Spoilers for Better Call Saul’s Season 2 premiere below.
Since debuting, Better Call Saul has blown audiences away with its expertly written human-level drama, with many first tuning in specifically because it’s a spinoff of the modern classic Breaking Bad. Watching Bob Odenkirk’s ascent from Schmo to Joe is entertaining enough without the possibility of a Breaking Bad cameo, but as seen in the Season 2 premiere, they definitely add a signature element of fun. Episode writer/director Thomas Schnauz explained how the decision is made to bring in past characters:
Along with our idea board that starts our season, we have another board that is just every character from Breaking Bad that existed and we could possibly have back in the world of Better Call Saul, and as we were talking about Jimmy and Kim doing this scam, we were like, ‘Well, the guy has to be a real douchebag. We need to be rooting for Jimmy and Kim.’ It's more fun to see them take down somebody deserving of being taken down, rather than just some poor schmuck, and as we were talking about this douchebag, the board is there and we were like, ‘Well, what about KEN WINS? He is the perfect douchebag.’
Schnauz is talking about bringing back the arrogant businessman Ken, played by the always amusing Kyle Bornheimer, for the scene in the premiere where the audacious Jimmy lures an initially disgusted Kim into one of his many short cons. While the writers could have used some unconnected actor to take on the part of the mark, as they did during Jimmy’s Season 1 shenanigans, they needed just the right kind of asshat to make even Kim want to take him down. And in his extremely limited screentime during the fourth episode of Breaking Bad Season 1, Bornheimer made the parking space-stealing Ken into enough of a Grade A turd to earn his return. (Incidentally, Walt caused Ken’s BMW to catch fire, so his problems clearly escalate as the years go by.)
Usually, cameos seem more disingenuously crafted when they aren’t organically written for a specific person, but the Breaking Bad character board is a pretty brilliant way to go about doing it without sacrificing realism. You need a gigantic douchebag in a scene? Bring back Ken, a guy whose entire character is summed up just that way. You need a seething and psychotic criminal capable of earnest care for his grandmother? Bring back Raymond Cruz’s Tuco Salamanca. You need a customer at a grocery store who needs to be a high school chemistry teacher commenting about how these blue candies at the counter will totally ruin people’s teeth, then you bring back Walter White. (Bring back Walter White.) Was that an echo?
In the end, Schnauz tells THR, Breaking Bad cameos have to be put together in a way that is engaging for Better Call Saul viewers unfamiliar with the predecessor, so that they won’t need to question what’s happening. And, of course, it’s even more awesome for people who notice the character reprisal.
Considering how many immoral characters were introduced on Breaking Bad, Jimmy McGill likely wouldn’t be running into a lot of them at this point anyway. Perhaps in later seasons, though, we’ll see more and more. (Renew this show for later seasons.) That echo wasn’t even trying.
Better Call Saul airs Monday nights on AMC.