“How you doing Marion?”
“Great. Are you okay?”
Up until last episode, the final season has carefully been building to the heartbreaking context as to why Kim is out of the picture in Breaking Bad. Despite their loving relationship and the fun they have twisting the world into their favor, many people suffer as a result. Kim comes to terms with this and not only decides to walk out on Jimmy, but she quits being an attorney altogether. She garners the impressive willpower to walk away from everything she values in her life in order to make a serious change. She won’t be benefiting from the Sandpiper settlement because at this point, it’s blood money and always was. Whether Kim’s decision to leave everything behind helps her come out the other side as a better person or not, she is undoubtedly taking accountability for what’s happened and leading the charge for what she believes is best. Whereas her path for transformation and atonement is her doing, it contributes to the final nail in Jimmy McGill’s coffin because of the willpower he lacks. Jimmy’s regression into Saul Goodman has always been a result of Jimmy doubling down on his unhealthy behavior whenever his life takes a devastating blow. He’s oblivious to how his actions hurt others until they do and is willing to make up for it only when it’s too late. And if he can’t make up for it, he shifts the blame onto others. He’ll internalize guilt, grief, and trauma with an impatience for self-reflection.
So if you’re feeling a little underwhelmed by a flash-forward episode that’s about Slippin’ Jimmy getting his groove back after having just watched an episode solidifying the tragic backstory to Saul Goodman, then you’re okay in feeling that. Skipping ahead to the Gene timeline after last episode’s jump ahead towards the cusp of the Breaking Bad era is a bold, but necessary move. As soon as Jimmy McGill sits in Saul Goodman’s office chair, we know the shell of a human being he will be for an entire series worth of time. Perhaps there’s more to explore there, but for the sake of “Nippy”, we understand the spiritual toll which lead him to the point in time Gene’s at now. “Nippy” as an episode, is designed to leave you kicking and screaming. It’s one thing for Kim to be ripped from the show like a band-aid on an old wound, but the entire world beneath Jimmy has collapsed. It’s appropriate that the Better Call Saul opening theme intro abruptly reaches the end of the tape. “Nippy” allows us to feel the blunt, coldness of what it means for Kim to have left Jimmy. It’s not something she’s done to him, but a downward spiral of something that couldn’t be helped. As we near the end of the series and Gene has nobody but himself, can he turn his life around? Is there redemption for Jimmy McGill? The underlying tension to a full episode where he’s adrift as Gene, is owed to that question. Chuck argued he couldn’t change. Kim left to give themselves the best opportunity to change. So how is that going?
When we last left Gene, he declined the opportunity to be relocated again after Jeff the cab driver discovered who he was. He declared to handle Jeff himself. It was a breaking point where Gene realized his inability to suppress who he is for the sake of self-preservation. “Nippy” opens with guest star Carol Burnett playing Marion, an elderly woman on a rascal scooter who’s shopping for groceries. If you didn’t feel more adrift by the strategic placement of “Nippy” in this season, introducing a new character played by such high-caliber talent only feeds into the complete tonal shift you’re intended to feel here. When her scooter gets caught in the snow, it’s Gene who’s revealed to be in the vicinity posting up flyers of a lost dog named Nippy who we know doesn’t exist. The giddy Slippin’ Jimmy persona is abundantly present here which contrasts, almost mockingly, to the ramifications felt from Kim’s departure. Who is this new character? What is Gene up to?
After cutting the motor’s connection on the scooter, Marion accepts help to be pushed the rest of the way by Gene to her house. This is important to note considering she was introduced as someone who refuses help. Marion intended to go about things her way similar to how Gene had decided to refuse Ed’s help and take the matters of Jeff into his own hands. The difference here is that Marion accepting help leads to a rewarding friendship with Gene (or so she thinks), whereas Gene accepting Ed’s help means throwing more money at the pursuit to run and hide from who he is. That’s the conflict of Jimmy’s character. In the effort of self-preservation, Gene is taking matters into his own hands through actions proven to be the cost of having nobody in his life. Marion can switch between independence and accepting help without it being an intense character or circumstantial crisis .
The plot of this episode is Gene’s attempt to overcome Jeff and by inserting himself as Marion’s house guest, it’s revealed Jeff is Marion’s son. The miserable, suppressed person we’ve known as Gene Takovic is completely absent. What we see here is full Slippin’ Jimmy as he commands the room, absorbing any power Jeff felt he had over Saul Goodman. Jimmy is able to see ten steps ahead on what Jeff intended to do against him, being extortion, but he taps into Jeff’s deeper sensibilities, dangling the idea of reaping rewards from within the criminal paradise. The idea of Saul Goodman or Slippin’ Jimmy coming to life in order to preserve Gene’s cover is a mind trip, considering the risk of exposure is raised in the effort to lower it. However, for Jimmy, all that matters is that it’s an excuse for him to be his colorful self once again. He’s starved for it.
Across six seasons, we’ve followed Gene at the Cottonwood Mall in Omaha, and for the longest time it’s served as Saul’s final destination. The final resting place to blend into in order to evade capture. Not once would one ever consider he’d use the entire map of this mall as the target of an elaborate heist. It’s as if this is a chance for Jimmy to laugh in the face of his own dire circumstances. Jimmy’s plan here is quite creative. He’s cozying up to security to get an idea, on average, of how long the cameras can go unwatched before Frank the security guard (played by Parks and Recreation’s Jim O’Heir) can finish his cinnabon. To extend the time, Jimmy’s also familiarizing himself with Frank’s interests in sports in order to converse with him longer before the cinnabon is completely eaten. He builds a rapport with security so they can trust him, all while scoping out the geometry between the big ticket items for Jeff to steal. If Kim is out there knowing Saul Goodman is deep in hiding, you can bet the last thing she expects Jimmy’s doing is reciting silly rhymes over a megaphone as a random cab driver runs drills in an open field. Even Jeff says, “This whole thing, it seems crazy”.
One key thing to consider throughout this entire episode is that despite how cleverly thought out Jimmy’s idea is, it’s no different than any other heist he’s pulled throughout the series. Something is always subject to go wrong and people can mistakenly get caught in the crossfire. When Jeff needs motivation to go through with this scheme, Gene ironically uses Walter White as a shining example for the riches that lie ahead. When the camera pans in on the cinnabon as Frank prepares to eat it and Jimmy checks his watch for the first time, there’s a feeling of impending doom. Like a bomb’s about to go off or Jimmy tampered with it in some way. Jimmy also turns Marco’s ring on his pinky finger in this moment. This ring signifies his love for the scam but also was gifted to him after Marco’s heart attack. After how many visits from Cinnabon Gene, the same occurrence can likely happen to Frank, but Jimmy doesn’t think about that. When Marco died in the middle of their scam in the season 1 finale, his last words were “this was the greatest week of my life”. This is the positive mindset Jimmy may have in the event things go wrong, so long as he gets one last rise.
When it’s finally showtime and Jeff eventually slips and knocks himself out unconscious, Jimmy is closer to a dead end than he’s ever been. He doesn’t chalk the potential loss up in the notion of “at least I went down doing what I love” but he regresses into a desperate, stammering rant on how he has nobody in his life. He brings up his deceased parents, Chuck, and Kim as concept. He acknowledges how if he died tomorrow, nobody would care. All of this, more or less, is exactly what Jimmy knows to be true. It’s no coincidence that in this moment of desperation, the first thing he thinks of is the death and ruin of those closest to him, along with the revelation that he has nobody, but he uses this moment of awareness as if it’s the last trick in the bag. It’s a hopeful sign that deep down he carries responsibility for how his life has turned out, but once Jeff awakens and scurries off into the bathroom, a wave of relief and absolute euphoria washes over him. We saw a glimpse of Jimmy’s pain being realized, but he’s channeling it in a manner which only serves his destructive side.
What’s sad is that if Jimmy didn’t treat the entire world like potential marks, he’d be able to build a friendship with a person like Frank or Marion, but he can never get out of his own way. For him, a happy ending in his scenario is his fictional dog Nippy being found by a family a few blocks down the road, but in subtext, it’s the idea that he was able to pull off another scam and as far as he knows, get Jeff out of his hair. The frustration of this episode is that after Kim leaving Jimmy and the deterioration of Jimmy’s character throughout Breaking Bad, we’re left struggling to envision a scenario where Jimmy ever achieves a moment of genuine catharsis especially when it means nothing when it stares him in the face. After Gene leaves Frank’s security office, he retreats to a blind spot against the wall which can be interpreted as him reeling from the thrill of the close call, but on closer inspection, it appears he’s emotionally exhausted. This could involve the blind spot of his own self which he’s willing to keep unseen. With three episodes left, his character is spiritually on the line. If his idea of a happy ending is getting the upperhand on a stranger by luring him into the scam only to threaten mutually assured destruction, then that’s a somber, yet fitting note which speaks to the character we’ve followed for the entirety of two dramatic television shows.
The episode ends with Gene in the shopping mall taking interest in the colorful apparel of what he once wore in his heyday. He likes it, but he knows he shouldn’t wear it. He puts it back on the rack and walks away from the shot, out of focus, once again blending into his surroundings. He’s also carrying his Kansas City Royals bag which we can suspect he carries more as a memento of Kim than anything else. This could be a sign of hope that he cherishes the idea behind why he left her, as painful as it was. The opportunity to improve as a human being may not ever be taken, but perhaps beneath the layers upon layers of masks the man wears, there’s a part of him who’s capable of doing so.
-Chuck referenced Carol Burnett in season 2’s “Rebecca” when trying to establish Burnett’s iconic ear tug as a signal to call it a night when Jimmy as a dinner guest becomes too obnoxious for him. I bet Jeff wishes he could have given the same signal to his mother in the attempt to get Jimmy to leave in this instance as well.
-For the past few episodes, I’ve been wondering what will become of the Better Call Saul intro after episode 10. For the previous five seasons, every episode has used the same variations in chronological order. The season finale always ended with the World’s Greatest Lawyer mug falling to the ground. It’s really interesting how they utilized the tape running out right before it smashes on the ground. What happens next is left up in the air.
-As an inventory manager myself in a large warehouse for one of the top leading convenience distributors in the U.S., I can assure you Jimmy would have been able to leave a giant crate at the receiving dock overnight with no problem. In my experience, warehouse managers are always willing to deal with issues dropped on their lap last minute in the next day (or days). I also appreciate the restraint from Jeff stealing too many of each item with high dollar amounts. Small discrepancies in inventory won’t go noticed right away. High dollar merchandise going missing will be noticed, but within 72 hours of Jeff being off the security tapes, he’s likely in the clear. Whether or not he takes Gene’s warning to stay away from him or to not get greedy is still up for debate. For all we know, Jeff might foolishly consider this a ‘get out of jail’ free card (give the police who they really want) in the event he gets caught trying to replicate this stunt in the future.
-The montage of Gene building a relationship with the security guards and getting everything in place ranks among the series best. Excellent use of the swift splitscreen panels sliding in and out of frame and “Jim on the Move” by Lalo Schifrin really pops.
-Gene may be destined to run the Cinnabon for the rest of his life, but won’t Marion think it’s odd when he never visits her again? And what will Frank’s reaction be if Gene cuts him off cold turkey. In a universe that’s been largely consequential, what can we expect in terms of what catches up to Gene? Or will the final episodes strive for something else entirely?
What did everyone else think?