In the latest episode of Better Call Saul, we hop between two timelines.
The first is the black and white ‘present’ timeline where Jimmy, now disguised as Gene Takovic, has led a quiet life working in the local Nebraska Cinnabon. He’s laid low, played it safe, and managed to evade capture by the law.
The second timeline lines up with Season 2, Episode 8 of Breaking Bad. That episode was titled Better Call Saul, and serves as the first introduction to Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) on the show.
Not for nothing, this episode of Better Call Saul is the titled “Breaking Bad” and is in some ways the mirror of its Breaking Bad counterpart. Unsurprisingly, it’s also the first time that Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) appear on Better Call Saul.
The two actors reprise their roles 13 years (and change) after that episode aired, and it certainly shows. Of the three, only Odenkirk looks about the same age as he did then. I chock that up to the actor losing a lot of weight and looking younger than his Breaking Bad character for most of Better Call Saul, to the point where they had to make him look older and chubbier in these segments.
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Cranston is absolutely brilliant in his Better Call Saul cameo, perfectly capturing the irritable, impatient, and out-of-his-depth Walter from back in Season 2. It’s kind of extraordinary how well he pulls theses scenes off given his character transformed radically between that episode and his latter-day Heisenberg—a far more ruthless, wicked character all around.
Paul also does a great job, but he’s clearly much older just in his voice, which has deepened significantly between then and now. I’m also watching him in Westworld and Breaking Bad at the moment, so it’s more apparent.
This episode kicks off with Walter and Jesse kidnapping Saul and him realizing who they are and telling them to put a dollar in his pocket so that they have attorney/client privilege. But then they spend some time in the RV talking, offering us a scene we never got back in Breaking Bad. Seeing this scene at this moment in Better Call Saul’s run really emphasizes just how much more experience and knowledge Saul has than either of these clowns. He’s been wrapped up in the cartel crap for a long time now, and he’s a seasoned crook himself at this point.
We also get to see Jesse ask about Lalo, since that’s what Saul whimpers about when he’s first captured (a name we hear in Breaking Bad but don’t get a face to attach it to until Season 4, Episode 8 when Tony Dalton joined the show as Lalo Salamanca. You have to admire the show’s creators’ restraint in waiting so long to introduce a character they must have planned to introduce since the beginning.
But that’s about it. There’s not a ton of Breaking Bad or Walt/Jesse stuff in this episode despite it being titled “Breaking Bad.” That’s because the title isn’t really referring to Walt and Jesse at all.
Gene Becomes Victor
Things have not been going that well for Gene in the ‘present’ timeline. He’s lost his hair. He works at a dead-end job. His life is lonely and depressing. When he was ‘made’ by the taxi driver, Jeff, he almost ran again, but the challenge apparently woke something inside of him. The will to overcome . . . something. Anything.
Last week’s episode ‘Nippy’ was not great for a lot of reasons I laid out in my review, but it did set up Gene’s trajectory and ‘Breaking Bad’ follows that trajectory along its natural course, and gets a whole lot more interesting in the process.
When Gene was pulling off the mall robbery heist, he had a moment with the security guard where he was trying to stall him while Jeff (Pat Healy) was briefly knocked out after slipping on the department store floor.
The story he tells is accidentally true. He begins fake-crying and moans about his lonely life. How his parents are dead . . . and his brother is dead. And nobody loves him. He has no friends. If he died, nobody would come to his funeral. It was all a ruse, but you could see him realize as the words came out, that he was telling a painful truth.
More painful truths follow. He calls his former assistant, Francesca (Tina Parker) who is anything but pleased to hear from him. She reveals that all of his shell companies are gone, including one he set up in her name. Basically all of the wealth he accrued—outside of what he took with him—has evaporated. But she also tells him that Kim (Rhea Seehorn) called her asking about him after everything went down.
This knowledge—of his financial failures and the love of his life showing interest in his welfare—set yet another fire in Saul’s heart. He calls Florida to try to talk with Kim at her place of work—Palm Coast Sprinklers—but we can’t hear what he’s saying on the phone in the payphone booth. Whatever it is makes him angry and distraught to the point where he breaks the glass and storms off.
That glass-breaking is important. This is the moment when Gene breaks bad. We spent over five seasons learning how Jimmy turned into Saul 1.0 and eventually, after Kim left, into Saul 2.0—the Saul we knew from Breaking Bad. But the whole time we’ve only seen Gene as a mild-mannered, middle-aged man resigned to a life of solitude and boredom.
Jeff’s appearance in Season 5 and the heist last week and now these new bits of information about money and Kim have changed all that. Gene abandons fear and restraint and returns to Jeff’s home, where the cabbie lives with his mother, Marion (Carol Burnett). Given Gene was so adamant that he and Jeff were done last week, the taxi driver turned crook is both surprised, and then excited, to be back in business with Saul.
But Gene has changed. Before, he was sneaky and patient and was able to easily charm Marion over Schnaps and good conversation.
Now, despite showing her funny cat videos to distract her, Gene seems to have underestimated this woman—something he’s done in the past with elderly women, who are both a soft—and a blind—spot for our hero.
When Jeff arrives, Gene leaves Marion in the lurch, heading out to the detached garage to bring Jeff back into the fold, plotting their new scam. Marion seems surprised and upset by this. Gene appears to be losing his touch.
The scam is a clever enough one. Gene, Jeff, and Buddy (Max Bickelhaup) each have a part to play. Gene meets rich single guys at a fancy bar and basically plays dumb in order to make them look good. He gets them drunk while sucking the liquor out of his drinks with a hidden bladder and hose rig he has concealed in his shirt. They have a bawdy good time and then he takes them out to the cab that’s waiting outside.
Jeff, of course, is the cab driver. As he drives off, he offers the fare/mark a bottle of water. The water is laced with drugs that, combined with the alcohol, are sure to knock the poor sucker out. He helps them into their homes and slaps a strip of tape over the strike plate, so that when the door closes it can’t latch or lock shut. Buddy and Jeff talk over the cab radio in code to communicate arrival times.
When Jeff leaves, Buddy arrives with his extremely well-behaved dog and heads into the house. Instead of burgling the place, he finds as much personal info as he can: IDs, credit cards, bank account numbers, passwords. Whatever he can find, he takes out, photographs and then carefully replaces. This allows them to rip these guys off without them ever even knowing (until it’s too late).
It’s a clever scam that, like most scams, eventually goes haywire. The final mark we see in this episode turns out to be a really nice guy, unlike many of the other unsympathetic rich pricks that come before him. It also turns out that he has cancer. You can see Jimmy’s moral compass flare to life—but only for a moment. He douses whatever moral inhibitions he has and loads the man into Jeff’s car.
Then he heads home and waits. When the phone rings, he’s visibly angry and tells whoever’s on the other line that he’ll be there soon. He arrives at Marion’s home and heads to the garage with Jeff and Buddy, where Buddy’s extremely well-behaved dog senses the tension and starts barking.
The doggie may be Gene’s downfall. Upstairs, Marion is still watching funny cat videos on YouTube when she hears the barking and peaks out of her window at the scene below. What she sees clearly disturbs her. The mild-mannered, dog-loving Gene is yelling at Buddy to shut his dog up, and Buddy is forced to carry the dog to his car. This is a side of Gene Marion has never seen—and one that up until this point, Gene has carefully hidden from view.
What will Marion do? I believe we’ll find out in this coming week’s episode. But then, there are so many questions about these final two episodes.
In any case, inside the garage, Buddy tells Gene he can’t go through with the latest hit. The guy has cancer, Buddy says. He can’t steal from a guy with cancer. His dad had cancer. It’s not right.
Gene abandons all pretense of a moral compass, telling Buddy that it’ll be fine. He needs to go back and get the job done. The mark will be dead before he even knows he’s been robbed. Besides, it doesn’t matter if someone is sick or nice or anything else. A mark is a mark.
Buddy refuses. He looks to Jeff for backup but Jeff “sees both sides” of the argument. So Gene fires Buddy, telling him to leave and to keep his mouth shut if he knows what’s good for him. Then he tells Jeff they’re going to go finish what they started.
While we all thought this episode was titled “Breaking Bad” because it would feature the Walt and Jesse cameo, it’s clearly actually about Gene breaking bad at long last. Again. Jimmy was always bad, of course. Ever since he was a boy stealing from his dad’s shop. Slippin Jimmy, however well-intentioned he could be in other areas of his life, was always the reason his brother Chuck (Michael McKean) mistrusted him.
The Saul Goodman he becomes is Chuck’s fears made manifest. But even then, Saul was just a crooked lawyer, making money off the crimes of others. Whatever Gene is becoming—let’s call him Victor, the name he uses at the bar—seems even worse. Maybe this even more ruthless version of Saul is what Chuck saw deep in Jimmy’s soul.
Whatever the case, this was a tipping point for not just Gene, but for Saul and Jimmy, too. The kindness Jimmy showed to his brother and to Kim and to many others along the way is gone. In its place is a man who has lost everything and is angry and bitter about it, and almost desperate to find some new purpose—however dangerous—in life.
It’s with almost a death-wish that he has Jeff take him to the sleeping man’s house. He tells Jeff to come back in 20 minutes to pick him up, then he goes to the backdoor and finds it locked.
For the second time in the same episode, Jimmy breaks some glass.
I won’t spoil what we see in the preview after the episode, but things are definitely not looking great for Gene Takovic.
I enjoyed this episode a great deal more than last week’s, both thanks to the fun Walt/Jesse cameo and the more egregious nature of Gene’s new swindling scam. Will he be caught breaking into the house? Will he find the mark dead, or get into a physical altercation with him that leaves the man dead? Will Marion use her new laptop to discover Saul Goodman and turn him over to police?
We’ll find out at least some of the answers to these questions tomorrow when episode 12, ‘Waterworks,’ airs. The description reads: “The stakes are raised when a discovery is made.” Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan wrote and directed the episode.
I’m going to try to write my review on time tomorrow now that I’m not on vacation or traveling for work. Follow me on this blog to stay up to date on all my TV reviews, and if you’re on social media you can find me on Twitter and Facebook as well, and occasionally on Instagram. I even have my very own YouTube channel.