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, Jimmy boosts a hummel, and Nacho has a very bad day.
1. Dr. Caldera
Here’s some interesting inside baseball about the Writer’s Guild. Dr. Caldera, the veterinarian played by Joe DeRosa, has appeared in six episodes of Better Call Saul. Four of those episodes were written by Gordon Smith. According to Writer’s Guild rules, a writer who creates a character receives a payment every time that character appears in an episode. Gordon Smith created Dr. Caldera.
Is it a coincidence that Caldera frequently appears in Gordon Smith episodes? I think not!
2. The Saul Casting Process
Almost everyone in both the Breaking Bad and the Saul world auditioned for their roles (Odenkirk was an exception). However, when the writers come up with a character, they try an remain flexible about who they cast. On the Insider podcast this week, they offered Giancarlo Esposito as the prime example. They hated to ask him to audition — because he was a fairly accomplished actor already — and he wasn’t even the archetype for that character. They had more in mind a “drug kingpin” archetype or a “one of the actors who are now in Narcos.” Esposito came in, however, and he was completely different than everyone else, and “It was just right. This is the guy.”
That casting process also explains why The Breaking Bad universe so often hires comedians to play dark characters.
3. Daniel Sackheim
Fun Fact: Daniel Sackheim, who directed this episode, is a television director who dates back to Vince Gilligan’s days on The X-Files, where Sackheim was a producer and a director (in fact, he produced the pilot). He’s also done a few episodes of The Walking Dead, several of The Americans, a couple of Game of Thrones episodes and he has four Emmy nominations and one win (including a nomination for Ozark). More recently, he took over for Jeremy Saulnier on the third season of True Detective after the second episode because of Saulnier’s “scheduling conflicts.”
4. Gale Boetticher
David Costabile made his triumphant return this week as Gale Boetticher, who one day will be shot in the face by Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad. His return was a huge secret, so much so that those who weren’t in his scene didn’t know about it until it aired because “Gale” went by another name in the script.
Anyway, during the scene, Costabile sings “The Elements” song (it took him weeks to memorize) by Tom Lehrer. The song was — the entire periodic table set to a Gilbert and Sullivan tune — originally was going to be sung by Walter White way back in the second episode of Breaking Bad while he was cleaning up Emilio. It didn’t end up happening, however, but Tom Lehrer — a Harvard mathematics professor who wrote this song 60 years ago — licensed the song personally because he’s a fan of Breaking Bad.
Gilligan and Co. would not spoil whether Gale would return, but we all know that Gale is definitely going to return.
5. Attention to Detail
This goes back to the first episode of the season, but it’s another story that really emphasizes how much this show pays attention to the details. Vince Gilligan, in fact, insists upon it, which means that every newspaper is copyedited as though it will be read by the audience, every piece of furniture properly places, etc., and that the director and production designers assume that viewers will pick up on even the smallest of details. In fact, they spent probably 24 man hours on a painting in an episode later this season that only shows up for a brief second.
But these things matter. To wit: They made up cards for Chuck’s funeral, even though they never assumed anyone would see them. However, the director of that episode — seeing that the funeral cards existed — decided to work one into a scene, and it ended up being the only clear shot of Chuck at the entire funeral. That only happened because the crew insisted on ensuring the authenticity of the scene down to the tiniest of details.
Ira (Franc Ross) also made a return appearance, helping Saul boost that hummel. We know Ira from Season 5 of Breaking Bad. He was the guy behind Vamonos Pest tents, which set up fumigation tents around houses and burglarized them (or stole their alarm codes and sold them to other burglars). Recall that in that Breaking Bad episode, Saul noted that he’s been saving Ira’s bacon for years.
7. Mesa Verde
Reddit user stunt_penguin surfaced a very interesting theory, although I’m not sure if I’m ready to buy it yet. But it is compelling and potentially possible. As we see in this episode, Mesa Verde is expanding quickly, and despite that expansion, completely willing to work with a one-person law firm in Kim Wexler. Perhaps that sudden and hurried expansion is being made possible by drug money — Gus Fring’s drug money, to be exact. Mesa Verde is expanding in areas where the drug cartel is also expanding.
Is it possible that this is where Kim is undone in Saul? That she gets involved with Mesa and takes the fall for financial crimes involving fraud and/or money laundering. That Jimmy isn’t even involved in her crimes. Maybe Kim is in prison during the events of Breaking Bad? Maybe she’s in prison somewhere near Omaha, Nebraska.
8. Unsliced Pizza
Remember way back in Breaking Bad when Walt threw a pizza on the roof? That pizza was not sliced, which was by design. Gilligan reasoned that a sliced pizza would not work in that scene because it would fly apart, so they came up with the idea of a place that sold unsliced pizza. (The place, Venezia’s, is real, and a place in ABQ from which the crew often orders pizza (they do not actually sell it unsliced)).
So, that unsliced pizza became something of a joke. In another episode of Breaking Bad, Badger jokes about the unsliced pizza. “They pass the saving onto you.”
Anyway, to bring that to this week’s episode of Better Call Saul, it explains why Mr. Neff — when he orders pizza — asks for “a large cheese, sliced please.” (Neff also asked for “dipping sticks,” just as Walt White had at one point).
It’s a little throwaway joke, but for those who remember the unsliced pizza from Breaking Bad, it lands solidly!