Season 6, Episode 10: ‘Nippy’
A mystery has lurked in the post-“Breaking Bad” timeline of “Better Call Saul,” when our favorite plaintiff’s attorney has become Gene Takavic, manager of a Cinnabon at an Omaha mall. Each season of “Better Call Saul” has opened with a few minutes of Gene’s life, shot in black and white, a glimpse at a life filled with frosting, tedium and dread. Saul is an hourly wage drudge who lives alone and constantly scans for anyone who might recognize him from his days as a wanted man in the aftermath of “Breaking Bad” infamy.
Last season, his worst nightmare was realized. A guy named Jeff — a slightly menacing cabbie who had spent time in Albuquerque and had seen Saul on TV and billboard ads — confronted Saul during a lunch break at the mall and elicited a confession.
“I know who you are, you know who you are,” Jeff said, creepily. “Let’s just get past that.”
How Saul would handle this potential catastrophe was one of the questions looming in the final season, and in this week’s episode, we get the answer. Saul falls back on his gift for elaborate cons. He persuades Jeff and a co-conspirator to shoplift thousands of dollars worth of clothing from a store at the mall where Saul works, a heist that succeeds only because Saul distracts the mall’s security officer from a bank of surveillance video screens with — what else? — and nightly Cinnabon.
Once the crime has been committed, Saul explains to Jeff and his confederate that they both could be prosecuted for federal crimes. So never speak to Gene/Saul again. Or visit the mall.
The blackmailer, in other words, is blackmailed. Or checkmated, if you prefer. So much for Jeff.
Your Faithful Recapper found much of this unsatisfying, although before he could get to that feeling, he had to work through some confusion. The Jeff in this episode isn’t the same as the original Jeff. (Don Harvey was reportedly unable to reprise the role because of a contractual commitment with another show.) The issue with the change goes beyond continuity in the most cosmetic sense. The new Jeff, as embodied by Pat Healy, seems like a different character — more malleable and less intimidating.
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And that, it turns out, is the right way to play Jeff. The Don Harvey version of the guy seemed like a serious criminal, perhaps a hit man, or security for a cartel heavy. We first laid eyes on Jeff at the start of Season 4, a pair of very ominous eyes staring at Saul through a rear view mirror. He seemed like a looming fiasco.
So early in “Nippy,” when Saul says, “I know what you really want; you want in the game,” you think he’s about to discuss major felonies, perhaps a drug deal. After all, Jeff would have known Saul as a figure in a spectacular meth bust.
When Saul offers help engineering a scam to steal Air Jordans and Armani suits, it jars. The crime seems too small-bore. In fact, it’s a perfect fit for the character on the page and the version of Jeff in this episode. He’s a divorced man who has money problems and lives with his mom (played straight and beautifully by Carol Burnett). Earning a few thousand dollars with stolen clothing is just his speed.
By the end of this episode, it’s clear that the Jeff problem is not that big a deal — more an unpleasant inconvenience than a mortal threat. That’s a letdown because viewers could be forgiven for thinking that Jeff was a genuine impediment, not a goofball who nearly bungles a (relatively) modest robbery.
Now let’s discuss context and timing. Giving over an entire episode to one caper puts a lot of pressure on that caper, and this one had the same flaw as parts of the Get Howard Scheme. It felt low-stakes and a bit broad, a tone that felt out of place after the departure of Kim and the murder of Howard. With three episodes left, it seems odd that the writers devised a tale in which Saul snookers a mall cop with an oversized pastry. The show should be steamrolling towards the resolution of tantalizing conflicts, threads that we viewers can’t wait to see tied together. At the moment, with Lalo dead and Jeff neutralized, we don’t know what those conflicts will be.
That said, Your Faithful Recapper would bet that the best episodes of this show are ahead of it. This one ends with Saul visiting the slightly depleted department store and draping a very garish tie over a busily patterned shirt. It’s a moment of nostalgia, a chance to look briefly at his old costume. He almost revs up a fake smile, the one he always used when greeting a new client. But before he truly grins, he returns to his senses and puts the clothing back on the rack.
Cinnabon, Up Close
This week, we break from the usual closing format of “Odds and Ends” to bring you an interview. In May, Your Faithful Recapper called the Cinnabon headquarters in Atlanta and spoke with Michael Alberici, the company’s head of marketing, to learn more about its relationship with “Better Call Saul.” Now that the show has aired an episode that all but co-stars one Cinnabon after another, it’s time to excerpt that discussion.
Toward the end of “Breaking Bad,” Saul says that his best case scenario is winding up as a manager as a Cinnabon in Omaha. What did you guys think when you heard that line?
Our phones blew up. People were calling to say, “Did you see that?” And our social media team swung into action and they sent a tweet to Bob Odenkirk with a cheeky message, something like: “We hear you’re looking for a job. Here’s how to apply,” with a link to our careers page.
How much do you participate in the show?
The show is very secretive about the scripts, which is fine, of course. They just call us and ask us to set up the store, which is actually in a mall in Albuquerque, a former Cinnabon that’s now closed. So each time, we recreate the bakery — the ovens, the mixers, the hot plates and everything else are in a storage facility — and we send thousands of fresh rolls. We train the actors as if they’re real team members, so they know how to interact with extras. The actors at the cash register know all the mannerisms, they know what to do.
Do you have any agreement with the producers, any guardrails about the way the company is represented?
We just have to trust that they have the brand’s best interests in mind. And if there were to be some crazy story line in which the store blows up, we’ll handle it. We monitor social media and the press daily, and right now there’s a lot of talk about whether Cinnabon will show up again in “Better Call Saul.” It keeps our brand top of mind for consumers around the world. We’d be crazy to put stipulations around this opportunity.
Saul Goodman looks like he would rather be doing anything other than working at a Cinnabon. What does the company make of the way it’s portrayed on the show?
We definitely don’t take it as a ding on the brand. I mean, he might not like his job, but that has no impact on the company. They always make that store look like a well-oiled machine. The bakery looks great. He’s miserable, but hey, the rolls are hot.