Breaking Bad in more ways than one

In the last episode of You should call Saul, we jump between two timelines.

Spoilers follow.

The first is the black-and-white ‘present’ timeline where Jimmy, now disguised as Gene Takovic, has been leading a quiet life at the local Nebraska Cinnabon. He has laid low, played it safe, and managed to avoid capture by the law.

The second timeline aligns with season 2 episode 8 of the Breaking Bad. That episode was titled You should call Saul, and serves as the first introduction to Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) on the show.

Not for nothing, this episode of You should call Saul is the title “Breaking Bad” and is in some ways the mirror of its Breaking Bad counterparty. Unsurprisingly, it’s also the first time Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) appear You should call Saul.

The two actors are reprising their roles 13 years (and changing) after the episode aired, and it certainly shows. Of the three, only Odenkirk looks about as old as he did then. I chalk it up to the actor losing a lot of weight and looking younger than his Breaking Bad character for most You should call Saul, to the point where they had to make him look older and fatter in those segments.

Cranston is absolutely brilliant in his You should call Saul cameo, which perfectly captures the irritable, impatient, and out-of-his-depth Walter from back in Season 2. It’s a little extraordinary how well he pulls off these scenes given his character transformed radically between that episode and his latter-day Heisenberg—a far more ruthless, evil character all around.

Paul also does a good job, but he is clearly much older just in his voice, which has deepened significantly between then and now. I also look at him inside Westworld and Breaking Bad at the moment, so it’s more clear.

This episode starts with Walter and Jesse kidnapping Saul and him realizing who they are and telling them to put a dollar in his pocket so they have attorney/client privilege. But then they spend some time in the RV talking, offering us a scene we never got back to Breaking Bad. Watching this scene at this moment Better call Saul run really emphasizes how much more experience and knowledge Saul has than any of these clowns. He’s been involved in the cartel business for a long time now, and he’s a seasoned thug himself at this point.

We also get to see Jesse ask about Lalo, since that’s what Saul whines about when he’s first captured (a name we hear in Breaking Bad but not get a face to pin 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 been planning to introduce since the beginning.

But that’s about it. There aren’t a ton of them Breaking Bad or Walt/Jesse stuff in this episode despite it being called “Breaking Bad”. That’s because the title doesn’t really refer to Walt and Jesse at all.

Gene becomes Victor

Things haven’t been going so well for Gene in the ‘current’ timeline. He has lost his hair. He works in a dead end. His life is lonely and depressing. When he was ‘made’ by taxi driver Jeff, he almost ran again, but the challenge apparently awakened something inside him. The will to overcome. . . something. Anything.

Last week’s episode ‘Nippy’ was not good for many reasons I laid out in my reviewbut it set up Gene’s trajectory and ‘Breaking Bad’ follows that trajectory along its natural course, becoming much more interesting in the process.

When Gene was about to pull off the mall robbery, he had a moment with the security guard trying to stop him while Jeff (Pat Healy) was briefly knocked out after slipping on the department store floor.

The story he tells happens to be true. He begins to cry and moan 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, no one 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 happy to hear from him. She reveals that all his shell companies are gone, including one he created in her name. Basically, all the wealth he amassed – apart from what he brought 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 failings and the love of his life showing interest in his welfare—set another fire in Saul’s heart. He calls Florida to try to talk to Kim at her place of work—Palm Coast Sprinklers—but we can’t hear what he’s saying on the phone in the phone 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 badly. We spent over five seasons learning how Jimmy became Saul 1.0 and finally, after Kim left, Saul 2.0 – the Saul we knew from Breaking Bad. But all along, we’ve only seen Gene as a mild-mannered, middle-aged man resigned to a life of loneliness 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. Abandoning fear and restraint, Gene returns to Jeff’s home, where the cabbie lives with his mother, Marion (Carol Burnett). Since Gene was so adamant that he and Jeff were done last week, the cab driver turned villain is both surprised, then excited, to be back in business with Saul.

But Gene has changed. Before, he was cunning and patient and could easily charm Marion over Schnapps and good talk.

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 older women, which is both a soft spot – and a blind spot – for the hero our.

When Jeff arrives, Gene leaves Marion in the lurch, and heads out to the detached garage to bring Jeff back into the fold, planning his new scam. Marion seems surprised and upset by this. Gene seems to be losing touch.

The scam is clever enough. Gene, Jeff and Buddy (Max Bickelhaup) each have a role to play. Gene meets rich single guys at a fancy bar and basically plays dumb to make them look good. He drinks them drunk while sucking the liquor out of the drinks with a hidden bladder and hose rig he has hidden in his shirt. They have a great time and then he takes them out to the taxi waiting outside.

Jeff, of course, is the cab driver. As he drives off, he offers the price/brand a bottle of water. The water is filled with substances that, combined with the alcohol, are sure to knock the poor sucker out. He helps them into their homes and puts a strip of tape over the strike plate so it can’t be locked or latched when the door closes. Buddy and Jeff talk over the cab radio in code to communicate arrival times.

As Jeff leaves, Buddy arrives with his extremely well-behaved dog and enters the house. Instead of breaking into the place, he finds as much personal information 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 knowing (until it’s too late).

It’s a clever scam that, like most scams, eventually backfires. The final mark we see in this episode turns out to be a very nice guy, unlike many of the other unsympathetic rich pricks who 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 removes all moral inhibitions he has and loads the man into Jeff’s car.

Then he goes home and waits. When the phone rings, he is visibly angry and tells the person on the other line that he will 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 excitement and starts barking.

The doggy could be Gene’s downfall. Upstairs, Marion is still watching funny cat videos on YouTube when she hears the barking and peaks out of the window onto the scene below. What she sees clearly disturbs her. Gentle, dog-loving Gene yells at Buddy to shut up about his dog, and Buddy is forced to carry the dog to his car. This is a side of Gene Marion has never seen – and one that Gene has carefully hidden up until this point.

What will Marion do? I guess we’ll find out in this week’s episode. But then there are so many questions about these last two episodes.

Anyway, inside the garage, Buddy tells Gene that he can’t go through with the last hit. The guy has cancer, says Buddy. He can’t steal from a guy with cancer. His father had cancer. It is not correct.

Gene abandons any pretense of a moral compass and tells Buddy that it’s going to be okay. He has to get back and get the job done. The mark will be dead before he even knows he’s been robbed. Also, it doesn’t matter if someone is sick or nice or something else. A brand is a brand.

Buddy refuses. He looks to Jeff for backup, but Jeff “sees both sides” of the argument. So Gene kicks Buddy and tells him to go and shut up if he knows what’s good for him. Then he tells Jeff that they are going to 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 about Gene finally breaking bad. Again. Jimmy was always bad, of course. Ever since he was a boy stealing from his father’s shop. Slippin’ Jimmy, no matter how well-intentioned he might be in other areas of his life, was always the reason his brother Chuck (Michael McKean) distrusted him.

The Saul Goodman he becomes is Chuck’s fear manifested. But even then, Saul was just a crooked lawyer making money off other people’s crimes. Whatever Gene becomes—let’s call him Victor, the name he uses at the bar—seems even worse. Perhaps this even more ruthless version of Saul is what Chuck saw deep in Jimmy’s soul.

Regardless, this was a tipping point for not only Gene, but for Saul and Jimmy as well. The kindness Jimmy showed his brother and Kim and many others along the way is gone. Instead is a man who has lost everything and is angry and bitter about it, and almost desperate to find a new purpose – no matter how dangerous – in life.

It is almost with a death wish that he gets Jeff to take him to the sleeping man’s house. He tells Jeff to come back in 20 minutes to get him, then goes to the back door and finds it locked.

For the second time in the same episode, Jimmy breaks a glass.

I don’t want to spoil what we see in the post-episode preview, but things are definitely not looking good for Gene Takovic.

I enjoyed this episode a lot more than last week’s, thanks both to the fun Walt/Jesse cameo and the more sinister nature of Gene’s new scam. Will he be caught breaking into the house? Will he find Mark dead, or get into a physical altercation with him that leaves the man dead? Will Marion use her new laptop to track down Saul Goodman and turn him in to the police?

We’ll find out at least some of the answers to those 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 will try to write my review about time tomorrow now that I’m not on vacation or traveling for work. Follow me on this blog to keep up to date with all my TV reviews and if you’re on social media you can find me on Twitter and Facebook also, and occasionally on Instagram. I even have my own YouTube channel.

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