‘Better Call Saul’ Writer Ariel Levine Breaks Down “Calm Before the Storm” Ahead of Mid-Season Finale

[Warning: The following story contains spoilers for Better Call Saul‘s “Axe and Grind.”]

Better Call Saul author Ariel Levine has a fairly distinctive bragging proper as she received an Emmy earlier than writing a single episode of tv.

Levine earned the award in 2017 for Better Call Saul and AMC’s short-form collection Los Pollos Hermanos Employee Training, her first skilled writing task to hit the air. In 2020, Levine, as the writers’ assistant, co-wrote Better Call Saul’s season 5 finale earlier than profitable one more short-form Emmy for Ethics Training with Kim Wexler. (Levine might very effectively have a 3rd short-form Emmy win had her 2019 nomination not been disqualified over a controversial runtime technicality.)

Prior to Better Call Saul’s closing season, Levine was promoted to workers author, and Monday’s Giancarlo Esposito-directed episode, “Axe and Grind,” marked the launch of her first solo scribe outing. Naturally, Levine can’t imagine the journey she’s been on since the closing days of Breaking Bad.

“I temped on Breaking Bad after they had been breaking the final episode, and on the Breaking Bad documentary [No Half Measures: Creating the Final Season of Breaking Bad], I’m in the background, like a deer in the headlights, as they’re toasting champagne and placing up the final card. It was my first scripted job out of school, and I used to be like, ‘How did I find yourself right here?’” Levine tells The Hollywood Reporter.

In a latest dialog with THR, Levine additionally broke down her episode’s many twists and turns, together with Kim Wexler’s (Rhea Seehorn) doubtlessly disastrous choice to conclude the episode.

So what’s your origin story?

Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to look at TV in any respect. My dad and mom had been of the, “TV goes to rot your mind, go learn a ebook” selection. So after I went to varsity, I immediately found the surprise that’s tv. I went to Boston University, and so they have a extremely nice student-run TV community. So I began engaged on Bay State, the longest-running school cleaning soap opera, and after I tried out to be a author on the present, the one who employed me was named [Better Call Saul producer] Jenn Carroll.

And after I moved out to L.A., I reached out to Jenn once more, and she or he occurred to be engaged on Breaking Bad, as the script coordinator. And after they wanted an additional pair of arms later in the closing season, they referred to as me up. So I temped on Breaking Bad after they had been breaking the final episode, and on the Breaking Bad documentary [No Half Measures: Creating the Final Season of Breaking Bad], I’m in the background, like a deer in the headlights, as they’re toasting champagne and placing up the final card. It was my first scripted job out of school, and I used to be like, “How did I find yourself right here?”

And how did the Better Call Saul trajectory begin?

After Breaking Bad ended, their post-production producer, Diane Mercer, went on to a different present, and she or he employed me to be her put up PA. And when she received the name to do Better Call Saul, she introduced me together with her once more. So I began as put up PA in season one, moved to writers’ PA in season two, after which was promoted to writers’ assistant in season three [through the end of season five].

As a writers’ assistant, you co-wrote the season 5 finale with Peter Gould, and also you had been then promoted to workers author for the closing season. Was there any pomp and circumstance surrounding your first solo episode task?

Yeah, [“Axe and Grind”] is my first solo episode after co-writing 510 final season and 602 this season, but it surely was fairly by the ebook. One day, we had been breaking an episode, and Peter and Vince [Gilligan] had been like, “By the manner, Ariel is scripting this one.” So I did a bit personal dance, after which all of us received again to work. (Laughs.) But that’s the manner I prefer it. I don’t want so much of pomp and circumstance. Back after I was the writers’ PA, I discovered I used to be being promoted to writers’ assistant throughout the Better Call Saul Insider podcast. I used to be like, “Wait, what?”

So in the teaser, we revisit teenage Kim [Katie Beth Hall] in Red Cloud, Nebraska, and regardless of resisting her mom’s [Beth Hoyt] unhealthy affect in season 5’s flashback, that sort of habits appears to be rubbing off on her after a failed try at shoplifting. Did you view this expertise as the first time Kim stepped out of line with out her mom’s involvement?

I’m not completely certain if it’s her mother’s affect. Kim most likely doesn’t even know why she did what she did. We additionally don’t know if it’s her first time. She’s a bit stunned to seek out herself there, and she or he’s much more stunned when her mother exhibits up and seemingly holds Kim accountable for her actions. It appears that Kim likes having that boundary set for her, however then, to have her mother pull the rug out from below her is tragic. 

Lazy loaded imageBetter Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 6

Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

I’ve typically felt unhealthy for Howard, and I really feel even worse for him now that I do know the state of his marriage. But at the similar time, I additionally care about Kim and Jimmy, and wish their Howard plan to succeed so that they don’t get harm. Since you confirmed us a uncommon glimpse of Howard’s private life, do you very a lot need the viewer to really feel conflicted about rooting for Kim and Jimmy’s scheme?

I do know I really feel unhealthy for Howard. I’ll say that. It’s fairly unhappy, and he’s been by way of a lot. He thought he was answerable for pushing his mentor and legislation mentor [Michael McKean’s Chuck McGill] to suicide, and he needed to undergo this entire journey to course of his grief and are available out the different facet. And now we’re studying that he doesn’t have a supportive companion at residence. But I feel the idea of what folks deserve, what any of us deserve, is sort of tough. Did Kim should get caught in doc evaluation? Did Jimmy should be handed over repeatedly, and condescended to by Howard? However we really feel about all of it, I do know that Kim and Jimmy have satisfied themselves that they’re in the proper, and if that makes us really feel conflicted, it’s extra drama for us all.

What Kim says to Cliff (Ed Begley Jr.) looks like a very affordable manner to take a look at her relationship with Howard. He gave her a shot in the HHM mailroom, he fronted her legislation college tuition, however she solely mentioned all that to work Cliff and canopy her tracks.

There’s a world the place she additionally believes that, however I simply assume she believes extra in what she’s doing with Jimmy.

Lazy loaded imageBetter Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 6

Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

Cheryl Hamlin’s (Sandrine Holt) espresso spill added to the disregard and inattention she confirmed Howard. Was that spill scripted?

Actually, the espresso spill was not scripted. I like this scene a lot, and it turned out so effectively. It’s so cringingly uncomfortable. There’s this icy distance between these two, and so they performed it so effectively. Howard painstakingly makes this fancy latte and does this intricate foam artwork topping. He makes it as a sort gesture to Cheryl, but it surely’s not what Cheryl wants as she’s on her manner out the door. So it was written as a strategy to exhibit how these two simply aren’t on the similar web page, and Sandrine and Patrick took it to the subsequent degree.

Just after we thought we had unlocked Saul Goodman’s well-known workplace, you took a detour with ornamental molding and whatnot. What went into the choice to delay that gratification?

(Laughs.) It’s a enjoyable twist! It’s positively not what you’d count on. You see the workplace, and also you’re like, Yes! Finally.” So a lot of this present is about Jimmy discovering his area, however there are extra steps to undergo. This is known as a reflection on Francesca, who’s trying to create work surroundings for herself. She’s making an attempt to make a good legislation workplace, and sadly, she’s studying that respectable isn’t actually Saul Goodman’s vibe.

At the finish of Breaking Bad’s “Sunset,” Saul has Francesca name Hank (Dean Norris) and fake that Marie (Betsy Brandt) has been in a automotive accident. This scene hits a lot in another way now as a result of of Kim’s automotive accident that rattled each Jimmy and Francesca years earlier. So between the rip-off name that he asks her to make right here and her refusal to scrub up the urine spill, had been you very a lot making an attempt to ascertain Saul and Francesca’s future dynamic?

Absolutely. I actually beloved getting to point out Francesca’s evolution from the candy, earnest Francesca that we noticed on Better Call Saul season three to this jaded, sarcastic one who places up with so much from Saul on Breaking Bad. We’re not answering each query, however we’re seeing the starting of this journey. She’s making an attempt to set boundaries on this episode, however Saul is a bit of a bully. She provides in to strain, and I feel we will all think about it’s a slippery slope. If he can persuade her to make this telephone name, he can push her to make that even worse telephone name later. Once she begins to get much less treasured about issues, like the remedy of her decor and even her dignity and her conscience, I think about it’s in for a penny, in for a pound, for her.

When I noticed Kim double again on the freeway, I instantly thought of different turning factors comparable to Jane’s (Krysten Ritter) relapse scene on Breaking Bad,  in addition to Skyler’s (Anna Gunn) Four Corners scene. So what are you able to say about Kim’s doubtlessly fateful choice?

On Better Call Saul, we like to provide our characters decisions, and that’s one thing that I additionally appreciated about Breaking Bad as a fan. These characters all the time appear to have one other selection. They have an offramp. If they select to remain on the street that they’re on, they’ve the company to take action. Walt might’ve taken Gretchen and Elliott’s cash, however he selected to promote meth. Kim additionally has the alternative to get all the things she says she desires. This lunch might’ve funded her dream. And Jimmy even says, “We’ll determine it out. This isn’t the finish,” for no matter it’s they’re doing, however Kim makes her selection and turns the automotive round. So no matter occurs, occurs. 

As Mike walks by way of the laundromat, he passes a laundry supervisor that was not Dennis Markowski (Mike Batayeh) from Breaking Bad. Was it too quickly for him?

Gus and Mike are nonetheless dialing issues in, and their operation has a methods to go earlier than it’s what we see on Breaking Bad. So both he’s round and we haven’t seen him, or he’s not there but.

From Jake Pinkman’s Winston Churchill poster on Breaking Bad to Vince Gilligan’s beloved FIFI, the famed WWII fighter that was featured on Saul season two, can one surmise that Vince contributed the Omaha Beach and D-Day metaphors?

I don’t know if it was Vince, particularly. We break the episodes as room, so it very effectively might’ve been, however we simply appreciated the struggle metaphor. Jimmy and Kim have been doing all this prep and technique, and it does kind of really feel like they’re going to struggle. They’ve instructed themselves that they’re taking down an enemy for the sake of good. So the metaphor match, and the D-Day countdown made sense for the episode, which has a really top-of-the-rollercoaster feeling to it. It’s the calm earlier than the storm, and that every one felt very “Eisenhower earlier than D-Day” to us. But I’d fully forgotten about Jake’s poster. That’s an fascinating element.

Lazy loaded imageBetter Call Saul _ Season 6, Episode 6

Greg Lewis/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

You confirmed us bits and items of Kim and Jimmy’s plan by way of dilated pupils, nonetheless photographs and post-it notes. So we’ve just a few puzzle items however not the full image. How do you resolve on how a lot and the way little to point out us? 

It’s a step-by-step foundation. Sometimes, you need the viewers to be in the darkish and guessing and alongside for the experience. Sometimes, it’s enjoyable for folks to be rewarded for paying consideration, as they’ll guess the end result by being forward of the story. The hope is that there’s drama in the setup, in addition to in the conclusion, and that individuals are fascinated with extra than simply eager to unravel the thriller. So we don’t actually say, “We’re gonna say stuff right here and never say stuff right here,” however hopefully, it’s been fascinating and never irritating. It’s a protracted con, finally.

Well, I wasn’t anticipating Mike to be an astronomy buff, however I suppose he wanted some kind of shared exercise to bond him and Kaylee (Juliet Donenfeld) as he retains his distance out of an abundance of warning. 

Yeah, Mike is a person of many pursuits and skills comparable to building and pouring concrete. He loves his granddaughter, and this looks like a topic he turned an skilled with the intention to be near her. It looks like she’s main this pastime, and he’s alongside for the experience. The final couple of episodes, we’ve been ready on Lalo and exhibiting what all of this has been doing to Gus. And now, we needed to point out what this has been doing to Mike. He can’t see his household. He can’t work together with them as a result of that will put them at risk, so he’s discovering different methods to attach with them and see them, even when it’s from afar. So it appeared like a enjoyable, nightly factor for them to do.

I stay stunned over Mike’s dynamic with Gus and his crew. I assumed issues can be much more harmonious given the quantity of reverence that Mike confirmed Gus on Breaking Bad.

Mike has his personal journey to go on, however Gus respects that Mike isn’t doing this as a result of he likes to do it. Mike is surly, however he’s the finest at his job and Gus desires the finest. He’s a shrewd man who has a robust sense of proper and unsuitable, however with all the things that occurred with Nacho, we discovered that he’s an organization man. He’s positively an organization man now, and Gus respects that.

Next week’s episode wasn’t initially designed to be a mid-season finale, however in the similar manner that season three’s “Chicanery” would’ve labored as a climactic mid-season finale, does 607 additionally work fairly properly as a brief stopping level?

I feel so, yeah. It labored out fairly effectively.

Interview edited for size and readability.

Better Call Saul is now airing on AMC.

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