“Better Call Saul” fans have waited over seven years for the Bob Odenkirk-led series to intersect with the world of Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul). This week’s episode of the spinoff, aptly titled “Breaking Bad,” provided viewers with all that and more.
The episode goes back and forth between the black-and-white timeline, which features Saul’s post-“Breaking Bad” persona Gene Takovic in Omaha, and the world of Saul Goodman within “Breaking Bad” Season 2. Sadly, Jimmy McGill and Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) remain in the past (at least for now).
In the Gene timeline, our favorite Cinnabon manager is reliving his Albuquerque days, orchestrating yet another scheme with cab driver Jeffy (Pat Healy), who had recognized Gene from when he was Saul. Together, they swipe enough personal information to steal a couple dozen dudes’ identities, but it’s clear that Gene/Saul/Jimmy isn’t really in it for the rewards, but because he misses “the game.” In last week’s episode, “Nippy,” Gene arranges a mini department store heist for Jeffy in exchange for him keeping quiet about his true identity. This time, Gene’s in it for the thrills.
In the flashback to “Breaking Bad” Season 2, Saul is tied up in a recognizable, bullet-ridden RV before being dragged outside to a shallow grave by two mysterious men. “Oh no, no, no!” he pleads. “It wasn’t me, it was Ignacio! He’s the one!” We’ve seen this exact scene before, in the Season 2 episode of “Breaking Bad” titled “Better Call Saul,” when Albuquerque’s most famous meth cooks first meet their criminal lawyer. Back then, it was a throwaway line. Now, six seasons into the spinoff with Nacho’s (Michael Mando) dramatic death still fresh in our minds, it puts everything into context and locks the two series in place. Throughout its run, “Better Call Saul” has served as a prequel series that also teases the aftermath of “Breaking Bad.” At this moment, however, the two series are unfolding simultaneously.
Walt and Jesse first met Saul in “Breaking Bad” because he represented one of their dealers, Jesse’s friend Badger, who was arrested for meth distribution. Scared that Badger will give up Heisenberg (aka Walt) to the DEA, Walt enters Saul’s office posing as Badger’s uncle and offers him $10,000 to advise Badger to stay quiet. Saul kicks him out for the bribe. As a last resort, Walt and Jesse kidnap Saul and intimidate him in the desert, assuring that he’ll advise Badger to stay quiet. They’re wearing ski masks to conceal their identities, but Saul recognizes Walt’s cough and demands that he and Jesse put a dollar in his pocket… you know, for attorney-client privilege. In a pickle, Saul agrees to not take a deal with the DEA.
Now in the “Better Call Saul” flashback, we’re treated to a new scene that takes place as the trio re-enters the RV, and we finally see Walt and Jesse’s faces (13 years after Cranston and Paul first shot this pivotal sequence). Saul admires the makeshift meth lab and correctly surmises that Walt is, in fact, Heisenberg. Walt and Jesse are bickering (oh, how I’ve missed “Breaking Bad”), and Saul, minutes after being held at gunpoint, is hard-balling them on his retainer. After a brief silence, Jesse asks Saul, “Who’s Lalo?”
In the “Breaking Bad” version of the intimidation scene, Saul asks Walt and Jesse if Lalo sent them. Back then, Lalo was also just a random name and not the infamous Salamanca villain we’ve grown to fear in “Better Call Saul.” The lawyer pauses for a moment — perhaps reflecting on representing Lalo, carrying his bail money across the desert, the failed assassination attempt, the scam against Howard, Lalo’s surprise visit, Howard’s murder, losing Kim — and then simply responds: “It’s nobody.”
Later in the episode, Saul sits in his office with Mike (Jonathan Banks), who gives him intel on his prospective clients. “Even if this guy was gonna live, I wouldn’t go near him. He’s a complete amateur,” Mike says of Walt. “If the cancer doesn’t get him, it’ll be the cops or a bullet to the head.”
“I got a feeling about this,” Saul retorts. “This Heisenberg guy’s got something. It’s top-of-the-line product, that’s the buzz on the street, and I just think with the right management…” But Mike interrupts him. “Let it go,” he says. Ignoring his advice, Saul arrives at J.P. Wynne High School, where Walt is teaching chemistry. He heads toward the science building, but that’s all we get in this episode. It doesn’t matter, of course. We know what happens next.
Not to be forgotten, at the beginning of this bombshell episode is Gene’s call with Francesca (Tina Parker), his former secretary. It’s been a little while since the events of “Breaking Bad” and spinoff film “El Camino,” so Francesca (who is now a landlord helping her 20-something tenants unclog their sink) is updating Gene on the statuses of his friends and former associates back in Albuquerque. Here’s what we learn:
- Things have cooled down, but Francesca still gets followed from time to time. She says her mail gets opened and her home phone is tapped. “Skyler White got her deal, so the only ones left to go after are you and Pinkman,” she tells Gene, “and I heard they found his car down by the border.” Francesca is actually referring to Skinny Pete’s car, the Ford Thunderbird that Badger drives down to the Mexican border in “El Camino” to throw the cops off. As far as we know, Jesse is living peacefully in Alaska after escaping the Nazi compound and starting a new life, via Ed the Disappearer.
- The cops are still looking for Saul Goodman.
- The feds found the nail salons, vending machines and laser tag arena that Walt, Jesse and Saul used to launder money.
- When asked how Saul’s henchman Patrick Kuby (Bill Burr) is, Francesca responds: “No idea,” but she says Huell Babineaux (Lavell Crawford) is back home in New Orleans. Apparently he walked because the DEA held him under false pretenses.
- Bill Oakley (Peter Diseth), the district attorney who appears throughout “Better Call Saul,” has “switched sides” and become a defense attorney.
- At some point, Kim called Francesca to check in on her and asked about Jimmy and whether he was alive. Francesca says she didn’t tell Kim anything about Jimmy’s current whereabouts (or new identity).
This last realization emboldens Gene to call Kim, whom we learn is now working in Titusville, Fla., presumably not as a lawyer since she gave up her license. We don’t hear any audio from their conversation, and it’s not clear if they even get connected. But whatever is happening on the other line is upsetting Gene, who bashes the phone against the dial pad and kicks the glass payphone booth until it shatters.
There are two episodes left of “Better Call Saul,” and we haven’t seen Kim since she left Jimmy, so here’s hoping for a black-and-white happy ever after.