Welcome back to our weekly breakdown of the minutia of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s Better Call Saul. While Alan Sepinwall provides his always excellent coverage of the series (here’s his write-up of the most recent episode), here we will look at some of the details viewers may have missed, callbacks to Breaking Bad, references to other shows or movies, and theories on the direction the series is heading. We scour Reddit threads, Twitter, listen each week to Kelley Dixon’s Better Call Saul Insider Podcast, and attempt to curate the best intel about each episode.
This week’s episode, “Off Brand,” we saw the return of two more Breaking Bad characters, and the arrival of Saul Goodman. (Sort of!)
Back to School
Before we dig into the episode, however, I have to call attention to the director of this episode, Keith Gordon. That may be a familiar name to anyone who watches prestige dramas, because he has directed episodes of Fargo, The Leftovers, Homeland, Rectify, etc. I didn’t realize until this week, however, that television director Keith Gordon is the same as ’80s actor, Keith Gordon, who’s known for his work in Dressed to Kill, Christine, The Legend of Billie Jean, and Back to School.
Here he is with Robert Downey, Jr., in Back to School.
Keith Gordon also directed several well-received features, including Downey’s first post-rehab film, The Singing Detective, which was made possible because Mel Gibson — who produced — agreed to pay Downey’s insurance bond on the film. That movie paved the way for Downey’s comeback.
The episode also saw the somewhat unexpected return of Lydia, who runs logistics at Madrigal Electromotive, the company that supplies methylamine to Gus (and later Walter White). We’re used to seeing her in sunglasses, but Peter Gould made the decision not to put her in sunglasses here because they wanted to make sure that viewers recognized her and, more importantly, Lydia at this point in the show is not hiding from anyone. She’s not all bad yet; she’s only a little bad. Here, she’s with Gus checking out the laundromat that will later become Gus’ meth superlab in Breaking Bad.
An interesting side note: Laura Fraser, who plays Lydia, hopped on a plane and flew all the way from Scotland to appear in an episode in which she only had two lines. (I suspect we’ll be seeing more of her in the coming weeks.)
Lydia’s appearance is also one of several storylines in this episode, and as pointed out on the Insider podcast, it’s one of the ways in which Saul is different from Breaking Bad. Breaking Bad didn’t have B-plots because everything flowed through Walter White. In fact, Vince Gilligan used to speak ill of B-plots, and won’t even refer to them as such in Saul. Episodes with two storylines — as many in Saul have — are called “two-handers,” so that no storyline is considered less important than another.
When Nacho counts the money, it’s meant to be a callback to Tuco, who was Hector’s previous money counter. Tuco was much better at counting it without looking at the money, however, so that Tuco could stare into the eyes of the man across from him and detect whether he was lying. Nacho still has some work to do in that regard.
Krazy-8 — who appeared briefly last season, handing off money to Tuco — reappears here to give money to Nacho, before Nacho beats him up for being short. Krazy-8 will survive long enough, however, to be murdered by Walter White in Breaking Bad. At some point between now and then, however, Krazy 8 also becomes an informant for the DEA. It’s possible that the beating he takes from Nacho motivates him to become an informant (although, I suspect that decision will come later).