When the Breaking Bad episode “Fly” came out, it immediately received mixed reviews. Some viewers called it a filler episode, a waste of time, or a tedious distraction from the plot; others saw it as an innovative and compelling deconstruction of Walter (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse’s (Aaron Paul) psyche as the show progressed. A bottle episode of sorts, “Fly” sticks with Walt and Jesse in the super lab as they cook, and Walt obsesses over a fly trapped in the lab. Directed by Rian Johnson, the episode appears unimportant, but embedded in its plot is a funny, emotional, and revealing hour of television. “Fly” deconstructs what we know about Walter White, and gives some much needed perspective, just as “Nippy” does for Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk). If “Fly” is the odd man out from Breaking Bad’s entire run, “Nippy” is that for Better Call Saul.
Better Call Saul has always been a show that embraces and savors slow characterization, and “Nippy” ignores the tragic cliffhanger from “Fun and Games” to do just that. After opening every season with a black and white glimpse into Saul’s life post-Breaking Bad as Gene Takavic, a Cinnabon manager, we finally spend an entire episode in his world. “Nippy” is Better Call Saul by way of Fargo, and its introduction of new characters creates space for Gene (Saul? Jimmy?) to reveal tragic truths about what his life has come to. It’s an impressive feat for a season as intense as this one to take a step back and showcase a single character and actor for a seemingly low-stakes episode, especially this close to the series finale. But then Better Call Saul has never shied away from risky choices.
I could genuinely talk for hours about the intricacies of this episode: from the casting to the music, the montage, the opening theme, there are just so many disparate elements working together to create the singular experience that is “Nippy.” There’s a somewhat quirky and fun energy to the episode that hides its dark undertones. And the break from the rest of Season 6’s bombardment of emotional twists and turns allows us to breathe and indulge in Gene’s world.
First Place: Frank
Jerry Gergich lives! It was an insane delight to see Jim O’Heir show up in this episode, playing Frank, a security guard at the Cottonwood Mall where Gene works. When Gene decides to pull a heist at the mall, it becomes paramount that he not only charm the security team, but learn the inner workings of the mall’s security system. So, while Gene may not have had Frank’s best interests at heart, the lovable guard ends up making a new friend and getting himself a free Cinnabon every week (even if it’s just so Gene can time how long he can count on Frank ignoring the cameras). Frank may partially be to blame for the Great Cottonwood Mall Heist of 2010, but chances are he won’t face any repercussions – and that’s something the other people on this list can’t say.
Second Place: Marion
As hard as it is to not feel guilty ranking a Carol Burnett character in any position other than first, Marion had a bit of a hard time in this episode. And it likewise feels risky to assume she won’t be betrayed or screwed over in some way if we see her again. The mother of Jeff the Cab Driver (Pat Healy), Marion finds Gene getting close to her and the two of them forming a fast, unexpected friendship. However, just as Gene did with Irene back when he was still Jimmy McGill, Gene’s ulterior motive shines through for the audience: he only needs Marion to get even closer to Jeff after being exposed as Saul Goodman.
Third Place: Jeff
The last time we saw Jeff, not only was he played by a different actor, but he also had an entirely different persona. We saw him recognize Gene as Saul Goodman in his cab, then track him down at the mall to make him say his catchphrase. For the past two seasons, it’s been unclear what Jeff’s endgame would be. Maybe he wants to report Gene to the authorities, or blackmail him – or maybe he just wanted to talk to him.
In any case, Gene has to take care of the situation. So, in true Jimmy McGill fashion, he cons Jeff. Under Gene’s tutelage, Jeff pulls off the elaborate heist; then, after celebrating his success, he finds out Gene set him up to commit multiple felonies. As Gene explains, its “mutually-assured destruction”: if Jeff ever goes to the authorities about Gene, Gene will make sure Jeff goes down, too. It’s not a completely awful situation – Jeff won’t actually in any trouble unless he brings it upon himself – but he’s been played, and no longer has any of the power he did after identifying Gene. Plus, Jeff has to watch as his mother Marion gets charmed by his blackmailer.
Fourth Place: Gene Takovic
After Jimmy gets his heart broken by Kim and Saul gets royally screwed over because of Walter White, you’d think Gene might deserve a happier fate. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen from past season-opening scenes, Gene is condemned to a sad and solitary life in Omaha, away from any and all pleasures from his previous life, his lone replacement pleasure those sweet cinnamon rolls he hawks all day. Gene deciding to deal with the Jeff situation himself may have seemed dangerous when he announced his intent; after the events of “Nippy,” though, things appear to have worked out. So the reason Gene is in last place this week is because of the truths he let slip to both us and himself in this episode.
During Jeff’s heist, Gene is forced to improvise to keep Frank from turning around and seeing that Jeff has slipped and fallen and is lying there motionless on the sales floor. Back when Jimmy was still himself and still becoming Saul, we saw his uncanny ability to talk his way out of anything. But we also saw another common thread in those tense scenes: as a means of distracting or roping in other people, Jimmy tends to reveal things about himself that he never brings up otherwise. In the case of “Nippy,” Gene tells Frank how alone and purposeless he feels – his parents are dead; his brother is dead (something he says only after a long and pregnant pause); he has no wife and no kids. Gene claims no one will miss him after his death. His landlord would just pack up his things, and Cinnabon would simply hire a new manager.
As dark a revelation as that may have been, it worked. But it’s hard to hear. And it seems to be hard for Gene to acknowledge. Because we’ve seen most of these things happen. We watched Chuck (Michael McKean) die. We saw Kim (Rhea Seehorn) leave him. We got a flashback to his mother dying. Gene is indeed alone. His own choices, as inescapable as they may have been, are what have left him that way.
At the beginning of the episode, Gene got close to Marion by faking having a missing dog named Nippy. After the con, when he visits Jeff and Marion one last time, Marion asks him if he ever found Nippy. Gene makes up another story on the fly: would you believe it, the whole time Nippy was perfectly safe with a family down the road. Gene even offers a coda: “After all that, a happy ending.”
We don’t yet know if Gene and his made-up dog are going to be the only ones with a happy ending. Everything he told Frank is true. The authorities are still very much after him. Can Kim reunite with him? And if she does, will that be a happy ending? We don’t know, but nothing in this show ever happens the way we expect it to.