In the tenth episode of the sixth season of Better Call Saul — titled Nippy — “Gene” (played by Bob Odenkirk) tries to convince someone to take part in a con job with a very brief time window. Nippy was written by Alison Tatlock and directed by Michelle MacLaren.
We’ve come a long way since the early days of Better Call Saul. And now as the show is coming to an end, it looks like the last few episodes (if this episode is anything to go by), will mostly, or entirely, focus on the post-Breaking Bad era (and the title sequence looks different now. It kind of looks like a VHS tape that has run its course). That, of course, means that we are now dealing with Gene Takavic, the name that Jimmy McGill now goes by to avoid being noticed by law enforcement. He is very different from Jimmy or Saul. From previous glimpses into the future of the main character, he’s been quite timid and passive, for the purpose of staying out of trouble. But in this episode, he reveals his true colors. In this episode “Gene,” who has come a long way since we first saw him at a Cinnabon, does a con-job that Jimmy or Saul would be proud of, but is it a one-time thing, or is this only the beginning of him coming out of his shell? It’s too soon to tell, but he has removed his Gene mask for a moment in this episode, and with that gone his Saul Goodman persona has slipped back to the forefront.
This episode is entirely focused on Gene with no real B-plot in sight. Not to worry, though, the Gene plot more than holds your attention. This is a tension-heavy, suspenseful episode that is entirely focused around this one con-job. It all starts with Nippy, a nonexistent dog that Gene pretends is lost to engage in a conversation with, and win the trust of, Marion (played by the delightful Carol Burnett), an elderly woman in a motorized chair. While she is distracted, he cuts its power cables and convinces her to let him push her back to her home.
“Don’t worry, hon, he’s not an axe murderer. If he wanted to chop me to bits, he would’ve done it already.”
It’s simple, really, Marion is Jeff’s mother. Jeff was the cab driver who recognized that Gene was really Saul back in the first episode of season five. Back then he was played by Don Harvey, but now he has been recast and is played by Pat Healy. Jeff was once in trouble in Albuquerque, and Healy plays him as this really nervous and unassertive character. By now having introduced himself to Jeff’s mother, Gene is basically pressuring Jeff. The cabbie knows about Gene’s past, and Gene is betting that Jeff is worried about what Gene might do if Jeff lets Gene’s true identity slip.
It’s a risky but somewhat logical plan. That’s probably the way to do it if you’re not going to put your tail between your legs and run the other way. Gene has chosen the scare tactic over calling Ed ‘the Disappearer’ Galbraith and getting a new identity. But there’s more to it. Gene is also counting on the idea that his expertise, which Jeff knows about because he knows his ‘true identity,’ could convince Jeff to get into business with him. In fact, Gene tells Jeff that he thinks he even wants to work with him on a con job. And Gene does manage to convince him. He’s still got a little bit of Saul in him (or Slippin’ Jimmy). Gene makes a deal with Jeff: he’ll show him the ropes on a con job, and then they’ll go their separate ways.
Though there are signs that it may not be enough for “Gene,” like how he picks out Marco’s pinky ring, which he once wore all the time, almost as if he needs a little bit of his old costume to pull it off. Interestingly, only after putting on the pinky ring, does he find the confidence to turn off his police radio.
It must be said, though, that it isn’t a simple job. It requires “Gene” to befriend security guards from the mall, at which Gene works, learn their names, learn about their families, interests, and eating habits (like how long does it take Frank, the primary security guard, to eat a Cinnabon roll?), and more. He needs to, and successfully does, build trust with Frank, who he proceeds to present with a Cinnabon roll each day after work, and see how long he can keep him busy eating the roll. Because if he keeps his eyes on Gene and the roll, then he keeps his eyes off the security cameras. Gene does the work again and again and again and gets a good idea of the length of the time window (we get another perfectly edited montage alongside some nice and playful heist-y music), and he also gets an idea of how many items can be stolen in the limited time, and then Gene briefs Jeff and his partner ‘Buddy’ on his findings. Though initially skeptical, they go with his plan.
“3 items. 3 minutes. It’s easy.”
It’s not exactly easy, but Jeff, Buddy, and Gene accomplish their mission. However, there are some hiccups along the way. “Gene” does everything perfectly, and so does Buddy, but Jeff doesn’t get through it without slipping, falling, knocking his head on the floor, and passing out for a moment there. So, how does Gene put out the fire? Simple. He buys time by breaking down in front of Frank. It buys Jeff enough time to complete the mission unnoticed, but it also reveals something about Gene. Because, sure, he was trying to distract Frank with his story about his depression, but I’m pretty sure there’s a hint of truth to it. He’s all alone. All he has are his memories and old possessions, and now, after it is completed, he has this feeling that he can still complete con jobs like the best of them. But what is it they say? Pride cometh before the fall. Let’s hope not, for “Gene”’s sake.
When it’s done, Gene makes sure to let Jeff and Buddy know that they’re now all connected. If Gene goes down, so do they. Mutually assured destruction, as they say. Gene insists that they’re done, and let’s hope so. Later, when Gene visits the scene of the crime, he takes a look at one of their shirts and one of their ties. Everything is in black-and-white, so we can’t know for sure, but, from the way he looks at it, one would presume that it’s the kind of colorful shirt that Saul would wear. Like, a retired superhero, he takes a look at it and wonders “what if?,” but he leaves it on the rack and walks away to end the episode, almost as if to say: “Just this once.”
With an entire episode in black-and-white and set after the events of Breaking Bad, I’m sure a lot of the core audience felt the somewhat drastic change in scenery, pace, tone, structure, and style, but it is a testament to the cast, crew, and work done beforehand in black-and-white that this episode is as gripping as it ultimately is. It’s super suspenseful, in part because of the nature of the scheme, but mostly because for the first time in the show we don’t really know if Gene/Saul/Jimmy makes it out alive or safe. Everything is up in the air now, and this new element gives the prequel fresh stakes and new life. It’s a brilliant episode that sets up the final episodes of the series. Gene is ever so slightly starting to remove his mask. It’s almost like riding a bike to him. He still has it. Will someone notice?
– Recap/Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.