Better Call Saul S04E10 Recap: ‘Winner’ [Season Finale]

Juxtaposition.

I’ve probably sounded like a major rube uttering that word in most of these reviews reviews this season, but it bears repeating; as much as Better Call Saul is a show about people with good intentions beaten down to the point where they feel compelled to turn to the life of evil they seem accustomed to when we see them in Breaking Bad, it’s also a show about varying scales of such descents into depravity.

This show has always been about propping up the bad things that Jimmy McGill does for comparison against the bad things that are happening in the world of New Mexico’s drug cartels that he will eventually be introduced to. For we know Jimmy to have that aura of a slimeball within him, resorting to doing bad things when life pushes him down one too many times. But bending the law and, as was the topic of discussion in his arc in last night’s finale, “Winner”, feigning sincerity, is still a far stretch away from the moral bankruptcy of his eventual employers. So it’s not enough to merely explain how the mild-mannered, fast-talking, sometimes two-timing brother of a respected lawyer can go from Jimmy McGill to Saul Goodman, it also has to be explained how things on the other side of the spectrum get so crazy and dire that they need to drag a Saul Goodman into things.

Last night’s finale ends with Jimmy quite literally becoming Saul, after four years of fans wondering when and how that was going to happen. And the funny thing is that it happens so subtly, with little fanfare. After successfully appealing the bar’s decision not to give him his law license back by pretending to be moved by a letter his brother wrote him before his death, Jimmy nonchalantly tells the clerk who gives him the good news that he wants the form needed to change the name under which he’ll be practicing law. When a confused Kim asks him what’s going on, he merely responds “S’all good, man,” much to her dismay, just moments after shedding legitimate tears at what turns out to be his phony sincerity.

It probably isn’t the big, crazy moment that some might have envisioned. Jimmy isn’t forced into becoming Saul because of a deal gone bad or a threat on his life or anything like that. Life merely chips away at him enough that he decides to shed his persona and the name attached to it and become something else in order to flourish. In his eyes, being in the shadow of his brother Chuck has never given him an advantage (even though, as we saw in the cold open, Chuck gladly stood by his side when he first got his license and even carried him home after he had one too many to drink at his karaoke celebration later that night). Obviously the point is that Jimmy isn’t 100% in the right here. Chuck was a dick, and he probably didn’t care for Jimmy as much as you’d expect a brother to, but Jimmy was a fuck up regardless of Chuck (just as Chuck’s problems weren’t sourced to Jimmy). In “Winner”, Jimmy uses his brother’s name one last time and chooses to fully divest himself from it and go his own way. Like I said, not a big, crazy moment, just another inch forward on a long road. Still, the show manages to stick the landing on this moment with grace, as it always does, rendering yet another gut punch to an unassuming Kim and to the audience.

Things aren’t so subtle, however, at the other end of of the spectrum, as Mike races to find a recently escaped Werner before Gus does, in hopes of saving him from certain death. Mike does his thing, and it’s wildly entertaining. But unbeknownst to him, he’s being followed by Lalo, who is a welcome wrench thrown into this show’s works. He doesn’t have the kind of grace that the writers have had us grown accustomed to with Mike. He’s sloppy, unpredictable and crazy. When Mike first notices him following his car, he drives into a parking lot and breaks the ticket machine. It distracts Lalo just enough, but like I said, he’s crazy, so he plows through the car in front of him and the barrier in order to make his escape. He then returns to the money wire store where the hunt for Werner first began, and instead of appealing to the clerk the way Mike did, he simply crawls into the vents, comes crashing through the ceiling and takes what he wants. He proceeds to deliver the nail in Werner’s coffin when he calls the resort Werner is staying at, waiting for his wife, and pries some information out of him regarding the meth lab. It’s not much, but it’s a leak that very much convinced Gus that his agreement with Werner cannot be salvaged.

And because Mike has come to know and like Werner, he offers to be the one to kill him, a development that’s paramount to where this show is headed. We know that Mike’s killed before, but we’ve never seen him do it, and certainly not yet for Gus. There is a tangible difference between the stoic, grumpy man who wants to do right by the family his son left behind, and the cold-blooded fixer we came to love on Breaking Bad. Being forced to murder his friend in cold blood (no less to fix what could be perceived as his own mistake or lapse in judgment, for getting too close to someone on the job) makes up a lot of that territory.

Killing Werner is a huge, character-defining moment for Mike, and paired with a smaller moment with larger implications for Jimmy as he takes the official steps to become Saul, it spells massive change for Better Call Saul in its inevitable fifth season. The way these two move in parallel is very important to all of that. And what’s so interesting about it is that Mike and Saul only shared one scene together this entire season, and it very much felt like a breakup. I’d need to rewatch the season before saying for certain if Mike’s refusal to help Jimmy steal his Bavarian Boy had any tangible impact on either of their paths, but it’ll be interesting when they meet again, Jimmy now practicing as Criminal Lawyer Saul Goodman, Mike now fully in Gus’s grasp as his killer/fixer. Maybe it’ll even be in the fallout of the whole mess with murder.

And let’s take another moment to highlight how awesome Tony Dalton has been as Lalo Salamanca, making a huge impact in his first few episodes of the show, and truly upping the ante of the craziness that will eventually fill out the environment which creates Walter White and enables everything that he does. Lalo brings a certain flair to the show that some might say was missing. At the very least, he’s an unpredictable, combustible element that makes everything around him more dangerous likely to burst into flames. I can’t even imagine the impact he’ll have next season.

Thus, two, now three very different aspects of the show begin their convergence. Jimmy is now officially Saul, Mike is a newly-minted killer, and the cold war between Gus and the Salamancas will only continue to flare up in unique, unexpected ways. Season 4 of Better Call Saul has been about revving up that convergence, and it did so in a way that never really felt boring or improperly paced, as the stakes consistently rose and as its main characters found their way to that point of no return so brilliantly depicted in the season finale. With “Winner”, and with season 4 as a whole, Better Call Saul continues to prove why it’s one of if not the best show on TV, and it gets 9.5 watermelon pickles out o 10.


Notes & Quotes:

  • I’m so happy this show found a way to get Chuck freaking McGill to sing some ABBA at karaoke.
  • To show how much Jimmy has changed, think about how he goes from singing karaoke with his brother to desecrating his grave for personal gain from basically one scene to the next.
  • Also boasting about his anonymous donation reminded me of that great episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.
  • My only worry about the show going forward is all the characters it seems to be leaving in its wake. Nacho and Howard are basically non-factors at this point. What does Kim have left to do now that she’s helped usher in a new era of Goodman?
  • I just want to point out one final time that Lalo is the best.
  • “We can get by on one nipple, am I right?” – Jimmy

 

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Better Call Saul S04E09 Recap: “Wiedersehen”

As Jimmy McGill’s life was torn apart in front of my very eyes in “Wiedersehen“, the latest episode of Better Call Saul and the penultimate of the fourth season, oddly, I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. Not because I was enjoying what he was going through – it was tragic – but because it was yet another example of TV’s best show once again defying expectations and taking the story in a place that I don’t think anyone could have anticipated.

I think all of us were getting a little too complacent and comfortable with the show this season. Things were starting to seem too obvious! Mike and Gus were building their underground meth lab, and while much of that arc has been about teasing something bad happening with one of the workers (foreshadowing which came to fruition in this episode’s B-plot), we know that the lab winds up getting build, and that Gus’s empire will continue to grow whilst tensions between him and the Salamancas fester, all while the black hole of New Mexico’s drug trade winds up swallowing the seemingly innocent people around them, including one Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman. In fact, that’s exactly what all of that is building to; the show has literally been building the foundations of a world that will eventually rope Jimmy in.

So the path for this season seemed obvious. Jimmy spends his year suspended from practicing law peddling burner phones, all the while either alienating Kim or drawing her to the dark side (depending on which theory you believe), culminating in Jimmy going full Saul after flying too close to the sun with his schemes and falling in with all the wrong people in that other story we’ve been following. And while we’ll still ultimately get to that point, “Wiedersehen” winds up throwing a hell of a wrench into the works, rendering the immediate direction of this show unpredictable. In the episode, not only does Jimmy have his reinstatement denied, he winds up taking his anger out on Kim, who herself has spent the last few episodes straddling the Jimmy/Saul line, leading to a blow-up that may or may not finally spell the end for their relationship and that puts in question how Jimmy finally winds up going full Saul.

How did we get here, exactly? Kim and Jimmy were finally looking like they were back on track at the end of last week’s episode, following months and months of them growing apart. After successfully scheming to get Huell off the hook, Kim declares that she wants to do more of that kind of stuff with Jimmy, and this week’s episode starts with a successful grift that nets Mesa Verde a bigger conference room at one of their branches. Yet when Jimmy talks about how they could do this for all of his clients after he gets his license back, Kim confusingly suggests that they should only use their powers for good, as if a career goon and a fledgling bank obsessed with the size of their branch atrium are “good”.

In other words, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Kim is using Jimmy to gratify her dark side, and the show is subtly painting her with shades of grey as Jimmy slips further into his own, which is important, because that forces us to side with Jimmy when he fails his interview, even though, as Kim points out after the fact, they were probably justified in doing so. At first, Jimmy seems to nail it, projecting, in his own words, sincerity that occasionally slips into corniness. But a last minute question from one of the panelists trips him up, when asked what the law meant to him and who inspires him to practice it. It’s obviously a set up for him to frame his answer around his recently deceased brother. But Jimmy genuinely doesn’t think about Chuck anymore, so he puts together some bullshit answer that’s devoid of any modicum of remorse for how he got here and what happened to Chuck, and the lady sees right through his facade. Jimmy is incensed; angrier than we’ve ever seen him. He’s pissed that he spent most of the past year playing it safe only to be told it’s him, not his actions. That board, and later, his own girlfriend, basically paint him as a narcissistic, unethical slimeball, and it pisses him off. He feels hurt, and entitled, and he realizes his girlfriend isn’t there to back him up, but instead to feed off his negative energy.

The episode ends, seemingly, with Kim offering to help him appeal and get his license back, but it seems clear that at least one of them, if not both, are now passed the point of no return. And yet, it still remains unclear how we get from here, to Saul Goodman, Criminal Lawyer. Nevertheless, the performances from Rhea Seehorn and especially Bob Odenkirk are phenomenal in an episode that’s very important for where their characters wind up next, and for reminding us that this is a character-driven (not plot-driven) show.

And while those performances were great, and the result truly surprising, I couldn’t help but feel as if the 78-minute episode was somewhat unnecessarily bloated, and probably not the best outing of the season. The subplots are all still table-setting, and while it’s cool to see Lalo strut around town, antagonizing Gus (his reaction to Nacho bringing him to the restaurant is priceless) and giving us the origin of Hector’s bell are both great, as are the scenes with Werner missing his wife and plotting his unexpected escape. It’s just that with Jimmy suffering that setback, it feels as if these worlds are still way too far apart, seemingly more so than they have been in seasons past, and I’m curious to see whether or not the show does anything to bring them closer together in next week’s finale.

Wiedersehen” is an episode propped up by an unexpected twist and two great performances, but it’s a little too self-indulgent in episode length and in stretching things out the way Better Call Saul is wont to do, therefore it gets 8 loose dynamite wires out of 10.


Notes & Quotes:

  • This was Vince Gilligan’s one and only directed episode of the season. For the first time, he has no writing credits to his name this year. It’s interesting because there wasn’t much in this episode that distinguished the directing style from the previous eight. I suppose that speaks volumes to the consistency of the cinematography on the show, and the level of writing and directing no matter how involved Gilligan is.
  • I love to talk about dichotomies in this show, and there’s a whole other review I could have written framing Jimmy against Lalo. We know their paths will eventually collide, and it’ll be interesting when they do, because Lalo seems like he’s much closer to what Jimmy/Saul’s final stage will be. He oozes bullshit that everyone can see through but doesn’t get called out for it because he’s so good at it (compared to Jimmy, who doesn’t get realize that he’s full of shit). Look at how Lalo tells Gus that he wants no bad blood between them. Gus hates every second of their conversation and certainly doesn’t exude trust for Lalo. That’s where we’ll eventually get to with Jimmy. But seeing it now through this new character is certainly a breath of fresh air for the show.
  • Werner first breaks down when he goes back into the bunker to check on the wires. I’m unsure of this is just him showing his emotions in a rare moment of solitude, or something else, but it’s truly powerful. Later, of course, after an extended call with his wife, he decides to plot his escape by fooling the cameras. We’ll have to see what comes of this and how it will reflect on Mike, who would have normally seen this coming a mile away.

 

Better Call Saul S04E08 Recap: “Coushatta”

 

The brilliance of the writers of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul is a notion that has become memefied over the years. Praising creator Vince Gilligan is usually met with in-jokes and laughter among fans, and I sort of get it, because there’s a lot more that goes into making a show like this than just one man, and as good as it is, at the end of the day, it’s just a TV show. How “brilliant” could it truly be?

Well, it’s episodes like “Coushatta” that justify that kind of behaviour. “Coushatta” is an episode so-well crafted that pays off the finest details of the season in such a grandiose manner that you can’t help but admire it and disproportionately praise it. It’s an episode that turns fan theories on their heads for the umpteenth time in as many episodes, and before the credits roll, it even finds a way to set the next stage of the game in an unexpected but welcome way.

The main focus of the episode revolves around Kim and Jimmy working to get Huell off the hook for hitting a plain clothes cop who was accosting Jimmy with a bag of sandwiches. The DA see this as a slam dunk case so they’re throwing the book at Huell, who, as we found out in last week’s episode, would rather run than go to prison. Jimmy knows this is a bad idea and feels bad for getting Huell in this mess, so he’s willing to do something stupid (as last week’s episode title implied) to help get him off. But Kim, who after a long time-jump still cares for Jimmy despite the fact that they’ve grown apart, doesn’t want to see him get in trouble, so she comes up with a plan of her own.

That plan manifests itself over the course of the episode, and it’s glorious. It involves putting Jimmy on a bus to Louisiana, where he and his fellow passengers write hundreds of letters addressed to the judge, posing as members of Huell’s hometown church and pleading with him to go easy on their beloved Huell. The judge is incensed, but the ADA doesn’t back off, and that’s where the plan really gets good. Some of the letters have phone numbers, numbers from Jimmy’s stock of burner phones, which he and his commercial crew from last season sit around and answer using various accents. At the end of the day, it’s enough to convince the ADA to let Huell off the hook, fearing a full-on freakout from Judge Munsigner.

It’s the perfect, ridiculous kind of plan for this show that plays out in BCS’s signature meticulous fashion, with a long cold open during which we see Jimmy writing all these letters without knowing what the endgame is. And when it’s all over, we see Jimmy reassuring Kim that this won’t ever happen again, only to find out that she got a thrill out of it and, realizing her life of opening bank branches bores her, wants to do it again. Combined with the fact that she came up with the plan, one that put both her and Jimmy at risk of not only losing their licenses but also going to jail for mail fraud and other crimes, it once again says a lot about Kim and where the show might be going with her character. As I’ve spoken about a lot this season, many believe that she faces some tragic end during the course of this show, as we never see her at Saul’s side during the Breaking Bad days. And maybe that’s the case, but seeing her act as the mastermind behind this plan only reaffirms my belief that she’s right there next to Jimmy/Saul that entire time, just off screen. She may even be with him in Nebraska when Jimmy becomes Gene.

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That may seem farfetched, but remember that slobbering praise for Vince Gilligan and his fellow writers that we talked about earlier. They’re no strangers to doing something crazy like that. There’s even proof of it in this episode, in Nacho’s story. The closing moments of the episode introduce us to Eduardo Salamanca, AKA “Lalo” (played by Mexican sta. Now, it’s been a while since Breaking Bad, but that’s an important name in this universe, as it is the first name that Saul Goodman utters when he’s introduced on that show, kidnapped by Walt and Jesse, right before he mentions Ignacio, making Lalo the second character birthed from a throwaway line from a decade earlier.

On the surface, Lalo appearing as a foil to Nacho’s newfound wealth and status is important because it advances that story, it gives Nacho something to do and it breeds a certain kind of conflict on that side of the BCS story spectrum that’s been desperately missing for a few episodes now, as Nacho ponders escaping to Canada with his father and a couple of fake IDs. But if you dig a little deeper it’s even more important than that, because we know that Jimmy eventually comes to know Lalo (likely through Nacho), so this is probably the table-setting for Jimmy’s introduction to the cartel world.

But I think there’s even one more layer, a subtle one at that. The idea that two characters can come to life based on a line of dialog from season 2 of Breaking Bad is sort of magical. It tells us that what happened on Breaking Bad isn’t the only thing that was happening. Nacho and Lalo represent what’s going on in the background. When Saul utters their names, the presumption is that they’re still alive at that time, even though we never see them during the course of the main show. It means that if this show intends to give Lalo and Nacho complete stories, we’re going to need to see what they were doing at the time that Saul utters their names for the last time. It means that, inevitably, the timeline of Better Call Saul needs to intersect with the timeline of Breaking Bad. And it reinforces my belief that Kim can exist during that time as well, because it means that we’re not seeing everything that Saul was up to.

And that’s where the brilliance of this show lies, in how it can take a single line of dialog and expound on it infinitely. It’s in the details of the details. It’s in how it tells the viewers to trust it and almost always pays off. “Coushetta” is a fantastic, layered episode of Better Call Saul and it gets 10 chartered buses from Louisiana out of 10.


Notes:

  • Quickly since I didn’t get to it earlier, the bunker storyline sees Kai get kicked out of a strip club, but the show once again throws a wrench in the works when it’s Werner who messes up the most by chatting up some bar rats about their construction plans. Mike scolds him and gives him a pass, but he seems uncertain when Gus asks him about it later on.
  • It’s kind of jarring when you consider that this is the first time we’ve seen Nacho in nearly a year. He’s healed, heading up the Salamanca business and clearly benefiting from it financially, but he’s unhappy and scared and contemplating trying to leave. Still, he’s doing his job, ripping earrings out of his dealers ears when he needs to, so why Eduardo comes out to play remains to be seen, but you can already tell he’s going to have a big impact on the show.
  • Jimmy’s southern pastor impression is his best impression yet. “I’ve got crawdad in ma pants. It’s a thing that happens to you when you’re sittin’ in the bayou.”
  • And finally, Guillermo Del Toro (rightfully) thinks Better Call Saul is better than Breaking Bad. Read about that here.

Better Call Saul S04E07 Recap: “Something Stupid”

 

One of my favourite things about Better Call Saul is its fascination with the mundane. It’s a show that exists in a world growing increasingly crazier, a show that perennially promises to notch up said craziness as the timeline gets closer and closer to the days of Breaking Bad, yet also one that, even in the midst of all that, can devote a good chunk of the episode to routine and minutia, even while it’s pushing the time frame forward.

The cold open for “Something Stupid” is the perfect encapsulation of this. Its purpose is to push the show eight months into the future, to place it in a time where Kim and Jimmy have mostly grown apart, to the end of Gus’ timeline for building his underground meth lab, to the precipice of Jimmy getting his law license back. But the way it does it is almost comically simple, presenting this lapse in time through a montage of Kim and Jimmy’s routines. With a thick black bar splitting the screen right down the middle, we see Kim and Jimmy getting ready for their days, Kim as she works for Mesa Verde and on pro bono cases, Jimmy as he peddles burner phones out of a van. At first, they’re brushing their teeth together, sharing meals, doing, you know, couple stuff. By the end, Jimmy’s eating alone, watching movies alone, brushing his teeth alone as Kim buries herself in work, eventually fading out the opposite of how it fades in, with Jimmy and Kim in the same bed, but worlds apart.

It’s bittersweet, melancholic, and extremely well done. In other words, par for the course for a show like this as Director Deborah Chow knocks it out of the park. It’s also necessary. A big part of this fourth season has been about Kim and Jimmy growing apart, potentially realizing that their relationship is a matter of convenience rather than actual affection. I mentioned last week that while we’ve seen them kiss and do couple stuff, the show has always strayed away from showing them in any significant amount of intimacy. And while I don’t expect a show from a writer as unconcerned with salaciousness as Vince Gilligan to venture into the territory of sex scenes or indiscriminate intimacy for the sake of portraying a relationship (Kim and Jimmy brushing their teeth together, watching movies and deciding on that night’s takeout order is enough), the lack of intimacy or even the words “I love you” from their relationship is a clear choice, one that’s been manifesting itself more and more in recent weeks as they realize they’re different people, as Jimmy realizes that Kim’s goals are different from his own, as Kim realizes that Jimmy might not be the man she thinks he is.

But eight months to be out of love with someone and stay with him is a long time. They’re still “together” after that montage. Kim brings Jimmy to an office cocktail party where he schmoozes with her coworkers and even sort of embarrasses her boss by talking up how cool it would be for him to take his employees on a company retreat to Aspen on a private jet. On the way home, Jimmy and Kim barely even have anything to say about it before returning to their routines. And it’s particularly jarring in a scene late in the episode. Jimmy’s security, Huell, gets busted for hitting a plain-clothes cop with a bag full of sandwiches when he thought Jimmy was getting accosted. Facing an unnecessarily cruel amount of jail time, Jimmy enlists Kim’s help to get him out of trouble since he won’t have his license back for a month. Kim’s immediate response is surprise that Jimmy’s been spending his days peddling phones out of a van. Jimmy brushes it off as unimportant, but for the sake of storytelling it’s crucial. Kim doesn’t know what Jimmy does with his time. She hasn’t known for the better part of a year. In previous episodes we’ve seen Jimmy brush off his job as boring an uneventful, but it’s been eight months, and it’s just as much on Jimmy for not telling her as it is on Kim for not even caring enough to figure it out.

And that tells me a lot about where this might be going. Most people will point to this episode as proof that when Jimmy goes Full Saul, Kim won’t be around to suffer the consequences. But part of me still wants to stick to my guns and hang on to the other (admittedly unlikely) scenario, where the Kim we see now, the one that stuck by Jimmy all this time and even joined in on grifting with him at one point, is way past the point where she can escape Jimmy’s black hole of gravitational pull. It’s been nearly a year since Chuck’s death, since Jimmy’s behaviour in the wake of what happened left her concerned and even recoiling from him and who she perceived him to be. Yet they still share a bathroom vanity and a fish. If they passion is gone, then why are they still even together?

What’s more, even after Jimmy reveals the terrible thing he’s been doing for the better part of the year and the seedy people he’s associating with, even after he suggests doing something shady to get Huell out of prison as if it’s the obvious solution, she still agrees to help him and even, as we see at the end of the episode, enacts a mysterious plan involving loads of office supplies to help him and Huell without Jimmy having to slip and slide. I believe that this show is daring us to think that Kim will leave Jimmy when he breaks bad. The question is whether she’ll be a willing participant or enabler in the Saul days, or whether a more Chuck-like fate awaits her.

The time jump does a lot advance the story between Kim and Jimmy, but it also serves an important purpose on the other side of Better Call Saul’s coin, as we catch up with Gus, Mike and the construction as well. The German suggested it might take eight months to build the underground meth lab, but after that amount of time they’re barely halfway done, and frustration and boredom seems to be getting the best of some of the young workers; an ennui that’s put on display through a second musical montage. Mike floats the idea of sending Kai home but it probably wouldn’t lead to anything positive. Instead they decide to give them some much needed R&R. In any case, this looks like it’s heading down a no-good path in the final episodes of the season. Meanwhile, Gus sends Hector’s brain doctor home after he sees what he does (spilling some water to get a good look at his nurse) in the latest test session, satisfied that, even without his ability to speak, he’s back to his former self.

That stuff seems to mostly be setup, but it doesn’t really take away from another great episode of Better Call Saul where the characters and their relationships are still paramount. “Something Stupid” gets 8.5 bags full of sandwiches out of 10.

Better Call Saul S04E06 Recap: “Pinata”

 

If you’re the type of person who was wondering why it took Better Call Saul 35 episodes to give us a scene set during the days of Breaking Bad, where Jimmy McGill is finally, fully, Saul Goodman, I present to you this week’s episode, “Pinata”. Last week’s episode gave us one of the show’s highest peaks, so the follow-up was inevitably going to be a bit of a let down, but “Pinata” significantly slowed things down, almost deliberately, to show us that there is still a long way to go until things are like that opening scene from “Quite a Ride”. To use a sloppy metaphor, that scene in Saul’s office expects us to understand that shit has already very much hit the fan. The rest of the show is more or less Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould slowly turning that fan on.

As someone who’s come to expect and embrace the idea of Better Call Saul as a slow-burn origin story, it doesn’t really bother me, but I do understand that there are people that expect more from the show. And instead of using last week’s mind-blowing developments as a launching point, they instead decided to revert back to the snail-paced pastiche of characters slowly dying inside before they reach the breaking point of evil.

The episode quite clearly hammers that home, as Mike’s arc involves setting up a warehouse bachelor pad for a bunch of horny bro-y Germans that have been brought in to build Gus’s secret underground lair. It’s fully stocked with a movie theater (I wonder if pirating falls within Gus’s code?), a soccer field and basketball court, a fully stocked bar and two full-sized bungalow. I would star in a reality show if they let me live in that warehouse. But construction hasn’t even started yet, and the whole purpose of these scenes is to single out one particular troublemaker, Kai, who Mike tells his guys to keep an eye on. But, like I said, the entire time, he’s telling the guys and the audience that they’re in for a long job.

Jimmy tippy-toes forward this week as well, as he spends his days daydreaming about the return of Wexler & McGill in between receiving shipments of prepaid phones. He dons his tracksuit one more time and lures the street thugs who beat them up into an alley where they’re taken by Jimmy’s goons, Huell (Huell!) and Man Mountain (an interesting case of Better Call Saul being self-referential instead of referring to its predecessor for once, as this character is a stretch of a callback from season 1) to what appears to be a pinata factory, where a street-level James Bond villain-esque plot of the goons busting pinatas while the thugs are strewn upside down and threatened pays dividends and gets them off Jimmy’s back, while getting the word out that Cell Phone Guy ain’t no one to fuck with.

But that’s not all that happens to Jimmy this week, as for the umpteenth time, he also gets his hopes and dreams more or less shattered. After she finds his notepad with scribblings of Wexler & McGill, Kim gets freaked out and turns to Rich Schweikart and hands him Mesa Verde on a silver platter, offering to head up their new banking division in exchange for some free time, so she can continue doing pro bono cases without hurting the client. She springs this news on Jimmy over lunch at their favourite grifting restaurant over Moscow Mules, and on the inside, Jimmy clearly isn’t loving it, as he takes a moment to himself to process before Slippin’ Jimmying his way to the next grift, offering to change their hypothetical practice into one practicing criminal law.

It seems very clear that Kim giving up Mesa Verde is an attempt to put up a barrier between her and Jimmy. She’s freaked out by Jimmy’s plans, she’s freaked out with how he’s handling his grief about Chuck, and she doesn’t know what kind of schemes he’s up to, leaving their apartment at all hours of the night, coming back beaten up and being pretty dodgy about what he’s doing. Deep inside, Kim knows the real Jimmy, and she’s starting to have second thoughts about spending her life with someone like that. It’s the kind of guilt trip that led her to pro bono work in the first place.

Don’t take my word for it, just look at how these two interact. They’re supposed to be a couple, yet we haven’t seen them kiss or do anything remotely intimate even once this season. I don’t think they’ve ever said that they love each other, and they seem to live and conspire together out of convenience more than anything. It makes you wonder why they’re together or how they even got here in the first place. And it makes you wonder if this is the show trying to give Kim an inevitable out, or Jimmy something to fight for when he realizes that he’s losing her. Even though it’s no Saul Goodman scrambling for his vacuum repair business ticket out of Albuquerque, it’s incredibly compelling and so well-paced.

And in a final Jimmy development this week, he finds out that one of his first elder clients, Geraldine Strauss, passed away and that he missed the funeral. This hits him surprisingly hard, seemingly worse than the passing of his brother. I’m not sure if Jimmy here is actually grieving over Geraldine or projecting what he wants to feel about Chuck, but soon thereafter he finds himself in Harold’s office and tells him to get his shit together and get HHM back on its feet, which leads to an ultra rare F-bomb for this show (and one that doesn’t phase Jimmy in the slightest, proving once again that Harold is Jimmy’s ultimate punching bag in this show).

All of this is bowtied nicely by the opening scene, a flashback to Jimmy and Kim’s mailroom days at HHM. It’s the morning of a big win for Chuck, who prances around the office receiving congratulations from everyone in the room. Kim tells a completely blase Jimmy all about it while he’s more interested with tallying Oscar pool picks than anything else. She shares a moment with Chuck while Jimmy bungles trying to impress his brother. Soon thereafter, at the end of the lengthy cold open, Jimmy passes by the HHM library and decides to go in, setting his path towards law in motion. The question is, does he do it because he wants to impress his brother, or because he wants to impress Kim?

The truth is that a lot happens in this episode, but you sort of have to reach in between the cracks to find the real meat, and it involves a lot of pawn movement as Kim and Jimmy gear up for the next arc in their story. The funny thing is that I didn’t even bother to talk about the two biggest developments of the episode, first the fact that Michael McKean made a surprise return in that cold open to portray Chuck, which I suppose we should have seen coming. And then the tensest, best scene in the episode, where Gus monologues to a comatose Hector about a chinchilla or whatever that he tortured as a child. It’s a frightening, incredibly well-delivered speech that will hopefully help Giancarlo Esposito get nominated for another Emmy next year, but like Chuck’s return, it’s sort of weirdly on a place in a show that is increasingly becoming, as I said, a pastiche or mosaic of a bunch of different stories that are still some time away from intersecting. And while the show often finds a way to navigate those waters expertly (see our previous discussions about dichotomies and juxtapositions), it’s less effective here.

So while a lot of good, interesting things happen in “Pinata”, it doesn’t come together as well as you would hope, especially after last week’s excellent high. That’s why “Pinata” gets 8 prepaid cell phones out of 10.

Better Call Saul S04E05 Recap: ‘Quite A Ride’

 

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.

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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.

Better Call Saul S04E04 Recap: ‘Talk’

 

In four seasons of  covering Better Call Saul, the one aspect that I have never been able to stop praising, nor will I ever stop praising, is its uncanny ability to juxtapose what’s happening to all of its characters. The severity of what happens to each of them (especially as the number of main characters expands, as this show becomes more and more about the world that will eventually turn into the madness of Breaking Bad) in a given episode tends to lie at an extreme. One might face a life-threatening situation as they slip further and further into the affairs of a dangerous drug cartel, while another might instead be dealing with the general malaise of boredom and unfulfilled potential. The next week the tables might get turned, with the latter characters dealing with a bad car accident or the brutal suicide of a loved one, while the others might spend their week taking apart a car in order to find a tracking device.

It’s a purposeful sort of irony employed by the writers, maybe to impart with the viewer the kind of ticking time bomb that a show like this has to be. This is the kind of world where, eventually, things will wind up getting severe and dangerous for everyone. But Better Call Saul is also ostensibly a modern western, and part of the point that Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould are trying to get across is that in such a setting, the only options are really extreme boredom or dangerous, law-breaking violence.

On the “extreme boredom” side of the coin this week we have Jimmy and Kim. They’re trying to get things back to normal now that Chuck is gone and the Hamlin types are basically out of their lives, but of course they’re both struggling. We saw it last week when Kim broke down after Jimmy read Chuck’s boilerplate posthumous letter to him. It was more of a normal reaction that Jimmy’s blase nonchalance, as he’s already put his brother in the rearview mirror, but Kim thinks that it might help if Jimmy saw a therapist. This is the early 00s, so Jimmy is desperate to avoid this and winds up taking a dead end job managing a cell phone store that barely ever sees any customers.

Now, this could be another temporary stepping stone for Jimmy, like the printing company, or it could be the kind of boring, out of the way opportunity that opens Jimmy’s world. He spends most of his first day throwing a ball against a wall, but eventually he closes the shop and heads over to see Ira, the guy who helped him with the Bavarian Boy heist, who gives Jimmy more money than he was expecting, as Bavarian Boy was the talk of the auction and started a bidding war. Jimmy is surprised at Ira’s nobility as they promise to work together again in the future, and an offhand comment from Ira about how he changes phones because anyone could be listening inspires Jimmy to paint the store’s windows to try and drum up business. We’ll see what comes of this, but it’s just an example of Jimmy’s slow decay into what will inevitably be Saul Goodman.

Kim is similarly going through an existential crisis. Last week she asked her paralegal to drop her off at the courthouse. This week, we get to see what she’s doing there. And as it turns out,it’s… not much. She spends the day observing various cases until Judge Neelix pulls her into his chambers and tells her she isn’t going to find a once-in-a-lifetime movie-like case by trolling his court, as most of his defendants are the type of guys who throw urine at their bosses. He advises her to make her easy money with Mesa Verde, and if she continues to spend her days lackadaisically observing low-level offenders, he’s going to put her to work on some pro bono cases. Kim defies Judge Neelix’s orders, so, like with Jimmy, we’ll see what comes of this.

Now, I love watching Kim watch defendants stammer their way through court, and watching Jimmy toss a superball around a quiet cell phone store, but whatever they’re doing is designed to pay off near the end of the season. They’re in a holding pattern because they’re still so far removed from the other side of the coin, and that’s the extreme drug cartel chess game being played by one Gus Fring. Last week we got a taste of the kind of scheme we’d pull regularly on Breaking Bad, elaborately staging a gang hit on Nacho and Arturo, the latter of which he murdered the night before in order to show force to Nacho. The Cousins and the rest of the Salamanca troupe don’t suspect that Nacho is involuntarily in bed with the enemy, but that’s not all Gus had in store for his new mole. The plan leads Nacho to a gang called the Espinozas, with the Cousins in the tow. After Gus’s guys drop off some money with them the night prior, Nacho points to them as the guys who killed Arturo. Nacho pitches a plan to pull some guys and take them out, but the Cousins silently tell them to hold their cervezas as they grab a bag of guns and take out the entire gang themselves.

This is a great fucking scene that holds back in showing most of the action. We know what the Cousins are capable of at this point, so director John Shiban doesn’t show us everything, but just enough to satisfy that part of our brains and remind us that there’s more at stake here than the mid-life crises of the other characters. This is the reminder of what’s looming around the corner for all of them. I especially love the way it’s shot, as it never really breaks away from Nacho’s perspective, reminiscent of a similar sequence in a movie about similar topics from this past summer, Sicario: Day of the Soldado, where a chase sequence happens entirely from the perspective of a teenage girl whose been pulled into a manufactured drug war. Of course, Nacho is a little more competent in this than a teenage girl, but just barely, as he starts the sequence as a hapless outsider with a bum shoulder, but is forced into action when reinforcements show up and does his part in helping the Cousins take out the gang. But he aggravates his injuries in the process and can barely stand at the end of it. Later we see him meet with Gus as he susses out his plan to use his new secret agent to eliminate the competition and gain territory, since the cartel won’t give the Espinozas’ turf to the Salamancas after what the Cousins did. Gus merely tells him to get some rest, and he complies, turning to his distraught father in bad shape.

Gus uses Nacho has a pawn to advance his game, and by the end of the episode, he’s on to his next move, as he turns to Mike. But Mike isn’t a mere pawn (and frankly, after a few weeks of Nacho being kind of a badass in the face of some brutal shit that Gus forces him to go through in order to keep his secret, I feel bad giving him that label), and immediately figures out that Gus has called to meet him for two reasons; first to give him shit for not telling him what Nacho was up to, to which Mike replies that it was never part of their agreement, he merely promised not to kill Hector himself. And second, to ask him to come on board for a job. We don’t yet know what that job could be, but if the episode exhausts the equivalent to a GTA level with the Cousins, before getting to this, one can only imagine what it’ll be.

Because Mike is in his own kind of holding pattern. Unlike Jimmy and Kim, though, he seems relatively content. He’s made a friend in the support group he attends with Stacy for his deceased son, he’s still doing security work at Madrigal, and in probably the most satisfying sequence in the show since last year’s “Chicanery” where Jimmy finally takes down Chuck in court, he brutally calls out a guy (played by The Good Place and Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Marc Evan Jackson) who is bereaving a fake wife in his group. It’s awkward and unnecessary but glorious and so Mike, as it shows us how good he is at detecting bullshit, right before he sees straight through Gus’s.

So, “Talk” takes us on a few very different journeys. Kim and Jimmy are trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, Mike and Nacho are being pulled away from theirs (one a little more brutishly than the other), all while Gus Fring continues to make moves that are way ahead of anyone else’s, a reminder of what already made him one of the greatest villains of all time in Breaking Bad. It’s kind of been the story of the season so far, and it makes these individual episodes hard to judge. I’m loving everything that’s happening on the show, but it’s sort of scatterbrains because you need it all to be happening at once. I wouldn’t necessarily want an episode that’s just Jimmy throwing a ball around a store and trying to steal a stupid figurine, or an episode about Kim doing a bank’s due diligence. And if you go too far in the other direction, an episode that’s just about what’s happened to Nacho so far this season is probably too extreme. I’d totally take a show that’s just Mike assessing warehouse security or calling out bullshitters at support groups, but nevertheless, the show expertly decides to give us a little of everything, to juxtapose the varying degrees of severity for each character, because it knows that eventually they will all have to meet somewhere closer to where Gus is operating. And while that makes each individual episode less than stellar, you can easily see the bigger picture. I recognize that these episodes aren’t perfect, but I still end new iteration with undeterred admiration for the show, and “Talk” is no exception. It gets 8.5 cartel shootouts out of 10.

Better Call Saul S04E03 Recap: ‘Something Beautiful’

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.

Better Call Saul S04E02 Recap: ‘Breathe’

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.

Better Call Saul S04E01 Recap: ‘Smoke’

Nearly fourteen months have passed since the hectic third season finale of Better Call Saul. With extended breaks among television’s top shows becoming increasingly commonplace in order to ensure quality, this isn’t all that shocking, even if it may be somewhat frustrating for fans, and probably kind of risky for the network, especially for a show like Saul, which may be safe thanks to that consistently high level of quality, but could still wind up struggling in the ratings department as a result. But, truth be told, going into the fourth season premiere, Smoke, it felt like no time at all had passed since we had last checked in with Jimmy McGill and the gang.

I vividly remember a lot of what happened at the end of last season. Who can forget Chuck’s shocking suicide, the end result of a wedge between him and his brother driven so large and irreparable by the both of them that it led to Jimmy vindictively ratting Chuck and his condition out to his firm’s insurance company, forcing Hamlin to force him out and taking the one thing that Chuck still held dearly; his career. Chuck kicking his table until the lantern tips over and sets his house ablaze is a scene that will stay etched in my memory for a long time, and it’s something that drives a lot of what happens in this premiere. But it isn’t the only thing. Everyone is facing the consequences of their actions in “Smoke”, including Nacho after he switches out Hector’s heart pills and causes him to have the stroke that makes him how he is during the Breaking Bad days. Mike takes a job with Madrigal under Lydia in order to ensure his family’s future. And, in the future, Gene takes a tumble while working at the Cinnabon.

We’ve had a lot of time to sit with all of these developments, to let them simmer, but for everyone in the show, no time has passed at all, as “Smoke” picks up right where season three left left off. And, rightfully, the premiere handles it with BCS’s trademark meticulous pace, giving everything that happened space to breathe, the same kind of space that we’ve had over the past year. And it makes sense, I don’t think it would be right to pick up some time in the future with Jimmy jumping straight into some new antics. Chuck was paramount to what made the show work in the past. He was simultaneously the show’s antagonist and its moral compass, providing balance to a Jimmy that wanted to be good but constantly teetered on the edge of evil. With Chuck  gone, and with the way things are beginning to play out on the Mike/Gus/Nacho side of things, the kind of escalation and chaos that eventually overcame Breaking Bad, is inevitably going to plague its successor.

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In fact, the premiere highlights this as it checks in with Gus and Nacho in the aftermath of Hector’s stroke. Borsa calls them in to ensure that Nacho and Hector’s guys toe the line and make sure no one encroaches on Salamanca territory. But Gus warns him that with Hector out of play, it’s only a matter of time before someone comes for his territory, which will lead to war, which will lead to chaos, which will lead to the DEA. It’s the mother of all teases for a show like this. As the name of the game on Better Call Saul becomes convergence and escalation, branching closer and closer towards its predecessor, words like “war”, “chaos” and especially “DEA” become very loaded. We already know that the Salamanca Cousins are going to be back, as well as possibly Tuco. “War” and “Chaos” could be interchangeable with their names. But “DEA”? Could we be in for an inevitable Hank Schrader or Agent Gomie appearance to fulfull Gus’s final prophecy? And with the pace that people drop like flies on this show, what’s to come of Nacho, a man who likely doomed himself the moment he went after a Salamanca, who is now being followed, and who doesn’t make any appearance during the Breaking Bad days?

That scene is Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s way of making big promises in an otherwise slow, and maybe even (necessarily) lethargic episode, as the show goes through the motions of Jimmy’s grief following the loss of his brother, reiterating Chuck’s importance to the balance of the show and making a statement about how it might need to change in his absence.

Jimmy may be turning into a bad guy, but he’s not a monster, at least not yet. He doesn’t see his brother’s death coming, and he struggles coping with it up through the funeral.  But everything changes at the end of the episode, as Hamlin confesses to Jimmy and Kim that he blames himself for Chuck’s suicide, since he took a stand and forced him out following the incident with Chuck’s liability insurance that, unbeknownst to anyone else, Jimmy orchestrated. It’s hard to tell how much of the puzzle Jimmy had filled in prior to this, but it would also be likely that he pieced together that Chuck going over the edge might have had something to do with his final, vindictive stunt. In any case, what finally gets him looking a little chipper, as the episode comes to a close, is Hamlin taking the blame for Chuck’s death, which Jimmy presumably takes as a cue to finally stop worrying about his brother. He callously tells Hamlin it’s his cross to bear. That’s telling, and kind of huge for Jimmy, because, as we’ve seen over the course of three seasons, he’s always taken responsibility for his older brother. He’s felt burdened, not only by the illness that had him delivering provisions over the last few years, but also by how Chuck always purposely held him back. He’s always felt obligated to seek out affection that, by Chuck’s own admission shortly prior to his death, was never really there to begin with. One way or another, Jimmy McGill always found a way to make Chuck his problem, even after his death. Now, with Howard taking responsibly, it instantly feels like a weight lifted off his shoulder, and a cue indicating that the show is willing to move on to some new and scary places, the kind of places teased by Gus in the aforementioned scene.

“Smoke” is a dreary, solemn episode of television. Of course, as it deals with a shocking death, that’s to be expected. Seemingly aware of this, Peter Gould provides us with somewhat of a reprieve, as the episode’s most fun and memorable sequence involves Mike pulling a Kramer and pretending to work at Madrigal for a day. This comes on the heels of Mike getting a job from Lydia, and perhaps  unhappy with the idea of not having to earn the $10,000 check (net!) that he receives in the mail. So he steals someone’s badge, putzes around the Madrigal office and warehouse, before chewing out the supervisor for all the lapses in security that he’s uncovered along the way. Mike looks genuinely happy as he’s doing this, which, in a show like Better Call Saul, can only mean that something horrible and tragic is about to happen.

Nonetheless, it’s a welcome break in the otherwise lethargic pace of a necessarily bleak episode. As much as it is a premiere, “Smoke” is also transitional. The show deliberately makes promises about its action-packed future, it gives up hope that it won’t all be solemn and depressing, but at the end of the day the point is indeed that the show has lost an important element, and needs to find a way forward in replacing him. I’m glad to have Saul back, but I can only imagine that “Smoke” is the low point of a season that will trend continuously upward over the course of its ten episodes, so it gets 7.5 cat themed birthday cards out of 10.