Gene, Gene, the scamming machine. Our mustachioed, Dockers-wearin’, sweets-bakin’ version of Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman has, at last, made an appearance in Better Call Saul this season. And he’s a changed man.
Well, changed from the meek sad-sack we knew, frosting cinnamon rolls and supervising his fellow Cinnabonians at the Cottonwood Mall. When we last saw Gene, in season five, he was outed as the man who’d made a name for himself as Albuquerque’s most infamous criminal attorney. As we learn in the much-anticipated “Nippy,” his run-in with Jeff has had a profound impact on him. The threatening cabbie confronted Gene, forcing him to admit he had been Saul back in the ABQ. And though Gene’s initial reaction was to make a 911 call to Ed for another disappearing act, he changed his mind, telling the vacuum-cleaner repairman he’d take care of matters himself. And that’s where we pick up in this tempo-change of an episode, in which Gene musters up all the Slippin’ Jimmy and Saul Goodman he has in him and takes care of the matter of Jeff. For now, anyway.
As is the mark of a patented Saul Goodman scam/act of vengeance—the likes of which we saw unfold in slow, beautifully intricate detail across the first half of the season—Gene’s plot is an elaborate one, involving Cottonwood security, that season- four fainting attack that brought him into Jeff’s orbit to begin with, a department store, and some real knowledge of the law. Fresh Cinnabons and scam knowhow factor in, too, as do cleverly shot scenes by favorite Saul/breaking Bad director Michelle MacLaren, who creates a cheeky caper vibe complete with split screens and Lalo Schifrin’s “Jim On The Move” music from Impossible mission.
Gene (Jimmy, Saul…all of those guys who live in this head) was not going to let this aggression from Jeff stand, man. So he goes so deep on shutting down Jeff that he scouts out and also scams his mother, Marion (the legendary Carol Burnett), as part of his overall, episode-length plan.
The all-black-and-white outing’s pace may seem rather abrupt, given the breakneck speed—for BCS, anyway—at which shockers and reveals have been served since this second half of season six began. But I think it’s intentional, giving us a chance to stop and continue to digest the death, destruction, break-up, and official-Saul-Goodman-introduction of it all, not to mention anticipate what lies ahead. Now we’re left with just three episodes left, and Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s arrivals are imminent.
But it feels right and potentially very satisfying that Saul would tie all these characters (along with Mike and Gus and hopefully Kim in some way) together to end the saga that began with breaking Bad. Now that Jeff has sparked the unleashing of the Saul Goodman-ness that has just been waiting inside Gene to grift again, there’s no putting the cork back in the hustler bottle. The Gene who used to sit alone on a mall bench, eating a brown-bag lunch and hoping not to be noticed, is born again as the Saul of old, frosting buns with panache and running up escalator steps to get to his new con, which might ultimately be his one true love.
It might also be his ultimate downfall. Jimmy loved Kim, and the end of that relationship will remain one of the great heartbreaks of the Bad/Saul universe. But Gene sure looked lovingly at that Goodman-esque paisley shirt and graphic tie combination in the department store. Like he couldn’t wait to put that suit on again.
- Up until this episode, this season’s key art could have been interpreted as either a black-and-white shot of Gene taking off a bright red Saul sportcoat gold putting one on. Now we’ know it’s the latter.
- Speaking of outfitting, Gene has also put on Marco’s ring and everything it symbolizes.
- Great callback: the return of the security guard (who we now know in named Nick) from the season-three premiere. He’s the one who’s helping the Omaha police take away the young shoplifter Gene helps them find, when Gene yells out to the kid to say nothing and hire an attorney. Nick isn’t happy about Gene’s advice, and he reminds him about that when Gene shows up at the security office in “Nippy.” Nothing a few well-frosted buns couldn’t smooth over, though.
- The Schnauz Farms extra sharp Wisconsin cheddar cheese has to be a nod to Saul writer/director/co-executive producer Thomas Schnauz. Too bad Marion was not a fan.
- Gene is at the top of his Saul game when he’s thrown into emergency action to keep Frank the security guard (guest star Jim O’Heir) from seeing Jeff wipe out during his shoplifting run around the department store. On the fly, Gene concocts a woe-is-me story that ties in true heartbreaks from his past, including the death of Chuck and the loss of Kim.
- No, you were not mistaken: That was a new actor playing Jeff, or Jeffy, as his mom calls him. Don Harvey played the cabbie in seasons four and five. EW notnotes that Harvey was tied up with his role in HBO’s We Own This City and was unavailable to return for Saul, so actor Pat Healy is now playing the role. Given that Burnett also previously confirmed she will be in multiple episodes, it seems like a safe bet that, despite Gene’s efforts, he may not be done with Jeff. Or maybe Jeff and Marion are not done with him.
- Marion appears to be a nice lady who can be a little salty when she wants to be, like when she rudely responds to a fellow shopper’s offer to help her get something off a high shelf and when she chastises the deli guy for giving her a quarter of a pound too much pastrami on a previous grocery trip. What if there’s a lot more to Marion than meets the eye? And what if she finds out that Gene, who she thinks is such a good influence on her Jeffy, has not only scammed and blackmailed him into crime, but also conned her into thinking he’s just a kind man she met while he was looking for a lost pet? She, at least, is a pretty sharp lady. Jeff is a boob, but Marion might not be too happy with Gene—and she might not be too inclined to let him get away with it.