Better Call Saul reveals that Jimmy McGill is directly responsible for turning Walter White into Heisenberg. While Breaking Bad might’ve concluded some years ago, the story of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman continues to expand thanks to both last year’s El Camino movie and the Better Call Saul spinoff. While the Bob Odenkirk-fronted series began relatively far removed from the familiar world of Breaking Bad, the narrative has slowly crept closer to its predecessor, and the audience are now seeing direct tie-ins from one show to the other.
The first two episodes of Better Call Saul season 5 see Jimmy fully embrace his new persona, turning his specialism from representing harmless old women to not-so-harmless criminals. Rather than fighting his tendency to con people, Jimmy is now mixing his shadier instincts with his aptitude for the law, even if those around him aren’t entirely sure on this latest career move. Meanwhile, the tensions between Gus Fring and the Salamanca family are escalating; Don Eladio wants both parties to work together, but Gus clearly has designs of his own and the Salamancas have brought in Lalo to deal with him.
Among the beautiful point-of-view shots and black and white flashforward intrigue, Better Call Saul subtly broached its most revolutionary idea yet in season 5, episode 2, “50% Off.” Although not explicitly laid out on-screen, a single action of Saul’s in this episode causes a chain reaction that will ultimately allow Walter White to become Heisenberg.
Jimmy’s 50% Off Sale Leads To Jesse Meeting Walt
Jimmy begins his first day operating as Saul Goodman, criminal lawyer, in an excitable mood, reeling off ideas to a distinctly unenthusiastic Kim. Discussing his burner phone clientele and strategy for attracting new “victims of injustice” to nobly represent in court, Jimmy floats the idea of giving 50% off his legal services to first-time customers. Ever the voice of reason, Kim counters that a flash sale not only cheapens their profession, but technically encourages to people to go out and commit crime. Jimmy concedes the point, but when his phone customers show little interest in hiring him as a lawyer, Jimmy does a 180 and, spur of the moment, offers the assembled crowd the 50% off deal.
It’s this single, split-second decision that leads to the entire Walter White story that plays out in Breaking Bad. Purely because Jimmy offers his tempting sale, two junkies decide to tear around Albuquerque on a drug-fueled rampage, stealing, damaging and creating all manner of havoc. Throughout this hedonistic crime spree, the duo keep looking to each other and exclaiming in true Bill & Ted fashion “50% off!” making it abundantly clear that Jimmy’s cheap lawyer fees are the only reason for their actions. At the end of the night, the buzzing pair go back for more drugs, ordering an inadvisable 10 bags’ worth. This quantity of drugs gets stuck down the drainpipe used to deliver the goods to customers.
With the blockage causing a problem, Krazy-8 of the Salamanca gang is called to deal with the problem, since this is his territory. Krazy-8 ascends a ladder to try and fix the pipe, and is still up there when the police arrive. Finding himself unable to run like the others on the ground, Krazy-8 is arrested and sent to jail for drug dealing.
In Breaking Bad, it was revealed that Krazy-8 had actually been an informant for the DEA prior to his death at the hands of Walter White, and there’s a high probability that his incarceration in Better Call Saul season 5 is where this betrayal occurs. Krazy-8 is caught by the cops, and cuts a deal in exchange for a lighter sentence (presumably with Saul’s involvement), all because he was up a ladder when the authorities pulled up. And if Krazy-8 is a DEA snitch, it was surely he who gave up the location of Jesse’s cookhouse, which Hank and Gomez are seen raiding in Breaking Bad‘s very first episode.
As fate would have it, this drug bust was observed by none other than Walter White, who had decided to accompany his brother-in-law for the day. After Walt sees Jesse, a former student of his, make a run for it during the raid, he decides to track Jesse down and form a meth partnership. The dominoes fall neatly in line – Saul’s 50% off sale sends two junkies on a bender, the junkies block the pipe causing Krazy-8 to get arrested, Krazy-8 turns informant and snitches on Jesse, Walt reunites with Jesse as a result of the DEA’s raid. Without the 50% sale, Breaking Bad doesn’t happen.
Without Jesse, Walt Doesn’t Become Successful
The above sequence of events might reveal Jimmy’s accidental, but extremely important, role in bringing together Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, but how does that impact Walt’s transformation into Heisenberg? It’s important to specify that Jimmy isn’t responsible for inspiring Walt to cook meth. The shy and retiring chemistry teacher decides to break bad because of his terminal cancer diagnosis. Reeling from the shock of his condition, Walt hears Hank mention how much money can be made in the meth trade, and his head is turned by the proposition of making an illicit nest egg, while simultaneously proving his scientific prowess.
Walt might’ve attempted to break into the New Mexico drug industry regardless of whether he partnered with Jesse, but it’s unlikely he’d have achieved the same level of success without his partner. Even before Jesse learned to cook on-par with Walt, he was a vital cog in the partnership, providing distribution of the blue sky meth and directing Walt on who could get his product on the streets. Aside from being a practically useful, it’s his relationship with Jesse that pushes Walt to become Heisenberg. Working together, Walt makes his first kill, partners with Tuco, procures the necessary ingredients for his meth, etc. When things get a little hot for Walt to handle, it’s Jesse he usually sends to handle it, and when Walt comes back into the meth game, it’s Jesse he approaches with the iconic “we have to cook” line.
Jesse’s importance in Walt’s meteoric rise cannot be overstated. Without his former pupil, Walt might’ve tried cooking meth, but would’ve either been unable to get it onto the streets, or would’ve fallen foul of local drug lords and quit before there was too much rough stuff.
Could Walt & Jesse Have Joined Forces Another Way?
If Jesse is so important to Walt becoming Heisenberg, and Jimmy McGill inadvertently engineered those two coming together, then none other than Saul himself is responsible for the events of Breaking Bad… unless Walt & Jesse partnered up a different way. Had Walt started cooking meth in a lone operation, he would’ve encountered local rivals at some point, and discovered then that Jesse Pinkman was a meth cook. However, even if Walt had tried to forge a partnership with his old high school student in this way, he wouldn’t have the same leverage as in Breaking Bad‘s pilot episode, where he’s able to use what he witnessed on the ride along to coax Jesse into working together.
The other “alternate” version of events is that Hank and the DEA discover Jesse’s cookhouse via other means. Perhaps they arrest another local dealer that gives up Jesse’s location, or maybe Krazy-8 is arrested and flipped some other time between Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad, in a way that has no involvement from Jimmy. This way, Breaking Bad plays out exactly the same, with Hank busting Jesse while Walt watches on.
Given the layout of both Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad as presented, however, it certainly looks like Jimmy McGill accidentally made Walter White the drug kingpin he ultimately became by triggering a sequence of events that brought Walt and Jesse together. Small details such as the “50% off” episode title and Lalo Salamanca questioning whether Krazy-8 will talk all combine to suggest this line of dominoes was set up intentionally, and is typical of the detailed Breaking Bad storytelling style, albeit on an entirely higher, mind-blowing level.