Monday, July 25, 2022

REVIEW: 'Better Call Saul' - Gene Reverts to His Former Tactics to Preserve the Lonely Existence He Has in Omaha in 'Nippy'

AMC's Better Call Saul - Episode 6.10 "Nippy"

A new player gets in the game.

"Nippy" was written by Alison Tatlock and directed by Michelle MacLaren

Jimmy McGill's transformation into Saul Goodman wasn't an enviable destination. It wasn't some aspirational goal to the best possible version of himself. Of course, Saul is the most infamous version of this man throughout this particular universe. Jimmy McGill is who he was at his core. The world needed to understand who Jimmy was. The rest was all an elaborate performance. One where lines did blur. He indulged in so much bad behavior. But it was all a convenient coping mechanism to avoid deal with the harsh emotional realities of his life. It was better to disappear into a role than confront the truth. Jimmy has long deflected from dealing with pain. He refused to talk about the emotional ramifications of Chuck's suicide. It's then sensible that he would go all in as criminal lawyer Saul Goodman after Lalo and Howard were killed and Kim left him. But again, Saul Goodman isn't some desirable entity who shapes this entire story. It's a part of the journey. Every season has offered the viewer the reminder of how all of this ends in disaster. He was forced into hiding as a result of his work for Walter White. He fled to a life in Omaha as Gene Takovic. It was a life devoid of color and passion. He could no longer indulge in the same vices that provided him with so much satisfaction before. That would only alert the authorities to his presence. He wants to escape that fate for as long as possible. It also creates a reality where he is constantly terrified. He fears any action could led to complete disruption. Calling for help when he's trapped in the garbage room was too risky. Receiving medical care after a panic attack was too risky. Even taking a taxi ride was dangerous because a random stranger recognized him. It's all incredibly convenient. Gene still took it upon himself to handle the situation. He didn't need to seek out the same resources to escape to another new life. He has gone through reinvention too many times. Moreover, he knows exactly how to handle Jeff. Previously, the taxi driver was an imposing and terrifying figure. But now, the power dynamic shifts. That's actually enhanced by the sudden necessity of recasting the role. Don Harvey is a much more physically imposing actor. As such, it made sense when he was the one teasing Gene as Jeff. With Pat Healy, a new energy radiates from the character. He is terrified of taking risks and enjoys the comforts of still living with his mother. Both interpretations can be valid. The recasting was forced by Harvey being busy on a different show. It still lines up perfectly with the narrative Gene believes he has to sell. He forces this situation into action. He carries it off masterfully. It may still awake something that has long been dormant within him. This may be the end. Or it could just be the beginning of Gene's story.

The creative team is playing with the audience's expectations. This is the final season. Everyone went into this year with that firm understanding. Characters were killed off much more quickly than their narrative arcs would seemingly suggest. It's been a bold and combustive season. However, stretches of time were still spent carefully following the characters as they built up their master plans. They had to be stealthy and strategic. That was the only way they were going to prevail over their daunting foes. That time was needed to showcase just how painstaking every detail must be handled. It would be so much fun to zip over all the planning and get to the heat of the action. That's not where the fascinating developments happen. Instead, it's much more emotionally earned to see the various ways in which things can go wrong. Slippin' Jimmy has been embodied in every personality embraced by Bob Odenkirk's character. He can never escape his roots. The complexity of the schemes has varied over the years. At certain times, he's been more willing to take risks and propose dangerous consequences. That has all been a part of his world. Again, it's the basis of his humanity. It forms who he always is. It's not a desirable quality. This season notably started by showcasing the fall of his time as Saul Goodman. Instead of celebrating him returning to that infamy, the action quickly cuts away to deal with the aftermath. The series provided this tease of exposure. And now, Gene must con his way into Jeff's life to ensure he's not in any real danger. He convinces Jeff that being a part of the game is what's needed to change his life. Stealing a bunch of items from a Lancaster's department store that no one will notice is fairly low-stakes in the grand scheme of what Slippin' Jimmy has pulled off. It's still treated with enough severity to imply the power of every specific action. Jeff's mother Marion isn't someone who can be pushed over. She's very independent and strives to keep things that way. She wants her sons close. She still prides herself on accomplishing so much by herself. That's the way in for Gene. He found the vulnerability and exploited it. He does the exact same thing with Frank the security guard's love of Cinnabon. These are all tactics Gene has employed before. He's not rusty in the slightest. He may have always been prepared for this eventuality. He is perfectly willing to embrace all of these actions. It's all in the name of self-preservation. And yet, a hint of truth carries itself throughout it all. That's especially true when Gene has to improvise when the eventual heist goes awry.

Gene's not at risk of exposure. He does reveal himself to someone who doesn't grasp the true extent of his confession. Gene carries the weight of being Walter White's lawyer. He can use that story to uplift his credibility and impose his own fear. It's an effective strategy. That criminal left an indelible mark on Saul Goodman's legacy. It's not the only thing that matters. Gene picked up these skills from the life he lived long before he met the former science teacher in debt. He creates these scenarios in which people can only react a certain way. And then, he points out all the ways in which they would be destroyed if they shared the truth about his identity. That was all a part of Gene's plan. He didn't want to befriend Jeff or Frank. They were a means to an end. He had to protect himself. He needs Jeff to know that as well. With Frank, Gene is forced into a confession because his co-conspirator slipped and knocked himself unconscious. In that moment of truth, Gene shared just how lonely his existence has become. He especially lingers on the thought of his brother being dead. That's the first true instance of Gene acknowledging what happened with Chuck. It was absolutely devastating. He was partly responsible as well. His life after that may have only supported the opinion Chuck always had of him. And now, Gene is paying for it. That's all true. It's more than just a convenient distraction. Gene has to take a moment afterwards to compose himself again. Of course, it's only one brief moment. After that, he is more than capable of finishing the plan. He returns to a carefree life. Sure, he still needs to be worried about what may happen one day. He's also unburdened because the worst has now seemingly occurred. That may be far from the truth. There are still three more episodes of the series after all. Gene is at least wise enough to know he can't surrender to temptation. All he can do is glimpse at the life that once provided him with so much joy. That can be demonstrated through the various belongings he keeps in a box hidden away. It's also on display when he simply looks at a gaudy shirt and tie that don't go together. He only allowed himself to look into the mirror. He doesn't purchase the items. He does leave them on the rack as the latest example of Saul Goodman being at the mall. Those clues are left behind for so many to see if they know what they are looking for. People are largely oblivious. Those who have witnessed this powerful storytelling though see the many connections and the ways in which they leave an admirable mark on our souls even as none of this behavior can ultimately be deemed acceptable. The world has changed. Gene Takovic still needs people to know Saul Goodman was here. Jimmy McGill deserves the same recognition even though he's the least the person himself wants to acknowledge at any point now.