Better Call Saul: Zafiro Añejo Tequila Is Breaking Bad’s Rosebud
A potent tequila becomes an equally potent symbol on Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad. But a symbol of what?
This article contains light spoilers for Better Call Saul season 6.
One of the most artistic scenes in either Better Call Saul or its parent show, Breaking Bad, is the cold open to the sixth season premiere episode. The audience is taken through Saul Goodman’s house in a first person point of view camera angle. A variety of items belonging to Saul throughout his adult life that have been previously seen in the two shows reappear here. From shoes Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) wore when walking at the mall with old ladies during a scheme, to his exotic tie collection, the scene indicates that Saul’s entire life is being escorted out of his house by movers.
The most important item that the camera focuses on is a bottle topper that falls out of a dresser drawer as it’s being lifted onto the moving van. This isn’t any ordinary cap, though. The little piece of metal is the top to a bottle of Zafiro Añejo, the tequila of choice that Jimmy and Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) enjoy throughout most of Better Call Saul during the momentous occasions in their relationship together. Not only that, keenly aware fans will remember this is the drink that Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) uses to mask the poison that he intoxicates the entire cartel with in Breaking Bad’s fourth season episode, “Salud.”
So how can this drink be both a symbol of love and destruction at the same time when these two concepts are completely contradictory in nature? That’s the brilliance of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s creative minds. They’re able to take something seemingly innocuous and apply its significance to juxtaposed ideas, at least on the surface. Once you dig deeper, you find that the difference between affection and ruination walks a fine line. People will do horrific things for the ones they love, and they will also allow adoration to consume them for completely immoral reasons.
Even though Better Call Saul comes first in the canonical timelines of the two shows, the audience is first exposed to Zafiro Añejo in the aforementioned Breaking Bad episode. This is a great place to start putting the puzzle together as to the drink’s meaning. Gus gifts the sabotaged tequila to Don Eladio (Steven Bauer) to indicate a truce between the two drug bosses. Gus seemingly wants to celebrate the successful expansion of their drug empire, and the alcohol is a great way to show appreciation and mutual happiness.
The audience knows better about the intentions of Gus, though, especially after we just recently learned even more about the ways the cartel took out Gus’s lifelong partner, Max. You see, Gus isn’t really interested in dominating the meth trade in North America for money or pride. He’s acting on complete, 100% raw vengeance for the person he loved. The Zafiro Añejo therefore symbolizes the horrific lengths humans will go to save, protect, or honor the memory of their romantic partners.
The next time we see Zafiro Añejo is in Better Call Saul’s second season. Jimmy and Kim drink the brand of alcohol during a scam they are pulling on a rich man at the bar. This is really the first time both characters are completely comfortable and on the same page with one another as more than just friends. The tequila represents the evolving bond of Jimmy and Kim, and the toxicity that props up their shared affection. Just like with Gus, Zafiro Añejo symbolizes the ways love makes people do really bad things to others.
Henceforth every time Zafiro Añejo is seen in Better Call Saul is when Jimmy and Kim are celebrating something unsavory. Jimmy buys the drink after winning the Sandpiper settlement in season three after ruining the lives of the old women at the center of the case. Kim and Jimmy both drink it to commiserate while mourning the suicide of Jimmy’s brother, Chuck (Michael McKean), a character you could argue died due to the circumstances surrounding Jimmy’s ethics. And finally, Jimmy buys a bottle to signal a coronation after he and Kim have effectively torn Howard Hamlin’s (Patrick Fabian) life to smithereens. It’s becoming crystal clear that Zafiro Añejo is potentially a sign of love that is built on atrocious pretenses. Gus, Jimmy, and Kim have admirable and very human emotions behind their use of the drink, but it only appears after annihilating someone else.
Even the color of the drink is symbolic of its meaning. Zafiro is Spanish for sapphire, and the main ingredient in the drink is Añejo, a blue agave plant. Both of those words indicate that the color blue is vital to the symbolism of the drink. Walter White’s meth product is also blue. In Vince Gilligan’s world, blue means loyalty and peace. The purpose of Zafiro Añejo is therefore quite pure, even if it’s used under evil contexts.
It would be remiss of us to not mention the potential inspiration that Gilligan and Gould may have drawn upon for this important symbol in their own work. The most similar object that comes to mind is Charles Foster Kane’s childhood sled “Rosebud” from Citizen Kane. Still considered by some critics to be the best film ever made, Citizen Kane uses Rosebud to represent the lost innocence of the protagonist’s life. Rosebud would continue to be associated with innocence, love, childhood, and simplicity in the face of adversity since the movie came out in 1941. The Zafiro Añejo has almost identical connotations at its core when it’s on the television screen of Gilligan and Gould’s masterpieces.
Objects that serve as symbols help to turn a good story into something infinitely more dense. Critics and fans alike can deconstruct the meaning of objects’ symbolism, sometimes with revelations unbeknownst to the original authors of a work. Zafiro Añejo is the type of symbol that helps make Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul literary works instead of literal works. As viewers, it keeps us intrigued to discuss the ambiguous nature of symbolism in television and film, and it always will.
All episodes of Better Call Saul are now available to stream on Netflix.