Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Gene Breaks Bad On Better Call Saul

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In many ways, the tenth episode of this final season of Better Call Saul functions like a series finale. After “Fun and Games” concluded Jimmy McGill’s journey to becoming Saul Goodman in the Breaking Bad timeline, “Nippy” practically finished Gene’s storyline. The last major threat to his identity was neutralized, he sets a colorful dress shirt back on the rack, and walks away, turning his back on the behavior that put him on the run to Omaha to begin with.

The problem is that no one told Gene his story was done. And so enters “Breaking Bad,” Better Call Saul’s aptly named 11th episode of the season, where Gene cannot resist the Saul inside and sets himself on the path to destruction.

I mentioned last week how Gene would not be able to resist the conman inside. You could see Slippin’ Jimmy emerge more and more throughout the mall scheme, until he was practically back to the same man pulling billboard scams in season 1. “Breaking Bad” sees him devolve even further. He returns to an accelerated form of what we saw in “Marco,” the season 1 finale, where he and his best friend find marks at the bar that they can rip off with fake watches and collectible coins. Gene goes further in this episode, using Taxi Jeff and another accomplice to drug their victims, steal their IDs and credit cards, and sell the info to an identity fraud ring.

Jimmy’s compulsive criminal behavior typically has a traumatic trigger. He returns to Cicero to run scams with Marco after his first falling out with Chuck. He adopts the Saul Goodman persona after Chuck’s death. Kim leaving him pushed him to become the man who lawyers for Walter White. In this episode, we see a series of phone calls push him back to Saul Goodman. He becomes cruel, relentless, and walks through doors he never, ever should.

Better Call Saul has a habit of making me look bad when I interpret these episodes. Last week’s final moments heavily suggested Gene was leaving the colorfulness of Saul behind when he placed that ridiculous shirt back where he found it. So of course he returned to the persona this week. From the earpiece to the weird massage machine to the felonious, life-ruining identity theft he suffers onto his marks, he is Saul Goodman yet again.

We do not know if it was Kim on that final, triggering phone call, or just someone Gene thought would put him in contact with her. Either way, whatever hope he felt from Francesca mentioning Kim’s questions about him was quickly snuffed and recreated the same vindictive, self-destructive mindset we have seen emerge from Jimmy McGill throughout Better Call Saul.

The episode ends with Gene entering the home of a potential victim his cohorts did not want to rob. We don’t know what happens when he walks through that door. Maybe the man is dead from a combination of alcohol, barbiturates, and cancer medication. Maybe Gene gets caught. Any number of scenarios could happen, but what exactly happens is not really the point. It is the decision itself which seals Gene’s fate, just like it sealed Saul’s fate when he walked through the door of Walter White’s chemistry class with the intention to make Walt a success.

We finally got our Walt and Jesse cameos this week, starting with the night where they kidnapped Saul to intimidate him into representing Badger in court. The rest of these flashback scenes follow up on the moments where Saul decides whether or not to deal with Walt after finding out he sold the famous blue meth.

It was an interesting move, and probably not the direction fans expected from the eventual Breaking Bad crossover in Better Call Saul. These scenes work great to parallel the choices Gene makes in the other timeline, complete with Saul’s ending also seeing him open a door into a future we know causes him ruin. If we are honest, a Saul Goodman show based on whatever he was doing during Breaking Bad would not be particularly interesting. The only real question left was his relationship with Kim in that time, and we know he had no relationship, and very little contact, it seems.

This approach made more sense. I would love more focused, meaningful parallels between what Saul did then and Gene does now.

(It was great to see Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul back. Seeing Cranston just fall so easily back into season 2 Walter White’s skin was kind of remarkable.)

Ruin seems to be on the table for Gene now, and the question is how it comes about. Marion catches a glimpse of him meeting with Jeff and yelling at a dog in the middle of the night, which probably raises suspicions in her mind. Last week, she mentioned Jeff got caught up with a bad crowd in Albuquerque, so there is a fairly high chance that she could recognize Gene as Saul, or at least look him up somehow. Carol Burnett was said to play a key role in this season. What we’ve seen so far is already a key role, but she could be central to bringing Gene down.

Even if she isn’t, Gene left a considerable trail of victims, notwithstanding whatever disaster may befall the cancer patient Jeff drugged. He also alienates Jeff’s friend and scares Jeff himself. The taxi driver clearly isn’t made of sterner stuff and the scope and harm of their thefts could scare Jeff into turning everyone in, especially if Marion figures any of this out.

Gene was so close to being free and clear when “Nippy” ended. Through it all, he had somehow come out the other side intact, with a free future ahead. His story had ended. It’s just too bad that no one told Gene that.

Images Courtesy of AMC

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