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Spoilers ahead for the mid-season finale of You better call Saul.
Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) has long been one of You better call Saulthe most underrated characters. The man who, according to Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk), “has reached a level of douchebaggery that will live on for generations” has always shown signs that he is more complicated than that. For all the ways he took Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) for granted in the first two seasons, he showed a capacity for surprising acts of empathy, especially in the wake of the death of his legal partner, Chuck. McGill, in season four; he even offered Jimmy a job at his own company, Hamlin Hamlin McGill (HHM), to make amends in season five. But Howard’s acts of generosity are often misinterpreted by characters like Jimmy and Kim who, aside from some legitimate grievances, seem to hate Howard mainly because he’s an easy target.
In the mid-season finale of You better call SaulThe final season of “Plan and Execution,” Jimmy and Kim finally pull off their convoluted plan to discredit Howard, partly to force a settlement in the Sandpiper Crossing class action lawsuit and partly out of petty desire to bring him down. (or 10). It was a dark but devastating twist for the character – and his arc came to an even more unsettling end when the terrifying Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton) shot him in the head in the episode’s final scene. Fabian spoke to Vulture about unexpectedly traversing the violent half of the series and recontextualizing Howard’s journey knowing how it all ends.
First I have to ask about the most important part of the episode: the spinning can trick that Howard learned from Chuck to keep a shaken soda from fizzing. Have you tried it yourself?
We didn’t do it during the day. But I can almost guarantee you that people will start sending memes doing it, saying it works or it doesn’t. And the problem is, I’m going to get it. If it doesn’t work, it’ll be Howard’s fault, not [episode writer and director] Blame it on Tom Schnauz. This is the price you pay.
I thought this was going to be a big episode for Howard, but I didn’t expect to do a post-mortem interview here!
This makes me happy, because it means that the vision of the creators has come true. They wanted the shock value of those last 30 seconds.
I’m curious to know what you think about it. Did you have the same shock when you first heard about the ending?
I knew I was going to bow out early, it had already been announced to me before the season. I didn’t know how, I didn’t know the details, and like all seasons, it came to me script by script by script. So I didn’t know what was going on until 607 was dropped, and I had two weeks before we started shooting it. But when I read it, I read it, I’m like, “Oh, those are great scenes,” and then I get to the last page. And it’s only two-thirds of the page, but it says “Lalo enters.” I was like, What? And then literally half a page later, it’s over. End of episode. It kind of took my breath away on the page. Oh, it’s final. It’s like a knock in the dark as I walk away. That’s it.
Have you ever shared a stage with Tony Dalton?
Six years of You better call Saul, and I’ve never shared a scene with a bad guy, unless you mean it’s Saul Goodman. I was on a show about lawyers who have emotional issues. That’s really what I was into. I don’t know what happens in the rest of the show, other than those last few seconds.
As you alluded to, I often think the show has two halves, half lawyer and half violent crime drama. How does it feel to cross this space?
I remember watching episode four, where Mike and Kim finally see each other and have a conversation. I remember getting chills, like, “Oh, Mike and Kim speak now? It’s something.” But my interaction with Tony is very light. That’s why it works. It works because it’s unexpected for me and for Jimmy that he’s there. I like that Tom has gave Howard the retort to Lalo: “You want my opinion? Find better lawyers! Until the end, he will be the affable Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence Peopleeven now – until he sees the gravity of what is happening, and he still can’t calculate.
I always thought I was going to have a scene with Jonathan Banks, or, actually, Giancarlo Esposito. I thought Gus Fring and I would be in a Rotary club or something in the community, and I always thought they would compliment each other. It didn’t happen, and that’s why I’m not a writer.
Well, I’m sure there will be fan fiction about it. But even before that big moment, it’s already the biggest episode of Howard’s series. The mediation scene is the centerpiece. What is it about this specific humiliation that really touches Howard? It feels like he always needs to have some control over the set, and he’s very particular about everything. Now he’s losing control.
Absolutely, it’s the worst thing. We are in the conference room, which is his electric seat. Chuck towers over us at the end of the room. I had given up my seat at the end of the table for the mediator – but that’s okay, because, well, Clifford and I are going into this thinking we’re going to win. We don’t even play the game unless we already know the outcome. We are the masters of the universe. “Poor Rich Schweikart” is how we see it.
It’s funny how wanting revenge on Jimmy outweighs all of Howard’s behavior. It outweighs all his business acumen. He replaces everything he is. That’s how much Jimmy has his hooks in him. He realizes he’s the only one in the room who’s had all the experiences with Jimmy, Kim, and Chuck, that makes sense. But even if I explain the facts to Cliff, at the time, I also understand that it’s not going to help things. Then I realize that’s the game. The game is defeat and public humiliation in front of my peers, with Chuck watching in my own office. It’s like undressing myself. The fact that I have to go out is the height of embarrassment. But it’s double because it’s them, and they got me.
What has changed in the public’s perception of Howard, this episode and this season in general?
Each season, these writers have opened another window on Howard, which I think also yo-yos audience animosity, affection, or neutrality toward me, either way. We finally have Howard’s wife, Cheryl, this season. I mentioned it in therapy, and the internet said, “Cheryl? There’s a Cheryl? The LGBTQ community said, “It doesn’t mean anything. Don’t get excited. [Some fans have long suspected Howard is gay. —ed.]
Most of the time you’ve seen Howard, he’s got his armor on and he’s going to work. But now you can see, Oh, when he takes his costume off, he’s just a person like you and me. And he’s got marriage problems, and he’s in therapy. Good for him, it’s great! But the writers give me the best gifts in the world: he goes to therapy and he becomes a better person, but he has to put “namaste” on his Jag. So that’s him in a nutshell. I’m almost there, Howard. Almost the.
When the breakdown occurs and everything else happens, it really kicks in. He goes to Jimmy and Kim’s apartment to say, “I get it. I can’t explain it to anyone else. No one will believe me. But that’s okay, because you know what? I a m ingenious. I will be bounce. And I will collect all that I have. I will gather all the influences I have acquired to ensure that you both suffer your humiliation as well. And it is a change. It’s not a Howard we’ve seen before. Howard used to reach out, “How can I help you?” How can I help you? Sorry I did that. How can I help you?” This time he comes and announces, “Don’t worry, baby, I’ll be there.” And sure enough, he freaks out.
When he takes Jimmy and Kim to task, I felt I agreed with most of what he said. Do you generally agree with him and his opinion of them?
I think Tom Schnauz has written a lot of things that Howard says that might be some of the same questions that audiences have in their heads as well. Why did do you, Jimmy? Because I feel like it went a bit too far. What was it already? Is it because of Sandpiper’s money? Because it’s much more personal. And I believe so. I think Howard gives voice to some of the questions from the audience, and he certainly lays out whatever he’s been holding back for a long time.
You talk a lot about Chuck in the episode. Your character started the series as a middleman, sort of an appendix to Chuck. You already talked about how you could have easily been written off when he left the show, but you kept going. Chuck hasn’t been alive since season three, but what lingering influence does he have in this story? What does it mean that Howard brings it up so often in his latest episode?
I think Howard probably always wondered if he could run HHM without Chuck McGill. I was the guy on the golf course doing the business, but Chuck is the mastermind of the operation. It was the setup. Which, by implication, means Howard has no brains, which isn’t true – he’s smart. He may be vain, but he’s no fool. And I think the destruction and rebirth of HHM shows exactly that. The fact that he still keeps Chuck in the conference room with that photo, even though he left on such ungraceful terms – it’s a secret Howard has kept to himself. It shows that there is honor and a tip of the hat. I think he’s still under Chuck’s watchful eye.
I also think I became a substitute for Jimmy’s anger towards Chuck. Chuck is present in all things HHM. And until HHM is gone, he will be there, no doubt. I think that’s why Jimmy doesn’t take the job when I offer it to him, when I say, “Chuck is in the past. We are the future. It’s like, “The dead are the dead, we’re the living, come on, man, let’s do this thing.” And Jimmy says no, that big scene that Melissa Bernstein did in season five when I’m leaving the courthouse and he’s screaming behind me to be a god.
It’s such a turning point.
Howard washed his hands then. He did everything he could. And what is Jimmy really yelling about? Does he really yell at a guy trying to get him a job? Is he yelling at Chuck? What are they talking about? I think there’s a lot of colorful Chuck in all of this. You know, major deaths like this affect everyone, and they reverberate. They don’t stop and walk away. The ripples of the river keep flowing.
I’m so excited to see everyone freaking out like I did while watching the episode.
You know, I had a great way into the show, with that meeting room scene with Jimmy and the Network speech. Along the way, I have to box, I have to have Kim handing my ass, and I can hang out with Lalo, the most handsome man on television, who shoots me in the head. What more do I want in life?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.