Whenever we reach the conclusion of Better Call Saul, there will be plenty of moments of brilliance to point to in making the case for this show as one of the best dramas in recent memory, potentially even of all time. The latest episode, “Quite a Ride”, included one of those climactic moments, as the prequel finally caught up with its predecessor, airing a scene set during a pivotal final season moment of Breaking Bad, somewhere between “To’hajiilee” and “Granite State”, which feature Saul Goodman’s final appearances on the show, as Walter White’s meth empire begins to crumble and both he and Saul are forced to go into hiding.
The scene in question opens “Quite a Ride” with Saul and his secretary Francesca (with a much more unpleasant and terse demeanor than one might be accustomed to with her if they’ve only seen her previous appearances on Better Call Saul) destroying documents and preparing for Saul’s stay in the basement of a vacuum repair shop and departure to Nebraska. The cold open meticulously takes us through everything Saul had to do to get ready, as he shakes a bag of cash free from the ceiling tiles, cuts a hole in his decorative constitution wallpaper to retrieve a box and informs Francesca about what comes next before they bid each other a somber goodbye (Francesca more somber than Saul).
The cinematography in the scene is phenomenal, opening with a shot from the inside of the paper shredder and following it up with shots from every possible nook and cranny of Saul’s office, giving the familiar setting a much bigger and different feel than what we’ve been accustomed to, because while it’s supposed to convey the fact that this is clearly set during the Breaking Bad days, it’s not supposed to feel all that familiar. The scene has a practical purpose (it shows Jimmy using a burner phone to contact Ed in order to set in motion the plan to change his identity and send him away, breaking it apart after a single use, a tactic he only learned of in last week’s episode and spends the rest of this one refining and selling) and doesn’t want you to forget that this is still Better Call Saul and not Breaking Bad. Saul’s office is made to feel bigger the way it’s shot. And Bob Odenkirk portrays the character much differently than how he did during Breaking Bad. This feels like something a lot closer to the Jimmy McGill that we’ve come to know and (mostly) loove over the course of three and a half seasons, or rather a man in the midst of shaking himself free of a despicable persona he’s become accustomed to portraying. During the days of Breaking Bad, we only ever saw Jimmy in character as Saul. What this scene shows us, other than the phone trick, is that any instance of crossover between the two timelines will likely show us someone who is portraying a character. It’s telling us that Jimmy never really stops being Jimmy, that Saul is a character he’s portraying.
The way that the writers (including Ann Cherkis, credited for this episode) casually stray into this part of the timeline is kind of masterful. They don’t make a big deal about it, they use it to elaborate on the smallest of details about Jimmy’s schemes, and yet they kind of managed to blow up everyone’s expectations about where this show could eventually go. The way Odenkirk portrays such a different version of the character that we see at the end of Breaking Bad tells me that there could be a whole season or more of this show set during the days of Breaking Bad where Jimmy struggles to separate Saul, his business persona, and what he’s like in his personal life. It lends so much gravitas to a character that, prior to the first season of Better Call Saul, and prior to this very scene in this part of the timeline, was almost entirely comic relief, a joke character.
And yet this important development is merely the first few minutes of an episode that goes on to match the excellence of that scene. “Quite a Ride” is an episode filled with memorable moments outside of the show’s first foray into the days of Breaking Bad, featuring crucial developments for all of its characters.
Continuing with Jimmy, his arc in “Quite a Ride” involves him taking a midnight stroll outside of the Dog House, a popular dining establishment that attracts the seedier types in and around Albuquerque, selling them a trunk-full of burner phones from his store with the promise of privacy. The scene might end up being just as iconic as the cold open. Jimmy is laden in a track suit he swiped from his old nail salon office in order to avoid accusations of being a narc. He swaggers around to a song straight out of Jackie Brown (in fact the whole scene feels like an homage to Tarantino and the types of movies he pays homage to, complete with a couple of trunk shots, as pointed out by the AV Club) and sells out before his confidence gets him mugged by first kids he tried to sell phones to.
As important as that opening scene is to deciphering where Better Call Saul might eventually go, this sequence is crucial for Jimmy’s development now. After the death of his brother and how things went for him last season, he’s teetering on the edge. The phone thing starts off as just another scheme but end with what could be grave consequences for what Jimmy decides to become. The mugging tells him that maybe he should seek counseling, but an encounter with a distraught Howard in the courthouse shows him that even the best counseling might not be able to cure what ails him. This leads Jimmy to deliver an ominous, brooding “they’ll all see” type of speech at his lawyer probation meeting, telling tales about what it will be like after he gets his law degree back in nine months. And suddenly, Jimmy’s path towards Saul, towards the person we’ve seen him become by the time of that opening scene is a little clearer.
And that person is straying in the complete opposite direction of his girlfriend, as Kim spends her time in “Quite a Ride” doing pro bono work, to the point where it winds up affecting her contract with Mesa Verde. First, she gets a juvenile delinquent off with only probation in a fierce negotiation with the prosecutor we’ve previously seen Jimmy deal with. Then she convinces a woman scared to go to jail to come with her to the courthouse and face the consequences of her actions. In a different cinematic universe, a show where Kim Wexler works pro bono cases to help the little guy would be something I’d watch for 21 episodes a season on CBS. In this world, it’s something that likely won’t last very long, as that second case includes her hanging up on her Mesa Verde bosses in the middle of an emergency. And you can’t really blame her, her talk with her client was intense, but she’s putting pro bono work ahead of what’s supposed to be her only client, and that can’t end well. Kim is spiraling just like Jimmy, she’s just spiraling the other way. Jimmy feels like he’s drawn a bad hand. Kim is absorbing guilt for both of them. And that’s not a combination that will likely last.
Finally, Gus and Mike’s arc involves interviewing hole digging experts from Europe in order to set plans in motion to build Gus’s underground meth lab from Breaking Bad. It’s nothing as intense as what happens to Jimmy this week, nor as the business involving Nacho, who is absent from “Quite a Ride”, but it’s an entertaining glimpse into a world continuing to devolve into where we find it during the Breaking Bad days, and more evidence of how far ahead in the future Gus’s brain is, going to absurd lengths to ensure privacy and secrecy about his project before he finds the right person for the job. I always talk about juxtaposition in these reviews, and this is another case of how Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould pull that off brilliantly with a story that is on the other side of the court in terms of intensity, but complements what is happening to the other characters perfectly as it continues to paint the picture of how all the cards wind up landing where they do down the road.
Even though the things that Jimmy, Kim and Gus/Mike deal with in this episode seem completely disparate, the subtle ways in which they thematically tie together are phenomenal. And that’s on top of the fact that each of their three stories are straight fire, from the awesome first surprise of a season 5 of Breaking Bad-set Saul scene, to the highly entertaining Jimmy and Mike montages, to the big character moments for Jimmy and Kim. This is an amazing episode of television that finally gets the wheels rolling for this season of Better Call Saul. “Quite a Ride” gets 10 gourmet hot dogs out of 10.
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