Why Better Call Saul's Howard Isn't Really A Villain, According To Patrick Fabian

howard shocked at chuck on better call saul

Spoilers below for those who haven't yet watched Episode 9 of Better Call Saul.

Better Call Saul has perfected the art of intra-personal drama, and just about every character is painted in both light and dark tones, with very few of them leaning in wholly virtuous or evil directions. Howard Hamlin gets an honorable mention here, because even though he's the most reasonable and pragmatic character around, audiences are still geared to view him as Jimmy's enemy. Actor Patrick Fabian spoke with CinemaBlend about all things Howard, and he gave me a convincing defense for why his legal beagle is not the douche that people think he is.

You know, Jimmy called Howard 'Lord Vader' in the very first episode of Better Call Saul. And when the lead character calls your character Lord Vader, the audience goes, 'Wow, what a dick that guy's gonna be.' Then everybody starts looking at everything that falls out of my mouth as evidence backing that claim up. And even when it goes in the opposite direction -- like at the end of Season 1, where it turns out I was sort of protecting Jimmy from Chuck, there is a bit of a hitch of 'Oh, maybe Howard's not so bad,' but as soon as I was quote-unquote being a dick to Kim in Season 2, they all got back on board and said, 'Yeah, he's Lord Vader.' I'm not complaining at all. It sort of parallels Howard's character in the show. Who's really supporting his point of view? Nobody. He's kind of on an island all to himself, saying 'This is not fair. This is not right. And it's also not my fault.' We'll see where those chickens come home to roost, as they say.

Perhaps not coincidentally, that point of view there speaks to what co-creator Peter Gould recently said about the lessons that he and Vince Gilligan took from Breaking Bad to Better Call Saul. Namely, that whoever the lead character is going against is also the person that the audience will go against. And with his perfectly coifed hair and inability to look ruffled, Howard Hamlin couldn't have been more diametrically opposed to Jimmy when introduced, and that first impression (along with that first insult) is obviously what stuck with people. Even though we've seen all kinds of things that should make morally grounded people like Howard more than Jimmy.

Yet, of all the acts that characters have performed on Better Call Saul, almost nothing that Howard has done was driven by malice or blind ill will. For all intents and purposes, he was and is still a man doing his job while trying to not let a criminal dupe and devour his longtime partner. But despite Howard's best efforts, chaos reigns, and as viewers can tell, it's all finally starting to take a toll on him. Here's what Patrick Fabian says are the issues causing Howard's surprising outbursts.

The last thing he wants to be is the guy who's yelling at people. And yet circumstances and these people's behavior -- and I say 'these people' very deliberately -- it's like, can somebody please act like an adult around here? Does nobody understand the rules of the road anymore? And the answer is no. No. People seem to be completely doing stuff of their own accord, and there's no behavior like how one conducts themselves, in business or in personal life. And I think Howard is frayed.

Think about it. What if this show was called Howard's Law or some shit? If that were the case, then Patrick Fabian would be playing our debonaire and smooth-talking hero, making the felony-free Jimmy, the electricity-sensitive Chuck and the back-stabbing Kim the "true" villains. For what it's worth, though, a buttoned-up character like Howard is exactly the kind that's most fun to watch when the unraveling gets underway.

Patrick Fabian definitely doesn't take the role for granted, and he adores what the all the writers do with Howard. (And for what it's worth, he's pitching that the story should introduce Howard's family, with Sean Connery playing his dad, and Jennifer Lawrence as his wife, because why not?) As you might imagine, these most recent episodes have been particularly fun and interesting for the veteran actor as his emotional barriers start to chip away. In Fabian's words:

It's also nice, character-wise and actor-wise, to have some things that Howard is now initiating. He's not as passive. He's now sort of initiated some moves, and it's good to see he's not a paper tiger, that he's not just Daddy's son and has his name on the firm. He's making active choices to protect his firm. He's making active choices to protect his livelihood. And that's fun. That's absolutely fun. It's been a pleasure these last couple of episodes to have it out with Kim and have it out with Jimmy in the basement there, calling him Gollum and all of that stuff. Because I think Howard has been angry at all three of them on various levels, basically since the show started.

I seriously could have just sat there all day listening to Patrick Fabian amusingly go on about "how gauche" Howard was (and knew he was being) when he dug in his pockets to sarcastically offer Jimmy a cash handout. And while he may have looked like a douche there, let's not forget that in the same episode, Jimmy put a whole bunch of time and effort into fixing a Bingo game and making an elderly woman's friend-base completely shut her out. Who's the real villain here, guys?

I don't know how any of us will make it through the rest of the year, but Better Call Saul has just one cliffhanger-resolving episode left in Season 3, and you can catch that finale on AMC on Monday, June 19, at 10:00 p.m. ET. Thankfully, the small screen has lots of other options to go with, and you can find them all in our summer premiere guide.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.