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Why Better Call Saul was right to bring back Walt and Jesse

The Breaking Bad spin-off welcomed some familiar faces in its latest episode.

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul in Breaking Bad.
AMC
Published: Tuesday, 2nd August 2022 at 5:25 pm
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It was inevitable, really. Even when it first entered the scene in 2015, Better Call Saul couldn't escape the rampant speculation on just how entangled it would become with its parent show Breaking Bad. Seven years later, with timelines well and truly interwoven, we finally have our answer.

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Arriving in an episode titled Breaking Bad, mirroring Saul Goodman's debut episode Better Call Saul in season 2 episode 8 of the precursor series, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman made their return.

But did it work?

For a show which initially planned to see fledgling lawyer Jimmy McGill transform into Saul by the close of its first season, Better Call Saul has had zero problems taking its sweet time. Episodes thrive on long elaborate scenes – Mike's meticulous examination and deconstruction of his truck in the season 3 premiere lasted almost seven minutes, all in service of the fact that details matter.

Like all good schemes, the planning stage is the most important, with the pay-off only secure once all of the pieces are firmly in place – and that is also applicable to the manufacturing of Saul.

Trapped in the black and white doldrums of a post-Saul existence, Gene Takovic (McGill's post-Saul persona) has thus-far spent five seasons in an endless cycle of Cinnabon-themed mundanity, shattered only by a taxi driver who recognised him as his former self. Not content to buy his way out of trouble with another trip to Albuquerque's finest vacuum salesman, Gene was willingly drawn back into the game, his natural habitat.

Gene sat on a bench at the mall holding a sandwich
Bob Odenkirk in Better Call Saul.

And so we arrived at episode 11 of the 6th and final season. Coming off the back of a successful heist, his anonymity freshly secured by a bond of mutually assured destruction, a post-Breaking Bad Gene Takovic contacted his old assistant Francesca to get the low-down on what had occurred in his old stomping ground since his frantic departure.

She informed him that his money had been seized, the nail salon from which he ran his business shut down and all other players, major and minor, either captured, dead or in the clear having brokered deals with the authorities.

That left Saul, the last unanswered question in the Heisenberg saga, a man who disappeared into the ether, only bubbling under the surface of Gene. But Kim Wexler altered that.

Within the space of three episodes, we're treated to not one but two transformations into Saul: one for Jimmy and one for Gene, and both at the hands of Kim, his former partner in life and crime.

Their fateful breakup was the initial catalyst, with the second stemming from his foolish attempt to reach out to her. We weren't privy to the words they exchanged, but Gene ensured that the phone booth was out of action following their clash, courtesy of a rage we haven't often witnessed from him.

That conversation forced him to relapse, pushing him towards a new enterprise involving identity theft, and it's in those moments when Walt and Jesse featured.

Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston

For Gene, they represent excitement, wealth, purpose and, ultimately, hijinks. They're a nod to better days filled with garish suits and outlandish ties; a return to colour, so to speak.

Central to all things Saul is the thrill of the chase, skirting the edges of the law, bending it until it breaks and not caring whether people know you're guilty, but simply whether they can prove it, and luxuriating in the knowledge that they can't.

But more than that, those scenes re-established Walter White as the root of Saul's misfortune. Here is a man whose pride and ego toppled Gus Fring's empire, which had been decades in the making, taking all of the fringe players down with it, including Saul. Though there's no shortage of blame to go around (in another flashback, Mike warned Saul against dealing with Walter, advice which he ignored), past grudges resurfaced.

The episode's climax saw Gene and his scheme's latest mark at a bar, where his unsuspecting victim revealed he had cancer. Undeterred, Gene proceeded bullishly with the plan, only to have one of his conspirators scupper their operation after he discovered cancer medication in the man's pocket.

Fuelled by petty rage ("So? A guy with cancer can't be an asshole? Believe me, I speak from experience"), Gene broke into the man's house, his own desperate act of vengeance, as he laid all of his pain, suffering and blame for his current circumstance at the ghost of Walter White's feet.

Better Call Saul

Following that, there's one final flashback that's used to further illustrate Saul's self-destructive nature. Visiting Walt at J P Wynne was previously framed as a fun, almost innocuous scene. Now, by contrast, it represents a pivotal moment in his past, his inability to ignore his worst vices in the pursuit of glory, and the moment that ultimately sealed his future as Gene Takovic.

It's also a poignant reminder of his own sorry part in this whole mess, placing himself into the open grave dug for him by Walt and Jesse.

But in tandem with establishing Saul's ongoing resentment for Walt, the episode also has a secondary purpose: nostalgia. It treated long-time fans to a stroll down memory lane as they came face to face with the duo who kickstarted it all.

Walt and Jesse felt familiar, and yet there was a distance there, showcasing just how far the Breaking Bad universe has travelled.

And with talk of further spin-offs, that world could potentially expand further.

Better Call Saul is available on Netflix in the UK and AMC in the US.

Check out the best Netflix series and best Netflix movies to keep you entertained, or visit our TV guide for more to watch.

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