Walter White and Jesse Pinkman returned in this week’s Better Call Saul episode entitled “Breaking Bad,” but while the cameo comes at the start of their criminal journey, Jimmy/Saul/Gene’s actions suggest his trip might be coming to an end.
Better Call Saul’s Episode 11 of Season 6 delivered what fans have been waiting years for – an appearance by Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul).
While that fan service was welcome, the episode was about much more than hanging out with old friends. Rather it concerned pain. The pain that drove Walter to do the terrible things he did in the past. And pain that’s causing Jimmy to do dumb things in his present.
All of which leads into a foreboding finale that suggests Better Call Saul won’t have a happy ending.
Walter White and Jesse Pinkman return to Break Bad
Walter White and Jesse Pinkman’s time onscreen is brief, playing out in the iconic – and still temperamental – RV during their abduction of Saul Goodman. But Cranston and Paul quickly slip into their former alter-egos, bickering like an old married couple.
Indeed Goodman calls them The Bickersons, and compares their double act to Laurel and Hardy. But he also quickly figures them out, identifying Walter as Heisenberg, and the two of them as responsible for “the blue stuff.”
Saul also clocks White’s illness, with the shadow of cancer looming large over this episode.
Kim Wexler returns, kind-of
Jimmy is a man on the edge of a precipice. He loves the thrill of the con – it’s his drug of choice. Kim Wexler knew it, and felt it, which is one of the reasons she got out. But he’s slowly slipping back into that life, as his addiction returns.
Jimmy just needs one little push, and that nudge comes courtesy of Kim herself. Maybe. During a phone-call with former assistant Francesca, he discovers that the authorities have found and dismantled his many criminal enterprises. He also learns that Kim has called, asking if he’s still alive.
There’s suddenly hope in Jimmy’s eyes. He immediately phones the sprinkler business where she works. We can’t hear what’s said, but the news isn’t good, that hope fades, and Jimmy is soon trashing the phone-box in which he stands.
Which in turn, causes him to spiral, and the decisions Jimmy makes to become progressively more stupid and dangerous.
Past informs present, and vice-versa
What follows is action that so frequently flashes back and forth in time that it’s liable to give you whiplash. But in this cleverly constructed episode – written and directed by Thomas Schnauz – past and present inform each other, to ultimately devastating effect.
In the past, Saul keeps asking questions about Walter White, in spite of Mike’s protestations. “Even if this guy is gonna live, I wouldn’t go near him,” he warns. “He’s a complete amateur.” But Walter remains on his mind.
In the present, he’s “back in business,” but professional con-man Jimmy is turning into an amateur. He starts out doing a simple job with Jeff and Buddy, getting rich guys drunk, drugging them, then stealing all their information, from tax records and bank statements to entire identities.
Slowly but surely he’s turning back into Saul – buying a Swing Master, sleeping with sex workers – and as he transforms, regret is etched all over his face. But there’s no turning back now.
That becomes clear when Jimmy realizes his latest mark has cancer, but continues with the con. Maybe because of what’s happened with Kim, or perhaps because of what previously went on with Walter. Either way, Buddy discovers the same thing, and his conscience deters him from committing the crime.
Like Mike before, Jimmy is told to “just let this one go,” but he can’t. So in a moment of madness, he decides to steal the information himself. But at this point, the perfect crime is nothing of the sort, the drugs wearing off their victim; a smashed window now leaving behind physical evidence.
The beginning of the end for Jimmy McGill?
Is it a moment of madness however, or does Jimmy want to get caught? Whatever was said by – or about – Kim has changed his demeanour, his behavior, and his outlook on life. It also seems to have pushed him beyond the point of no return.
But juxtaposition is what makes the moment so heartbreaking. The episode ends with Jimmy entering the home of a man who has cancer to steal from him. Playing out alongside Saul Goodman entering the school of a man who has cancer to negotiate with him.
Thus setting off a chain of events that ruined countless lives across Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, and looks like it’s about to do the same to Jimmy McGill.