Of the many things that make Better Call Saul one of the best shows on television, two were firmly on display in Monday’s “Breathe“, both intertwined in the constant battle between plot and character development. First and foremost, BCS is a show that’s constantly surprising its audience, and it does so several times in “Breathe”. Also on display this week is the show’s uncanny ability to justify its characters actions and motivations, paying off what they’re going through at the perfect moments.
The first such moment, and the one that, even this early, I’m confident in saying that it’s likely to go down as one of the most memorable of the season, involves Kim. After everything she and Jimmy have been through, it should no longer be in question where her loyalties lie. Yet, knowing where Jimmy eventually ends up, and that all throughout the Breaking Bad years and what we’ve seen so far of the Gene years, fans can’t help but wonder what eventually drives her away from Jimmy. Personally I find myself in the contingent that believes she never left his side, and that they merely haven’t showed us what she’s up to later on, but I digress. What matters is what we’re seeing now, and in “Breathe”, Kim proves her unfettered loyalty to Jimmy in a scene where she verbally eviscerates Howard.
Last week, Howard poured his heart out to Jimmy and Kim and shared his theory that he led his former partner to suicide. Jimmy seemed to take this in stride and told Howard that this was “his cross to bear,” a line that many fans judged as callous and unnecessary. But we should have known that Kim would see things differently. After receiving a paltry, insulting cut of Chuck’s inheritance for Jimmy, Kim chews him out for lobbing conspiracy theories about Chuck setting himself on fire the same day that Jimmy had to bury him, and the insensitivity of offering Jimmy things like to go through chuck’s half-burned belongings and a seat on a scholarship endowment board that Chuck would have never wanted Jimmy to serve on. Jimmy is busy dealing with his grief, or whatever he’s feeling, in different ways, so it’s up to Kim to stand up for her man, and poor Howard, who never had any bad intentions, has to bear the brunt of it. It’s a glorious scene that better air on next year’s Emmys when Rhea Seahorn finally gets her nomination.
But Seahorn isn’t the only one who gets to flex her acting chops this week, as there’s a great scene where Jimmy interviews for a job as a salesman at a printer company. The interview goes well, but instead of leaving well enough alone, he imposes a speech on his potential employers about his passion for printers and, as a result, they hire him on the spot. However this seems to rub Jimmy the wrong way and he refuses their offer, citing their lack of judgment in hiring a stranger off the street with no second thought. I’m not yet sure why Jimmy is doing this, if fucking around at job interviews is his way of coping with either losing his brother or his good standing with the bar of New Mexico, but either way, it seemed like his moment to lash out in the face in the face of adversity and bad news.
Both Seahorn and Bob Odenkirk deliver great performances this week as the show seemingly takes their sweet-ass time with the Jimmy side of the story. At the end of the episode we see Jimmy leave a message for Mike for a new get-rich-quick job, but in the meantime, the brunt of the action is happening on the Gus/Nacho/Salamanca side of the coin.
As we know, Nacho caused Hector’s stroke, and through a little bit of sleuthing, Gus is able to piece together what he did. We know that Gus is obsessed with getting his revenge on the Salamancas, so Hector living the rest of his days in a catatonic state is unacceptable for the sake of his plans. So he manufactures a scenario where a doctor from John Hopkins comes to town to try and mend Hector’s brain, leading to a weird scene where Nacho and Arturo talk to a catatonic Hector under the watchful, menacing gaze of The Cousins, in an effort to stimulate his brain. But the surprising part comes late in the episode. Arturo is flexing his muscle as the temporary boss of the Salamanca clan, and seemingly gets away with an extra brick of product from Gus’s guys, only to wind up suffocating to death with a bag over his head moments later at Gus’s hands. As Nacho watches his friend and partner perish, Gus informs him that he’s figured out what he did, and since the Salamancas don’t, his loyalty now belongs to Gus.
In a show full of tragic tales, Nacho’s might be shaping up to be the most tragic. And Michael Mondo, much like the aforementioned castmates he doesn’t really get to interact much with on screen, is really good at selling the hand he’s dealt.
Elsewhere, Mike’s side of tonight’s story mostly involves some table setting. He meets with Lydia, who (unsuccessfully) asks him to stop what he’s doing at Madrigral with the “security consulting.” She turns to Gus, who tells him to accommodate Mike’s attempt to earn his paycheck, as it is a matter not worth his time with everything else that he’s dealing with. With Jimmy reaching out to Mike at the end of the episode, we’ll see how long it takes for all these stories to start intersecting.
In the meantime, “Breathe” is another slow burn of an episode. But we’ve come to expect that from Better Call Saul, and it doesn’t stop the show from being great and entertaining, particularly with how the episode builds up to all of its characters venting their frustrations (whether it be on deserving targets or not). The payoff in that Kim and Hamlin scene, in that interview scene with Jimmy, and at the end with Guys showing who’s boss to Nacho, it’s great, and so “Breathe” gets 8.5 stolen Madrigal badges out of 10.