This week’s Better Call Saul episode was shot entirely in black and white. It’s the first time we’ve seen Omaha’s best Cinnabon manager Gene Takovic since the season 5 premiere, and it’s the only time we’ve ever had an entire episode dedicated to Saul Goodman’s post-Breaking Bad life. And although it’s hard to know just how much time has passed since Saul left Albuquerque at this point, we do see that Gene still hasn’t left Saul.
A Little Backstory…
The last time we were in Omaha with Gene, he had just returned to work after suffering an on-the-job fainting spell. On his way home from the hospital that night, his cab driver Jeff recognized him as Saul Goodman from Albuquerque. And while Gene is on his lunch break on his first day back from his leave, Jeff spots him at the mall. In a very threatening way (and with a very threatening associate standing closely behind him), Jeff makes Gene say Saul’s catchphrase, “Better Call Saul!” Gene complies, and having confirmed Gene’s true identity, Jeff walks off gleefully. In a panic, Gene tries to contact his “disappearer” — the very one who helped him leave Albuquerque — but he soon decides to handle this problem himself.
This week’s episode starts with an elderly woman named Marion (brilliantly played by Carol Burnett), who is navigating the grocery store in her mobility scooter. While she’s having some difficulty reaching a high shelf with her grabber, a fellow shopper offers to lend her a hand. She replies with, “If I wanted a hand, I would have asked for it.” At the meat counter, Marion asks for her usual “pound and a quarter” of pastrami but also admonishes the butcher for giving her more than that in the previous week. And while he’s getting her order ready, Marion tries a sample of the Wisconsin extra sharp cheddar cheese on the table in front of her. Her verdict? “Ack… you can keep it, Wisconsin!” she exclaims as she spits out the half-eaten cheese cube into the trash. Marion isn’t the brightest ray of sunshine, is she?
On her way home from the store, her scooter gets caught in the slick sidewalk snow. Gene just happens to be there, stapling “MISSING” posters of his dog named Nippy onto every tree in the area. He sees Marion struggling and offers to help, and she predictably declines. She does ask him about Nippy, though, and Gene tells her that he jumped out of his car a few days earlier and hasn’t been able to find him since. We see the first evidence of Marion’s humanity appear when she shows concern for the dog. Gene offers again to help her get through the slick patch of snow, and she reluctantly agrees. But when he kneels down to put the scooter into neutral, he also purposely cuts a wire. So now that her scooter is completely disabled, Gene offers to push her home.
Outside Marion’s house, we see Jeff the cab driver pull up. He turns off the cab, walks inside, and hears a man’s voice in the kitchen. When he enters the kitchen, he is shocked to see his mother Marion sitting at the table with Saul Goodman. Marion explains to her son who Gene is and how they met. Not wanting to scare his mother, Jeff makes no mention of what he knows. Marion tells Jeff to sit down for dinner and that Gene will be joining them.
After dinner, Gene and Jeff walk outside to throw away the trash. Jeff confronts Gene, but Gene tells him that if he were going to call the cops on him, he would have done so already. Since Gene needs Jeff to keep his mouth shut, and Jeff is struggling so badly with money that he has to live with his mother, Gene offers Jeff a way to help him out in return for his keeping quiet, by getting him “in the game.” Jeff reluctantly agrees, knowing the possibility of what Gene could do for him, considering what he did in Albuquerque.
And at home that night, Gene retrieves his shoebox of memories of his old life and pulls out the ring that always adorned Saul’s right pinky.
The Scheme: Act One
One night after work, Gene closes up shop and takes out the restaurant trash. He then heads upstairs and walks to the mall security office, with a Cinnabon bag in hand. One guard, Nick, opens the door, and Gene explains that he wanted to thank him for helping him out the day that he fainted at work. Nick seems unimpressed by Gene, but his coworker Frank smells the cinnamon rolls Gene has with him, and this is enough to get him through the locked door.
He offers the desserts to each guard. Nick takes his reluctantly and leaves the office to start his nightly patrols, while Frank is more than thrilled at this development. He invites Gene to join him and offers him some coffee. While Frank is devouring his treat, Gene is facing a huge wall of CCTV monitors that cover the entire mall and, for some reason, timing how long Frank takes to eat. We then see a sequence showing Gene repeating this routine — bringing the same two guys some late night desserts, studying the security monitors, timing Frank’s eating habits — over who knows how many weeks. And after a while, Nick has come to enjoy Gene’s visits so much that he opens the locked office door to Gene before he can even knock. Nick, Frank, and Gene are now besties.
The Scheme: Act Two
While on his lunch break one day, Gene browses a high-end department store in the mall. He thumbs through the Armani suits and cashmere tops, checking out the thousand-dollar-plus price tags. We then hear Gene counting his steps to himself as he walks through the store. He’s making a map of the floor plan, noting where the cameras are and where each section of merchandise is. We then see Gene with Jeff and Jeff’s associate in a snowy field in the middle of nowhere, where Gene has created a mock up of the department store floor. Then, the training begins: Gene times Jeff running through the maze, shouting instructions about which and how many specific items to grab — and Jeff has to complete this task in under three minutes, which is the time it takes Frank to finish one cinnamon roll.
One night at closing time, the high-end department store in the mall receives a delivery of a very large wooden crate filled with hydraulic sprayers, and store manager Kathy is not having any of it. She argues with the delivery driver, who just so happens to be Jeff’s associate from the snowy field, telling him that a clothing store has no use for this shipment, and he should take it back immediately. He refuses, so she calls his manager, which just so happens to ring to Gene’s phone. Pretending to be dispatch for whatever company the delivery driver is pretending to work for, he tells her that there has been a screw-up with the delivery, and if she would allow the crate to stay overnight, he will get it picked up in the morning before they open. Kathy agrees, and she finishes closing up shop and leaves the mall.
Later, we see Gene repeat his late-night routine of throwing out the restaurant trash and heading upstairs to the security office. He hands out the desserts to the guys, Nick leaves for his patrols, and Frank gets ready to devour his cinnamon bun. When Gene sits down to drink his coffee, Frank starts eating, and we see Gene send a text stating “GO.” Down in the storage area behind the department store, Jeff gets out of the just-delivered large wooden crate with an almost-as-large duffel bag. He then runs full tilt into the department store, following his pre-planned route and grabbing the exact items he is supposed to, cutting off all the security tags. Things look like they’re going according to plan — Jeff is even ahead of schedule! — until Gene sees Jeff on camera running and then slipping on a recently mopped area, falling to the ground, and knocking himself out cold, his very expensive items strewn about. And Frank has only two more bites left.
Just as Frank finishes his dessert, he begins to turn around to look over the cameras. Always quick on his feet, Gene immediately starts to cry. This pulls Frank’s attention away from the cameras, and Gene starts to talk about his life and how he has no wife or children, his parents are dead, his brother is dead … basically, a sob story to end all sob stories. Frank is concerned for (and also confused by) his friend, and he tries to talk him down. After several minutes, Gene sees Jeff on the monitors finally regain consciousness. He stumbles his way out of the store, drops the merchandise in the wooden crate to be picked up in the morning, and then runs to the men’s room to wait until the mall opens.
The Scheme: Act Three
It’s the next day, Jeff has made it out of the mall’s men’s room undetected, and the stolen merchandise is now in Jeff and Marion’s garage. While Jeff and his associate are going through their spoils, Gene tells them that they have to promise not to repeat this scheme. This was a one-and-done type of thing. The guys don’t take him too seriously, so Gene lays out what they’re facing if they ever get caught: 10 years for the theft, 10 years for crossing state lines to rent the delivery truck, 10 years for sale of stolen goods, and 10 years for conspiracy to commit a federal crime. When Jeff tells him there can’t be a conspiracy charge, because everything was Gene’s idea, Gene tells them about “mutually assured destruction”: if Gene goes down for the crime, they all go down for the crime. So Gene now has the leverage to make sure Jeff keeps his mouth shut about his true identity.
Saul Goodman Makes An Appearance
The episode ends on a very interesting note. Gene is back in the high-end department store, browsing on his lunch break. He sees a very busy paisley shirt and a very loud tie. (Even in black-and-white, the clash hurt my eyes.) He holds them up to himself and looks in a mirror, and for a brief moment, he is Saul Goodman again. But he puts back the shirt and tie and leaves the store. Maybe he has left Saul for good.
Three more episodes until the end. Better Call Saul‘s 11th episode will air next Monday, August 1 at 9 p.m. EST on AMC. Catch our weekly recaps here.