Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode “Pinata” of “Better Call Saul.”
Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) finally told off Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) with an f-bomb in Monday night’s episode of “Better Call Saul” — as Howard continued to spiral into an abyss of self-loathing.
“From the very first episode, when Jimmy burst into Howard’s boardroom and did that ‘Network’ speech on him, I think this ‘f-you’ has been boiling since then,” Fabian says of the scene, in which Jimmy noted the usually fastidious Howard’s disheveled appearance. “You’re a s–tty lawyer, Howard,” he said to him, “but you’re a great salesman” — triggering Howard’s explosive retort.
The sartorial Howard, with his fancy suits and gold tie bars, has been virtually unflappable since Day 1. But this season he’s been crushed by guilt following the suicide of his emotionally disturbed ex-law partner — and Jimmy’s brother — Chuck McGill (Michael McKean), whom Howard fired in last season’s finale. He tried to make amends with Jimmy, who told him Chuck’s suicide was his “cross to bear.”
“From the beginning, Howard has done everything to help Jimmy along,” says Fabian, 53. “He’s given him jobs, given him breaks, shielded him from Chuck, tried to take the guilt of his brother’s suicide off of him. And this is Jimmy’s response?
“Howard’s just trying to keep the business afloat; it was the McGill brothers who were really muddying up the waters,” he says. “It turns out [Howard] was covering for Chuck, and this season, the ramifications of all of Chuck and Jimmy’s actions are coming home to roost. In contrast to Jimmy, Howard is completely internalizing [Chuck’s suicide] and trying to find some way out of it. Howard has been so buttoned-up and in control all this time — it’s a nice payoff when all of a sudden he’s awash and out at sea.”
Howard is just one of Fabian’s long laundry list of roles over a 25-year acting career (who can forget Professor Laskey on “Saved by the Bell: The College Years”?). “Better Call Saul” is his highest-profile TV gig — ironic, since he’d never seen its acclaimed predecessor, “Breaking Bad.”
Then he auditioned for series creator Vince Gilligan. “I was hoping to get a three-episode arc on ‘The Walking Dead’ and get eaten by a zombie,” he says. (The same people who cast “Better Call Saul” also cast that AMC series.) “Then I watched ‘Breaking Bad’ and was like, whoa . It’s one of the greatest, if not the greatest, TV shows ever and I was sort of thankful I hadn’t seen it walking into the audition. I think it would’ve freaked me out. Someone once asked me if Vince [Gilligan] offered the job to me and I was like, ‘I don’t think he watched ‘Saved by the Bell.’”Fabian, who has two young daughters with his wife, writer/comedian Mandy Steckleberg, credits series costume designer Jennifer Bryan with helping him get into character. “That suit is like putting on a suit of armor for me. I’m as overdressed as you can be for circa 2002 in Albuquerque,” he says. “Howard is wearing his wealth; he’s peacocking. When I put that [suit] on I imagine it’s like an athlete putting on a uniform to compete. Every scene is a competition to Howard.“Once you take that tie bar away it’s like a Kryptonite thing — ‘He’s not showing his Adam’s apple, how gauche!’”