First of all, we are dutybound to give you some context to the episode’s plot. Because all of a sudden, Gilligan and co. have decided to jump the timelines a bit. Always expect the unexpected with this man at the wheel!
So the events in episode 10 of Better Call Saul season 6 pick up after the brief depiction of this timeline in season 4 episode 1. After “Smokes”, we get the events of “Nippy”. In “Smokes”, Saul (now Gene Takovic) suffers a heart attack while working at the Cinnabon store in the Cottonwood Mall. He is rushed to the hospital. But when he is brought back, the cabbie (whom we see in this episode as well), recognizes him as Saul from the billboards. He attempts to meet with him at the mall the next day and the police even get involved.
“Nippy” opens in a supermarket, where an old woman in a mobility vehicle shops around. When she returns home, she finds a strange man stapling a “lost and found” poster of his dog, Nippy, on the trees. The slope makes it difficult for her to reach her house. The man, Gene, helps the lady out, also slyly pressing the off button on the engine so that he can help her out more. She invites him in for some food, as his manners and helping nature charm the old woman, Marion (Carol Burnett). Soon enough, her adult son, Jeff, arrives home. He is a cabbie and we instantly will be able to make the connection.
Jeff recognizes Gene, the two’s acquaintance unknown to Marion. They discuss, in a private moment, Gene’s visit to the house. He offers Jeff the opportunity to wash his hands in filthy money. It is also kind of a payback for keeping his mouth shut and leverage over him if he chooses to do otherwise.
We do not know the plan, yet. And the entirety of the episode is set up to show how Gene stages the con in the mall. Gene packs up the store and being the manager, leaves at the last. He throws away all the leftovers outside but this time, he has saved a couple. He goes up the escalators into the security room of the mall and Nic, one of the on-duty guards greets him.
Frank, the older one, calls out from the inside and Gene enters the room. He offers them the buns as a gesture of goodwill for calling the medics for him that day. It really is a ruse for his plan but they have no idea: he is so good at doing this. Nic leaves and Frank sits down with Gene. Frank’s back is to the screens – while he eats the bun and that is the play. Gene surreptitiously times him eating the bun, which comes about 3 minutes. Gene’s confidence and camaraderie with Frank grow over the next few days as he repeats the cycle for days to come. He is regular like clockwork in order to ensure there are no surprises come the day of the plan.
We also see him put in the yards behind the scenes. Frank is an avid baseball fan and Gene isn’t. Still, he regularly reads the papers, pens down the names of his favorite team, and regularly follows the score to elongate Frank’s time with him. The next part of the plan is again something unexciting but essential. He paces around the departmental store on the same floor, intentionally going through the location and placements of different kinds of luxury brands for sale. While counting the steps and the distance between them and the entrance, Gene also notes down the details of the display items.
We finally see him recreate the departmental store, roughly, with the help of poles and tape. In an open snowfield, he stands with a megaphone and instructs Jeff with a catchy rhyme to remember where to go first and what to pick. It is tough, but nothing comes easy in this universe. On the day of the robbery, the plan is set. Rick, Jeff’s friend, will wheel a consignment into the loading dock behind the store. That crate will have Jeff in it. Kathy, the manager of the departmental store, immediately calls the supervisor to confirm the shipment. Gene picks up and he is off with his gift of the gab. The smooth-talking lawyer gets himself “in” this one quite easily (the irony is intended).
He promises flowers and gratitude to Kathy the next day for letting him keep the box overnight. Now, Jeff has to wait for Gene’s mark. Everything is going smoothly. Apart from one tiny detail: a slip mark on the store’s floor that maintenance hasn’t cleaned up yet. But they don’t know it yet. That is what makes things interesting. Gene goes up to Frank and the usual takes place. This time, he has enough acquired baseball knowledge to keep him occupied. Jeff is alert to the notification by Gene to start the robbery. He respects the rhyme and it goes on smoothly.
Until the very last part where he slips on the mark and falls on the floor, unconscious. Frank’s bun is almost finished and he is about to turn. Cue: sobbing. Gene shows his flair at deceiving others by giving an almost convincing glimpse of his made-up (and party real) existential crisis. He has no one (he literally doesn’t) and feels worthless. But as Jeff starts to get up slowly, Gene begins to get more hopeful and shameful of his confession. Frank doesn’t mind, himself a satisfied and happy family man. He in fact looks at him with pity. Jeff is able to get up again, plough the loot in the crate, and hide in the bathroom.
The next morning, the dealings resume normally. The store won’t know about the theft until they do inventory next. The trio is in the clear as Rick wheels the crate out in Marion’s garage. They celebrate but Gene warns them never to contact him again. He has “paid his dues”. He goes into the same store and enviously looks at a pair of shirt and tie Saul Goodman would look ravishing in. His nostalgia does not last as he puts it down and walks away to his new reality.
The Episode Review
Pity is the first emotion I felt when I finished the episode. I mean, is it the same Saul Goodman we rooted for to get past all difficult circumstances? I do not even recognize this man – I am not sure he does either. Gilligan and co. play around with this irony for quite a bit in the episode.
A lot of mirror scenes when Gene sees himself but “enjoys” the con instead of feeling guilt are the highlights. His changed reality has been his own since day one. The man has not been able to shrug off that part of his personality and character that makes him abhorrent to society in general. Only the scum – the criminals and such – value that part, mostly for their own gain.
This complete surprise of an episode isn’t offered up as a random coincidence. It is part of an elaborate theme from the very first episode of the show. The changing perception is carefully written in the story, only brought out in fleeting moments that you must latch on to.
These finer details, like the ten fingers Gene holds up when he dupes Kathy, are what make the show great. I have kept saying how finely tuned Gilligan’s sense of observation is. It is his insight into the universe he has so painstakingly made that there are no corners hidden for him. He knows every inch of that world and knows where to pull our eyes. His neat presentation has remained consistent from the Breaking Bad days. But he has elevated it even further in Better Call Saul. Full marks to the team for making this such a special, life-like show.