Better Call Saul now officially has four main characters. What started off as the Saul Goodman origin story quickly became something much bigger, as it morphed into equal parts Jimmy McGill, Mike Ehrmantraut, and eventually, Kim Wexler. In season 4, creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have promised us that the world around these characters is about to get a lot bigger, and the reason for that is this fourth main character, something that became as apparent to me as ever in “Something Beautiful.”
Even though we seldom see Gus Fring, his influence over the happenings in the show are truly starting to manifest themselves. After Nacho takes out Don Hector, Gus has room to maneuver and position himself into becoming the badass, nearly unstoppable drug lord we know him to be in Breaking Bad. Last week, he flexed his muscle by killing Arturo in front of Nacho, duly informing Nacho that he knew all about his little scheme and if he wants him to keep it to himself, then Nacho belongs to Fring now. This week, they go to elaborate lengths to cover up Arturo’s murder, staging a drive by on the highway during which Nacho himself has to get shot in order to make it seem believable. Nacho calls The Cousins to clean it up, who take him to the vet (where one of them brushes by Jimmy, as a matter of fact), and in an even crueler twist of fate, winds up with literal Salamanca blood coursing through his veins.
It’s an elaborate chess move on Gus’ part, installing a mole deep inside the Salamanca organization. All the while, he’s plotting his next move, as he visits Gale (!) at a local college, inquiring about chemistry and checking in on what we know is a long-term investment, as he grooms this much younger version of the character we know from Breaking Bad into the fleeting, meth cooking genius he was for a short period on that show. I’m not exactly sure if this was meant to be a cameo or if they have something bigger in store for David Constabile, but the point here is to show that Gus is moving around peons and making moves that will benefit him for a long time, while everyone is can only look directly in front of them.
That’s kind of what makes Gus such a great character. He was introduced to the world of Better Call Saul through a note in the season 2 finale, after which Mike spent weeks looking for him before manifesting himself for only a short while towards the end of season 3. So far this season, we’ve barely seen him more than once or twice a week, and virtually every major development is tied to him and his actions.
Meanwhile, Mike is living his best life as an ersatz security consultant for Madrigal, unconcerned about the people he’s in league with. Jimmy is busy running low stakes grifts, completely unaware of the danger he’s literally brushing up against (as evidenced by when he walks passed one of the Salamanca Cousins). The Bavarian Boy Heist (name of my college indie rock band) is specifically, purposely low stakes to contrast everything else that is happening, and that’s something this show has gotten really good at. When things are getting crazy on the Breaking Bad world-building side of things, things are slow and mundane on the Jimmy-turning-into-Saul side of things.
That’s not to say that there aren’t important things happening on the other side of the coin. We don’t see much of Mike this week, other than enough for him to reject Jimmy’s proposition to steal some ceramic figurine from the printing company he interviewed with (making it clear that he was casing the joint when he made a big show about how dumb they were for wanting to hire him). But Jimmy goes through some important character development here. He’s overly obsessed with this scheme of his, and he’s completely detached with regards to his brother’s death, to the point where he casually and totally nonchalantly reads the letter from Chuck while eating his morning cereal, unaffected by his brother’s words, even though they invoke his mother and real things about his relationship, all while Kim, who is clearly going through something (something at the Mesa Verde office triggers her into taking a visit to the courthouse that’s never fully explained) winds up breaking down emotionally, as she continues to carry all of Jimmy’s burdens, emotional or otherwise.
“Something Beautiful” is kind of a table-setting episode, as the first two of this season also were. Listen, you know the drill with Better Call Saul at this point. Gilligan and Gould are moving pieces around and you know it’ll lead to something good. I think we’ve long passed the point where we can trust to know what they’re doing, and to be frank, while this season has been pretty slow so far, it’s still managed to compelling and wonderfully made. The scene where Jimmy’s new guy robs the printer company was incredibly fun, and the opening scene with Gus’ guys staging Arturo’s death and what follows is wonderfully meticulous on the part of the writers and beautifully shot on the part of the director. Even though not much is happening so far, even though the show is explicitly telling us that they’re setting things up for the future through Gus’s arc, even though the show is playing the long game with regards to Jimmy’s grieving and whatever is going on with Kim, I’m more than happy to exist in this world for an hour a week while we wait for things to happen. Even if it makes these recaps a little more dull than they could be.
“Something Beautiful” gets 7.5 Bavarian Boy collectible ceramic dolls out of 10.
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