This Better Call Saul review contains spoilers.
Better Call Saul Season 6 Episode 11
It’s no surprise that a series with a partial focus on the inner workings of a drug cartel would be so adept at presenting an addiction parable. Breaking Bad explored the theme of addiction with Jesse and Jane in a traditional albeit harrowing sense, but on Better Call Saul, Jimmy’s addiction isn’t chemical. Jimmy is addicted to the hustle, and not in the way that the worst guy you know from high school posts about on Facebook. The allure of the finer things in life, the thrill of the con, the sense of power and importance that Jimmy gets out of his scheme, it’s a high that’s greater to him than what any blue crystal could provide. There’s something immensely powerful about knowing what you’re good at. All it took was a simple mall heist to jog Jimmy’s memory.
Though Jimmy has many names — Saul, Gene, Viktor — perhaps Icarus would have been a fitting moniker for him during “Breaking Bad,” as the episode presents two moments, one from early in the Breaking Bad timeline and one in the present as Gene in Omaha, that show Jimmy flying too close to the sun. Others try to warn him and change his course, but in both timelines, we see what appears to be a lapse in judgment and a moment of no return. In the Breaking Bad timeline, we know what comes of Jimmy ignoring Mike’s advice and going to meet Walter White at a school science fair. Becoming entangled with Walt makes Jimmy a very rich man, but it blows up his life entirely. The fate awaiting Gene in Omaha is more unknown, but what we do know about the situation doesn’t bode well. The FBI is still searching for Saul Goodman and breaking into a man’s house who might be awake could lead to an arrest. However, Jimmy McGill can’t help himself.
For many, “Breaking Bad” will be a much talked about episode due to the return of Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul as Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. Though it’s understandable why many will get joy from seeing these iconic characters return, their cameo here feels superfluous. Perhaps next week’s episode will feature a meatier interaction, but revisiting the pair during the early days of their operation as they bicker about a favorite point of contention, the RV, feels like pure fan service. The surprise of their appearance has also been spoiled online and its impact has been dulled after seeing the same trick pulled for El Camino just a few years ago. Watching a much older Aaron Paul finally ask who Lalo is didn’t spark much of a reaction in me.
I was more interested in the way “Breaking Bad” slowly found Gene Takvoic reverting to Saul Goodman. After the mall heist, Gene uses Jeff and his buddy to run identity theft schemes on financial advisors, getting them drunk, then drugging them in Jeff’s cab on the way home so they could easily break into their homes and steal classified information like credit card numbers, investment and tax records, banks statements, and personal passwords. As the trio becomes a well-oiled machine, little trappings of Gene’s old life as Saul return: the Bluetooth earpiece, burner phones for his associates, aliases, ladies of the night, even the ol’ Swing Master. Just one hit is all it took for Gene to get back in the game.
Things go awry when Jeff’s buddy refuses to continue with their current mark after discovering the man has cancer. The disruption it causes alerts Jeff’s mom to their late-night meetings in the process. Gene makes the case that cancer doesn’t make someone a saint, as he knows all too well from experience, but there’s something telling in the fact that Jeff’s friend has a clear moral line where Gene does not. Not willing to throw the opportunity away, Gene heads to the man’s house and breaks a widow for entry. Unlike their previous collections, he’s now left evidence of forced entry. It’s startling how quickly Gene has gone from panicking over suspicious faces in the mall food court to this moment. It’s almost like he wants to get caught.
And maybe he does. One key element of this episode happens early on when Gene calls Francesca back in Albuquerque to get some information about his old crew and holdings. He gets bad news on almost all fronts until Francesca mentions that Kim has called and asked about him. This leads Gene to call Palm Coast Sprinklers in Florida to try to contact Kim, but we’re unable to hear the content of the call, we just watch Gene thrash around inside of the phonebooth during the aftermath. Did Kim no longer work there? Was he refused from speaking with her? Did something worse happen? We’re left wondering. Maybe Gene was holding out hope for some sort of reunion with Kim, and now that that is no longer a possibility, he realizes that he needs to use the most of the time he has left, just like the man with cancer.
It’s safe to assume that the final two episodes will cover events in the Omaha and Breaking Bad timelines, though what will happen is anyone’s guess. I appreciate the way that Peter Gould and his team have kept people on their toes for these final episodes, jumping around the timeline enough to keep us from feeling fully oriented. The way things are heading, it doesn’t seem like Gene will be following the simple rhythms of the Cinnabon much longer.