I’m about to watch a video of a cat eating ice cream before writing a review of this week’s Better Call Saul, which has the intriguing title of Breaking Bad.
How am I, she enquired. Gene
Finally, they have appeared. Jack Pinkman and Walter White. Yeah, bitch, as the latter would say.
Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad episode that presented those same events from Saul’s perspective, introduced Saul Goodman, therefore it only seems sense that the Better Call Saul episode that presented those same events from Saul’s perspective would be titled Breaking Bad. The anticipated appearances by Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as Walt and Jesse finally appear in the hour, and it does give the spectator a glimpse into Saul’s thoughts and activities when his new clients weren’t around. However, it is more interested in making comparisons between the person Jimmy McGill had become by that point in his life and the person Gene Takovic is quickly reverting to being than it is in offering an alternative history of the Heisenberg era.
In contrast to last week’s Nippy, which was exclusively set in Omaha, Breaking Bad alternates between the muted, monochromatic Gene world and the vibrant, occasionally gaudy, Saul universe from the second season. As he is being transported into the desert by guys who he guesses work for Lalo Salamanca, we see Saul sleeping on the floor of the RV, or as Jesse reminds us, the Crystal Ship, with a sack over his head. Then, we return to the Gene timeline, this time in Albuquerque, where we join up with a depressed Francesca who is now responsible for paying the rent and operating a little apartment complex filled with idiots. It is November 12, 2010, a few of weeks after Gene and Jeff robbed the department store and two months after the events of the Breaking Bad finale and El Camino. Jimmy McGill also turned 50 today (in a franchise where 50th birthdays tend to be important turning points for the protagonists). But more significantly, it is the day that Saul and Francesca agreed she would be waiting by a payphone for a crucial call in the flash-forward teaser from Season Four’s Quite a Ride. Our man is on the other end of the call, searching desperately for any positive news from his former haunts. The majority of what Francesca (who is being compensated for her services with money Saul buried before leaving town) has to offer is evil: Saul and Jesse(*) are the only two major targets left after everyone else involved in Walt’s exploits was either killed or cooperated with law enforcement.
(*) As promised in El Camino, Jesses’ automobile was abandoned near the Mexican border, diverting any manhunt away from his new life as Mr. Driscoll in Alaska.
Kim receives an email from
AMC/Sony Pictures Television/Greg Lewis
Francesca unwillingly offers the following encouraging development, maybe motivated by the final vestiges of her fondness for the initial client: After Walt and Saul’s exploits were widely publicized, Kim called to see how she was doing and inquired about your well-being. Although it makes sense for a woman who previously loved him(*) to ask this question, Gene sees Kim’s quest for closure as an opportunity to get in touch with her. She currently works for a sprinkler company in central Florida, indicating that she has stayed true to her desire to leave the legal profession. Since the episode’s writer-director Thomas Schnauz shot it from outside the filthy roadside phone booth, we are unable to hear either end of the conversation Gene has when he calls the location, but we can know from Bob Odenkirk’s performance that it goes horribly wrong. (If Kim couldn’t stand being with Jimmy after one person died, how do you suppose she felt when she learned he had helped a drug lord kill a lot of people?) Gene acts as though a door has just been slammed in his face as evidenced by his screams, slamming of the receiver, and kicking of part of the phone booths’ glass outside.
But what’s the point?
Jimmy allowed himself to totally transform into Saul Goodman as a means of numbing the agony of Kim leaving him. And now that Gene has come to terms with the fact that his dream of one day seeing her again has been destroyed, he acts in the same way.
The Nippy escapade had a cheery, almost triumphant air to it. Even with the shirt and tie he wore in the end, Gene wasn’t really channeling Saul; instead, he was reverting to his friendlier days as Jimmy. Other from Frank’s attempts to lose weight, nobody was actually harmed. The events that follow the phone call from Florida are far darker. Saul is in complete control right now, working with Jeff and Buddy, a buddy of Jeff, to set up a thorough, persistent identity theft operation. Like the mall theft, there is no overarching goal behind this. The money Gene lost when the government seized all the assets he believed he had neatly stored away may need to be rebuilt, so yes. However, it is clear that he is acting in this way because he wants the high he experienced while acting as Saul and the power to cause harm to cover up his own suffering. He revives his old nom de scam as Viktor and uses it to con one suckers after another by pretending to become drunk with them while actually emptying each glass into a hot water bottle tied to his belly. There is no element of amusement to be had, though, because this Viktor isn’t accompanied by Kims Giselle. Even after learning that Mr. Lingk(*), his most recent victim, has an advanced type of cancer, the cruelty remains the point.
In Glengarry Glen Ross, Ricky Roma takes a sucker out to dinner, and that character’s name pays respect to him.
Despite having a fleeting moment of regret after learning this, Gene continues with the plan as usual. He discovers Lingk’s prescription, which Buddy’s father took to treat cancer, and is incensed to learn that Buddy was unable to carry out his part of the plan. Lingk serves as a handy stand-in for the person Gene really wants to blame for his current circumstances, even though they are entirely the result of decisions Saul Goodman voluntarily made. But it’s also because Gene no longer cares who is hurt, or how, just so long as he has a way to numb all of his own pain for as long as he can keep the grift going. Gene tells his underling this indignantly. In a fit of rage, he fires Buddy and asks Jeff to take him to Lingks’ house. This time, he breaks into the house after Buddy removed the duct tape covering the lock. Since the main aim is to keep the victims from recognizing their information has been stolen until much, much later, it is completely dangerous and worthless. But Saul Goodman, who Gene has reverted to in everything but name, doesn’t seem to mind. He desires more. He requires more. And he urgently needs it.
As we learn that Saul was aware of Walt’s illness even before Walt informed him in 4 Days Out, Lingks condition connects to the episode’s Albuquerque sequences from Better Call Saul. However, the purpose of the flashbacks is to highlight what Gene is doing in 2010 rather than to provide Cranston and Paul the chance to play these characters together for the final time on a reproduction of the Breaking Bad set where they shared so many of their best sequences. Saul is impressed to discover that these two clowns are the ones behind the blue meth that has been generating such a fuss in town once the bag is removed from his head and he realizes that his captor is Mr. Mayhew(*). He could easily return to his evidently very successful, pleasurable, and relatively secure life by simply taking the money they are paying him to fix the Badger matter. Being Saul Goodman, though, is an addiction that constantly makes you crave bigger and more frequent highs. And he has discovered a man in Heisenberg who can take him farther than he ever imagined.
(*) That you can watch Saul without having watched its predecessor may face its toughest test yet in this episode. The flashbacks in this series imply an understanding of the events in the Better Call Saul episode, which could make it particularly perplexing to the Saul-only audience. There are components of this series that depend to some extent or another on your knowledge of Breaking Bad.
The duct tape covering the bullet holes in the RV’s door, the RV’s notorious red light from 4 Days Out, and Mike wearing sunglasses (as he did in his very first appearance) when he enters Saul’s office are just a few examples of how Schnauz crams the 2008 sequences with visual nods to the first series. The main event, though, is the exchanges between Cranston, Paul, and Odekirk, and they live up to our expectations. Even in the dark and with a beanie partially covering his head, Paul does not appear to be an overgrown child in his early 20s. However, Jonathan Banks no longer has the appearance of a middle-aged guy, and that has served him well for his work on this series. The Cranston-Paul chemistry is as electrifying as it has always been, and it’s a treat to see how quickly Walt becomes irritated with both Saul and Jesse, how eager Jesse is to demonstrate his chemistry talents to anyone who would listen, and how resentful he can become of Walt’s haughty approach. There isn’t much drama since it would be unfair to them to introduce a fresh problem that wasn’t a part of the Breaking Bad series’ step-by-step progression. However, this is the final time they are in their element, and it is excellent.
In many respects, the flashback scenario from Saul’s office is the more significant one. When Mike shows up with fresh information, he is lying on the ground using the Swing Master, which he once more buys in the Gene timeline to recreate the Saul Goodman sensation. Another callback, as Saul was in a similar circumstance when Mike came to threaten him appeared in Full Measure, a scene that is likely the closest to proving that Saul was aware that his investigator actually worked for someone else from the beginning of the show(*).
Here, Saul must turn off the Swing Master and stand up like a pro before Mike will talk to him. He tells him to remain on the ground in Full Measure so that Mike can continue to hold the upper hand.
The new scene makes it clear what their arrangement actually is. Saul is aware that He Who Shall Not Be Named is Mike’s major employer. But given that Saul has acquired Dr. Caldera’s little black book and is conducting shady activities on the side, Mike also works for Saul in order to obtain information about the criminal underworld in Albuquerque. What’s more, it makes no attempt to change the character of Saul’s early contacts with Walt. Because Gale wouldn’t stop gushing over the blue meth, we may infer from the flashback at the beginning of Breaking Bad Season Four that Gus was already interested in it. However, Saul’s desire to collaborate with Heisenberg is solely his own. Saul is unable to let go of the notion, even when Mike warns him that this man is a dangerous amateur who will jeopardize anyone who is foolish enough to work with him. He recognizes a lunch ticket in Heisenberg. Jimmy experienced nightmare effects from trying to be a cartel ally, including Howard’s passing and Kim’s loss. But he has always held the opinion that the execution of the plan, not the plan itself, was the issue. This high school teacher doesn’t seem to pose the same kind of physical or strategic threat as a Lalo, and at this point, he’s such an idiot overall that Saul sees him as someone he can manipulate into making a fortune for everyone involved.
And for a while, the concept works. But when Walt and Gus, Walt and Jesse, Walt and Hank, and Walt and the Nazis all went to war, the man who formerly went by the name Saul Goodman now lives alone in Omaha, works at a mall, and gets his kicks pulling quick con jobs on wealthy men in bars. He used to go by the name Saul Goodman. When Saul jokes about him and his new criminal associates being buried in a sandstorm for a thousand years, he unintentionally alludes to the statue of Ozymandias, whose name provided the best Breaking Bad episode with its title. He disregards Mike’s advice in the office as well as Buddy’s and Jeff’s efforts to convince him that the current sting is being used excessively.
Jeff offers Gene some suggestions.
In one instance, Gene slamming the door of Jeff’s taxi changes into Saul closing the door of his Cadillac as he gets ready to meet Walt at the school where he works. The show also seamlessly switches between the two eras. The most potent of these occurs immediately following the Walt and Jesse incident. Walt succeeds in starting the Crystal Ship, but the camera lingers on the grave that Jesse and he excavated to frighten Saul into helping. From there, the scene dissolves onto Gene lying awake in his bed, giving the impression that Gene is at the bottom of the pit. In spite of repeated warnings from Chuck, Kim, Mike, and now even Jeff, he has symbolically dug his own tomb. Even if he manages to escape punishment for breaking into Mr. Lingks’ home, he is already locked in a self-created cycle. Jimmy McGill’s decision to take on the identity of Saul Goodman and wear Marco’s pinkie ring once more, along with his bland Gene Takovic attire, is solely to blame for this.
The happy conclusion Gene and Marion joked about last week seems improbable at this point.
Some further ideas:
* Thomas Schnauz and I chatted in-depth on a variety of topics, including the chance to bring Walt and Jesse back, his belief that Mike is still working for Saul after all these years, and much more. a fantastic discussion.
* Vince Gilligan utilized El Camino to wrap up one somewhat unfinished Breaking Bad plot line by having Jesse hear a radio report confirming that Walt did indeed pass away from the gunshot wound, despite some fans’ suppositions to the contrary. Gene’s conversation with Francesca is used by Schnauz to give the first series a little more closure. As Walt had intended, Skyler was able to avoid legal issues thanks to the lottery ticket he provided her that included the GPS coordinates of Hank and Gomez’s last resting place. More amusingly, we learn that Huell was able to return to Louisiana and avoided being implicated in the illicit organization because Hank and Gomez had unlawfully abandoned him there while pursuing Walt.
* Francesca also provides closure for a well-known character from this series when we learn that Bill Oakley, Jimmy’s former sparring partner from the district attorney’s office, has entered private practice and even runs bus bench advertisements for William Oakley and Associates, just like Saul used to.
* The recognizable Saul title sequence appears on a distorted VHS tape once more. Again, just Odenkirk and Banks are listed in the cast credits; there is no mention of Seehorn, Fabian, etc. The latter four episodes had the impression of being a quick prequel to the series that closed with Fun and Games.
* The song being played over the identity theft montage is Mike Nesmith’s original demo, not a copy of The Monkees’ Tapioca Tundra. Schnauz is a huge Monkees fan.
* Nippy gave us a tongue-in-cheek false product by having Marion try some Schnauz Cheese at the grocery store. Here, we find that Gene’s first victim has money stashed away with Cherkis Investments, which bears the name of renowned Saul author Ann Cherkis.
* Gene purchases burner phones for Jeff and Buddy to make it simpler to stay in touch with the frauds, which is another reference to prior episodes of the series.
* Lastly, this is the final episode of Better Call Saul that reviewers will be able to watch beforehand. Therefore, coverage of the two ending chapters will occur later than usual.