Better Call Saul Re-introduces A Familiar Face

Better Call Saul is a show that’s obsessed with symbolism and allegory, and like Breaking Bad, it loves setting up its characters for a fall. It’s breaking my heart every Monday night.

The human beings at the center of this story often execute the perfect crime only to see it undone by someone who knows them a little too well. The cast on this show is pretty small, and each of the characters have spent a considerable amount of time together. This makes Jimmy and Chuck’s scheming much more dynamic and unpredictable, as they know exactly what to do in order to catch each other in the act. They underestimate each other in different ways, but that’s what makes this particular chess match interesting. The players are almost telepathic, and Saul dramatizes this very effectively. This thematic through-line rears its ugly head in a big way this episode.

I know I already talked about how gorgeous the cinematography was last week, but this was one of the most visually stunning hours this show has ever produced. It’s the way it makes an image of a man sliding down the side of a highway overpass look like a glimpse into another world. It’s the way in which Mike is framed while he’s walking down a highway, or how a red billboard cuts off Jimmy’s face below the eyes. There’s no real way to describe it in detail to someone who hasn’t seen the show, as Better Call Saul’s entire modus operandi is finding beauty in the mundane.

The dialogue and acting is as sharp as ever. This episode provides a wonderful showcase for Bob Odenkirk’s fantastic range, as he effortlessly slides between wacky comedy and deeply human drama. He’s also impressively realistic in a scene where he’s asked to conduct some light espionage. Subtlety isn’t exactly one of Jimmy’s strongest suits, and Odenkirk makes it compelling and funny.

I have only one complaint with Monday’s episode. While that whole sequence at Los Pollos Hermanos was masterfully directed and a real treat for fans who were clamoring for more of Gus Fring, it did feel strange to see Jimmy and Mike back together again. They’ve been separate for so long, and I’ve honestly forgotten what favors Jimmy might owe Mike. I pay attention to this show, but I’ve only ever seen each episode once. I know that it’s been addressed on the show before, but boy has it been a while.

Ultimately, the show has sort of run into a no-win scenario here. I’ll explain. While Mike and Jimmy’s separation has been necessary for the development of the show, I feel like I’ve almost lost all context for their relationship. This leads to some instances (this episode, for example) where their interaction doesn’t really feel earned. However, I have the luxury of knowing where the characters go in Breaking Bad, and they’re going to cross paths a lot more often. This is only a good thing, because when they are together, the chemistry is pretty amazing to behold.

On the whole, this was a terrific episode, steeped in dread and pathos. Rhea Seehorn’s Kim Wexler still remains one of the most realistic and lovable characters on television. She trusts Jimmy because she sees the best in him, but crucially, she doesn’t ignore his faults. She’s been let down by him before, and this shaky trust that’s been built up between them is about to really be tested. I continue to root for them to find happiness even though it’s probably never going to happen. Their scenes are once again really nicely written and under-acted. It’s been one of the best parts of the show since day one.

Mike’s noir subplot continues to be a treat, too. There’s a creeping stillness to it all that really heightens the tension, in a way that reminded me strongly of Kathryn Bigelow’s masterpiece The Hurt Locker. The direction and acting is so strong that I was never lost, and virtually all of this subplot is serviced without dialogue. Thank goodness. Not since Robert Redford in All Is Lost have I seen an actor as good at walking us through a mental process as Jonathan Banks is. He doesn’t act so much as he just simmers, forcing the attention of the scene on himself entirely without trying. He’s impossibly good.

This static and composed camera is mostly responsible for this sensation, but Gilligan ditches the tripod on two occasions in this episode to brilliant effect. The first is when Mike searches for his target in the dead of night, heightening his confusion. The second is at the very end of the episode where Jimmy confronts Chuck in what is certainly one of the most brutal scenes of the show so far. Gilligan allows his actors to really let it loose, and the results are electric. If Jimmy had simply waited another day to confront Chuck, Jimmy’s plan might have actually succeeded. It makes me so sad.

One of Better Call Saul’s strengths has always been how almost every plot development is motivated by character, and how the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It’s just as effective as it was in Breaking Bad. This particular development is punctuated by a line that will likely reverberate throughout the rest of the show. Before Jimmy leaves, he hurls an insult at Chuck, saying, “No wonder Rebecca left you.” If you remember, we met Rebecca last season, which suggested even more of Chuck’s past. Here’s hoping that we delve into that more.

I might get bored of saying this over the course of this season, but Better Call Saul is just as great as ever. Every single one of its characters is uniquely relatable and interesting, and it’s one of the best made shows on TV. The pop culture spotlight may have moved on from it, but you certainly shouldn’t. They’re going somewhere special with this one.

4.5/5 Manilla Folders

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