Better Call Saul Nippy Meets the Past and Future, and Gene Returns to Saul Mode

What’s the point? Better Call Saul  What’s the most critical unanswered question. Gene Takovic (Bob Odenkirk) has three roles. This question plagues everyone in Omaha. Money has always been this criminal’s fallback.

Monday’s episode revealed Saul’s post-Breaking Bad identity. In Season 5’s premiere, Gene told Ed Galbraith he’d “fix it himself.” Then: Gene lies about his missing dog Nippy to Jeff’s mom Marion (hi, Carol Burnett). (He snips her scooter’s wire, so he must help her home.) Jeff arrives home to find Marion and Gene laughing. Gene mocks Jeff.

Better Call Saul” solves a season-long cabbie mystery. The Simpsons/minor-league baseball fan recognized Gene from Saul and wants money for his silence. Cinnabon’s manager and the show avoid a “will he/won’t he” hour. Saul can leave Albuquerque, but not vice versa.

Jeff tells Gene, “I just have to call, and Saul Goodman’s gone.” Gene promises Jeff a bigger slice of the pie. He tells Jeff, “I’ll show you the game, then we’re done.” Gene wears a Saul Goodman pinkie ring at home. Frank eats extra Cinnabons in the mall’s security office while Gene watches. Gene times how long Frank eats his bun and counts his steps at Lancaster’s. Unknown.

Carol Burnett stars as Gene’s new friend Marion. She shops at the grocery store (which sells Schnauz Farms) and is close to her son Jeff (Pat Healy). Healy doesn’t create happy characters, as “Cheap Thrills” shows. “Nippy” begins when Jeff confronts Gene about Saul Goodman’s scheme.

Frank eats a Cinnabon while Gene trains Jeff to steal from a snowy department store replica. Gene tells Jeff to take three of each item because the security tapes will be covered in three days. Jeff thinks it’s crazy. A 50-year-old chemistry teacher walks into Gene’s office. His mortgage is behind. He has a Volkswagen-sized pile of cash after a year. That’s crazy! Jeff agrees.

Gene’s methods are more evident than his predecessors’, like the opening credits. Cutting the power on a mobility scooter leads to men in shipping boxes, a blueprint in a field. And someone not turning for a few minutes. Meatloaf couldn’t save them.

BCS 6×10 Jeff During Kathy’s morning walkthrough, a wooden crate arrives. Jeff grabs Armani suits and Air Jordans as planned. Everything goes according to plan as Gene watches Frank talk about Nebraska football. Jeff passes out after slipping on a clean scuff. Uh-oh.

It’s a good reminder that “Better Call Saul” never needed life-or-death stakes to be captivating. Alison Tatlock reveals Gene’s plan before he does. Michelle MacLaren does the same visually, from Gene walking a floorplan to Jeff reciting mnemonics. This season’s love of ’60s instrumentals extends to Gene’s dessert montage. Lalo isn’t just Tony Dalton this year.

Jeff lies motionless as Gene watches Frank eat a Cinnabon. “I’m alone,” Frank says of himself. Died Single Kid-free None. If I died tonight, nobody would care. (This is especially true for Jimmy after Chuck and Kim.) Frank comforts him, allowing Jeff to leave before resuming work. Whew. Jeff sneaks out of the store after spending the night in the bathroom, and a deliveryman takes the luxury goods.

After last week’s emotional hammer blow, this could feel repetitive. One-on-one scenes with Frank (Jim O’Hehir, another perfect casting choice) elevate. “Nippy” Jimmy McGill could handle any client or target (often, they were both). He could connect even the most obscure topics. Gene of 2010 isn’t a Big 12 football expert and thinks Bo Pelini is a Food Network chef. Gene’s quick study of Nebraska’s history shows his plans’ ambition. They face decades in prison if caught, and he’ll rat them out if they turn on him. “No threats Jeff says, “We’re all friends here,” but Gene replies, “I’m not.” He tells Jeff to say “Done” and warns them not to do it again. They pretend to work on Jeff’s car when Marion catches them. Marion tells Gene that Jeff joined a bad crowd in Albuquerque. “A happy ending,” says Gene.

Jimmy’s fakery becomes genuine in a rare moment. True feelings exist even if emotions don’t. Gene becomes the ghost he predicted as soon as Jeff disappears from the security cameras and leaves Frank’s office. Odenkirk plays this mix well, but adjusting to new camera feeds reduces the magic. Only committing felonies gives him purpose.

Gene confidently returns to Cinnabon. He shops for Saul Goodman’s shirt and ties during lunch. He leaves….in the mirror.

“Nippy” feels like a second pilot, a self-contained risky adventure. That would have thrown viewers into “Lean on Gene’s” Nebraskan crime world. Odenkirk plays Robert Forster a wily vet who offers one-and-done services before fading away.  Saul Goodman’s overreaching sermons are rich but he knows best.

Kim (Rhea Seehorn) doesn’t appear until the end. Gene organizes his shirt and ties while carrying a Royals bag. Any celebratory finger guns are internal, like the life he left two states away.

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