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Better Call Saul Recap: Gene Channels The Ghost Of Saul

After being relegated to a lingering afterthought for most of "Better Call Saul" Season 6, Gene Takovic (Bob Odenkirk) is back, and not just for a four minute cold open — Episode 10, "Nippy," features wall-to-wall adventures in Omaha with our favorite Cinnabon manager. It would be insulting to call it a bottle episode, but "Nippy" stands alone outside the story arc of Season 6 and abandons almost all of the familiar cast that made the last three episodes in particular so nail-bitingly perfect. Showrunners Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould give themselves and episode co-writer Alison Tatlock plenty to work with, however, bringing in TV legend Carol Burnett, Jim O'Heir ("Parks and Recreation"), and Pat Healy ("Station 19") to round out the cast.

At first watch, "Nippy" seems like a waste of precious storytelling hours as "Better Call Saul" winds towards its finale on August 15. On further inspection, though, Burnett, O'Heir, and Healy provide a perfect scaffold from which viewers can see bits of Jimmy McGill and Saul Goodman weave their way into Gene's world. Healy plays Jeff, the cab driver who recognized Saul back in Season 4, Burnett is his mother Marion, who Saul charms with a story of a lost dog to worm his way into their home, and O'Heir plays a Cinnabon-loving mall security guard.

The episode is simple but Gene's plan is complicated

Sharp-eyed viewers might notice that Pat Healy's face isn't the same one that looked back at Gene through that taxicab rearview mirror nearly four years ago. That actor, Don Harvey, wasn't available, but writer Alison Tatlock told Rolling Stone, "We put our characters into impossible situations that they have to solve, and in this case, we put ourselves into a tough situation that we had to solve." Healy does a fine job, but Carol Burnett, Jim O'Heir, and Bob Odenkirk provide the episode's true moments of genius — even though O'Heir's are mostly limited to eating Cinnabons and talking Nebraska football.

The problem Gene needs to solve in "Nippy" is simple: keep Jeff from exposing him as Albuquerque's most notorious fugitive attorney. His intricate long-play scheme involves distracting security guards Frank (O'Heir) and Nick (Nathaniel Augustson) with free cinnamon rolls and carefully pacing out the distance between a mall department store's most valuable items. It's the first time we see Gene run this far down the road of deception, and with each step we can see more and more of Saul Goodman and Jimmy McGill creeping in.

Gene paints a sad self-portrait in Episode 6

Gene channels the scheming genius of his previous selves to make sure Jeff and his friend break enough laws to ensure substantial jail time, and lets the two wannabe petty criminals know that if he goes down, so do they. Bob Odenkirk has always played Gene with a glazed and detached look: in "Nippy," we see Saul in Gene's eyes for the first time, but the occupation seems more mournful than inspired. While his scheme is genius and almost perfectly executed, it's clear that Gene misses his old partner, Kim.

He also seems to miss his old flashy self. In the episode's final scene, he heads back to the department store he just robbed and picks a very loud Saul Goodman-like shirt and tie combination off the rack before hanging them back up and walking away. When asked if this was a sign that Gene was sliding back to being Saul Goodman or was no longer interested in his old life, writer Alison Tatlock told Rolling Stone, "It could be interpreted either way ... that moment of longing is almost a longing for a lost lover. I like how you say that he leaves it public for others to see. It's almost like an actor leaving his costume behind, or even the ghost of something."

Gene's acting isn't quite on par with Saul's, but it's good enough

For a moment, it seems the ghosts of Kim and Chuck (Michael McKean) still haunt Gene. When he needs to unexpectedly distract Frank from turning to see Jeff on the monitors behind him, Gene laments his lonely life through crocodile tears. "I got no one," he weeps unconvincingly. "My parents are dead. My brother — my brother is dead. I have no wife, no kids, no friends. If I die tonight, no one would care." But once Gene is satisfied he doesn't have to worry about Jeff calling the DEA or Albuquerque police, he is back to his carefree-ish self, happily serving customers and slathering frosting on giant cinnamon rolls. 

Impatient viewers wanting more sangre por sangrmight be frustrated by Episode 10's failure to move Gene-Saul's story along very far or provide any real heart-in-the-throat moments. But "Better Call Saul" and "Breaking Bad" are both at their best when they are surprising audiences, like when Howard Hamlin (Patrick Fabian) or Hank Schrader (Dean Norris) are murdered, the latter being a death that still stands out amongst the most iconic moments of either show. What we see in this newest episode is a longer, slower surprise, but just as perfectly executed as either of those dramatic moments.

When does Better Call Saul Season 6, Episode 11 air?

"Better Call Saul" Season 6, Episode 11, will air and stream on AMC on Monday, August 1 at 9 p.m. Eastern time. Presumably viewers will be returned to Albuquerque for most of the series' final three episodes, but writer Alison Tatlock relishes spending so much time with Gene in Omaha, even at such a pivotal moment in the series.

She told Rolling Stone, "There was something delicious here about not going to what felt, in the trajectory of the season, like the logical next step, which would be more of Saul Goodman world, or one more beat of where we left off at the end of [last week's episode], and instead to just take a sharp turn in a different direction. It just felt pleasing to us and we hoped that even if it was surprising and perhaps maddening, that it would be pleasing to the audience as well."

While not all fans of "Breaking Bad" and "Better Call Saul" will be happy with such a deliberate detour, after more than 120 episodes Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, and their writing staff can certainly be trusted to tell their story however they feel is best.