He left that funky Saul Goodman shirt and tie on the department store rack, but make no mistake: Last week’s caper with Jeff and the mall-security team took Gene Takovic right back into the world of Saul Goodman. And one mysterious, contentious phone call in “Breaking Bad” feels him doubling down and going full-bore Saul.
We don’t—yet—know where this sudden but committed embracing of the life that sent him into hiding will end, but people from his old life as Albuquerque’s most infamous lawyer are still reeling from their associations with him. For Bill Oakley, the beleaguered deputy district attorney who envied Jimmy’s cushy opportunity at Davis & Main as he ate lunch from the courthouse vending machine every day, Jimmy/Saul’s shenanigans with helping to free Lalo Salamanca proved so disillusioning that Bill turned to the defense attorney himself: He’s gone into private practice, advertising his services on a bus stop bench. Is he now serving the clientele Saul left behind?
For Francesca, Saul’s loyal but also overworked and stressed assistant, her career prospects are less potentially lucrative. Her life with Saul was certainly never glamorous, but now she’s a landlord, spending her days plunging a sink clogged with weed stems and seeds in the apartment of a pair of surly tenants whose home reeks like “a skunk’s butthole.”
She’s also being followed, her mail’s being opened, and her phone’s being tapped, as legal authorities continue to look for Saul. Yet she agrees to drive out of the city (to the former Big Chief gas station where Jesse paid for a fill-up on the RV with meth in season three of breaking Bad) for a payphone call with Gene. He wants the hot goss on happenings back home, and Francesca wants the hidden stash of cash he promised her for showing up. She tells him the rest of his funds (the nail salons, the vending machines, the laser-tag center, the offshore account) are all gone, but he’s most interested in a call she received after news of his Walter White connection broke: Kim , who called to check in on her. Kim also asked about Saul, Francesca shares. She wanted to know if he was alive.
Gene, who had driven outside of Omaha to call Francesca, is back on the road to Omaha when he pulls over to make another call. Kim, apparently, is in Titusville, Florida, working at a business called Palm Coast Sprinklers. Gene calls and asks for her and though the noise of trucks passing on the highway drown out his conversation, it’s an angry one we can tell from the gesticulating he does. When he hangs up, he slams the receiver down repeatedly. When he walks outside, he kicks the glass of the phone booth so hard it shatters.
What could have transpired on that call that would make him so angry? If Kim had simply not been at the business or if she no longer worked there, he might have been disappointed, or annoyed, but not violently angry. What was conveyed to Gene that would elicit that reaction? Was he told Kim refused to speak to him? Did she speak to him and relay her feelings about his breaking Bad-era actions? Did she share news about her new life that ticked him off?
Whatever happened during that conversation set into motion a return to Omaha that was followed by Gene visiting the home of Marion and Jeff and sliding back into the ways of Saul Goodman.
The surprise of this reunion of Gene and Saul is the gusto then the recklessness with which Gene approaches his new venture with Jeff and Buddy. It’s a typically intricate and clever play from the mind of McGill/Goodman that boils down to identity theft that is then sold for cash. The trio make an easy go of it and have amassed a good amount of money when they hit a snag: One of their marks is seriously ill and when Buddy finds out the guy has pancreatic cancer, just like his dad suffered, he refuses to continue swiping his identity documents. Gene had earlier discovered the man had cancer during the recon phase of the con at the bar they were drinking at and seemed very concerned about him. He even asked him if he should be mixing alcohol with the pills he was taking for the cancer.
But when Buddy tells Gene and Jeff he will not continue their grift of the cancer patient, that they should move along to the next guy, Gene flips out. He berates Buddy, insisting that he return to the man’s house and resume photographing all of the personal documents that will earn them another payday. When Buddy still refuses to do so, Gene calls him an amateur and fires him from the job, with a parting warning that he should keep his mouth shut about their plot.
Then Gene’s anger and recklessness turn to desperation. He gets Jeff to drive him to the home of the cancer patient, who he assumes will still be unconscious three hours after he was slipped drugs in a water bottle by Jeff. Without any proof that is the case, Gene nevertheless is dropped off at the man’s home and breaks in, with no real idea what will happen when he steps inside.
The break-in scene is preceded by a flashback to Saul approaching JP Wynne High School in “Better Call Saul, » tea season-two episodes of breaking Bad that introduced Bob Odenkirk’s character. Saul’s going to surprise Walter White in his chemistry classroom. It’s still early days in Walt and Jesse’s meth enterprise, and Saul thinks he can help them grow it and keep a significant cut of the profits for himself.
And ina scene that precedes that, there’s another flashback, a new one from a breaking Bad-era meeting with Mike in Saul’s office. Mike reports to Saul about scoping out Walt and Jesse, telling him they are amateurs, “small potatoes” who “He Who Shall Not Be Named” (Gus, of course) has no interest in. Mike, in no uncertain terms, advises Saul that Walt and Jesse are not suitable business partners. Saul, obviously, ignores this advice, and we now know that the connection of all these characters and everything they brought together, all the lives it changed and the many that it ended, was facilitated by Saul Goodman. Of all the breaking Bad callbacks and guest appearances that have been sprinkled throughout Better Call Saul, writer-director Thomas Schnauz saved the best and most pivotal one for Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, whose much-anticipated participation as Walt and Jesse was more than worth the wait.
Now, with just two episodes remaining in the series, we turn to Gene’s desperate entry into the home of that cancer patient in a decision that feels like it could be as pivotal to his post-Walt and Jesse- life as his initial appearance was to theirs.
- Francesca’s call with Gene also provides a crucial update on Skyler White: She cut a deal with the authorities, so apparently Walt’s lottery ticket, the one that he would promised lead to the location of Hank and Gomey’s bodies, worked.
- Shoutout to Tina Parker, for her series straddling standout performance as Francesca, who definitely ended up on the wrong end of Saul’s dealings. Here’s hoping there was a tidy sum of cash in that packet she pulled out of the water pipe.
- There’s no way we don’t find out the contents of Gene’s call to Kim’s Florida workplace, right? Could that even mean one more appearance by Rhea Seehorn before the series ends?
- Super clever casting: Alfred Hawthorne, the obnoxious first mark in Gene’s identity theft bar scam, was brilliantly portrayed by Devin Ratray, who played Kevin McAllister’s obnoxious older brother Buzz in Home Alone.
- Two more great callbacks by Gene: He skips Saul’s fashions, but he does drink (or not drink, as it’s part of the scam) Moscow mules with one of the ID theft marks and also procures a chi machine, that foot massage device Saul used in his breaking Bad days. Was that just because it was a safe way to privately embrace his Saul past or was the machine a physical necessity for dealing with the stress of returning to an active life of crime?