Monday, July 15, 2024

Better Call Saul Steps Into The Unknown

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One of the most interesting questions throughout every season of Better Call Saul has been intention of the Gene scenes, those black-and-white looks into Jimmy McGill’s life post-Breaking Bad. What seemingly started out as a tease into said life developed a subplot of its own, and with the pre-Breaking Bad content of the show now over, the resolution of Gene’s character stands as one of the few big unknowns left to cover before the end. We entered this week with 4 episodes left to know the ultimate fates of Gene/Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler.

“Nippy” was the first time Better Call Saul put out a full episode based on this latest of timelines in Jimmy’s life. And I loved every second of it.

Gene checking out shirts on Better Call Saul

I suppose it is fitting that Gene’s first episode also worked as a return for the Slippin’ Jimmy of old. His scheme here slots in perfectly with the kind of schemes Jimmy used to pull. He used a pair of goofs to pull a scheme aimed at a relatively low level goal compared to the life and death stakes of dealing with Lalo Salamanca, or the life-ruining aims of the conspiracy against Howard.

How did Better Call Saul follow up on the most devastating episode of the show’s existence? With a con to rob a store in the mall of a few grand of clothing.

Gene has always given off major “Henry Hill in the ending of Goodfellas” vibes. He loved the life. No matter how many times Jimmy McGill tried to go straight, he could not resist the old Slippin’ Jimmy impulse. He did not give up the life because he wanted to, he gave it up because he thought it was the only way to save his life. Living like Gene Takavic is hell. He is a nobody who has lost everything.

In real life, Henry Hill ends up being kicked from the witness protection program because of his inability to resist returning to his criminal ways. Is Jimmy McGill heading down the same path? I think we may have seen the first step. This is who Jimmy is, and no matter what he calls himself, Jimmy will always be Jimmy. When threatened, he will resort to his usual ideas of conning and tricking and stealing.

“Nippy” felt straight out of season 1 of Better Call Saul. The way he manipulated his way into an “accidental” meeting with someone, the elaborate planning, the use of two goofs he can easily outsmart to his own ends. He even goes back to his film director instincts with the megaphone while planning Jeff’s route.

The actual theft scene was fantastic, and easily one of my favorites in a season filled with memorable scenes. Jeff nearly getting everyone caught by slipping and falling was almost beautiful karma for Jimmy, who literally got the name Slippin’ Jimmy because of his slip and fall scams. Gene choosing to distract the security guard by using his real pain and loss was an old Jimmy tactic. I also just loved seeing Gene gradually regain that Jimmy McGill swagger and transform from the meek, scared person he was the first time he knocked on that security door into one swaggering with confidence.

(I want to also go ahead and mention how fun it was to see Carol Burnett guest star in this episode.)

Now the situation with Jeff seems settled. Gene has his mutually assured destruction to keep Jeff from revealing his identity. He can go back to his boring life as a middle-aged Cinnabon manager, right? Does anyone actually think he will do that? Maybe if we did not have 3 episodes left, I could buy into Gene resisting these impulses in the future.

I think that what remains to be seen with this Gene story is whether he follows his worst impulses down a path of inevitable destruction, or if this is leading him to find the person he truly is and some level of acceptance he has never felt. Jimmy McGill was always trying to be someone else to please someone else. Saul was the bottom, the broken, unrestrained remains of pursuing his selfish desires. Gene is a repressed man forced to flee from the extremes of who Saul was.

How tragic is Better Call Saul trying to take this? I can see either scenario happening, one where Gene gives into those Jimmy impulses and is ruined, or one where he finds inner peace with himself and is okay with the consequences of that peace. I cannot imagine a happy ending in the traditional sense, but what if he makes peace with Kim, faces his crimes, and is okay with a prison sentence? I can see worse fates for Gene.

For the first time, fans really do not have much of an idea where Better Call Saul’s story is heading. We have completed the journey from Jimmy to Saul. We reached the Breaking Bad timeline. Now all that’s left is to see what ultimately becomes of this man who cannot truly let go of who he used to be.

Images Courtesy of AMC

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