Better Call Saul “Breaking Bad” (S6E11)

“Why are we going off road?”

In last episode’s “Nippy”, it’s intended for us to feel worried that Gene repossessing the spirit of Slippin’ Jimmy can lead him down a slippery slope. Not so much a slope that would lead to his physical incarceration, but one that would compromise his spiritual growth. “Nippy” established that Jimmy’s draw to his former days as a con man is still a very real addiction. Even when that con backs him into a corner where he’s got nothing left but to acknowledge the trail of destruction it’s caused, he’s still left admiring its colorful lifestyle. “Nippy” shows him eyeing the Slippin’ Jimmy attire, but ends with him hanging it back on the rack as he returns to his life as Cinnabon Gene. It’s an ambiguous end implying the tension of who he is and whether he may or may not accept and learn to be better. He enjoyed the taste of Slippin’ Jimmy after a duration of suppressing it, but maybe there’s hope for him to find meaning and catharsis beyond that specific rush. Or maybe he succumbs to that flawed part of himself. Anything’s possible.

“Breaking Bad”, however, boils any hope for Jimmy McGill like a goldfish’s potential vacation home being used to cook methamphetamine. Many classic anti-hero shows such as The SopranosMad Men, and Breaking Bad have explored, in some form, the idea of redemption in their final seasons and Better Call Saul is no different. Jimmy McGill’s story is a tragedy. We are watching the tale of a deeply troubled individual and there’s no fluffing up this story. When the cold open throws us into Breaking Bad’s “Better Call Saul” episode from season 2 and shows us the kidnapping from Saul Goodman’s perspective, Jimmy begs, “Anywhere but the desert!”. Being dragged off-road back to a setting that’s host to his open grave is a powerfully scary start to the episode, underlining Jimmy’s nature to return to potentially fatal outcomes. Even after the many close, dangerous encounters which have caused so much trauma and heartache, it still results as a merely bad hangover he needs to cure with more bad behavior. He’ll feel remorse for a period, but before you know it, he’s making the same mistakes.

When Jimmy decides to return to Marion and Jeff’s house, it has nothing to do with the effort of self-preservation. At first Jeff suspects Saul may be upset that he bought his mother a new laptop which could possibly set off red flags to law enforcement if too pricey, but it’s actually Jimmy giving in to his demons. Jimmy wants to make an ally of Jeff in order to commit more scams and overturn more money. Last episode ended with Jimmy threatening Jeff to never come back or get too greedy, which is the exact trap Jimmy himself falls into. Earlier, when Jimmy finally makes contact with Francesca on November 12th at 3:00 PM (a meet-up scheduled since the cold open of season 4’s “Quite a Ride”), he is trying to figure out what money is left after the feds raided his stash locations. Unfortunately, everything’s gone but it doesn’t seem like it’s the end of the world for him. He still has access to a hefty haul, being enough to afford double the amount of his initial disappearance from Ed. There would be no practical reason for him to need any extra cash. If anything, he’s more interested in the world of his criminal associates’ well-being than the financial loss he’s suffered.

Jimmy will especially perk up when Francesca informs him that Kim has reached out, asking whether Jimmy’s alive. For any romantic, this hits like a ton of bricks. When relationships go south and you still think about that person, it means the world when you learn you’re still in their thoughts. It’s comforting. There’s a moment when Jimmy is driving back to live his life as Gene where he comes to a literal crossroads. He daydreams as he’s driving and snaps to before deciding to get back to a payphone. We learn that Kim is in Florida working for a sprinkler company, as he uses an operator to get through to her. What may have been a pursuit in comfort leads surprisingly to anger and frustration. We don’t get to hear the literal conversation as trucks roar by, but perhaps the emotions speak louder than words.

The end of “Fun and Games” had already tied a direct correlation between Kim’s departure and Jimmy burying himself deep into the world of Saul Goodman. Considering this most recent installment emphasizes the worst mistake Saul Goodman will make by joining forces with Heisenberg, we can probably infer the reason for Jimmy’s frustration. We already know he blames others for the results of his actions. He blamed Chuck’s death on Howard and Howard’s death on Lalo. Now it seems he’s blaming the entirety of Breaking Bad on Kim. He suffers while she lives freely in Florida. Kim took accountability for what happened to Howard and as far as Jimmy knows, she’s freed herself from the bad choice road. Jimmy despises his inability to do the same. It’s the exact reason why Jimmy began throwing bowling balls on Howard’s car and then some, because Jimmy hated that Howard’s pursuit in therapy allowed him to come out the other side in a healthier state of mind.

When Jesse Pinkman inquires about Lalo, it’s not for the sake of having fun reinforcing the throwaway line that gave birth to the character, but it helps highlight the problem with Jimmy’s choices. Who’s Lalo? Jimmy refers to him as nobody but you can tell the question rattles him because on a subconscious level, Lalo represents the grim reaper. Dead or alive, Lalo has evolved into more of a concept, being Jimmy’s inability to change. It’s his inability to turn back from the dangerous road. This is why he immediately requests Walt give the RV’s ignition another try, because the last thing he needs is to be sitting in the dark with his own thoughts along with two kindred spirits. He can’t risk the chance to reflect on what brought him here and what lies ahead, because he knows the answer and chooses ignorance. As the RV pulls away, it’s followed by a ghastly over-head shot of the grave Walt and Jesse dug for Saul, which eerily casts a black-and-white Gene lying within it. One of the greatest transitions the show has ever displayed.

Jimmy’s desire to reach out to Kim was most likely for the purpose of reconciliation, perhaps in the effort to not feel so compelled by his more destructive traits. Kim used to be someone who can pull Jimmy back from his mistakes, but at a certain point in their relationship, it shifted to encouragement. She knew this and left for both of their sakes. The way their phone conversation transpired may have been Kim not meeting Jimmy’s pursuit for comfort, but instead painting a more realistic picture of his current situation. His anger seems almost out of protest. There is a reality Jimmy does not want to face and of course he’s going to fight her on that. This exchange clearly has poured more grease on the fire, explaining why he doubles down on his bad behavior when he decides to prey on a series of unsuspecting barflies and steal their credit card and bank information. Perhaps Jimmy’s thought process is that if he’s unable to escape the consequences of his own actions, then he might as well go down in a blaze of glory. No more hiding. Perhaps the phone call conversation gave him further excuse to pin the blame on Kim so he can continue to embrace the worst part of himself in response. The montage of Jimmy aggressively scamming one victim after another, intercut with him sleeping around, is played to Mike Nesmith’s “Tapioca Tundra”. One key lyric is, “It cannot be a part of me, for now it’s a part of you.”

Jimmy is seen snapping out of a trance twice in this episode and both scenes are heavily related. The first is when he’s thinking about Kim on the drive back from his call with Francesca, and the second is when Mike moves onto new business after warning Jimmy not to get involved with Walter White. Kim is certainly what drives Jimmy’s decision to pursue the “crystal ship” because Walter White’s talents and potential for success is his meal ticket to capitalize on showing the world and Kim his indifference. What’s interesting about this episode is it’s not ultimately an exploration of Jimmy doubling down on a level of bad behavior he’s previously enacted, but Breaking Bad seems to have made his character even more despicable. Many fans (not all) over the years seemed to have this relentless need to pinpoint when a character finally “breaks bad”, implying the first or most true moment a character consciously makes a morally wrong decision. This is usually a pointless endeavor because being good or bad doesn’t fall onto one singular moment, but many, many moments. Whatever you are capable of, you already possess until the moment in question presents itself. So when Jimmy decides to go through with the scam against the cancer patient, it’s not the moment he finally broke bad (he’s been doing bad stuff for as long as we’ve known him), but it is him stooping down to a worse level.

When Jimmy first hears from Mike that Walter White has cancer, he seems to show genuine concern. It’s possible he sympathized with Walt as an underdog doing whatever he can against all odds, similar to the journey Jimmy’s had to endure his entire life. From Jimmy’s perspective, maybe this explains why Walter is so on edge when he first met him. However, Heisenberg’s toxic behavior wasn’t the momentary result of being in a bickering match with his partner Igor, but as we know, it would prove to persist for as long as Jimmy knew him. Walter is the guy that would physically and verbally abuse everyone around him until the very end and it leads Jimmy not to glory but to his downfall, hurting countless people in the process. Walter White is an asshole and perhaps Jimmy feels like an asshole for ever considering they were alike in any way. This explains Jimmy’s initial involvement with Jeff turning from self-preservation to a practice in self-loathing after his phone call with Kim. Not only does he put blame on Kim, but blames Walter for how things turned out, being another easy scapegoat. In other words, the cancer patient he plans to scam gets no sympathy from him this time. Jimmy actively chooses against it and when Jeff’s friend tries to protest, Jimmy becomes as vicious as he was with Kim on the phone.

Jimmy’s unraveling is properly conveyed when Marion overhears him being nasty to Jeff’s friend and his dog before whisking him inside the closed garage. Marion possibly senses there’s something off about Gene now. Once inside, Jeff’s friend brings up a good point in how they are rolling in dough so there’s no harm in letting one man not fall victim to their crimes especially when it’s an innocent man with cancer. Jimmy is combative though and persists on taking this man down. It’s also safe to say that Jimmy didn’t actually vet his marks for being single guys with lots of money, because in truth he probably resents anyone with a family. Nobody is immune from being a sucker. For Jimmy, this is not about the money as much as it’s about it being his call and if he greenlights the hit, there’s no slowing down regardless of moral conflict. For him, it’s an amateur mindset otherwise and he’s long passed mulling over what’s right or wrong. As the cancer patient himself says, “You only go around once” and that’s exactly the mantra Jimmy is using to justify his push forward.

If the phone call with Kim is the catalyst to Jimmy descending down yet another dark path, then the final moment when he breaks and enters the cancer patient’s home, is the point of no return. The visual storytelling bookends this final shot with Jimmy kicking the glass of the phone booth and serves as a callback to when Jimmy broke the door down to Chuck’s house in order to destroy his confession on tape. Jimmy has been making a series of mistakes his entire life, and the fact that the final scene is shown parallel to the fateful day he decided to pull up to J.P. Wynne Chemistry Lab, only helps show the severity of the line he’s crossed here. There has never been a cop-out resolution to a corner the writers have wrote themselves into across either show, so expect this final break-in scene to have some serious weight in the endgame. Is there redemption or hope for Jimmy to turn things around? This episode answers no.

Other thoughts:

-This is the first time we’ve ever seen Saul Goodman in any active cook site of Walt and Jesse. The three of them in the iconic RV together was certainly jarring. The way this episode interweaved these scenes together and made them meaningful was nothing short of brilliant from writer/director Thomas Schnauz.

-Jimmy may have biased reasons to justify going through with robbing the cancer patient, but he also vocalized his relation in having to take exotic pills. There’s also the Breaking Bad era scene which follows with Francesca reminding Saul to take a handful of medications. This again, helps show Jimmy’s inability to sympathize and also feeds into the self-loathing take as well.

-We get some extra information on what happens to some Breaking Bad characters, including the fact that Huell got to walk after being held in a motel room under false pretenses by Hank and Gomez. Ever since Breaking Bad ended, Huell has been living in a perpetual prison from an art standpoint for the better part of decade now. After the last Huell scene in Better Call Saul being him questioning Jimmy and Kim’s desire to sabotage Howard, it’s nice to know he was able to move on to a life in New Orleans.

-The last time we saw Jimmy singing karaoke, it was a sweet bonding between him and his brother Chuck back in the more innocent days before he knew how much his brother resented him. Now he’s using karaoke as a weapon in contribution to stealing enormous amounts of money from innocent people.

-It was excellent to see Mike wearing the same sunglasses he wore back when he was first introduced as a cleaner in Breaking Bad. We can suspect that Saul Goodman’s business is a well oiled machine in this point in time and an opportunity for Mike to willingly moonlight his services. Working for Gus in this era probably wasn’t requiring the same urgency as it was when playing chess with Lalo. It’s the golden era of the Saul Goodman and Gustavo Fring empire. Back then the phrase “putting my foot through your skull” was just playful banter.

What did everyone else think?

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