Spoiler alert: this recap is for people watching Better Call Saul season six, which airs on Netflix in the UK. Do not read on unless you have watched episodes one to 11.
There’s something unpleasant happening and it’s not just the quick cuts between black and white and colour. We might once have imagined Nebraska, the land of snow and tarmac, to be an escape for Jimmy McGill. But now we know that’s not the case. Saul Goodman is now in control of Gene Takavic, not Jimmy, and he’s plumbing new depths.
This was the episode everyone has been waiting for, as we travelled back from Gene’s timeline to the world of Breaking Bad, and to an incident we have seen once before – Saul inside an RV, engaged in negotiations with up and coming meth barons Walter White and Jesse Pinkman.
We know the version of events from the Breaking Bad episode in season two called Better Call Saul. That was when we met Saul Goodman for the first time, targeted as he was by White as a solution to an early legal problem (the arrest of Badger). After refusing the work, our heroes kidnapped Saul in ski-masks in an attempt at persuasion. He asked if Lalo sent them, then he got them to put a dollar in his pocket.
Now, in this Better Call Saul episode – called Breaking Bad – White and Pinkman return to show us the aftermath of the deal. We watch the partners bicker just like in the good old days – “no details!” “dick!” – and argue over how best to get the RV to start. We see Saul cast his eyes over the interior of the RV and deduce immediately that Walt is Heisenberg and Jesse his “Igor”. We see Walt have another coughing fit and attempt to hide the blood, unsuccessfully. We see the trio drive off into the night. It is satisfying.
Why did we see this flashback at all? We are led to believe it was triggered in the mind of Jimmy/Gene after he attempted to find out what was going on in Albuquerque for the first time since he fled. It’s another moment set up a long time ago, a flash-forward in season four, in which Saul warned Francesca Liddy to be standing by a payphone on 12 November, without explaining why. At the beginning of this episode we follow her to that call.
It’s Gene, offering money on the end of a fishing line. He’s also asking about his own fortune and associates. Francesca has only bad news. The laundering businesses, the offshore account, even the laser tag, it’s all been shut down. Skylar White cut herself a deal with the feds which means only Saul and Jesse (presumed dead) are still on the loose. There is one thing, though, Francesca admits. She took a call from Kim Wexler, and she was asking after him.
Gene leaves as if to go home but abandons the journey. He returns to the booth to make another call, this time to a Palm Coast Sprinklers where he asks for Kim. We don’t get to hear what is discussed but we see the aftermath. Gene starts remonstrating, then shouting, and by the end he’s trashed the phone booth.
With two episodes to go, therefore, any reconciliation between Jimmy and Kim looks a long shot. Not least because Jimmy appears to be dead, with the violence perpetrated on the telephone box indicative of where Gene is as a person. He is lost, trying to rekindle the life of Saul Goodman. He’s gone as far as buying a chiropractic ankle wobbler, but it all seems desperate, not to mention depraved. By way of proof, we get a telltale “sitting dead-eyed in a strip bar” shot before, at the very end, Gene breaks into the house of a cancer patient to steal his identity.
The burglary is the consequence of another successful scam perpetrated by Gene and his Omaha crew. It starts with Gene chatting up some rich guy in a bar (siphoning off his own drinks with a convoluted tube drainage system). The target is then escorted outside where Jeff is waiting to drive them home and pump them full of barbiturates. Finally, the third guy – Buddy – sneaks into their home while they are sleeping, takes photos of all their documentation and sells it to someone who makes a living from draining bank accounts.
It’s a surprisingly fruitful endeavour (and for those of you who didn’t buy last week’s scam, I don’t buy this one: dozens of wealthy, lonely men, in Omaha, Nebraska?). All the same, it ends up with Buddy drawing a line. He won’t rip off a mark who has cancer, but Gene won’t accept any other outcome. He’s getting angry even at the thought and insists on doing the job himself. We watch Jimmy smash the glass on the victim’s front door before the credits roll.
It feels like this act of breaking and entry could be significant. It might even lead to Gene/Saul/Jimmy’s ultimate undoing. Less clear is why this moment is paired with Saul walking into JP Wynne high school to tell Walt the pair should form a long-lasting relationship (another scene from Breaking Bad, the series). In terms of this episode, it works, even if it is a bit garish, going black and white to colour and back again. But in the bigger picture, while Saul’s relationship with Walter White is important, we know the journey that led Jimmy to become Gene began long before the two men met. Neither was Jimmy Walter’s enemy or vice versa. So why did it happen? Is it simply to justify the crossover? We shall find out soon enough.
Marion is back, fascinated by cats on YouTube. “It’s like America’s Funniest Videos, but you get to be the host!”, says Gene. “Wouldn’t that be something!” says Carol Burnett, one of the US’s biggest TV stars.
I don’t know who those stoners are that Francesca has as her tenants, but I would watch a short web series of their antics.
We see Mike Ehrmantraut in a Saul era flashback too and, not for the first time this season (see Lalo Salamanca) he makes the wrong call. Far from an amateur who was better off left alone, Walter White was going places, and Saul knew it.