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Better Call Saul has unsurprisingly remained one of television's best dramas with the viewer-friendly Season 5, with Bob Odenkirk's Jimmy McGill fully shifting into his Saul Goodman persona first introduced in Breaking Bad. Viewers are definitely watching to see how Saul's emergence affects his relationship with Rhea Seehorn's Kim, but on a smaller scale, it's been nearly as interesting to see Patrick Fabian's Howard Hamlin maintaining his place in the ensemble.
At the surface, Howard would be justified in putting as much distance between himself and Jimmy as possible. Yet he purposefully reached out to offer Jimmy a job at HHM, and barely balked at the Saul Goodman name change. While it might have come off as a suspicious move in previous years, it was presented as genuine in that moment. Speaking with CinemaBlend and several other outlets at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, Bob Odenkirk shed some light on the impetus for Howard's recent offer.
So whereas I think [Jimmy] would exhaust a lot of people, I think Howard Hamlin is a guy who is to some extent exhausted with Jimmy. You'd have to ask Patrick, but I think Howard secretly thinks Jimmy's anger towards him is justified, and so he tolerates Jimmy's difficult behavior.
Though Howard Hamlin was presented as something of a smooth-talking antagonist in Better Call Saul's early years, a lot of that rust was knocked off whenever the show hammered home that Michael McKean's Chuck McGill had always been Jimmy's true obstacle in life. (Beyond his own selfish instincts, I guess.) And while Howard had always followed Chuck's guidance without question, he later came to understand that Chuck had misled him in many ways, particularly concerning Jimmy's skills as a lawyer.
Hindsight also gave Howard some perspective on the ways he was responsible for allowing Chuck and his ego to fly so high without proper regulation, which bled into the elder McGill's mental instability and, in some ways, Chuck's own death.
Patrick Fabian and Rhea Seehorn also sat down with CinemaBlend and others at TCA, and when Fabian was asked if he agreed with Bob Odenkirk's assessment of Howard's true feelings about Jimmy, he reflected on Howard's journey from his high horse to a more centrist position.
[Jimmy]’s a living hair shirt for Howard to feel badly about himself and his success, right? I’m the sire, right? There’s another Hamlin there. I didn’t make the bank; I inherited the bank. I wanted to be like Kim and go out on my own, but I put my name on the wall instead. And then here’s Jimmy, sort of acting like the punk rock guy, and naming truths about me. In Season 4, when he comes in, he’s like ‘Jesus Christ, I just gave you business. Wake the fuck up!’ It’s a great role reversal of Howard being so in control, but it is a wakeup call. And I think it’s a moment of grace for Howard, because he takes it to heart by the end of Season 4. We’re left with the impression at the end that we’re back on track, that things are happening, we’re dispensing of Chuck’s estate and doing stuff, we’re letting Jimmy have a moment. We’re having a revote to find out and let him be heard. It doesn’t go his way, but nonetheless, I think things are back in order. I think Season 5 allows for Howard to have more interactions with Jimmy. They explore that very thing, I think.
Indeed, Howard appeared to be as completely genuine as Howard can appear when he offered Jimmy/Saul a position at HHM, allowing him to retake the McGill name within the company's title. While I doubt he was 100% mentally behind the decision in every sense, I can imagine that Howard had more than enough faith in Jimmy's skills as a lawyer and an employee to want to bring him back around. Had HHM been on a downward spiral, it'd be a completely different story.
On the flip side of things, Jimmy's disinterest in returning to HHM in any capacity was showcased by him secretly launching bowling balls at Howard's fancy car. And yet, the show continues to make a point in showing that Jimmy isn't simply interested in ignoring and avoiding Howard. Here's how Patrick Fabian worded it.
What we do have is that there’s the sense of these two people circling one another because there is something about him that I haven’t completely dismissed. And there is something about me that he hasn’t completely dismissed. Because otherwise it would be easy for him to just completely write me off, and yet he hasn’t.
Better Call Saul is full of interesting character couplets that only get more intriguing over time, with Howard and Jimmy's often awkward relationship having lasted longer than most others. It might be impossible for Jimmy to back-walk destroying Howard's car, so it should be fun to see where they stand with each other when Season 5 comes to a close, which will leave just one season left for Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan to wrap things up completely.
Will Jimmy ever go one step too far before Better Call Saul ends, inevitably turning Howard into a true nemesis? Could Howard find a way to draw Kim back to HHM after figuring out that Jimmy won't ever go back? Would that kind of betrayal be the straw that breaks the Jimmy/Kim camel's back?
Better Call Saul airs on AMC every Monday night at 9:00 p.m. ET.