Welcome 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 opening episode and an interview with Rhea Seehorn, who plays Kim Wexler), we will follow it up with a 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.
Let’s start with the opening scene.
Gene in an Omaha Cinnabon
Set to Nancy Sinatra’s “Sugar Town,” the episode begins with another post-Breaking Bad cold open with Gene (formerly Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman) still working as a manager at an Omaha Cinnabon (Fun Fact: The people working in that Cinnabon are actual Cinnabon employees). After making cinnamon rolls for a few hours, Gene knocks off for lunch and takes with him a copy of The Moon’s a Balloon, a memoir by David Niven about working and partying with the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Lauren Bacall, Marlene Dietrich, Jimmy Stewart and other acting legends. Like Niven — who lived abroad for most of his late career to avoid paying taxes to the British government — Gene is also in exile.
Gene also has a Kansas City Royal lunchbox, which is an interesting choice and probably a nod to his old girlfriend, Kim Wexler.
In fact, as we surmised last season, Jimmy’s decision to relocate to Omaha in the first place may have had to do with Kim, who hails from a city on the Kansas/Nebraska border, which is about 100 miles from Omaha. Kim also once said that she thought she’d one day end up as a cashier in Hinky Dinky grocery store in her hometown (Hinky Dinky’s home offices, by the by, were in Omaha). In other words, I think that Gene will one day run across Kim again.
While at lunch, Gene also helped police locate a shoplifter. On the day of the shoot, it was the guy playing the shoplifter, Dylan Riley Snyder, who received numerous autograph requests and not Bob Odenkirk. Snyder was a star in the Disney Channel series, Kickin’ It.
Also, if you want an idea of exactly how detail obsessed Vince Gilligan — who directed the episode — is, it’s interesting to note that the mall scene was filmed early in the morning before the mall officially opened. All the stores in the shot were nice enough to open their doors early, so the mall would look open. All but one, that is. Gilligan wouldn’t say which one, except that it was a major store, and he said they spent about $10-$15,000 to photograph the store during open hours, and then blow that photograph up life size, and set it up like a billboard in front of the store. I am fairly certain the anchor store, Dillards, that we see in the distance in this shot is a photograph.
Anyway, when Gene returns, he passes out at the Cinnabon. There’s a number of theories going around about why he passed out, including a possible illness, but I think it was simple anxiety. He had risked blowing his cover by making a scene with the cops, plus he was feeling guilty about betraying Jimmy by selling out the shoplifter. He was disgusted with himself. He had a panic attack. I don’t think the important thing here is why he passed out, however, but what will happen next. Paramedics will no doubt be called in, which might heighten his anxiety about blowing his cover even more. The last thing Gene wants to do is call attention to himself. It might even prompt him to relocate again.
Back in the pre-Breaking Bad era, Jimmy and Chuck briefly bond — despite Jimmy’s confession, taped by Chuck — over a book called Adventures in Mabel (the episode title, “Mabel” is borrowed from the book). A few months ago, I theorized that Adventures in Mabel could thematically play into this season of Better Call Saul. If that’s the case, the themes of Mabel suggests that Chuck may end up engaging in the same sort of low-life behavior as his brother this season, and what Chuck does with tape may play into that. However, on the Insider Podcast, Gilligan noted that he just really likes the book, because his mother read it to him andhis brother frequently as a kid. The book, by the way, was published in 1912, which — as Chuck notes — was the year the Titanic sank, a not-so-subtle nod to the downfall of Jimmy and/or Chuck.
How Will Chuck Use the Tape?
This is the big question presented by the episode: How will Chuck use the confession against Jimmy? We know because of Chuck’s conversation with Hamlin that he cannot use it in a legal manner, but Chuck still knows exactly what he’s going to do with it. “A little hint,” Vince Gilligan offered in the BCS Podcast. “It’s not pure legalities. It’s a knowledge of specific human nature.” Hmmm.
I’m not positive what that means, but I am 90 percent positive that it will involve Ernesto. The on button on that tape recorder was pressed down when Chuck gave it to Ernesto, and it was cued up to the exact moment when Jimmy made his confession. Chuck wanted Ernesto to hear that confession. The batteries were almost certainly a ploy. Why he wanted Ernesto to hear the confession is still an open question.
The Crossword Puzzle
Others who obsess over every little detail of this show may have studied Mike’s crossword puzzle for minutes trying to unearth Easter Eggs. Don’t bother. As Redditor KWPRULES notes, that crossword puzzle is actually from August 2016. Gilligan uncharacteristically used an anachronistic crossword.
Breaking Bad Callback
It was very subtle, but when the elderly woman Jimmy was trying to usher out of his office was listing off flowers, she mentioned Lilies of the Valley, a reference to a poisonous flower Walter White used in Breaking Bad. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” McGill said. “And Daisies, daisies don’t tell,” the woman said “Now I have something to look forward to,” Jimmy responded. Indeed, he does. Indeed, he does. (via Redditor LocalStigmatic)
Gould and Gilligan struggled for a while about where to hide the tracking device inside of Mike’s car, trying to think of the one place that Mike wouldn’t immediately look. The entire sequence in which Mike took apart the car was a nod to the 1971 William Friedkin film, French Connection, and anyone who has seen French Connection would know the first place to look: The rocker panels. Gus Fring is smarter than that, which is why he chose the last place Mike would look: The gas cap. It’s the first and likely last time anyone will ever get the drop on Mike.
Two quick notes about that scene in the Mesa Verde bank with Kim. First off, that statue was built specifically for this scene to give the bank the exact look he was hoping for, yet another example of Gilligan’s obsession with detail. Second, the Mesa Verde building is the same building that was used as an IRS office in the fourth season episode of Breaking Bad, “Bug.” Here’s the outside of that building from Breaking Bad.