Better Call Saul – Season 4, Episode 1: “Smoke”

Author’s note: This article CONTAINS SPOILERS for the episode of discussion and all episodes of the series that have preceded it.

Returning to the world of New Mexico for the season premier of Better Call Saul is a good feeling, one I’ve been waiting a long time for.  I had been eagerly anticipating welcoming the bumbling antics of Jimmy McGill back into my life, and the entire cast of characters he brings with him.  In this episode, we start off with the infamous cold open that has graced the premier of Saul every season.  It starts with a flash forward to Jimmy working the Cinnabon in his post-Breaking Bad life, and things aren’t going too well for him.  He suffers a stroke on the job and is brought to the hospital, and upon his release is questioned on his identity by the receptionist in a tense scene, followed by another strenuous run-in with his cab driver who has an Albuquerque souvenir hanging from his rear-view mirror.  This cold open was exceptional, with mounting tension in the way it was shot with close ups focusing on Jimmy’s rising fear in the situation.  We get the sense his life has completely devolved to living in a constant state of panic and uncertainty.

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in Better Call Saul, “Smoke”

The rest of the episode deals with three different stories: Jimmy, Kim, and Hamlin dealing with the fallout of Chuck’s death; Nacho trying to cover his tracks with his attempted murder of Hector Salamanca; and Mike getting himself employed at Madrigal’s Las Cruces facility to earn his laundered money.  Of course, the show weaves between the three stories with ease, contrasting the heartbreak Jimmy is feeling with the cleverness and wit of Mike Ehrmantraut. Quickly we are reminded why this is one of the most consistently well-executed shows on television.

With Jimmy and Kim, it is clear the former is taking the sudden loss of his brother Chuck very hard, likely feeling the weight of their strenuous relationship and how it may have contributed to Chuck’s demise.  However, in the final scene, Hamlin confesses to pushing Chuck out of the firm and notes that he feels responsible for what he believes to be Chuck’s suicide.  This bring Jimmy great joy, to which he guesses it is Hamlin’s “cross to bear.”  Jimmy is delighted to have the feeling of guilt lifted from his shoulders and thrust onto a man he has always despised in Howard Hamlin.  Where this will lead him as a character this season should be interesting to see, as the loss of Chuck will not only certainly have a lasting effect on his life, but also on the remainder of the series going forward.  Chuck was such a huge part of the show, with Michael McKean really putting on a serious powerhouse performance as the character.  What direction the series takes without his presence will likely be laid out in the next few episodes.

Seehorn and Odenkirk in Better Call Saul, “Smoke”

As for our perpetually in-too-deep cartel friend, Nacho, we get a brief insight into the moments directly following his poisoning of  Salamanca. He seems very unsure if he has made the right decision in going through with replacing Hector’s pills for his heart condition with placebos.  We watch him struggle to find a moment to dispose of them, what with Gus already suspicious of him.  The Nacho plot with the drug cartel acts as a nice through line by which we as the audience can track the timeline of events in relation to what we already know the future brings with Breaking Bad.  We don’t know what becomes of Nacho but for the most part have a good idea of where players like Hector and Gus Fring need to get to.

Jonathan Banks in Better Call Saul, “Smoke”

This brings us to Mike’s story, where we see him get a steep bill in the mail, and he proceeds to forcefully get himself hired at their local facility.  It is unclear why he would be going through with this, other than the simple satisfaction of proving he can.  In a final interaction with a manager in the building, he exclaims that should he have a problem with Mike being there, he can call Lydia.  We are sure to find out what Mike has planned by bringing Lydia into this situation in next week’s episode.  Regardless, it was fun seeing Mike work the unsuspecting people around him as he always does.

Where we can see this season going is watching Jimmy wrestle with how to move forward in the wake of the loss of his brother, Kim struggling to deal with a grieving Jimmy, Nacho trying to keep himself in good standing with both the cartel and with Gustavo, and Mike just figuring out the best ways to pay his bills.  What this show does better than any other is its story with great writing matched with vivid imagery, a la its predecessor Breaking Bad.  This single episode alone features camerawork and editing that most movies could only hope to achieve, and it is in the technical craftsmanship where the series truly shines.  Furthermore, the series has done a tremendous job of rounding out these characters in ways we either love or love to hate.  It is good to have the show back, and it will be a pleasure to once again kick back in Albuquerque on a weekly basis.


Better Call Saul is currently airing Monday nights on AMC at 9/8c