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, “Smoke,” Jimmy grapples with the death of his brother, Chuck, and Mike gets a new job.
1. Schmuck Bait — On the Insider podcast, Vince Gilligan and Co., said that they gave some thought to bringing Chuck back for a fourth season, but didn’t seriously entertain it, because they’re not fans of “schmuck bait,” a term I had not heard used before. It refers to the act of giving the illusion of killing someone off at the end of one episode only to see the character survive in the next episode. So, basically, what The Walking Dead does twice a season.
2. Why Did They Kill Off Chuck?
Peter Gould said that they basically made the decision after “Chicanery,” the episode in which Jimmy gets the better of Chuck at the bar hearing. The reason they said it was necessary is because they didn’t want the show to become a series of escalating tits for tats between Chuck and Jimmy, in which they took turns getting the best of each other. It has been fun watching Jimmy and Chuck scheme against one another, but it’s true that the series would need to move past that before Jimmy could transform into Saul.
Speaking of Chuck’s death, Gould noted that when he called Michael McKean to give him the news, he was driving and joked, “If this is going to be the death call, I think I need to pull over,” and Gould was like, “Well, er. Uh.”
Also, four seasons in, it only just now occurs to me that, as Jimmy’s sibling, Michael McKean literally plays a Brother Chuck.
3. The Gene Timeline
This never really even occurred to me until Gould pointed this out during the Insider podcast: We don’t actually know if Walter White is dead yet in Gene’s timeline. In fact, there is no anchor at all for Gene’s timeline. After he left for Nebraska, Walter White relocated to New Hampshire and lived there for months before coming back to New Mexico to exact revenge on Jack. It’s theoretically possible that Gene’s timeline in Omaha takes place before Walt returns to New Mexico and is killed, which may mean Gene is even more anxious about laying low because the FBI is still in search of Walt. It’s possible that he’s waiting out Walt’s fate before resurfacing. Given Walter and Saul’s last interaction, Saul may be as afraid of Walter White as he is the FBI.
It’s also worth noting that the song that plays during the Gene sequence is The Ink Spots’ “We Three (My Echo, My Shadow, and Me),” which is almost too perfect, given the three identities of Jimmy: Jimmy (Me), My Echo (Saul), and My Shadow (Gene).
4. Bench Scene
Because I get so caught up in the characters, I rarely notice the oners (continuous action shots) until they talk about them after-the-fact on the Insider podcast. The bench scene ended up being not only the longest oner ever for Better Call Saul, but technically the longest special effect sequence, too, because Chuck’s house in the background is done with special effects.
5. Blue Crystal
It seems likely that the blue crystal rock used in the fish tank was an intentional nod to the Blue Sky meth on Breaking Bad. (Hat Tip: Reddit User HarryKilmer)
6. Ernie at the funeral
There were a few people on social media who were unhappy that Ernie — Chuck’s old assistant — did not make an appearance at Chuck’s funeral, nor did he make any appearance in the episode. Where is Ernie?
Vince Gilligan actually explained that in the Insider podcast, noting that it’s unlikely that Ernie would want to attend the funeral of a guy who had fired him.
7. Funeral song
The song being played at the funeral, meanwhile, was “Sicilienne,” the same song that Chuck struggled to play on the piano back in the season two episode, “Cobbler.” How very fitting.
Note, too, how extraordinary it is that the show managed to bring back all of these old characters for Chuck’s funeral, which meant flying several actors into New Mexico to deliver one line. In fact, Ann Cusack, who plays Chuck’s ex-wife, didn’t even get a line — she flew all the way back to cry on camera for 15 seconds.
8. Mike’s Granddaughter
For a show that pays so much attention to detail, viewers might be wondering why the child actress who plays Kaylee Ehrmentraut — Abigail Zoe Lewis — seems to be much older than the actress who portrayed her in future Breaking Bad episodes, Kaija Roze Bales. There have actually been three actresses who have played Kaylee (Faith Healey was the other, in season one of Saul), and Vince Gilligan has essentially explained that away by saying simply that older child actors are just much easier to deal with, which is to say: They have fudged it for convenience sake.
There are a couple of fun nods to Breaking Bad in these classifieds. Note over on the far left an ad for Hinkle Lazer Base, which is the Laser Tag company that Saul tried to get Walter and Skyler White to invest in. Meanwhile, on the right is an ad for Beneke Fabricators, the company owned by Ted Beneke and where Skyler White worked as a bookkeeper (before sleeping with Ted).