It’s been six seasons in the making, but the event Breaking Bad fans have hoped for has happened. After series creator Vince Gilligan teasing their appearance, Walter White (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) have finally appeared in Better Call Saul. As with practically all elements in this show, what could have been a throwaway episode emerges as a masterclass in how to satisfyingly use guest stars in storytelling.

It’s fitting that the episode that sees the return of Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) would be titled “Breaking Bad”. Back in 2009, the Season 2 episode that first introduced the world to Saul Goodman was named “Better Call Saul”. As jokingly predicted by Decider’s Alex Zalben, this Better Call Saul episode is largely a retelling of Jimmy’s (Bob Odenkirk) first moments in Breaking Bad. While in the future “Gene” orchestrates a plan with his new cab buddy, Jimmy reflects on how he first met Walt and Jesse.

What could have been a stale idea is saved by writer and director Thomas Schnauz’s sharp focus. Every time we return to the days of Heisenberg, Better Call Saul is careful to show us a different Breaking Bad moment we’ve never experienced. Sure, we all remember how Walt and Jesse tried to threaten Saul into saving Badger (Matt Jones) by showing him his own grave. But we didn’t see the moments of blind terror when Jimmy was in the back of the meth mobile. We certainly never saw what the ride back from the desert was like.

That scene in particular managed to wrap up one of Better Call Saul‘s bigger mysteries. After bickering with Walt like he’s been married to the man for four decades, Jesse turns his attention to Jimmy and asks him who Lalo is. When Jimmy feigns ignorance, Jesse presses him, recalling how scared Jimmy seemed when he thought that he was being taken by someone named Lalo. That’s when Jimmy successfully brushes him off, saying, “It’s nobody.” Ever since Jimmy first screamed that name in Breaking Bad’s second season, fans have wondering about Lalo Salamanca (Tony Dalton). Now that we’ve seen the full cycle of their relationship, Jimmy’s fear and the way he dismisses the name hits even harder.

Jesse (Aaron Paul) and Walt (Bryan Cranston) in Better Call Saul
Photo: AMC

The episode even shows what went into Jimmy’s private investigation of Walt. Unsurprisingly, Mike (Jonathan Banks) is involved in the process. But perhaps more surprisingly, he’s also responsible for the best Walter White burn of the whole episode, and possibly this entire universe. When Mike delivers his report to Jimmy, he repeatedly emphasizes that Walt and Jesse are sloppy amateurs who should be left alone. Jimmy fights back. He sees them as criminals he can sculpt, a previously unexplored passion of the lawyer’s that has the potential to rewrite all of Breaking Bad as just another one of Jimmy’s schemes. That’s when Mike goes in for the kill.

“You know, years ago I bought a Betamax. Good product, top of the line, experts said it was better than a VHS,” Mike tells Jimmy. “Turned out to be a complete waste of time and money. Let it go.” Way to own your future murderer, Mike.

What’s remarkable about these flashbacks isn’t merely the return of Walt and Jesse. It’s how masterfully they work to further Jimmy’s story. Almost any other show would use cameos of fan favorite characters to score some cheap points with the audience. Better Call Saul is never content with this simple approach. Instead, it pairs Jimmy’s past story about Walt and Jesse with his current anger towards Kim (Rhea Seehorn), and his latest scam using cab-driver Jeff and his friend. Even when the series is giving fans the cameos they’ve wanted since Episode 1, Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s legal drama expertly makes sure that the focus remains on Jimmy.

Though we have no idea how this saga will wrap up for Jimmy, we do know how it concluded for Walt and Jesse. The 2008 drama famously ended with the Walt bleeding out from a gunshot wound as police arrived on the scene and Badfinger’s “Baby Blue” played. Then there’s El Camino, AMC and Netflix’s spinoff movie. That installment followed Jesse as he escaped from the Aryan Brotherhood’s compound. “Breaking Bad” the episode even has a line about the police finding Jesse’s car at the border, implying that he managed to get away alive. While “Gene” was in Nebraska, Walt has been in a grave, and Jesse has been in Alaska.

After this long-awaited appearance, there are only two more episodes in Better Call Saul. Next Monday, August 8, will mark the premiere of “Waterworks”. That will be followed by “Saul Gone” on Monday, August 15. Here’s hoping we get the answers we want, and that Kim and Jimmy get some semblance of a happy ending before it’s ‘saul over.

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