The following contains spoilers for Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad.
Breaking Bad and its prequel sister series Better Call Saul are fundamentally shows about change. Bad creator Vince Gilligan’s vision for the original series was succinct and straight-forward. He wanted to “turn Mr. Chips into Scarface.” Better Call Saul has operated on a similar level, taking a young legal clerk with a penchant for petty scams and turning him into the most powerful criminal lawyer in New Mexico.
But Walter White and Jimmy McGill aren’t the only two characters that undergo seismic changes in the Breaking Bad universe. Just about everyone who has occupied Gilligan’s Albuquerque since 2008 has undergone the complicated chemistry of change. One tertiary character’s path, however, may outstrip them all. Domingo Gallardo Molina a.k.a. Krazy-8 has had one of the most turbulent arcs of any background character to appear on both Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. And in that respect, he could be nearly as crucial to both show’s central themes as Walt or Saul.
Think about the version of Krazy-8 that we first meet in Breaking Bad. Having appeared in the pilot and subsequent two episodes, Krazy-8 is inarguably the first big “villain” of the entire Breaking Bad universe (unless we’re counting Walt’s lung cancer) and he is quite intimidating in his introduction. After Walt and Jesse cook their first batch of meth in a trailer out in the desert, Jesse heads to Krazy-8, looking to sell.
Jesse finds Krazy-8 in his home training his enormous rottweiler to attack. Before Jesse can fully even comprehend what’s happening, Krazy-8 reveals that his cousin and Jesse’s former business partner, Emilio, believes that Jesse flipped on him to the DEA. That’s how within moments of the audience “meeting” Krazy-8, he has already taken our second lead hostage.
In hindsight, we know that Krazy-8 is not long for this world. In two episodes he will be strangled to death via bike lock by a cancer-ridden 50-year-old man. But when he first arrives in the desert to essentially take Walter as a meth-making slave, it’s not hard to empathize with Walt’s fear. Walt will go on to become the meth kingpin of the American Southwest and he will eventually come into contact with far more dangerous individuals from Tuco, to the Cousins, to Gus Fring. For now, however, Krazy-8 represents the entirety of the New Mexican criminal underworld in the viewers’ eyes…and he fills out the role surprisingly well!
It’s surprising, of course, because Breaking Bad will go on to humanize Krazy-8 before it kills him. After Walt successfully kills Emilio and subdues Krazy-8 via a chemical attack, he is forced to lock Krazy-8 in the basement of Jesse’s house. There Krazy-8 reveals that he’s not the big bad wolf…because no one is in the reality of this show. He’s simply a guy who found himself adept in the drug trade. He has a degree in Business Administration from the University of New Mexico. He used to work at his father’s business, Tampico Furniture on Menaul Boulevard. Walt and Domingo could have crossed paths dozens of times and never realized it.
In this instance, Krazy-8 is the Breaking Bad universe’s first great lesson for change – or at the very least, the appearance of change. Think of all the New Mexican citizens years from now who can have the same observation that they could have crossed paths with the great Heisenberg without realizing it. The chemistry of common life is changing all around us all the time. This lesson is further hammered home by Krazy-8’s appearances in Better Call Saul.
The Krazy-8 of Better Call Saul is a radically different person from the cold-blooded killer of Breaking Bad. In fact, for much of the series, Krazy-8 is simply Domingo. It’s not until season 5’s second episode “50% Off,” that Krazy-8 even gets his nickname. Domingo is playing Texas Hold ‘Em with some criminal coworkers and, intimidated by his boss Lalo, decides to fold a set of 8s, which would have easily beaten Lalo’s bluff. Lalo laughs and calls Domingo “Ocho-Loco” or “Krazy-8.” The concept of a criminal underling not wanting to beat his boss in poker is a tried and true trope in crime dramas. And Krazy-8 is just the latest victim. But the scene also speaks to a larger trend for Krazy-8 in Better Call Saul.
Just about everyone bosses Krazy-8 around in the Breaking Bad prequel. Krazy-8 first turns up in Better Call Saul season 2 where he delivers a payment to Tuco and Nacho. It’s clear that not only does Krazy-8 work for both men, but he ‘s intimidated by them. It’s made clear that Krazy-8’s fear is founded later on in season 3’s “Off Brand” when his payment to the Salamancas is light. Nacho is happy to let the whole thing slide, but at Hector’s slight suggesting, Nacho opts to viciously beat Krazy-8 instead. Here is the first big bad of the Breaking Bad universe, being violently put in place by a mid-level mob figure years earlier.
Krazy-8’s position only becomes even more tenuous in season 5, when he is arrested after one of his drops attracts unneeded attention. The character becomes even more of a bridge between Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul when his arrest brings him into contact with Saul Goodman, Hank Schrader, and Steven Gomez. At Lalo’s urging, Saul helps establish Krazy-8 as a criminal informant for the DEA. Unbeknownst to Lalo, however, is the fact that Nacho is currently spying for Gus. This leaves Krazy-8 at the very bottom level of a vast conspiracy of espionage and mismatched loyalties. This guy just has a way of getting involved.
It remains to be seen how Krazy-8 breaks free of the Salamanca cartel in Better Call Saul to become his own minor drug kingpin in Breaking Bad. For now, what’s important is that he eventually does and serves as part of the vibrant fabric of boths show’s themes of change and perspective. Perhaps Krazy-8 really did grow up and adapt quite a bit in the intervening years between the two shows. It’s also just as likely that the hardened criminal we met in the Breaking Bad pilot was still the meek Ocho-Loco who folds a set of 8’s. We just didn’t have the experience to recognize it yet.