BETTER CALL SAUL, 6.11 – ‘Breaking Bad’
Jimmy can't resist masterminding another scam after making contact with an old friend in Albuquerque.
It seems the final four episodes of Better Call Saul are leaping all over the timeline, but we unexpectedly resumed Jimmy’s (Bob Odenkirk) life as Gene in Nebraska for the second week running. But not before catching up with his erstwhile secretary Francesca Liddy (Tina Parker, one of the many people whose association with ‘Saul Goodman’ has resulted in difficult repercussions.
In the same monochrome to denote ‘the future’ of this prequel series, we see Francesca’s become a landlady to make ends meet but is under observation from the FBI who are still trying to find Saul Goodman and Jesse Pinkman. She’s occasionally tailed in her car around town, her phone’s tapped, and it’s altogether an annoying situation she didn’t ask for. However, much like cabbie Jeff (Pat Healy) in Nebraska, Francesca’s always pulled back into the orbit of Jimmy because he’s someone who can make things happen. Even now, she’s agreed to take a phone call from him at a rendezvous in the desert, where he’s hidden a small stash of money in exchange for… well, gossip! For as much as Jimmy’s supposed to accept he’s now a low-level retailer until the day he dies (free from jail but imprisoned in his loneliness), he can’t resist making contact and being brought up to speed on what the Feds have seized of his hidden assets, what old colleagues are up to… and, of course, what his ex-wife Kim said when she made unexpected contact with Francesca.
The questions remaining about Kim were almost offhandedly answered in an exchange of dialogue. It seems she simply moved out of Albuquerque and they haven’t spoken for a long time. Jimmy appears pleased she even asked about him, but he seems to mistake that as a sign Kim may want to reconnect after he later called her Florida workplace. Amusingly, we didn’t hear what was said between them thanks to nearby traffic… but given Jimmy’s violent outburst after their quick chat, I don’t think a happy reunion is on the cards for the McGills. It’ll be interesting to see if the remaining two episodes show Kim in the post-Breaking Bad future and what her life’s like in contrast to her ex-husband’s (doubt it’s worse), or if we’ve indeed put her story to rest and will focus on Jimmy McGill until the end.
The majority of “Breaking Bad” continued from last week’s “Nippy”, with Jimmy getting the itch to do something to restore his life to something approaching what it used to be. So he reteamed with Jeff and Buddy (Max Bickelhaup) for another lucrative scam, this time involving Jimmy getting wealthy bachelors stinking drunk on a night out (purposefully losing their childish bar bets), having them driven home by Jeff (who drugs them using a bottle of water spiked with barbiturates, before putting tape over their front door’s lock), before Max visits later sneaks inside to photograph all their ID cards and bank statements.
The scam wasn’t as engrossing or clever as last week’s shopping max theft, frankly, but it was still enjoyable to see unfold. And the turn that Jimmy’s lost the last vestige of his humanity in the pursuit of riches, by choosing to go through with the scam against a man dying of cancer, was a neat way to show his regression as a human being. Or maybe after his experience with cancer patient Walter White (Bryan Cranston), he simply doesn’t have quite the same sympathy level as normal people, like Max—who lost his role on the team for having a conscience and not robbing from a terminally ill man.
Given the title of the episode is “Breaking Bad”, it was unfortunately not a surprise the aforementioned Walter White made a cameo appearance alongside Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). Fans have long awaited a cameo from the stars of Breaking Bad since Better Call Saul was first announced, but the writers have wisely kept this moment in reserve. And it didn’t do what most people expected: to see Walt and Jesse during the Better Call Saul era itself, with Walt as a high school teacher and Jesse as a slacker student. Maybe that was an option some years ago, but a now middle-aged Aaron Paul would struggle to pass as a teenager. Besides, it was more appealing to see them in their Breaking Bad heyday as an unlikely double-act in their famous RV.
The sequence with Walt and Jesse itself, foreshadowed in the cold open, was really just a fun ‘missing moment’ from Breaking Bad where Saul Goodman met the mysterious ‘Heisenberg’ and realised the makers of the popular blue meth were this comical odd couple with a makeshift lab in the back of an unreliable motorhome. It wasn’t necessary to include in Better Call Saul, but it was nevertheless a treat to see the characters again for the first time since El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019). Cranston doesn’t look to have aged much, although both actors’ faces were kept in subdued lighting with them both wearing woolly hats. The latter probably to hide Cranston’s full head of hair and Paul’s receding hairline! I was surprised how easily they fell back into these roles, so it was an cool moment for Breaking Bad fans. I’ve heard we’ll see them a few more times, too. Is that oddly worrying in a show that isn’t about them, though?
While this episode was basically another lark with Gene and Jeff, the flashbacks to Saul Goodman worked as a means to contrast then and now. I particularly liked the match cut of the open grave that Walt and Jesse had dug to scare Saul, with the overhead shot of Gene in bed making it look like he’s indeed lying at the bottom—figuratively dead and buried as Gene in Nebraska. But it seems Gene has plans to resurrect his alter ego Saul Goodman, symbolised by him purchasing a stupid gadget that shakes your legs to improve circulation.
I also enjoyed seeing the exact moment in Saul’s office when Mike (Jonathan Banks) warned him off getting involved with an “amateur” like Walter White, but we saw in his face that he won’t follow this advice. And while Saul’s nose for spotting a kindred spirit (someone nobody takes seriously but who has the x-factor when it comes to criminal success), it was also a fork in the road where Jimmy’s life changed forever. Saul travelled down a path leading to an ignominious life as Gene in the back of beyond, and if he’d only listened to Mike he’d probably still be living the high life in Albuquerque.
“Breaking Bad” wasn’t a terrible episode and imay be improved after seeing the full context of what’s coming next, but it did make me anxious about the chances of Better Call Saul sticking the landing for a prequel that only has one big remaining question remaining now: what will Jimmy’s ultimate fate be? Tragic, bittersweet, happy? Place your bets.