Saul Comes Full Circle — And He Still Hasn’t Learned Anything
Better Call Saul Final Episodes Analysis — Breaking Bad (No, Not That One)
If the title of this episode didn’t pretty much guarantee that we were finally going to get the much anticipated Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul cameos, the fact that the teaser started with Saul tied up in the back of the RV that he was when Walter and Jesse got their bright idea to kidnap him, just as frantic as he was nearly thirteen years and two series ago would assure it. It’s also a measure of where Saul is right now that the long-awaited scene isn’t the greatest thing about this episode — though make no mistake, it’s still awesome.
‘Breaking Bad’ opens with Saul’s secretary now in the middle of doing what seems to be her major source of income — working as a housekeeper for two truly unappreciative schmucks. Because the series is filmed in black-and-white, it takes a moment for us to recognize her or even realize were back in Albuquerque. It’s not until she leaves the office and gets in her car that we realize that she’s been followed, something that she is all too familiar with by now is more than used to.
After a long enough period she drives to an abandoned gas station and looks at the clock on the radio. It turns to 3:00 nothing happens. When it turns to 3:01, the phone in the booth rings, and she’s clearly not happy about it. She gets on the phone, and looks very unhappy when Saul picks. She wants her money in advance, and its not until Saul tells her how to get (“Look for a rock the shape of New Jersey”) that she goes and picks up the money and agrees to talk to him.
Saul has clearly learned that Walter White is dead and wants to know if the heat has died off. He is not happy to know it has, and is equally dismayed to know that he is the last man standing. Skyler White got her deal (she clearly followed with the last time she and Walter met) and Jesse has disappeared (so the series is clearly taking place after El Camino). It’s down to her and Saul. Saul learns that all of his investments — the nail salons, the Laser Tag, even the Caymans trust that he put in his secretary’s name, which she is not happy about — are all seized, and the only money left is what he has. It is only after all this is over that he finally asks how his secretary is doing. “I’m great,” she tells him. “Prince Harry proposed. I’m flying in the private jet tonight.” It’s clear that Saul is basically at the same point Walter was in the middle of ‘Granite State’, dying for any sound from his old life.
But he is stunned to here that Kim called and asked about him. We finally learn where Kim Wexler is right now — and apparently she’s in Florida, not Omaha. After he hangs up, Saul goes through a lot of work to try and track down where Kim is working. We do not hear his conversation with her (or for that matter, even learn if the two talked) but it doesn’t go well. There’s a lot of shouting and yelling from Jimmy, and when the call ends, he seems to be even angrier then when Robert DeNiro ended a similar conversation in Casino — not only does she slam the receiver against the wall, he kicks the glass in.
Some were wondering what Jimmy/Saul/Gene has to live for now, and in ‘Breaking Bad’, we find out. After the commercial break, he returns to Miriam’s home, where he shows her the joys of cat videos. Then he goes out back to talk with her nervous son, who is somewhat flummoxed when Gene starts asks him the shifts he takes. He asks him to take the graveyard shift and to get a hold of some barbiturates. Its official — Slipping Jimmy is in business in Omaha.
It takes quite a while to realize what exactly Gene is up to when we next see him in a karaoke bar. He makes the acquaintance of an apparently random stranger, they start talking about life, they begin the kind of absurd drinking games you usually see in bars — and then we see Jimmy using an old standard of putting a funnel in his drink so he only looks like he’s getting drunk. The two leave the bar together, and a cab pulls up. The guy, who by now has established himself as an asshole, plays one more particularly nasty game in order to get the cab. Jimmy loses it — willing to suffer for his art — and the man gets in the cab. Our friend is behind the wheel, and we last see Jimmy disposing of the drink, while the third man in the party with his dog in the back seat pretends to be his dispatcher.
In another brilliant, almost silent black and white sequence, we see our mark being left off at his house with the driver leaving him at the door, and placing a piece of tape to keep it from locking. Then with calming music, the third man to the party comes to the door — with his dog — walks in and removes the man’s wallet. He then spends the next three minutes taking pictures of every single credit and bank card in his wallet, walking around the house, taking similar pictures of his checkbook, stopping by his computer, and finding all of the passwords for his accounts — naturally, they’re on a Post-it under the keyboard. Then he puts every back, walks back to his dog (there to tell him if the victim has stirred), and walks away, shutting the door behind him — and then opening it to pull away the piece of tape.
It says something for where Saul is at this point in its run that the much awaited scene with Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul recreating their iconic characters almost comes an anticlimax, something that you almost thing could have easily been as one of the deleted scenes on the Season 2 DVD. It’s not that it’s not fun to see Saul going through all of the chemistry equipment with his usual discernment (looking at one of the flasks he says “I have a fish who could have a vacation in this) or that it’s not equally fun to see Walter just as determined to control the situation as ever and Jesse, still clueless about the nature of the equipment. It’s just that for most of it you actually wonder if this really is the ultimate Easter egg to the fan base, something that Gilligan and crew have been very subtle with before. But it’s in the last two minutes when Jimmy asks to be returned to his office (calling ‘shotgun’) and the engine on their RV is flooded, that we actually see the point of this. For the first time we realize that even though Saul has caught on to the fact that the man he’s in the room with is Heisenberg, neither man has given his name. Then there is the moment in the dark where Walter starts coughing for an extended period. This is a symbolic moment both for the past and the future.
Then the camera cuts from the grave Walt and Jesse were going to use to scare Saul to show that Gene is sleeping in his bed (good juxtaposition, guys) and then there’s a buzz at the door, and we begin the montage where we see the fruits of the labor — identity theft, stolen goods and money (not too much, of course) done for an extended period, and everybody having fun. Except Gene — at one point, we see him in bed with a stripper, post-coital and his face is as expressionless as it was when the sequence started. Gene is doing this for the same reason that Walter performed as Heisenberg, but he’s not even feeling alive. It’s almost sad…but we’re about to lose empathy for all of Jimmy identities.
Once again, Gene is in a bar going through the motions with another mark. (I’m pretty sure the actor is Kevin Sussman, that great portrayer of losers). Everything seems business as usual, until we see the mark start taking meds. We see what’s going on. Gene does, but he keeps going.
The scene that follows actually may be far more important than all the others we’ve had. Mike walks into Saul’s office — apparently along with working security for Gus, he really was Saul’s PI. After the usual ‘banter’ — Mike threatens to kick Saul if he doesn’t get off the floor, Saul tries to get Mike to relax — Mike starts going through the business section. Among his business, Mike has found out who Heisenberg is — Walter White, high school teacher, and that he has cancer. Saul looks at this as a business opportunity. Mike tells him flat out that Walter is a risk. When Saul asks if he ran this by “He who shall not be named”, Mike says that Gus has dismissed Walt as small potatoes. He also tells him flat out how reckless Walt is and if the cancer doesn’t get him, a bullet or a cop will. Saul seems to go along with this, and Mike moves on but we leave the scene with Saul clearly considering the possibilities.
Up until this point, I’ve had immense sympathy for Saul’s on Breaking Bad because it seemed like he became drawn into the web of Heisenberg and things got worse mainly because Walter refuses to acknowledge the logic of Saul’s advice. Leave it to Gilligan to knock out that pillar two episodes before the end. Saul was given advice from a man who clearly knew better about how risky working with Walt was, and because he smelled a lot of money, he went against it. No matter how you look at it, Saul went into this with his eyes wide open.
(You could make the argument that Mike would give a completely different argument to Gus when he presented this information to him in ‘Green Light’. To that I remind viewers 1) Gus intended for the partnership to be temporary, until Gale learned how to cook as well as Walter could, and 2) Mike clearly had a better relationship with Gus than he did with Saul, and clearly intended to make sure that Walter was out of the picture by then. It doesn’t change the fact that both men still misjudged him.)
And in the final scenes of the episode, it becomes clear that just like his two prior identities, Gene has no idea of his limitations. When he receives a call that night from his fellow cons, he is outraged beyond believed when he learns the job isn’t done yet, because one of his partner’s has a conscience and “can’t rob a guy with cancer.” (I love Gene’s reaction: “You think guys with cancer can’t be assholes? Trust me, I speak from experience.”) Neither man seems wild about the idea (even the guy willing to blackmail Gene says “I can see both sides of it) and an enraged Jimmy fires the weak one and convinces the other to drive him back, even though the tapes gone.
The episode closes with flashes between color and black-in-white. In the past, Saul is about to stride in the front door of Walt’s high school, going to upend the world of a cancer-ridden man and in the process, seal his own fate. And in the present, Gene prepares to do the same, this time breaking the door in.
It looks like things are coming to an end for Gene for the third straight time. If the cops who seemed to be gathering outside in the penultimate episode teaser don’t get him, it’s pretty clear Miriam is going to get suspicious. (Assuming of course, Carol Burnett can tear her eyes away from all those cute cat videos.) We know lots more in the past and the present than we did before, and none of it spells good things for Saul Goodman in any universe. There’s just one question still before us: when the law is closing in, who will Saul call?