Fans of “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” know the episode titles are packed with meaning, and so was the one for Monday’s “Saul” Season 3 premiere: “Mabel” references Jimmy McGill’s favorite childhood book, “The Adventures of Mabel,” by Harry Thurston Peck — an author whose life parallels Jimmy’s in some ways.
Written in 1896 — Jimmy’s copy originally belonged to his late grandmother — “The Adventures of Mabel” tells the story of a five-year old girl that begins with her saving the “King of All Lizards.” As a reward, she is given the ability to talk to animals, which triggers the rest of her encounters in the book.
But what’s more interesting about this book’s appearance in the McGill library is the story behind it. Peck originally published the book under the pen name Rafford Pyke. Then, he used the literary journal The Bookman, which he edited, to publish a glowing review of “The Adventures of Mabel,” not disclaiming his rather obvious conflict of interest.
“We could wish no better book to be found in the stockings of the youngsters on Christmas morning,” the review concludes after praising Pyke’s “delicious” illustrations and the “fresh spirit and insight” of his prose. “And we submit the proposition to Santa Claus with our profound respect.”
Unfortunately for Mr. Peck/Mr. Pyke, his shady dealings went beyond just deceitful reviews, and ultimately they caught up with him. In 1910, reports surfaced that Peck had been in an affair with a former secretary around the time he divorced his first wife and married another woman. Though the love letters the spurned secretary produced were never proven to be from Peck, the rumors that he might have been schmoozing with three women at once were enough to cost him his job as a professor at Columbia and get him blackballed in the academic and literary community.
Four years later, he shot himself.
“Better Call Saul,” of course, tells the story of how well-meaning Jimmy McGill becomes Saul Goodman, the shady criminal lawyer we meet in “Breaking Bad.”
We don’t yet know if Jimmy’s descent from life as Saul Goodman, Walter White’s lawyer and consigliere, to Gene, a deadbeat Cinnabon manager in Omaha, will be enough to push him to one day end it all. But the parallel between McGill and Peck is clear, with both men using fake identities for fraudulent purposes, and ultimately suffering a turn for the worst.
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