Better Call Saul recap: So bad, so broken
Last week, Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) gave his protégé Jeffy a warning about getting greedy: "Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered." It's good advice, not just for the aspiring con artist, but for the audience. Because after spending so much time with Jimmy McGill, seeing not just how but why he transformed into the scheming, shady Saul, haven't we all begun to hope that he might be redeemed? Maybe it's not too late for Saul Goodman to be, if not a good man, a better one. The possibility of a happy ending has hovered over everything since the beginning, the tension ramping up sharply as we come into the show's home stretch.
But this week, the tension breaks. And it's bad.
I mean, it's not all bad. It's very fun to see Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) again, in the first of their promised cameos this season. It's fun to see Saul rolling around in the back of the RV, shrieking, "Abogado! Mucho dinero!" — a wild ride that would only get wilder before ending, well, the way it ended. But these brief returns to the Breaking Bad timeline aren't just a romp down memory lane. They're a warning, a reminder that everything you're about to see has happened before. And while Saul imagines that he's rerunning the script, reliving his glory days as the architect of Walter White's criminal empire, he's wrong. The play is the same, but the players have changed — or in some cases, been cast in new roles. And in this play, the thing you need to remember is this: It does not end well for the guy with the mustache.
After the cold open with Saul rolling around in the back of the RV, we're back in black and white, but still in Albuquerque, where we finally see how Saul's former associates are faring in the post-Breaking Bad world. There's some good news (Huell got out of that motel room, escaped prosecution, and moved back to New Orleans) but Francesca is stuck in a particularly miserable trap, still playing Girl Friday to the man who ruined her life — not because she wants to, but because this is the best-paying of a bunch of a bad options. From a gas station pay phone, she tells Saul that all the money he hid in various shell companies is gone. She also tells him that after everything went sideways, she got a phone call from Kim (Rhea Seehorn). "Your name came up," she says, and Saul seems stunned.
"She asked about me?"
Look, I'll admit it: I wanted to see Kim again. More importantly, I wanted Saul to see Kim again. And one gets the sense that Saul wanted this too, wanted it so badly, but didn't dare to imagine that it could happen… until now. After some consideration (there's a very unsubtle shot of him literally sitting at a crossroads, at one of those midwestern intersections surrounded by miles of nothing), he goes back to the pay phone and calls Kim.
It is a mark of this show's evil genius that this conversation is as frustrating for the viewer as it is for Saul, because we cannot hear a single word of it. All we see, from outside the phone booth, is Saul getting animated, then angry, then finally slamming the phone down in a rage. And then he's outside the phone booth, kicking and kicking at it, until the glass breaks.
Kinda reminds you of something, doesn't it?
So, for the second time in his life, Saul Goodman turns away from Kim Wexler and leans into the game. He gets a new identity-theft scam up and running with the help of Jeff and his young friend Buddy (Max Bickelhaup), stealing the personal information of the wealthy men he meets at bars (side note: the setup for this, featuring Devin Ratray as the world's most obnoxious mark, is absolute gold). He buys a new bluetooth earpiece and a new Swing Master chi machine. His pile of cash, hidden behind the wall, starts taking up more and more space. He's back, baby!
Or, at least, he thinks he is. But as Saul himself once observed, in another life, a guy with "that mustache" — which is to say, the mustache Walter White wore in Breaking Bad, and that Gene Takovic sports in Omaha — clearly suffers from a lack of self-awareness that begets questionable judgment. And while Walter White made up for that by being a brilliant manipulator, the kind of guy who could get a young, impressionable protégé to kill an innocent man to save his life, Saul Goodman is not that.
Cut to Saul having a drink with his next mark, a nice guy with a friendly face (and yes, strong Gail Boetticher vibes). As it turns out, the mark is not just a nice guy but a nice guy with cancer.
For the young burglar with the dog, this is a bridge too far. He says he won't do it, and hey, they don't need to: The scam is going great, the money is piling up, there's no reason not to just move on to the next target (not to mention that the commotion of their argument has awakened Marion, who is now going to be extra suspicious and curious about what Gene and Jeffy are up to.) But Saul, like Walter White before him, is too high on his own supply to tolerate having his authority questioned. The fact that this kid tried to undermine the job is the reason why the job has to happen now, no matter the cost. The last thing we see is a juxtaposition: First, in a flashback, Saul Goodman arrives at the high school where Walter White teaches. (We don't see him go inside, but we know from Breaking Bad that he does. This is the meeting during which he offers to help Walt become a real criminal, a Vito rather than a Fredo.) And then, in Omaha, Saul approaches the dark and silent house where his mark is sleeping. He breaks a window, and goes inside.
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Saul Goodman, first introduced in Breaking Bad, gets his own prequel.