’s big reaction was the way to go. As for Howard getting shot in the head, I just let Bob and Rhea do what they were going to do, reacting to this person getting shot in front of them. I gave them no instructions. I just let them do their thing. And they did it amazingly.
“Better Call Saul” will return for the final episodes of Season 6 starting July 11. All previous episodes of Season 6 are available on AMC+.