Welcome back to our weekly breakdown of the minutia of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s Better Call Saul. While Brian Grubb 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 the phenomenal Better Call Saul Insider Podcast, and attempt to curate the best intel about each episode.
In this week’s episode, “Breathe,” Jimmy blows a job interview, and Kim blows a gasket.
1. How could I have known that murder could sometimes smell like honeysuckle? — The Neff in “Neff Copiers” was initially inspired by the character of Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) in the fantastic 1944 noir Double Indemnity, but that is apparently as far as the comparisons go. According to the episode writer Thomas Schnauz, it was merely a fitting “amusing” name for the place.
2. Downward Spiral
Some viewers might have been thrown off balance by the fact that Jimmy threw a job offer back in the face of the Neff copier guys, and that was by design. It’s all part of Jimmy’s self-destructive behavior, according to Schnauz. In part, it’s because he has a “pit of denial and anger” over the death of Chuck (which he blames himself for, having learned that its origins were in the increased insurance premiums). “He’s weirdly self-destructive now,” adds Gilligan. “It’s chaotic. It’s anarchic, and the audience is to be forgiven by being mystified by his behavior. Being mystified is the right way to feel.” Jimmy doesn’t think much of himself now, and conversely, thinks less of the Neff guys for wanting to hire a “worthless piece of sh*t.”
3. Writing Duo
The guys who play Mr. Neff and Seymour (Andrew Friedman and Michael Naughton) are actually a comedy team. Bob Odenkirk and his wife, Naomi Yomtov, put on a “Not Inappropriate” sketch show for families every year, and Naught and Friedman — who were at the Groundlings together — did a sketch together at that event at some point year. Bob Odenkirk suggested they were a good team and should write together. They’ve been together ever since. In fact, they have a web series, “Puppet High,” which they co-write with former SNL cast member, Mikey Day.
I want to talk just a little bit about the process in the writers’ room because Vince Gilligan harped on it a lot during this week’s Insider episode, and it really does inform both this series and Breaking Bad before it. It is fundamental to this universe. “What we never do,” says Gilligan, “is say, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we did this?'” That is “death” for a writer, Gilligan says. You never lead with the “cool” thing; a good writer leads with what the character would do, not what’s cool, otherwise “you’re never going to end up with something truly organic. Or ultimately meaningful. It’s doing something from the outside in instead of inside out.”
“That why lies monsters,” Gilligan says, referring to “cool-based” writing instead of character-based writing.
5. The Ponytail
I wrote about this last year, and Jen Chaney over on Vulture did a brilliant long-form piece this week about how viewers can tell a lot about how Kim is feeling by her hair. This episode is a perfect example of that. In the beginning of the episode, it’s loose and messy, as she’s getting out of bed and eating bacon with Jimmy. When she confronts Hamlin, it’s pulled back and tight — denoting a stressful situation — and at the end of the episode, it’s down again and styled, right before she has sex with Jimmy. Three hairstyles in one day to match her differing moods.
6. The Money
Remember how Hector gave Nacho’s father, Manuel, three stacks of cash at the end of last season?
Manuel gave the money right back to his son in the exact same fashion.
In the language of Better Call Saul, that is a huge “f–k you.”
Chronologically speaking, killing Arturo is actually the first time we see Gus get his hands dirty. Why? Because this is hugely personal. Gus doesn’t have anything personal against Arturo. This is about Hector. Gus kills Arturo violently (and in an agonizingly painful manner) because Nacho deprived Gus of his opportunity to kill Hector in a painful, dramatic fashion. That’s why Gus hates Nacho. He hates Nacho because Hector was his to kill, and Nacho took that away from him.
8. Alpine Shepard Boy
Though the hummels do look similar, the hummel in this episode, “Bavarian Boy,” is not the same hummel as in episode 5 of the first season, “Alpine Shepard Boy.” Seeing that hummel, however, may have triggered fonder memories Jimmy had of Mrs. Strauss, and he may have felt some resentment with Neff for suggesting all the hummels were “rubbish.” That resentment might have sent Jimmy on whatever path he’s on with Mike to rip off the hummels. The $8740 probably helps.
9. White Heat
At the end of the episode, before they have sex, Jimmy sits down with Kim to watch White Heat without interruption. That is a call back to “Phoenix,” season 2, episode 12 of Breaking Bad.
Finally, in one of the many moments in which these folks pay extreme attention to detail, this barely visible guy is played by Eric Steineg and is listed in the credits as “Nick.”
It’s the same guy who appears in a very small role in two episode of Breaking Bad and gets shot in the head in front of Jesse.
Steineg is apparently set for a longer arc this season. (Hat Tip: Reddit user MinmoTheCat)